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So I got an Abraham Lincoln facemask. I got it for school. To get into the spirit of return to school life. An inspiring person. Provoke conversation with students, maybe staff too. And maybe while out in shops, getting a knowing nod from others in the history community.
No one batted an eyelid. No one in school mentioned it other than to say it freaked them out.
So yes, I am a fan of Old Abe. I’m drawn to those who defy odds and reach greatness with their drive and intelligence rather than money or privilege. And then once in high office, it is their skill that seems to save the day. (My Twitter name @tacicero78 may give a clue to another hero of mine.)
That Lincoln is so relevant is no surprise. The issues he wrestled with plague American society today. Although slavery was officially outlawed in the US, the worldwide inability to end racism are becoming more and more apparent, both historically and in modern life.
Still so many see Lincoln as an enigma. So many new books (and blogs, and my upcoming podcast for the HA) on the man still search for the real Lincoln.
But here’s the thing. Lincoln is one of the most straight forward political figures in history. Yes, he was a politician, so there are lots of times when Lincoln played politics rather than give a true opinion on a matter. Yes, a lot of the sources we have on Lincoln were written after his assassination so have an air of fallen hero worship. The overall reason people think Lincoln is an enigma is the baggage we bring to him in the 21st Century rather than what he presents.
To us today the subject of slavery is an easy one. It was evil. A pervasive evil that dehumanised those who were enslaved and rotted the society it was meant to serve. It is this baggage that we must be aware of when looking at this time period. For while there were some (too few) in the time of Lincoln who would agree with us, there were too many who saw slavery as a question attached to a political spectrum. Most of that spectrum would sicken us today.
In Lincoln’s time, slavery was a political question for most, a moral question for some. And the spectrum was wide-ranging. There were the moral abolitionists such as the moral terrorist John Brown whose actions spurred the south to form an army. William Lloyd Garrison who campaigned for abolition from his newspaper The Liberator. Some were against slavery’s spread to the newly conquered western lands. (Within this was often a racist element – as they did not want black people in the west, slave or free) There were those who wanted an end to slavery but could not constitutionally see a way forward (Here sits Lincoln). There were those with no opinion. Those who gained from it, be it in the north or the south. Like New York, who prospered from the trade in goods made by enslaved people. Those who saw it as a religious right to practice slavery and those who justified it based on bad science.
Within this spectrum sat Lincoln who was always, consistently against slavery. Never once is he recorded as saying that he supports it. I’ll let him sum it up in a letter he sent a Kentuckian Albert Hodges. He was very good with words.
I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel.
Despite this clear statement, which can be backed up with many other quotes and examples, Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He would sooner have seen slavery die a slow death or to be euthanized by the law of the land. How can this be? If he is against slavery then surely he has to be an abolitionist. Well, no. Remember we have to leave our views for a while, as right and noble as they are.
Lincoln thought of himself as a constitutionalist, even when acting outside of it. (If he were here today, his facemask would have been a copy of the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights) In the same letter, he set out his predicament. ‘And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgement and feeling.’
Even so, it was Lincoln that finally freed the enslaved on a massive scale.
Those who look for a ‘yeah but . . .’to my ‘Lincoln was the greatest president because . . .’ turn to a letter Lincoln wrote to newspaper editor Horace Greely in 1862. In that letter, they turn to one section which proves Lincoln’s ambivalence towards slavery.
My paramount objection in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do that.
Yes, I know. Hardly Gettysburg address is it?
A little context may help. Lincoln’s was responding to a letter Greely published in his newspaper admonishing Lincoln for not acting quickly enough on slavery. Lincoln answered this public letter with his own rather sniffy reply.
And yes to our modern ears it sounds at best flat, at worst abandoning. But perhaps on the same desk, he wrote this he had drafted the Emancipation Proclamation.
I know that it had a dubious legal basis. Borne out of military tactics no one was actually freed and it did not apply to slave states still loyal to the Union. The language was perfunctory rather than inspiring (although I quite like, ‘shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.)
From then on though (or should I say, then, thenceforward and forever) it changed the dynamics of the war. It gave hope to millions that would one day bear fruit.
