Siege Warfare Through the Ages – Which Siege Tactics Are Right For You?

Since before 3500 BC people have been putting defensive walls around their settlements. As I’m sure you all know, these pesky walls and fortifications can be a real pain when you want to get inside somewhere for whatever reason. Maybe you’re at war with the occupants, maybe they have something of yours, like some loot that should clearly belong to you, or perhaps you just happen to have an army and feel like attacking something. Whatever your reasons for laying siege, that’s your business, and I’m not here to judge. No, my purpose today is to let you know which siege tactics and weapons you should be using to get you through those walls and to whatever goal lay within. So whichever period of time in which you happen to be conducting your siege, take a look below at the closest example and you should find the best methods available to you.

New Kingdom Egypt (1550-1077 BC)

Starting as early as we can with any real substance, with the New Kingdom of Egypt. As an Egyptian in this period you could expect to be fighting various different enemies, such as the Canaanites or the Hittites. Many of the enemy held towns that you come across may be fortified, so you should be prepared for a siege. As you will see throughout later periods, it is often the case that you are better off attempting to out-wait the enemy within, just as they try to wait for you to give up and go away. This basic but effective approach can be more seriously applied by preventing any movement into or out of the walls, and thus cutting the enemy off from any new supplies or means of escape. This was done at the siege of Megiddo in the 15th century BC when Pharaoh Thutmose III had a moat and wooden palisade constructed around the city, essentially giving the attackers their own wall to sit behind and wait for the enemy to surrender, except with the important difference being that they had the rest of the outside world behind their walls, rather than a small limited space with ever dwindling supplies. The defenders eventually surrendered after several months and were spared.

The siege of Dapur on a mural in Ramesses II’s temple in Thebes

If such a peaceful outcome doesn’t interest you so much, then there are other options that you have in this period. The Egyptians did use various constructions against fortifications, the most common and basic of which would have been large ladders to scale the walls in order to assault the defended positions atop. Usually an assault like this should be supported by archers, but keep an eye out for the large sails that your enemy may have flying above their walls, as these may render your arrows less effective against the occupants in the city. These tactics would have been used at the siege of Dapur in 1269 BC against the Hittite Empire during Ramesses II’s campaign to conquer Syria. As an attacker you should be able to defend your own troops from enemy arrow shot as well, as there are examples of mobile roofed structures and simple moving towers that you can use in an assault.

Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-609 BC)

Moving forward in time as we go, we come to some other good examples of early siege warfare with the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians, after years of war and conquest, had become a most powerful and successful empire, and had also learned a thing or two about how to conduct a siege in the process. During the reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883 to 859 B.C.) the battering ram was developed into something more sophisticated than a simple wooden log. These Assyrian rams were heavy, five meters long, and protected by a roof and turret in which archers were placed. The ram was suspended from the roof by ropes so it could swing freely. The ramming end was covered by a metal plate, shaped into a blade that was driven into the bricks of the wall effectively.

An Assyrian siege engine ascends the ramp on the Siege of Lachish reliefs

Once you have a few, or preferably many, of these rams in place on the enemy’s walls and gates, you should then look to combine them with methods of topping the walls during the assault, as the Assyrians had found that a multi-faceted approach is a good idea. As usual it is always the standard to assault the walls with ladders, but there are also other methods for getting higher, most notably the use of great earthen ramps. These would be a huge engineering effort to construct, but they could only have to be built part way up the wall, and from there you could bring a ram up the ramp to demolish the wall at this height where it is usually thinner. This method was proven successful at the siege of Lachish in 701 BC when Assyrian King Sennacherib fought to subjugate the rebelling Kingdom of Judah.

Classical and Hellenistic Greece (510-31 BC)

Moving onto Greece, the later part of the Classical, and then the Hellenistic period of Greece saw a height of military innovation, which in turn gives you plenty of options for how to assault a fortification. In earlier Ancient Greece, siege was never much of a consideration. War at this time was a part-time seasonal affair that would take place when the common farmers had time off between sowing and harvest. It only really becomes more common once professional armies are taken up by the Greek states, allowing for the time it takes to conduct a siege. It also helps that after around 450 BC the Greeks could take some ideas from their Persian enemies, leading to tactics such as surrounding cities, building ramps, and the use of battering rams, similar to what the Assyrians were using some centuries earlier. However, the Greeks did start to develop their own methods eventually.

The siege tower Helepolis

At around 400 BC the Greek city of Syracuse in Sicily was in conflict with the Carthaginians. It was here that many Greek artisans and technicians were recruited to create new innovations of war. The first step was the gastrephetes meaning the ‘belly bow’ which was the first crossbow. From the basic mechanics of this weapon, it was possible to scale it up until it was too heavy to carry, and so was placed on a tripod and mounted on a swivel, with a winch to draw it. This was the first catapult (named katzapeltes, meaning ‘shield-piercer’) which was used at the siege of Motya in 197 BC to shoot as far as 300 yards at the Carthaginian fleet. Eventually this weapon was further developed into the oxybeles that used torsion by twisting sinew rather than the tension of a bow. In the following years the Greeks invented many variants of catapult, including lithobolos or ‘stone thrower’, and even a supposed repeating crossbow mechanism that shot bolts from a magazine called the polybolos. Various types and sizes of ballista were even used in the most famous example of a siege tower the Helepolis ‘the taker of cities’ which was used in the siege of Rhodes in 305-304 BC. This tower was supposedly over 40 meters tall and 20 meters wide and ran on 8 huge wheels. It had 3 walls to the front and sides which were all plated in iron to make it fireproof. It weighed 160 tons and had 2 or 3 ballistas on each of its several floors.

The Roman Empire (27 BC – 480 AD)

If you’re Greek or Roman, you’ll mostly be using the same sort of siege machines. Ever since the earlier Romans saw the power of Greek inventor Archimedes’ huge catapults, ship-lifting claws, and even sunlight death beams (apparently) in Syracuse (again) they clearly felt they should probably use some of these. They did make some improvements of their own to these weapons however, such as making them lighter and more manoeuvrable, or combining battering rams and boarding bridges into their siege towers. They also further developed on the torsion powered weapons of the Greeks, resulting in the Onager, which later became the standard use for the term ‘catapult’ which was a stone thrower with a vertical arm. These could be thrown in a great arc, and also use heavier projectiles, great for either going over, or smashing into a wall you wish wasn’t there.

A Roman carroballista (cart-mounted ballista) on Trajan’s Column

Aside from the weapons, the tactics used by the Romans were similar to what is seen before, but executed well. They would surround cities and blockade ports effectively, and then set up their own fortified camps out of range of the enemy and in elevated positions for observation. This helped the Romans defend themselves should they be attacked by enemy reinforcements coming from elsewhere, something easily missed when you’re so focussed on the enemy within. In an assault they would construct ramps and use ladders as usual, but they would also use moving barricades and shields made of wood or wicker to defend themselves, as well as using their own shields in the famous testudo formation as they advanced.

The Medieval Period (up to the 15th Century)

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 480 AD there was very little in the way of siege weapon development. The following Migration Period saw many smaller groups settle and have less need for sieges. Later in the Early Medieval period and Viking Age, there are some examples of sieges, but most of these just use what knowledge is left from contact with the Romans, for example with the Franks, as well as the Byzantines, who would have had the best ability and knowledge during this time. More northern peoples such as the Vikings or Saxons, would have avoided large sieges and aimed more for raiding actions. The Vikings did besiege some large cities however, such as Paris in 845 and again in 885, where they are said to have used ballistae and catapults, although it is unlikely. The Vikings mostly used their advanced ships to their advantage, where attacking Paris was ideal, as it is on a river island. They also attacked London at the end of their era, where they used their ships again to pull down towers, and pulled roofs off of buildings to put over the ships as cover from arrows.

15th Century depiction of a trebuchet

1066 is seen as the end of the Viking age, and shortly after this is when the Normans started to build many stone castles throughout England. During the 12th and 13th centuries, castles evolved into powerful fortresses capable of defying intensive assaults. At the same time, in order to combat strengthened castle defences, siegecraft developed. Sieges became far more common as the use of castles and fortified cities did too, and battles became rarer than in the past. The tried and true method of simply out-waiting the defenders still continues to be a solid choice in these cases, but then again, those defenders were probably expecting a siege and prepared for a long one too. So when it finally came to demolish those walls, something more powerful than a catapult of ballista was needed. The first weapon to be widely adopted was the mangonel. This weapon was essentially a larger swinging-arm catapult that was powered by the pulling force of a team of men. Shortly after this came the more famous trebuchet. This was a similar weapon that could be made very large, but was instead powered by a sophisticated counterweight mechanism. The trebuchet first appeared from the Byzantines, and was quickly adopted by the crusaders, which in turn spread its use throughout Europe. Although these weapons mostly launched stones of 50-100kg at a range around 300 meters, their main advantages over every other type of siege weapon before it was its accuracy and cycle rate, as there was no need for time consuming cranking or winding, but just resetting everything into place. Also, the key to bringing down a heavily fortified wall is to keep striking it in the same place, something a trebuchet could easily do after the first shot was correct. There were some huge trebuchets which supposedly launched stones of 800kg or even 1,500kg, but these would have been very difficult and incredibly slow to construct and use.

The Age of Gunpowder

If you really, truly want to knock down walls, then ignore everything I just said, and get a cannon. Cannons only became viable in the later medieval and renaissance periods, after years of experimentation since the 13th century. Once they stopped trying to use gunpowder to shoot ballista bolts, bundles of arrows, and stones and finally settled on the idea of the cannonball, the previously impregnable castles of Europe were rendered obsolete. The greatest advantage of cannons over other siege weapons is the ability to fire a heavier projectile, further and faster than previous weapons. They could also fire in a straight line, so that they could destroy the bases of high walls. Thus, old fashioned walls that are high and relatively thin were excellent targets, and over time easily demolished. In 1453, the great walls of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, were broken through in just six weeks by the 62 cannons of Mehmed II’s army. However, new fortifications, designed to withstand gunpowder weapons, were soon constructed throughout Europe. In the early 15th century, Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti theorized methods of building fortifications capable of withstanding the new guns. He proposed that walls be “built in uneven lines, like the teeth of a saw”. He proposed star shaped fortresses with low, thick walls. Fortresses built in this style throughout the 16th century did not become fully obsolete until the 19th century, and were still in use throughout World War I.

 The Siege of Orléans in 1429 featuring cannons

With everything thrown into an entirely new state of being by the ever increasing power and efficiency of cannons, and the fortifications to match them, the attackers would now need to prepare for the siege thoroughly. There has always been a need to encircle the enemy and defend your own lines from those within as well as reinforcements from without, but now that so much of your army would consist of vulnerable artillery positions, you would need to think harder about your own defences. So lines of trenches would now be built by the attackers, first starting out of range of the defending artillery, parallel to the walls, and then another line is dug towards the walls in a zig-zag to prevent those using it from being exposed, until finally the forward line would be dug from there in artillery range parallel to the wall again. You can then place your artillery in that forward position, and build other defences around it, and prepare for the long siege ahead. As has been the case forever, it is still in the 17th century mostly about waiting the enemy out, whether you are the attacker or defender. And now that sieges had become so prevalent, and so long, they had become very expensive, and a single siege could take up an entire campaign. Battles arose through clashes between besiegers and relieving armies, but the principle of war was now a slow, grinding victory by the greater economic power. The relatively rare attempts at forcing pitched battles were almost always expensive failures.

Plan of Geneva fortifications in 1841

Eventually, in the 19th century, after hundreds of years of siege warfare settling into a rut, things started to change in a few ways. Advances in artillery made previously impregnable defences useless. For example, the walls of Vienna that had held off the Turks in the mid-17th century were no obstacle to Napoleon in the early 19th. This was starting to lead to a decline in sieges taking place, but when railways were introduced, they made it possible to move and supply of larger armies. It also reintroduced siege warfare, as armies seeking to use railway lines in enemy territory were forced to capture fortresses which blocked these lines. Furthermore, the apparent effectiveness of additional field defences along with improvements to firearms technology made it easier for the defenders again. This then led to the adoption of tactics that would make the defenders surrender by bombarding the civilian population within a fortress, rather than the defences.

By the 20th century, city walls had become ineffective to modern artillery, which could destroy them, or bypass them from miles away. This brings us to WW1, which introduced trench warfare on a mass scale, and essentially a form of siege as it progressed. During the war, many methods and tactics for assaulting enemy lines with special troops developed, but overall the war was dominated by artillery. By WW2 and subsequently, the form of siege was mostly in the form of large forces encircling and bombarding cities into submission before assault. However, the continuing development of armoured vehicles and aircraft meant that mobility was far more important than ever before, and the introduction of long range bombing, and eventually inter-continental missiles make it virtually impossible to defend a position indefinitely without the surrender of either side.

Insult in the 16th Century (Revised)

The use of insulting language in the late 16th century is easily seen in court records of the time. After the Reformation there was a sudden rise in defamation allegations being recorded. Defamation laws required there to be an economic consequence or accusation of crime for the case to be brought to court, hurt feelings were not enough. The general type of these cases is easily seen, in situations where it is men v men, the insult is normally against a man’s reputation, or the activities of his wife. The thought being that a man’s reputation was precious, and any insult is important enough to take to court. Most of these cases were tried at the secular courts, with the exception with those concerned with sexuality, generally against women, these went to church courts. Men were more likely to be concerned with insult that could affect their business, while women’s entire reputation was based on the accepted sexual mores of the day.

The most dangerous insults towards men, and those pursued most vigorously, were those against their professional business. Thomas Handley accused Elizabeth Vincent of destroying his business when she publicly proclaimed “God forbid that ever Handley take any work in hand that ever shall prosper” after her child died in his care. He claimed as a result of this he lost customers. Some insults were meant to suggest that men were outsiders to their communities and a threat by questioning their parentage – a direct insult to their reputation – such as those levelled at John Johnson by a neighbouring couple who claimed ‘no man knew from where he came’ while also branding him a ‘Scotty Rouge’ and ‘Vagabond’ further pushing an idea of a threat to the community. While drinking alcohol was seen as an important part of male friendship, extreme or common drunkenness was seen as a man out of control. One John Paterson was described as a ‘foresworn drunken fellow’ and a ‘spewbleck’ describing what drunkenness did to him.


The cases of women v women or men v women are quite different. When women were insulted it tended to be of a sexual nature, often with the word ‘whore’ being used. Other words of a negative sexual nature solely towards women such as ‘jade’ and ‘queane’ can be seen in cases such as Anne Webb’s diatribe against Margery Dunne in 1593:‘thow hacking queane thou hacking jade comon ridden Jade codpeece whor codpeece quean…’. Some cases such as this one seem to be more attacks on other women out of anger. Other women sometimes would directly attack women who had sex with their husbands such as a case in 1579 where Alice Amos was heckled by Susanna Symonds: ‘Thow art a whore And I sawe my husband stand between thie legs and thow didst put thow hands into his codpeece very rudely.’ The difference between the gender and the language of insult has been explored by Laura Gowing in her article ‘Gender and the Language of Insult in Early Modern London’ in History Workshop. Gowing states that after 1600 the consistory court of London found its time taken up by cases sued by women concerning insults about their sexual and moral behaviour. This statement is backed by numerous records of what is said in these cases.


When cases were between men and women the tone often changed. One such case is between Robert Coke and Joan White. The basis of the argument is that Robert found a knife in the street, which Joan then claimed to be hers. Robert then claimed that Joan ‘…liest (sic) like a whore…’, to which Joan replied ‘Whose whore am I…’. Robert then stated ‘…thou art John Cokes whore…’. This relatively simple exchange of insults was enough for it to be heard in court. The document in which these quotes originate is part of the church court record dated 30th October 1585. Some were possibly revenge, men often defamed women they claimed to have slept with; whether this was always true if women rejected male advances or if it was in revenge for when women tried to end things we cannot always know. In 1574 James Granger threatened Alice Marsh by telling her: ‘Alice Marsh was an arraunte whore and that he had lyen with her, and that he would send letters to her husband to declare the same’.

The study of these documents show how insults were tailored to men and women, depending on their social standing. The fact that women were able to pay the costs of taking a case to a judge suggests that their husbands considered an insult against the woman an insult against them, as it would suggest that if their wife was a whore he could not control her sexual actions and he was a cuckold. The number of cases where men brought the cases to court where female family members were accused of ‘whoredom’ is interesting, as men were considered the guardians of their female family member’s sexual behaviour.