The passage of the 13th Amendment was unusual for many reasons. It would finally place the word ‘slavery’ in the Constitution. It was debated and voted upon when those who it would affect the most did not consider themselves part of the same country anymore. It had the president’s hand all over it in a time when it was not a president’s role to be the chief legislator.
There were opportunities for Lincoln to reconcile with the South and set in motion steps that would end federal involvement in slavery, therefore protecting it for generations. There were times when Lincoln could have sided with the south to fight a foreign power, uniting the country against a foe that would stir nationalistic pride and divert attention away from slavery. He did none of those things. While pressing for the successful end to the civil war he pressed for the end of slavery in ways that even he thought stretched his powers. And he did it because he was as he had always been against slavery.
However, Lincoln was able to hold two separate views. One on slavery, which he saw as wrong and worked to abolish. Another on race.
This is more complicated.
I won’t hide behind, ‘he was a man of his times’. And I don’t need to quote him on the many times he sees the races as separate. He proved it in his actions. He advocated and worked for the emigration of black people out of the United States to Central America and to Africa. He set money aside for this and met with groups of black leaders hoping to persuade then to drum up support. They were less enthusiastic than he.
The colonisation plan was so poorly thought out that the only one undertaken during Lincoln’s presidency was a disaster. Yet Lincoln sees this as the only option. Once emancipated he does not see black people as able to remain in the US. What was he thinking? Once in another country, what would their nationality be? Would they be an American colony? Would they be US citizens? Able to return? Would they have paid taxes back to the USA? Could they have voted? Or were they simply to be abandoned and forgotten about.
The colonisation project never took off. Once the Emancipation Proclamation was issued Lincoln became less vocal about it. In that time he realised that black Americans loved the US and were willing to fight and die in huge numbers to save the Republic. They rightly wanted to remain and enjoy freedom and the benefits that citizenship entails. He was schooled by the best in his meetings with Frederick Douglass that black people were intelligent, passionate and able to hold him to account.
In this Lincoln did grow. His views changed. How much he would continue to change we will never know. In his last speech from a window on the White House, Lincoln said he was in favour of suffrage for those who had aided the Union. This was a huge step forward. For a sitting president to simply say this was progress. It shows progress for Lincoln as a person. But we can only take this so far.
So, what to do with that facemask. Lincoln was the person who freed slaves in huge numbers. (Let’s not forget self-emancipation and assistance of the Underground Railroads) For that Lincoln will always be the greatest president of the United States. In other views, he was less admirable. Sure a man of his times. And in the context of his times, lightyears ahead of others. He was getting better. He was learning. And I admire that skill in a leader. I can’t think of too many leaders who grow that much when in power. But I won’t wear the mask again. I’ll keep his picture up in my classroom with his quote underneath that all are created equal. I will keep learning about Lincoln. And maybe in learning about Lincoln I have learnt something about history – we search through time, looking for heroes.
Lincoln was a fan of Shakespeare. He would know this from Malvolio in Twelfth Night - Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. Lincoln was not born great. He worked with the talents he had to achieve greatness, which he did, more than any other to occupy the same office. And in doing so generations have thrust greatness upon him where maybe it was never needed.
By Versus History Guest Blogger Terence Graham (@tacicero78)
The Fiery Trial and Free Soil, Free Labour, Free Men by Eric Foner
Lincoln Looks West edited by Richard Etulian
Biographies of Lincoln by Michael Burlingame and Doris Kearns Goodwin
How accurate is the TV Series ‘The Spanish Princess?’ by versus history resident blogger tanya price.
I am a massive fan of TV dramatisations based on the Tudor era, and most recently I have been watching ‘The Spanish Princess’ by Starzplay which is an adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s two books ‘The Constant Princess’ and ‘The King’s Curse.’ It is a sequel to the White Queen and White Princess which followed the War of the Roses and the Ascension of Henry VII to be King. The first series aired on Amazon Prime in 2019 and the second series will be released in October 2020.