I find this all very interesting as it shows how the higher levels of society dealt with insult and potential controversy in the late 16th century, going to such lengths to protect their reputation as they would their own interests.


Upper and Lower Class Tudor Fashion

Fashion, along other sociopolitical signifiers, has often been used as a sign of wealth throughout history, and Tudor times were no exception. Most trends were introduced by the royalty, who popularised them and produced the copycat effect, therefore propagating these tendencies amongst other of their same ranks, if not the whole of society. So today I will be looking at some aspects of Tudor fashion that were at their peak back in the day. However, I will also give you the contrast of what was common fashion among those less fortunate; the poor and working classes of early modern England.

Let’s set the scene first. Just so you get an idea of how important clothes and bling were then, it is believed that Henry VIII spent over £2.4 million of today’s pound a year on his wardrobe…I mean, he was a large man but even so, just like the celebs today, huh? Well, as we are talking about Henry, something that became really fashionable during his reign was the codpiece. As a clothing item, the general rule of thumb was big was good and bigger better. In fact, the codpiece was known to be stuffed with a padding called bombast. Codpieces could be big enough to fit and conceal a weapon! But, the trend died out by the late 16th century, giving way to the perhaps more elegant 3 piece Elizabethan suit (jerkin and hose). Henry’s wives were just as fancy as he was, and they set their own trends too. for example, Anne Boleyn is often attributed the introduction of the French hood in England, which was quickly copied by the ladies of the court. Even Catherine of Aragon had impact in a rather peculiar artefact that accompanied women’s attire: the mini prayer-book. This miniaturised books of worship were fastened around the waists of high-ranking female aristocrats and merchants, perhaps as a sign of piety.

You know how the saying goes: like father like daughter, so it is no surprise that Elizabeth I was herself quite a fashion victim. It is well-known that she owned the signature pale make up of the nobility of her age. This look was achieved by the use of a substance called ceruse. Unfortunately for Elizabeth and the rest of Tudor society, ceruse was composed by lead, therefore causing severe skin damage as well as hair loss, which must have been a horrible combination for the Queen and her unfortunate contraction of smallpox…Who said beauty did not come at a high price? But, moving on, there were other items of fashion that were popular amongst Tudor nobility and were not exclusive of the royal family. Brooches were a popular item of jewellery as an ornament for wealthy women in the 16th century. In addition, certain fabrics such as velvet, silk and satin maintained their status of previous centuries as luxurious textiles, therefore only accessible by those who could afford the coin. Interestingly however, and something that perhaps contrasts highly with out modern attire, is the fact that black clothing were exclusively available to the highest ranking members of society. This is due to the fact that black dye was incredibly expensive to maintain and hard successfully stain textiles with it. So if you were good for money in Tudor times, you wouldn’t have looked terribly off from a Goth – funny…

Nevertheless, this was not all joy and colourful extravaganza, as it is seen by the attires of ordinary people. We know thanks to archaeological discoveries, particularly in London, that knitting seems to have become a popular activity for the everyday woman of the 16th century. The poor would have riled in home knitted wear to keep themselves warm. All types of garments have been found made this way, from mittens to underwear vests. There is a particular type of knitted wear that is known to have been worn by the working men in London: caps. These were made with neck and cheek or ear pieces to keep the face warm, but also way from the dirt. In addition, these caps were fairly waterproof and perfectly capable of coping with the bad weather. Interestingly, we have also found leather pattens that would have been layers on top of normal shoes to keep them clean when people went outside. I guess this is what happens when you can only afford a pair of shoes: you must ensure they are kept in the best condition possible, and covering the shoes with multiple layers, could well have been a cheaper fix than buying a new pair every so often. As a final point, I would like to bring attention to the ordinary clothes any man would have worn on a daily basis in comparison to the pompous codpiece and the 3 piece suit. I am talking about them commoner’s shirt and breeches, also known as slops. These are believed to have been a practical attire particularly used by sailors and other labourers.

So, perhaps next time you go shopping or find yourself browsing through a clothes magazine, you will take a moment to consider how fashionable fashion actually is, or how new such and such trend actually are 😉

Medieval Warfare Vol. VI, Issue 6 Review – January/February 2017

Late last year I got the opportunity to read an advance issue of Medieval Warfare and since it was a chance to keep up to date with different historical literature since graduation I was delighted. A couple of issues were sent to W.U.HSTRY and Lilly (W.U.HSTRY ruler) sent this one over to me as it kept in line with my interests as a historian including art history, the Hundred Years War, and my curiosity in medieval weaponry. My initial reaction in receiving this issue, which is released in January 2017, was to enjoy how much effort has gone into the layout of the magazine and wishing I had the ability to draw medieval landscapes and images with such skill. The key theme of this issue was the ideology of man, specifically those of the lower orders of society, trying to act like God through violence and war in order to settle their respective scores, and the German Peasants War of the sixteenth century was an apt choice to represent this theme throughout. The editor of Medieval Warfare, Peter Konieczny, gave a short introduction to the theme of this month by identifying the main contributors to January’s edition such as eminent medieval scholars such as Kelly DeVries, some of whose work I enjoyed reading myself during research in my undergraduate History degree. There are heavier analytical aspects to this magazine towards the German Peasants War and this is followed by a lighter hearted tale of a cow stopping a siege.

I could sit here and analyse the whole magazine but I thought it would be more suitable for me to choose the highlights. As expected from the magazine with warfare in the title there is a strong tilt towards weaponry, armour, military tactics and the role the lords and peasants played against each other during the German Rebellion. The first article by Kelly DeVries ‘Lucifer and his Angels’ debates the issue around why would peasants revolt in the first place. The abstract introduces the Marxist opinion that peasant oppression from their lords meant that rebellion was always ‘simmering’. DeVries initially states that peasant revolts were infrequent, of varying size, and never successful. This is a good start to looking into why, how and what caused the sixteenth century German peasants to revolt and why it is particularly interesting to medieval historians. Throughout the article is images of armour worn during the war and maps presenting the breadth of the revolt in the German provinces.

The next couple of articles include text by Erich B.Anderson who looks at an army that swept through Upper Swabia in 1525 and Jean-Claude Brunner’s ‘Siege of Salzburg’. They both look in-depth as specific episodes of German history within the different aspects of the Peasants War. Another interesting part was an excerpt in Sidney E.Dean’s article on ‘Knight of the Iron Hand’ Götz von Berlichingen where Dean looked specifically into the mechanics of Berlichingen’s literal iron hands and whether they were efficient or useless in their role. Each article offers the opportunity to look into further reading which for both amateur and academic historians alike are useful.

The best article available in my opinion would be Iason-Eleftherios Tzouriadis’ ‘Death, Violence and Sex’ which looks into Anti-War propaganda art created during the sixteenth century as a response to the wars encircling Europe during the late middle ages. This is a particular interest to the art geek in me. Art in the military was limited as an aid in studying the military in itself and their equipment. Tzouriadis references Hale’s 1990 work Artists and Warfare in the Renaissance. This offers extra insight into how historians have started to critically analyse illustrations to inform their research. The article shows several examples to back up both Tzouriadis and Hale’s analysis.

It is always good practise as historians to look for parallels between the medieval and modern eras. Dahm looks into the socio-economic and political similarities between medieval Germany and 1850 when an eminent piece of medieval warfare scholarship was published. The last part of the magazine was dedicated towards the Hundred Years War as an increasing interest in the logistics of medieval warfare is appearing in historical literature, and a weapon that never existed.

In all this is a fascinating issue that introduced an element of history I was unfamiliar with and happy to get acquainted. The whole issue is 60 pages and packed with information, illustrations and snippets of relevant information. There is a coherency between the articles with a strand on the role of peasants in history, the logistics of each revolt, war, rebellion, siege or catastrophe and finally their representation in the media. I found nothing to argue with but a lot to research as a new interest to add to my bookshelves and by the end of the magazine you will want to rewatch Monty Python and the Holy Grail (the last article).

Medieval Warfare can be brought at


Hand in Hand: Theatre and Politics

In recent weeks the link between politics and theatre has come to the forefront of discussion, with arguments about politics role in the theatre. Whatever peoples’ thoughts are on politics’ place or appropriateness in theatre, it is simply undeniable that the two are inextricably linked and have been since theatre existed.  This is not a simple link either; theatre and politics throughout history have been linked in a variety of ways, whether it be in the play itself, its patrons, its performers and writers or even the physical theatres themselves.

Western theatre is largely based on the theatre of the ancient Greeks. This is also where politics and theatre became intertwined. The venue for theatre and politic discussion during this period were the same; the amphitheatre. This, along with the emphasis placed on rhetoric as civic duty, meant the two often overlapped during this period. While there is no term in ancient Greek for satire, several of the earliest satirists wrote for Greek theatre, such as Aristophanes who was fiercely critical of Cleon, a general and politician, and Menander whose earliest surviving fragment of work was an attack on a politician.

English theatre until the Reformation was mostly restricted to religious plays such as mystery cycles and miracle plays. These plays became unacceptable after the Reformation and secular theatre began to flourish. Theatre companies, to play in public, were required to have a noble patron and many of the companies took their name from their patrons, such as the Lord Chamberlin’s men.

Theatre companies during this period had two audiences: the monarch and court; and the general public. Therefore plays had to straddle a line of appealing to the general public while not offending the court. Sometimes this failed, such as in A Game of Chess which was stopped after several performances for its thinly veiled allegory of the current monarchy.

Even plays that were not about the monarch or court could be dangerous. Shakespeare’s Richard II was paid to be performed shortly before the Essex Rebellion in 1601 by Essex’s supporters in hope that the play, which was deeply critical of Richard II, would encourage people to join the rebellion.  Luckily for Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlin’s men they were not punished for their accidental involvement. However such incidents show that theatre was considered to be deeply political.

After the closure of theatres under the Puritan Interregnum rule of Oliver Cromwell, the ascension of Charles II led to a new flourishing age of theatre. Political plays found new popularity in theatres across the country, such as The Country Wife and The Roundheads. This was despite theatres requiring a royal patent and despite the fact that Charles II was known to frequent theatres unlike his predecessors.

The introduction of allowing women on stage was one of the most politically charged acts of the 17th century, directly challenging gender roles. Female actors attracted controversy on and off-stage: on stage the women portrayed characters far from what was considered ‘acceptable’; and off-stage many actresses who had come from lowly means found themselves thrust into the political spheres of court, and able to wield political power via their affairs with nobility or even the king himself.

The Licensing Act of 1737 had a huge impact on English theatre and was introduced because of the political fears of Prime Minster, Robert Walpole. Walpole feared that the popularity and presence of political satire and dissent on stage undermined him and his government. As a result the act allowed government censorship of the stage, which continued until 1968. The act was strengthened in 1848, making it compulsory for all plays to receive government approval before staging. This meant whole plays could be refused, although in most cases plays simply had certain passages censored. This included all plays, even performances of classical plays. This created a two tier theatre system with legitimate theatres who were licensed and those that were not.

With the power of the censor, plays especially in the 19th century began to focus more on social than political issues, which aligned more with the attitude of the government. When politics did enter the theatre, it was not uncommon for it to come after the scripts had been submitted to the censors. Pantomime became one of the most political genres of theatre. Writers such as George Bernard Shaw and J B Priestly courted controversy by inserting their own politics into plays.

At the dawn of the 20th century political groups began to form theatre groups, such as the Workers Theatre Movement and the Pioneer Players. In 1936, the Unity Theatre was formed with distinctly left wing productions, many of which directly challenged censorship.

After the Second World War, political theatre came into its own. Politically charged theatre first found its footing on the fringe theatres as until 1968, theatres were still censored. Plays such as The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter (who would go on to write a number of highly politically charged plays throughout the last half of the 20th century) and Oh, What a Lovely War!, pushed their political messages indirectly.

The lifting of censorship, along with the political atmosphere of the 1960s, allowed an explosion of direct political theatre. Plays such as Saved by Edward Bond, which had previously been severely censored, were allowed in their full political anger. Play writers were no longer restricted to political satire to criticise their government, their monologues could now directly call out those who did not live up to their expectations.

This has continued and expanded through into the 21st century, with even ‘family-friendly’ productions such as the musical Billy Elliot being adamantly anti-Thatcher. Today it seems unimaginable that in living memory that there was not a time where playwrights could not write clear criticism of the current political climate.


Travel Journal: Museum Hopping in Edinburgh

Day One: 16/11/16

I’d lusted after Edinburgh from afar for absolutely ages, but it was only last week– after years of increasingly desperate planning– that I finally got the chance to visit the city of my dreams.

Getting off the Megabus was tricky. For one, I’d been sitting for a twelve hour coach journey and my joints were stubbornly refusing to work. But there was something else, something which made me pause at the automatic door, probably to the great annoyance of the coach driver. It was a deep-seated nervousness, combined with a sense of This is it! You’re actually here!

You see, after years of hoping and dreaming, the reality of it scared me. What if Edinburgh failed to live up to my ridiculously high expectations? What if, after all, it was simply the grey, ‘gloomy’ city my lecturer had described in a reply to my Sorry, won’t be in next week’s lecture, third year is too much and I’m running away to Scotland for a while email? (Of course the real, Actual Responsible Adult™ reason for visiting Edinburgh was to scope out the postgrad open day, but I’ll run away from that as well, while I can).

Eventually I did get off the coach and, in a bit of a daze, I wheeled both myself and my suitcase out of the station and on to North Saint Andrew Street. The first thing that hit me, straight away, was the temperature. It was freezing, but absurdly pleasant after sitting in a stuffy coach all night. In the east, the sun was rising above the distant Firth of Forth, and the sky was a gorgeous shade of purple, specked with deep oranges and strands of golden yellow which were reflected off the tall Georgian buildings nearby. My hair, caught up in the near-Arctic wind, whipped around me and, while I had barely slept all night, I felt exhilarated. I knew then– as cheesy as it may sound– that Edinburgh would not disappoint.

Edinburgh at sunrise.jpg
Edinburgh at sunrise. Photo not my own as I was preoccupied with a little existential crisis.

So we set off in search of Justin, our Airbnb host for the week, to collect keys and settle in before a long day of open day-ing and thinking of the future-ing. He was a little late and for a moment, huddled together against the cold on Nicholson Street, we wondered if Airbnb was possibly all a big scam. But Justin soon arrived, and was lovely. He gave us a quick tour of the flat –bathroom here, kitchen there, keys through the letter box when you leave – and then left us to recover from the journey and de-zombify ourselves for the day ahead.


The open day at The University of Edinburgh was brilliant. As the main reason for travelling 418.3 gruelling miles in a Megabus, I found it both useful and decidedly worth it. Still not 100% sure of the course itself though, I’m possibly leaning ever so slightly more towards another one at the moment, but it’s a shame because I fell completely head-over-heels for the university itself. Also, credit where credit’s due, the staff and open day helpers were excellent throughout the day, answering any questions we had and being very friendly.

Afterwards we all returned to Justin’s and had well-deserved naps, relishing at the prospect of sleeping in actual beds rather than a crowded moving vehicle. I slept deeply and dreamlessly and woke feeling refreshed, if still a little tired. We had dinner– a lovely meal of pasta and lentils courtesy of Wendy then left the house again for a haunted ghost walk of Edinburgh’s underground spaces with City of the Dead Tours.

It was raining buckets when we left the house, and positively chucking it down by the time we arrived at the meeting point along the Royal Mile. The drenched cobble stones and masonry were a glossy charcoal, like something out of a melodramatic Victorian murder mystery, glittering with the reflected reds and oranges of streetlights that could so easily have been gaslights. Just as I was thinking all that’s missing is Jack The Ripper, the tour guide appeared. He was draped in a thick black cloak, with a top hat perched on his head, and he called us over to the group with a thick Scots accent.

As he led the group to our underground destination deep in the Edinburgh vaults, he spoke about the history of the local area. It was embellished for effect, and there were certain bits that didn’t sound entirely historically accurate, but his words rang with a gritty realism. For the most part, he didn’t mention hauntings or ghostly goings on, but instead created a sense of horror through his descriptions of the conditions experienced by the very poorest of society.

He led us down ambling side-roads and winding cobbled streets, through historic red-light districts which were now lined with tourist shops and artisan bakeries, speaking all the while of the horrific overcrowding of the eighteenth century city, the dire mortality rates, and the failures of the state and the church in caring for the poor. When of course we finally did make it underground, he regaled us with ghost stories and descriptions of the South Bridge Entity which was said to dwell in the vaults. It was spooky, without a doubt, but I felt that the true horror of the night was resoundingly in his descriptions of the past.