I have been interested in Henry VIII and his six wives for over 17 years and wondered as I watched the TV series how accurate would it be and would I learn anything new about Catherine of Aragon and the future Henry VIII and his family? Let’s have a closer look at what the show says happened in History and how accurate this is!
In the White Princess the last episode depicts Catherine of Aragon’s mother Isabella of Castille and father Ferdinand of Aragon ordering two heirs to the Tudor throne to be deposed for the betrothal of Catherine to Arthur, the Prince of Wales. How true is this? Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York did execute the pretender to the throne Perkin Warbeck and Edward Plantagenet, the 17th Earl of Warwick. Both these men were possibly related to Elizabeth of York, with Edward being her cousin and Perkin ‘pretending’ to be her brother Richard, who was supposed to have disappeared from his imprisonment in the Tower of London under his uncle Richard III reign. Edward was beheaded in 1499 aged 24 alongside Perkin. What I find interesting is the lengths that Royal Families were willing to go to secure an alliance with another country and eliminate potential rivals to the throne. Catherine inadvertently was responsible for the death of 1 member of the Royal Family of not two to have her ill-fated marriage to Arthur.
In the first episode of the Spanish Princess, it depicts that the marriage between Arthur, the Prince of Wales and Catherine of Aragon had indeed been consummated. It portrays a night of passion between the young couple which is overheard by Catalina (Catherine’s royal bed maker and black Tudor) and Lady Margaret Pole, who was sister to Edward Plantagenet and was overseeing Arthur and Catherine’s stay at Ludlow Castle alongside her husband Richard Pole. Arthur reportedly claimed the day after their arrival at Ludlow to have ‘spent the night in Spain.’ Now I found this interesting as I have always taught that the couple did not have intimate relations as I believed Catherine’s side of the story when Henry VIII was trying to annul their marriage that she was a maid after Arthur died. According to historical sources this scene in the TV series could be true, as Arthur did proclaim being a husband was ‘thirsty work’ and he found his wife ‘pleasing.’ Historians debate whether Arthur was covering up the fact that he has not done the deed or if Catherine later told a white lie to marry Henry VIII and fulfil her destiny of becoming the Queen of England.
After Arthur’s death, the TV series showed that Henry VII wanted to marry his dead son’s wife. This is after the sad death of his wife Elizabeth of York who passed away after giving birth to a stillborn daughter Katherine at the age of 37 on her birthday. Again this was a fact I had not heard of before and found interesting that Henry VII would consider marrying Catherine of Aragon when he knew his son Henry Tudor wanted to. This may only have been for monetary and political gain, as Henry VII may have wanted Catherine’s dowry from her mother and also to secure the alliance with Spain. Or it could have been that he wished to create more heirs and sons. It is said his wife’s last dying wish was for him to marry Catherine of Aragon. As it happened Isabella of Castille blocked this union and Catherine continued her attempts to secure a papal dispensation from the Pope to marry Henry Tudor.
Catherine of Aragon’s sister Joanna of Castille was crowned Queen of Spain after Isabella passed away on the 26th November 1504. The TV series depicts Joanna as slightly insane but also hints at a possible liaison with Henry Tudor whilst she is visiting England after her ships get blown off course in 1505. How true is this? Joanna did have the nickname Juana the Mad and was married to Philip the Fair, the son of Maximillian I who was the Emperor of Austria. It is said that it was her husband’s adulterous ways that led her to have bouts of depression and periods of insanity. Philip also confined Joanna to her rooms as a way to exert control over his wife, and as a protest, she would refuse to eat or sleep. It is unclear from historical evidence if Henry and Joanna did have a liaison or not but I would like to believe that at this point Henry was devoted in his pursuit of getting married to Catherine and would not be so easily swayed! Joanna is a figure that I now want to research further.
Whilst Joanna is in England the Spanish Princess depicts that she arranges with Margaret Beaufort (The King’s Mother) and Henry VII for the betrothal of the youngest Tudor daughter Mary to be married to her son Charles, who would later become the Holy Roman Emperor. This is true however the marriage was called off in 1513 as Mary went on to marry the King of France. In addition, Henry VII agreed to marry Philip the Fair’s sister Margaret but did not see this through. It also claims that Joanna arranged for Henry, the Prince of Wales to marry her daughter Eleanor who was Catherine’s niece. This claim has been proven to be correct. Again this level of political intrigue I had been previously unaware of beforehand.