As we emerged above ground again, the Old Town stretched out around us, appearing both ageless and ancient. It was all too easy to imagine the sights he had described, and the people who had suffered in this place. That was what haunted me most.

It soon started to rain heavily again and we were drenched trying to find our way home in the labyrinth of backstreets. Naturally, when Google Maps failed to work, we blamed the South Bridge Entity for making us lose our way.

Day Two: 17/11/16

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Had a slight lie-in to recover from the knackering twelve-hour journey, and ended up leaving the house just after lunchtime. Our first port of call was the National Museum of Scotland, which I was embarrassingly keen to visit. It was a stunning building, both inside and out, which really did credit to the fascinating exhibits. The hands-on science and technology gallery was great fun, and we spent far too long playing with the interactive exhibits, making hot air balloons lift off and programming a robot to do our bidding. There was also a fair bit of snapchatting going on as we took in the culture which, to be fair, some exhibits seemed to directly cry out for.

As dedicated Outlander fans, Bryony and I soon headed to the eighteenth century section, where we tried and failed to be dignified in our adoration of the era. Here, we were able to sit in a miniature thatched cottage, listen to traditional music of the period, squeeze into children’s dress-up clothes, and attempt to take in as much info as we possibly could. The exhibits on Culloden and the Jacobite risings in particular were beautifully comprehensive, and it was tricky to pull ourselves away from it all.

We could have happily sat in that thatched cottage reading about Bonnie Prince Charlie for hours, but it was getting late and we wanted to visit the Royal Mile before the shops shut. So we dragged ourselves away and exited via the (genuinely amazing) gift shop. It was then only a short walk before we found ourselves on one of Edinburgh’s most famous streets. The Royal Mile was lush and, to tell you the truth, I spent far too much money in its many tourist shops. I bought a gorgeously warm and cosy Edinburgh hoodie for myself, and presents for friends and family, as well as what felt like a few hundred postcards. Worth every penny, to be honest. Je ne regrette rien.

We were making our way back to the house when, purely by chance, we realised how close we were to Greyfriars Kirkyard. Of course, being the mature adults that we are, we were thrilled at the prospect of visiting one of Scotland’s most haunted locations after dark. It was nearly pitch-black and we walked around quickly, using the light from our phones to guide us, while attempting to avoid the group of people filming a Most Haunted style documentary in one corner of the cemetery. Eventually we began to feel unsettled and decided to leave.

Day Three: 18/11/16

We woke up early in order to make it to the Glasgow University open day. Here, almost immediately upon arrival, I fell in love with the Glaswegian subway which was so refreshingly easy to use after years spent getting lost on the tube. The city had a buzz to it that’s difficult to describe, but it was artsy and ancient, energetic and fun. Glasgow doesn’t take itself seriously, which I really love about it.

The open day itself was perfect, and as of now I’m definitely planning to make an application. Everyone we encountered bent over backwards to help us and one man even walked us to the subway station in the pouring rain when we asked for directions. The city is undoubtedly deserving of its title as the world’s friendliest city.

The beautiful University of Glasgow.

After the open day, we had a quick look around the Hunterian Museum, then did a fair amount of tourist-ing, followed by a little bit of shopping where I was very tempted to buy quite a lot of gloves. Spotting the Duke of Wellington statue, cone and all, was a definite highlight of the trip. So too was dinner at Mono, a charming vegan restaurant/record shop in the city centre. I had a delicious to-fish and chips (battered tofu = Pure Heaven) followed by a chocolate avocado and walnut tart. Really wish there was a restaurant like this nearer to Winchester, because I could quite easily spend most of my life there.

As it was, I left Glasgow feeling sad that the day was over. I would have loved to spend more time in this brilliant city.

Day Four: 19/11/16

We spent our fourth day storming Edinburgh castle. I was amazed by how much there was to see and do here, with many individual museums nestled within the castle’s keep. After a fascinating but freezing guided tour followed by the 1pm firing of the cannon, we had a chilly lunch in the tea rooms, huddled around Bryony’s teapot for warmth. We then headed to the National War Museum, where we spent well over an hour reading displays and being drawn into the history on offer. We even found a radiator in one room, which was a godsend.

Not to mention, it was also the perfect spot for the odd #MuseumSelfie which really is terribly good fun. In the words of curator Mar Dixon (@MarDixon), “I always feel so bad for those people who don’t get #MuseumSelfie or any fun in museums. I just want to hug them and tell them it’ll be ok.”

It was difficult to decide where to visit next, as we were completely spoilt for choice. Eventually though we settled on the Prisons of War which showcased the living conditions of POWs held there throughout the centuries. These men ranged from French sailors captured in 1758, shortly after the Seven Years’ War, to soldiers of the American War of Independence (1775-83), right up to inmates from wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France (1793-1815). The surrounding displays told tales of the prisoners, one of whom was a five-year old drummer boy, taken at Trafalgar (1805). Another, desperate to escape, hid in a dung cart, only to be killed on the rocks below as the contents were tipped over the castle wall. Four more succeeded in escaping in 1799, by lowering themselves down the rock on washing lines, while in the more audacious outbreak of 1811, 49 prisoners cut their way through the parapet wall, beside the battery. All but one escaped and the hole is still there today.

Next we sampled some lovely Bruadar whiskey in the Whiskey and Finest Food shop, then visited The Royal Palace, a principle royal residence from the eleventh century up until the early seventeenth. It was a fascinating building, with a grand history. Indeed, it was here that, on the 19th of June, 1566, Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to the future King James VI of Scotland and James I of England and Ireland. It was truly remarkable to think that the first king of England and Scotland, a man who would go on to shape both nations so dramatically, had been born in such an impossibly small room.

The next part of our visit to the castle was spent admiring the Scottish crown jewels, which are the oldest in the British Isles, created in Scotland and Italy during the reigns of James IV and James V. They were first used for the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in September, 1543. We saw the Stone of Destiny as well, also known as the Stone of Scone, which is traditionally thought to have once been part of an ancient royal bench-throne, and imbued with sacred powers. For centuries, Scottish kings were ceremoniously crowned atop the stone, tying the monarch to the land forevermore.

Honours of Scotland.jpg
The Honours of Scotland. Photo not mine.

The Stone has an eventful history. In 1296, believing himself to have a God-given right of superiority over Scotland, Edward I forcibly removed the Scots’ royal regalia and holy relics, along with 65 chests containing the records of the kingdom. In short, he took all the objects of statehood, making sure that the Stone of Destiny was in his haul, it was removed from the abbey of Scone in August, 1296 and sent to Westminster Abbey. Here, it was enclosed in a new throne, the Coronation Chair, where it has been used ever since in the coronations of most monarchs of England and, from 1714, all the rulers of Great Britain.

However, on Christmas Day, 1950, four students from the University of Glasgow removed the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey and brought it back to Scotland. On the 11th of April, 1951, it turned up 500 miles away, at the high altar of Arbroath Abbey! Afterwards, it was once again taken to Westminster Abbey, but the actions of the students made people begin to ask Why wasn’t the stone in Scotland?

Finally, in 1996, the Stone of Destiny was returned to Scotland on the 700th anniversary of its removal, under the proviso that it may be ‘borrowed’ for any future coronations at Westminster Abbey. It’s a truly remarkable object, and I could easily have spent all day reading about its history. There’s also a great film called The Stone of Destiny which tells the story of the four students who returned the Stone to Scotland. It’s a bit clichéd, and Charlie Cox’s Scottish accent is more than a little bit dreadful, but it’s a genuinely heart-warming tale, and I would really recommend it to anyone interested in the Stone’s history.

Some subtle photobombing from Bryony.

Finally, after a quick look around Saint Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest structure in Edinburgh (dating from 1130), and a moment of quiet reflection in The Scottish National War Memorial, it was time to leave Edinburgh Castle. Our visit was incredible, without a doubt 100% worth the admission fee. There was so much to see and do here, and exhibits to entertain people of all ages and historical inclinations. A really marvellous day out.

We walked along Princes Street on the way back to Justin’s house, recreating the opening scene of Trainspotting. Once again, the city was freezing but exhilarating, generating a genuine ‘Lust for Life’ in us all.

We got back to the house quite quickly, having finally learnt to navigate the tangled web of Edinburgh’s streets, and ordered delicious pizza from the incredible ‘Dough Pizza’. A truly ‘Perfect Day’.