The depiction of Margaret Beaufort in the programme is that she vehemently dislikes Catherine of Aragon and will do anything in her power to make sure she does not marry the future Henry VIII but one could argue she had ulterior motives in the fact that Maximillan who was Philip’s father was supposed to be harbouring Edmund de la Pool/Pole, the grandson of Richard III and Yorkist opponent to her son Henry VII’s throne. The Tudors wanted Edmund found and all supporters of him to be handed over and put in the Tower of London! Margaret has always been a woman I respected for her sheer devotion to her son and her utmost belief in his destiny to be King. I now wonder what lines she was willing to cross to ensure his safety and continuation as a ruler? It seems that any threat to his rule in History she has had a hand in eliminating with efficiency.
Margaret Beaufort is also shown having contempt for Elizabeth of York’s cousin Lady Margaret Pole. The reason for this could be as when quizzed by the King’s mother Margaret Pole does not disclose whether Prince Arthur and Catherine were ‘really’ man and wife. As a punishment, she raises the rents on Lady Pole’s lands which resulted in her becoming destitute. How accurate is this? History says that after the death of Richard Pole in 1504 Margaret indeed did not have the fortune to support her family which consisted of five children. Her fourth child Reginald Pole had to go live with a church to ease her financial burden. He later became the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary I. So her destitution is correct, but is it due to keeping Catherine of Aragon’s night or nights in the bedroom with Arthur a secret? Margaret did become one of Catherine of Aragon’s ladies in waiting and is seen on the show to be taken in by Catherine when she is residing in Durham house.
Henry VII dies in the last episode of series one in the bathtub after 24 years of reigning at the age of 52. How accurate is this portrayal? Henry did die in April 1509 after falling ill in late 1508. The exact date is not clear, historians debate it could be the 21st or 22nd as it was not until the 23rd that the new King Henry VIII was informed. It appears he had tuberculosis which is the accepted conclusion by academics. After Henry VII's death, Henry VIII was free to take the bride of his choosing which was ultimately Catherine of Aragon. Margaret Beaufort who has already shown her shrewdness throughout and before her son’s reign was quick to execute Edmund Dudley immediately afterwards to hide her illegal raise of tenants taxes. This is not quite accurate as Edmund was only tried for treason in the July of 1509 and beheaded in 1510 and by this time Margaret had passed away herself. She died the day after Henry VIII’s 18th birthday on June 29th 1509.
Therefore having watched and reflected on the accuracy of the first series of the Spanish Princess it seems that although a drama made for entertainment, it does have a degree of historical correctness, and has thrown into light events and characters I had not considered before. I am much more interested in the life of Margaret Pole and Joanna of Castille then I was previously and for those who did not know Black Tudors existed, the show features three of them; Catalina the Royal Bed Maker, John Blanke and Oviedo the bow maker. This brings some illumination of the story of migration during the Tudor era and also the Spanish Inquisition that ‘moors’ in Spain who had not converted to Catholicism were subjected to by Isabella and Ferdinand. I am intrigued to see what questions and historical figures series two brings into my subject knowledge of the Tudors, Henry VIII and the issue of his six wives.
By Versus History Resident Blogger, Tanya Price (@littlemisshistory81)
A concise, accessible, and engaging guide to the crime of treason, written by the America's foremost expert on the subject. Treason—the only crime specifically defined in the United States Constitution—is routinely described by judges as more heinous than murder. Today, the term is regularly tossed around by politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle. But, as accusations of treason flood the news cycle, it is not always clear what the crime truly is, or when it should be prosecuted.
To be in with a chance of winning, just answer the question below correctly! The competition closes on Monday 30 November 2020.
WIN AN AUDIBLE COPY OF 'LEGION: THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT LAWRENCE OF ARABIA' BY HISTORIAN KEVIN JACKSON!