Day Five: 20/11/16

Returned to Winchester today.

Annoyingly, the coach journey was delayed due to traffic and road closures, and ended up taking almost 15 hours altogether. A little bit hellish, but certainly not something that could detract from the overall experience of our trip.

Because, you see, it turned out that my expectations of Edinburgh weren’t ‘ridiculously high’ at all. This was something the city proved to me day after day, as I fell more deeply in love with it than I ever could have anticipated.

Another factor I couldn’t have anticipated is my new-found dependency on Irn Bru. Really have to thank Bryony, my enabler, for introducing me to that little habit. Definitely not something to regret though.

Special thanks to my lovely companions Bryony (@bryonyjo31), Maddie (@maddiech_) and Wendy (@whitecinnamonsugar).


Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain- Formation of New France

As many of you will know Canada and parts of the United States have historical ties to France. Today, Canada recognises French as an official language along with English and the recognised native languages of Chipewyann, Cree, Gwitch’ in, Inuinnqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and the Dogrib language. This post will explain the formation of New France which will detail Jacques Cartier’s exploration of the St Lawrence River and Samuel de Champlain’s charting of the St Lawrence. This in turn was a stepping stone to the area that is today known as Quebec in Canada. Although this post will focus on the foundations of New France that became Quebec, other places like Acadia, Louisiana and much of the interior of North America formed part of New France. By 1750, New France stretched from Quebec right down to the Bayous of Louisiana.

Cartier’s voyage occurred during the ‘Age of Discovery’ in the fifteenth century. Take the term as you will, it nevertheless was a time when a number of European nations started to explore other territories, notably in the Americas. The prominent nations at the time were; Spain, Portugal, Britain, the Netherlands and France. Cartier was born in St. Malo, the Duchy of Brittany. In 1534, by this time the Duchy of Brittany was amalgamated to the Kingdom of France. King Francis I commissioned Cartier to find a route to Asia so France can prosper from the wealthy Asian markets. However, Cartier had come across the area that is now known today as Newfoundland, the Gaspe Peninsula and other maritime lands near the opening of the St Lawrence River. Cartier and his men who sailed with him first made contact with a native population in the Chaleur Bay and some Iroquoian peoples around the Gaspe Peninsula. The Iroquoian peoples here should not be confused with the Iroquoians that were further south, in the area that is now New York. This contact was said to have not been hostile and some trading occurred, albeit the contact was not for very long. It was on the first voyage that Cartier took two Iroquoian captives with him to France and it was they who revealed the names of the land on that first voyage, ‘Honguedo’ and that the land allegedly featured areas of immense wealth.


In 1535 Cartier returned for his second voyage. However after travelling further up the St Lawrence River this time, Cartier and his men made contact with more Iroquoians living close to the river. The settlements were at Stadacona (now Quebec City) and Hochelaga (now Montreal). Cartier could not sail past Hochelaga as numerous rapids allowed him to go no further. Cartier much preferred the site of Hochelaga than Stadacona as he commented that Hochelaga seemed more appeasing. However, the area did not attract a lot of attention at this point for permanent settlement. Cartier returned to Stadacona before returning to France. However Cartier and his men were unable to due to adverse weather conditions. They had to remain in Stadacona for the winter. Again there was no track of hostility when Cartier and his men stayed during the winter of 1535-1536 before returning to France. Cartier and his men spent their time to strengthen their fleet, collect wood and combat a break out of scurvy. However when Cartier and his men were ready to leave in the spring of 1536 the Iroquoians became unhappy when Cartier decided to take a chief back to France.

Cartier returned for a third voyage, however this voyage was not as successful at least for him on a personal level. Cartier was replaced by a French Huguenot by the name of Jean Francois de la Roque de Roberval, who led that expedition. The goal of this voyage however changed considerably from the other two, whereby the goal was to find an alternative route to Asia. The purpose of this voyage was to find suitable land, full of the necessary resources to make a permanent settlement. Although Cartier did not lead the expedition, he did have permission by Jean Francois to sail before him as he wanted to wait for supplies to be ready for the voyage. Cartier decided to settle on an area further on from Stadacona. The area is a little west to Quebec City today and is now incorporated under the city. The area in question is Cap-Rouge. In addition to Cap-Rouge another area close to it was settled in and fortified to protect French interests. This area was called Charlesbourg-Royal. The land had proven to be successful as food crops like cabbage and root vegetables did grow and harvests were carried out. This proved that it was feasible to farm and grow food. By this time Cartier became interested in an Iroquoian legend from what he had been told during his second voyage. The legend in essence is about somewhere further north there was place full of gold and furs, named Saguenay. During the third voyage he wanted to go out and search for it. However, Cartier was prevented from doing so due to adverse weather conditions and he never came across it. Cartier was not the last person to go looking for it. Many men did try to find it but to no avail. It is unclear just how much truth there is to this legend, if it was misunderstood by Cartier and the French or that the specific Iroquoians who told the legend wanted the French to embrace it and travel further away from their lands. Nevertheless, what we do know is Iroquoian peoples relied in oral history as a way to pass down their stories and traditions for other generations. Before the coined term the ‘Age of Discovery’, Norsemen were the first known Europeans to land in North America. After all they established a settlement by the name of Vinland for a short time. Could it be that this was the origin of the legend? It may very well be, but one thing is for sure was that this was a legend that stuck with the French, particularly Cartier who wanted to set sail to find it. It soon became apparent that Cartier’s time on the North American continent would be short lived, failing to find the legend of Saguenay and failing to protect French fortifications from Iroquoians discontent prompted him to depart for St Malo, whereby he would spend the remainder of his life.

Although Cartier’s time on the North American continent was short lived, a man by the name of Samuel de Champlain was not. By the time Champlain crossed the Atlantic in 1603, trade was a more lucrative prospect. This idea in trade increased when Iroquoian tribes contracted European diseases and many of them left their riverside villages. This allowed a fur trade in the area to flourish. Champlain’s voyage in 1603 was to chart the St. Lawrence River even further as a way to help trade by King Henry IV of France. On a second voyage returning with Pierre Dugua Mons who led the expedition further north. Champlain was asked by Dugua to find a winter settlement. Port Royal, which is today situated in Nova Scotia was the site founded. This site became the start of a new colony, Acadia. This was a particularly potent point for New France as Champlain founded a settlement that was not on the St. Lawrence River. This was a good base for further exploration on the coast. In 1608 Champlain founded a new settlement, where the modern day Vieux-Quebec is. This site consolidated French claim to the area and was used as a base to help stimulate trading endeavours, regarding furs. It was from this point that Iroquoian contact was not relied upon. Many of the St Lawrence Iroquoians had died from European disease or through skirmishes. The Huron people were perceived by Champlain to be the primary suppliers, this proved effective for the French as they had gained an ally but not so much for other tribes known as the Five Nations that intensified discord between them. In addition to the founding of Quebec City, Champlain also settled on an island in the middle of the St Lawrence River. This area was to become Montreal and it was to be used for the same purpose as the previous settlement, for the furs trade further upstream. This settlement was called La Place Royale and later Ville Marie. This three tiered system appeared to work very well with fur traders as the extra site inland enabled them to acquire more territory for the trade to send back to France. By the mid-1600s as a result of the trading, this created a new identity, the Metis. This occurred as many European traders took native wives as a way to bridge the gap between the two distinct cultures. The wives would generally help with any cultural, language or lifestyle concerns. Eventually as the Metis children grew up they were able to interpret for fur traders and become traders themselves as a way to maximise production.

In spite of the fur trade, Ville Marie was unable to attract a considerable numbers of colonists. Most of them came to the area to start up Roman Catholic missions in the hope to convert the native population. Frequent raids occurred in the area from tribes, this offers one explanation as for why other would be colonists from France did not want to come. For those who were there, for many if the attacks persisted this was a sign to leave Ville Marie for Quebec upstream. By the turn of the century however, these raids stopped and this attracted more colonists to come to the area of Ville Marie. This happened because a missionary order under the name of the, Sulpician order convinced some of the native population to move away from Ville Marie to mission villages called Kahnewake and Kanesatake, which became reserves.

All in all this was the foundation for New France and other areas were established under French territory south of the continent. Although this vast area was lost by the French, the Francophone culture remains in the province of Quebec, Canada. Saint Pierre and Miquelon (near Newfoundland) is the only area that remains that was a part of New France, now a French overseas territory.

Towns at War: Technological Advances in Artillery in Early Modern Period

Today I bring you something completely unlike me – warfare! I worked on this some time ago (2010 I believe), during my urban Europe studies, and for my surprise I really enjoyed it. I think the reason for that is because, even though it about warfare, my approach attempted to put things in context from a cultural and social point of view. I have now gone over my research, and unlike many other topics I investigated at the time, I still feel the same way about this one. So, I thought I’ll share, see what you think of it! Sure Alex will have something to say!

The period from 1500 to 1700 has been conceived as one of the most bellicose times in Europe. Changes in warfare throughout this period impacted the experience for towns, cities and their inhabitants. But first, we need to establish the background of military technology up to this stage. Medieval warfare was based in men power, archers and few machines like catapults or mortars. Armies were not particularly big, except when involved in conflicts of great magnitude such as the Crusades. However, by the 14th century gunpowder artillery began to have a role in war. Although gunpowder had existed since ancient times in China, it is thought that this type of application in artillery was first ‘invented’ by German engineers, and used by the Venetians in their wars against the Genovese. And the bad – or good news –  were that gunpowder was coming to stay. Here is when ‘the Military Revolution’ began. You know I am not always very fond of this pre-established terminology, but this one I believe in. The term was first used in a lecture in 1995, at Queen’s University, (Belfast) by Michael Roberts. He believed that this revolution happened in Europe between the 16th and the 17th century.

M. C. Paul has defined the concept as “a series of changes in tactics and strategy, the scale of warfare and the impact of warfare in society, which began in the United Provinces (Netherlands) in the late sixteenth century and culminated in Sweden during the reign of Gustavus Adolphus in the first third of the seventeenth century”.

The main evidences of this process are the new pieces of artillery and fortifications of the period, but there are other issues that reflect the changes implied in this revolution. ‘Military brokers’ (yeah, brokers like those from the banks or that sell insurance) were used by the different governments in order to rise mercenary armies to fight their foes, but that usually ended up damaging civilian life and property. There were also ‘new’ ways of recruitment, as well as the increasing number of mercenary troops. These new recruits were usually criminals, troublemakers, and people with mental and physical disabilities – in other words “meat-shields”, disposable troops, people who no-one would particularly miss…Or at least not the town councils that recruited them...

Artillery wise, there were some changes that were crucial in its development. The machines were provided with carriage devices that made them easier to transport and display. But the critical change was from stone to cast-iron shot, which was more accurately calibrated and had a density liable to flatten masonry works on fortresses. This was a big threat for towns and their security. The problem here was not any more some few knights trying to get control of their fortresses: this was pure destruction on wheels. Hence, new devices for defense were needed. The first measure that everyone applied in order to protect their communities was to thicken and reinforce the town walls. There were also the additions of gun-loops in the lower parts of the walls, in order to protect the more vulnerable points, such as entrances or gates. These gun-loops did not require a massive reform of the wall surface as they could be easily done by modifying arrow slits to allow a gun barrel pass through it. But this did not always work. La Rochelle (France) exemplifies this best. After the Huguenot massacre in Vassy, the protestant French forces knew that just the reinforcement of their fortifications was not enough. Therefore, they undertook a long process of reconstruction and addition of new defenses, such as the angled bastion. These protected effectively the city during the siege of 1572-73. Many other places followed this model, and  opted for the addition of the diamond-shaped bastion. Nonetheless, the general model of fortification was the ‘trace italienne’, which consisted in a low rampart replacing the medieval wall, or a separate rampart in case the wall was kept, with no bastions as they were seen as a burden. But all this was to change, thanks to a single man and its vision: the French architect Sebastien Vauban. His fortifications included all the devices mentioned before and were considered the most elegant and efficient in Europe, fact that can be appreciated in his masterpiece: the city of Lille.

But, how effective were these fortresses? The truth is that they proved to be quite effective in the innumerable sieges that happened during this period. By the beginning of the 17th century these were insuperable strongholds but the presented one issue: visibility issues. Good news for the attackers – surprise attacks will get top marks, but this was not always a very easy maneuver to perform. Moreover, the visibility problem was easily resolved. Towns added gun-towers to have a better view of their surroundings and to provide effective flanking fire. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to consider this the end of story – it is not, at all. War had secondary effects on towns. All this process of walling up cities created a stronger feeling of independence and community in towns as the walls became their symbol. Furthermore, it created a closer relationship between towns and the rural areas due to the need of ready supplies. But space started running short, and towns begun to build up their houses to have space to live and work, and new plans of edification were generated (radial and gridiron). These made streets narrow and buildings close to each other…Cities became a massive hazard for epidemic infections and that mixed with the social disruption.

Interestingly, and despite all this development, the conditions of a siege remained the same that in other ages of history: famine, crime, disease…John Landers has produced a study with a table that shows the death causes in Sweden between 1620 and 1719 more people died due to disease (88%) than in combat(12%). This is not something new, but actually a rather common effect of warfare. The new urban layout made people fear more artefacts like bombards that could cause a fire and massive demolition inside the town due to their firing arch. People were constricted within their own walls…But along came the 17th century to change this. As cities could not expand and were too crowded the walls were demolished or left to ruin. Frontiers were closed, towns opened, and the fortified ‘bonneville’ changed into ‘la comerce’ –  system that has been preserved up to modern-day urban geography. Also it has to be considered that the urban response was not the same everywhere. Unlike France or Italy, England remained basically unwalled until the Civil War, and there were differences among the south and the north of the country. In Eastern Europe, the process happened a bit later. Places like Russia or  even Germany preferred the reinforced wall system rather than the new one.

I am very supportive of this statement by Hale, about these changes:

“Gunpowder, in short, revolutionized the conduct but not the outcome of wars”.

But we are missing a key fact in here that I have already been hinting at. One can appreciate war from its victims, and gun powder for sure changed the perception of conflict for those who had to suffer it. The destructive nature of canons, firearms, their terrible noise…That was something that shaped people’s minds, and it made them fear. An arrow does not produce much noise, it will not keep you up by night…but a gun shot will. All the urban developments jeopardising urban health and security contributed to this shock too. So, personal opinion? Yes, gunpowder revolutionised warfare, but more importantly, it change the modern world and its people.

Now, if this has made you think, or tickled your fancy, here are my sources. Some may be out of date, and if that is the case, please send us a comment with some more up to date theories!

-Duffy, C., Siege Warfare: the Fortress in the Early Modern World, 1494-1660, (London and New York, 1979)

-Hale, J.R., ‘Gunpowder and the Renaissance: an Essay in the History of Ideas’, Renaissance War Studies, (London, 1983), pp. 389-420

-Johnston, A.J.B., ‘Sébastian le Prestre de Vauban: Reflections on His Fame, His Fortifications, and His Influence’, French Colonial History, Vol. 3, (2003), pp. 175-188

-Kinard, J., Artillery: an Illustrated History of Its Impact, (E-Book published by ABC-Clio, 2007)

-Landers, J., ‘The Destructiveness of Pre-Industrial Warfare: Political and Technological Determinants’, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 42, No. 4, (Jul., 2005), pp. 455-470

-Nicholas, D., Urban Europe, 1100-1700, (Basingstoke, 2003)

-Parker, G., The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800, (Cambridge, 1996)

-Paul, M.C., ‘The Military Revolution in Russia, 1550-1628’, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 68, No. 1, (Jan., 2004), pp. 9-45

-Potter, D., Renaissance France at War: Armies, Culture and Society, c.1480-1560, (Woodbridge, 2008)

-Reid, S., Castles and Tower Houses of the Scottish Clans 1450-1650, (Oxford and New York, 2006)

-Thompson, M.W., The Decline of the Castle, (Cambridge and New York, 1987)

-Wolfe, M., Walled Towns and the Shaping of France: from the Medieval to the Early Modern Era, (New York, 2009)

A Short History of Ballet

Expression through movement has been a key part in ceremonial and celebratory events since man learned to walk. But the most beautiful and evocative of dance creations did not become what we would recognise today until the glittering Renaissance courts of fifteenth century Italy. Nobles used the basic steps and arm movements during weddings, masques and processions as a way to demonstrate politics, classical stories and biblical morality. Whole courts would participate in the dance designed to show off the ruler’s wealth through costume and the ability to know the latest dance crazes of late medieval Europe. Ballet itself spread northwards to France due to Catherine de Medici’s marriage to Henri II, then the Duke of Orleans, in 1533 who both sought to fund and patronise the growing athletic activity. Ballet continued to be a mixture of dance, poetry and music to envelope the audience in a concoction of movement, colour and noise in the hopes of impressing the resident foreign ambassadors of the French court.