'Legion: Thirteen Ways Of Looking At Lawrence Of Arabia' by Kevin Jackson is a captivating and revealing novel, that explores the unknown life of Lawrence of Arabia in a quest to understand his genius. Kevin Jackson has previously worked as a teacher, director, broadcaster on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4 and journalist, with his work appearing in The New Yorker, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. To be in with a chance of winning, just answer the question below correctly! The competition closes on Saturday 31 October 2020.
Does the name William Marshal ring a bell? If not, you're not alone. This medieval knight's story was for many centuries largely lost to the annals of history. It was only when his biography L'Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, comte de Striguil et de Pembroke was discovered in 1881 by Paul Meyer that suddenly his rags to riches story truly came to light.
From a young hostage to King Stephen I to becoming regent for the minor King Henry III - Marshall's life was shaped by six very different English kings: Stephen, Henry II, Henry the Young King, Richard I, John I and Henry III.
Stephen was the last Norman King of England and Marshal was born in his reign in 1146. This period was marred by civil war known as the Anarchy. It was Stephen versus his cousin Empress Matilda, as she was the legitimate heir to the throne but had been usurped by Stephen in 1135. Marshal ended up becoming Stephen's hostage when he was around five or six years old. His father John Marshal offered him as hostage for a truce, which he then reneged on endangering Marshal’s life. Apparently he declared "he did not care about the child, since he still had the anvils and hammers to forge even finer ones". This could have been the end of young Marshal, with Stephen threatening to follow through and have him executed. Yet for all Stephen's faults as a ruler, he was not a cruel man and ultimately Marshal was spared a terrible fate.
Henry the Young King
Many years passed and with poor inheritance prospects, Marshal had to go out to make a name for himself. He became a knight, and utilising his family connections, ended up working for his powerful uncle the Earl of Salisbury. This got him noticed by the formidable (and frankly amazing) Eleanor of Aquitaine. He joined her retinue and eventually he became a part of the entourage of her son Henry. Henry is known as the Young King as he was crowned in his father Henry II’s lifetime to secure the succession. In terms of Marshal’s personal relationships with these monarchs, his relationship with Henry the Young King was by far the strongest. He served him from 1170 to Henry's premature death in 1183. During this time they became incredibly close friends taking part in the tournament circuits together. Yet it wasn't all plain sailing and Marshal left Henry's retinue for a time, after malicious rumours put a wedge between the young king and his knight. By the time of Henry's death though the two had reconciled and Henry asked him to take the cross on his behalf and go on crusade. Marshal fulfilled his friend's dying wish, travelling to the Holy Land and staying there for two years.
After his crusade, Marshal returned to England and went into the service of Henry II. Marshal was in his forties by this time, and served in Henry’s household for the next three years until Henry’s death in 1189. Although he did not serve Henry long compared to the other Plantagenets Marshal worked for, he did remain steadfastly loyal. Henry was in bitter conflict with his heir apparent Richard, and when he fell ill and was dying many nobles (including his beloved son John) abandoned him to secure privileges in the upcoming Ricardian regime. Marshal stayed with Henry until the bitter end though, a testament to his character and reputation for loyalty.
Marshal and Richard the Lionheart were both incredibly successful military men. They had one conflict in 1899 where Marshal came out victorious, proving his legendary moniker “the Greatest Knight”. Henry II was fleeing from Le Mans to Angers, with Marshal acting as the rearguard. Richard was in full pursuit, as once again Henry II had fallen out with one of his sons. Upon reaching Marshal, Richard realised his vulnerability as he was only dressed lightly and was without his supporting forces who hadn’t kept up with him. Marshal could have killed Richard there and then, and Richard knew it. He asked Marshal to spare him, to which Marshal replied “let the Devil kill you, I shall not be the one to do it”, he then killed Richard’s horse to stop further pursuit. You might think that this meant on Richard’s accession later that year that Marshal would be ousted from court. Instead, Richard was pragmatic enough to respect Marshal’s skill and he confirmed Marshal’s rights to Striguil and marriage to wealthy heiress Isabel de Clare as discussed in the previous reign. This helped secure Marshal’s financial future. Marshal supported Richard throughout his 10 year reign, his reputation for loyalty cemented after being of service to the Plantagenets for so many years.