Catherine de Medici’s patronisation of Ballet led it to becoming one of the art forms France remains infamous for today, hence why when learning ballet all of the steps retain their French name. Catherine never lost touch with her Italian native culture and encouraged dance masters from the city states to teach her children, including Cesare Negari who excelled at educating figure dancing – a series of dance patterns learned independently to the beat of eight per bar. The first full-scale choreographed piece Ballet Comique de la Reine was portrayed on October 15th 1581 for Catherine to celebrate the marriage of Marguerite of Lorraine’s marriage to Duc de Joyeuse. Inspired by Homer’s Odyssey and choreographed by Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx, the ballet lasted five and a half hours and focused upon the enchantress Circe, while dancers appeared from all four sides of the great hall which was a first for any court ballet. French kings and queens developed a habit of appearing in the ballets themselves thus showing off their own prowess on the stage, and Henri III and his wife Louise of Lorraine were no different occupying roles in the Ballet Comique.

Ballet continued to be an important part of court festivities until the reign of the Le Roi-Soleil Louis XIV in the seventeenth century when the king began to standardised ballet into a discipline. Louis XIV was an avid dancer throughout his reign and performed in many choreographed pieces such as Ballet de la Nuit. His patronisation meant that ballet was lifted from noble amateurs to require professional training from the masters as dance academies began to develop from 1661. In 1681 ballet moved from the courts to the stage for the first time and became a popular pastime for royals and nobles to visit. By this time the ideology of the Opera-Ballet developed particularly enhanced by the French opera Le Triomphe de l’Amour which remains a popular show today. Up until this point ballet had always been incorporated into other art forms such as masques, weddings or poetry. However, Jean Georges Noverre in the eighteenth century believed that ballet could stand alone as a piece of artwork with just dance and emotive music to convey stories without words. Thence ballet d’action was born which meant the movement of the figures would convey the relationship between characters and carry the narrative themselves. Noverre’s work is considered the most important pre-cursor to the Romantic movement of the nineteenth century.

The Romantic movement influenced art, dance and music and some of the most famous ballets were designed and choreographed during this period. The movement focused upon the ideology of the supernatural with faeries and magic furthering influencing the Gothic movement in literature. Women were painted to seem fragile and passive creatures which were emulated in the ballets. It was during the romantic period that it became the norm for ballerinas to become skilled in pointe work – the act of dancing on your toes in special shoes – and tulle tutus became the staple image of a ballet dancer. The most famous ballets of this period were Giselle and La Sylphide which are the oldest surviving ballets with choreography that would be recognised today. Both include the dramatic death of a main character via supernatural means. Giselle focuses upon a girl who danced herself to death after experiencing heart-break which led to wraiths forcing the man who broke her heart to dance to his death. La Sylphide portrays a man falling for a type of faery, a sylph, who is then killed by witches in the arms of a real girl who loved him. I have seen an adaption of Giselle by the Bolshoi Ballet which was stunningly dramatic and I loved it. During the nineteenth century ballet spread world-wide becoming infamous in Russia, England, America and Japan. Russia is responsible for the most famous ballets of all time with Pepita and Ivanov’s The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. These three ballets represent classical ballet in its purest form due to the development of the classical technique – turned out from the hips, pointe work, high extensions and ultimately precision. Tutu’s got shorted in order to fully maximise the effect of the classical ballet while introducing the ability and movement for leaps and turns those rendered more difficult in older ballet costumes.

From the twentieth century onwards ballet metamorphosed and was challenged by a series of choreographers to include styles and movements derived or adjacent to classical ballet. Neo-Classical ballet was created by the founder of the New York City Ballet, the Russian George Balachine. Balachine created the ideology of the plotless ballet where dance was choreographed to music to reflect the music’s style but for no other purpose and no narrative. Experimentation with costume and dance meant that ballet was able to take on a more contemporary form representing the newer Art Deco styles in the 1920s and away from the Pre-Raphaelite-esque romance of the previous century. Oskar Schlemmer designed the ‘Bauhaus Ballet’ – Triadisches Ballett – where the figures were moulded into geometric colourful shapes to allow the dancers to transform into part of the scenery. Today both classical and contemporary ballet continues to be shown on stages world-wide and remains to be a fascinating and enduring concept. Thousands of little girls still seek to learn the complicated discipline either at amateur schools or professional training boarding schools. I did myself for eleven years during my childhood. Ballet continues to be one of the innovative art forms of modern-day society even with retaining old-fashioned values and movements.

There are plenty of books that highlight the history of ballet that would also go into more depth including:

Anderson, J., Ballet and Modern Dance: A Concise History, 1993.

Clark, M., and Crist, C., Ballet: An Illustrated History, 1992.

Homans, J., Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet, 2010.

Lee, C., Ballet in Western Culture: A History of its Origins and Evolution, 1992.

(Image: ‘Grand pas de Quatre’ from

The Dutch Golden Age: Rise and Fall in 700 words

Welcome to another Blog post, and one about the history of the Netherlands, a country with a very interesting history. In the 20th century, we could assume that it has always been a weak country compared to those around it, France and Germany have seemed to have swamped the country in stature and power. But this was not always the case. The Dutch have a past full of power, trade, money and respect. I will take you back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and briefly explain what the Dutch Golden Age was.

The Netherlands started out as the United Provinces (which included Belgium at this point), well actually from an Early Modern Perspective (sorry my knowledge of Pre-Early modern is a bit hazy, so I won’t try and go back any further!), the country starts from a rebellion against the Spanish. Yes the Spanish used to control what we now know at Belgium and the Netherlands! Why is this, well to sum it up shortly, marriages and inheritance meant that they came part of the great Hapsburg empire, and when that was divided, it became part of the new Spanish empire.

So what we now know as the Netherlands revolted, again to sum up the entire reason….the reformation had taken place in the sixteenth century and those in the northern areas of the United provinces became Protestant. They wanted toleration and did not get any and therefore after many attempts of negotiating, revolt happened. Now during this time, the United Provinces was split, what we know as Belgium and the southern territories were still heavily Catholic and remained loyal to Spain. This would lead to political problems as well as succession from the United Provinces later on.

This happened during the thirty years war, from 1618-48, but for the Dutch it started in 1568, and is often called the eighty years’ war. They were at the end finally recognised as their own country, with their own monarch, William of Orange. But how did they become a great power and when did this happen? Well the seventeenth century saw the Dutch become one of the greatest powers in Europe. The main cause of this is economic. The Dutch took a lot off the Spanish when they succeeded, but unlike the Spanish, who would enter an economic crash, the Dutch were clever merchants would make a vast fortune and at the same time, a formidable navy. One that even the English could not defeat.

This new-found power, would lead the Dutch into a vast amount of problems. Nearby countries such as France and England became jealous of their new-found power and wealth, which would lead to three wars with the English from 1652-78 and the French. This could be argued that it happened because the Netherlands was a republic, something repulsive to the monarchy’s of Europe, but if you look into it deeper, economic tensions was the main reason the nations would come to war.

The decline of the United Provinces happened at the end of the seventeenth centuries. Some historians state it was the power of England and France that forced them to their knees figuratively speaking, I would disagree with that thesis, rather their decline was steady, they could not increase what they already have and so were superseded by England whom invested much into their navy. It was not that the Dutch declined, but more that others just improved.

I can imagine some Marxist historian being repulsed by the government of the United Provinces, after all it was run by the bourgeoisie, but as a historian, the Dutch Golden Age should be studied as one of the first modern states. A remarkable state.  It was unique, it was powerful, it was dangerous to those around it.  It gave birth to some of the greatest statesmen in modern times.  It also saw the rise of one of greatest admirals, Michiel De Ruyter.  The Dutch Golden Age was short-lived, but it was an interesting time and one that should have more attention.  It could be argued that the rise of the Dutch, meant that the English themselves felt threatened,  and therefore the Dutch contributed to the construction of the English Empire.  So I encourage you to go and learn more about this time period, it is certainly very interesting.