There has only been one King of England called John, and for good reason, as John was a pretty terrible king. Upon hearing of Richard’s death, Marshal went straight to the Archbishop of Canterbury Hubert Walter to discuss the succession. Marshal decided to support John to which the Archbishop responded “that you will never come to regret anything you did as much as what you're doing now”. Considering how events later unfolded, this was a pretty accurate assessment. Marshal’s loyalty to the Plantagents and the crown was severely tested during John’s reign. They had a huge falling out in 1205, regarding the Marshal paying homage to the French king for his lands in Normandy. Their deteriorating relationship led to what historian David Crouch described as Marshal’s “seven years in the political wilderness”. Yet by the time of the First Barons War (1215-1217), Marshal had been restored to John’s good graces and was integral to the royalist cause.
John died suddenly in 1216 from dysentry, leaving his 9 year old son Henry as King of England. A minority kingship was usually a disaster, as the monarch wasn’t in a position to lead and was reliant on nobles and key family members. Henry’s mother Isabella deserted him, and it was Marshal who took the reins. John had named Marshal as one of the 13 executors to assist Henry, but as events unfolded Marshal assumed the responsibilities of a regent. The war was still ongoing, and although nobles were defecting back to the royalist cause it wasn’t enough. The Battle of Lincoln proved a huge turning point for the royalists and contributed towards the end of the war. Marshal himself (at an incredible 72 years old!) was involved and took part in the combat. The war was resolved with the Treaty of Kingston-upon-Thames. For the next three years Marshal was England’s guardian, helping secure peace for his young King. Marshall died during Henry’s reign on the 14th May 1219.
Marshal’s life is full of twists and turns which this article barely scratches the surface of. He is a fascinating figure who witnessed the rise and decline of the Angevin empire, rising from obscurity to becoming one of the most powerful men in Western Christendom. 6 kings of England shaped Marshal and the course of his life, leading him to become “the greatest knight”.
Oxford National Biography: 'Marshal, William [called the Marshal]' by David Crouch
The Greatest Knight by Thomas Asbridge
Rex Factor Podcast: https://rexfactor.podbean.com/
Online Medieval Sources Bibliography: http://medievalsourcesbibliography.org/sources.php?id=2146116715
Oxford National Biography: ‘Henry III’ by H.W. Ridgeway
In @VersusHistory Podcast Episode #102, we interviewed David Gessner, the author of 'LEAVE IT AS IT IS'. At the end of the Podcast, David asked a question. If you want to be in with a chance of winning a copy of the book delivered straight to your door, just enter the correct answer below. The competition closes on Sunday 25 October 2020. Good luck!
In @VersusHistory Podcast Episode #101, we interviewed Tom Levenson, the author of 'MONEY FOR NOTHING'. At the end of the Podcast, Tom asked a question. If you want to be in with a chance of winning a copy of the book delivered straight to your door, just enter the correct answer below. The competition closes on Sunday 11 October 2020. Good luck!
win a copy of richard kreitner's brand new book 'BREAK IT UP: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union (2020)'
In @VersusHistory Podcast Episode #100, we interviewed Richard Kreitner, the author of 'BREAK IT UP'. At the end of the Podcast, Richard asked a question. If you want to be in with a chance of winning a copy of the book delivered straight to your door, just enter the answer below. The competition closes on Sunday 4 October 2020. Good luck!
win a copy of 'THE PERFECT FASCIST: A STORY OF LOVE, POWER, AND MORALITY IN MUSSOLINI’S ITALY' by professor victoria de grazia and published by Harvard University Press in August 2020!
In @VersusHistory Podcast episode #99, we interviewed Professor Victoria De Grazia about her new book, THE PERFECT FASCIST: A STORY OF LOVE, POWER, AND MORALITY IN MUSSOLINI’S ITALY (Harvard University Press; August 11, 2020). At the end of the Podcast, Professor De Grazia asked a question. If you want to be in with a chance of winning, just enter the answer below. The competition closes on Wednesday 30 September 2020. Good luck!