...that you were pronouncing the word caesar 'incorrectly'.
We, at Versus History, must have taught Roman history - in one form or another - for a significant part of our careers. In the main, Roman history is delivered to the younger among our students and, if they remember little else (hopefully they remember substantially more than that) they remember the title and name ‘Caesar’. Now, I must have said the word ‘Caesar’ thousands of times over the span of my talking life but, I am rather embarrassed to say, it is only in recent years (perhaps the last seven) that I have pronounced it ‘correctly’.
Although the meaning of Gaius Julius’ cognomen (nickname, if you like) - Caesar - is debated (it either meant that he was ‘hairy’, born of a Caesarean section - ‘cut’, had ‘grey’ eyes, or killed an ‘elephant’!), what is universally agreed upon is the way it was pronounced: with a hard ‘c’ sound. As in ‘k’.
For hundreds of years - up until 1066, in fact - English-speaking peoples pronounced the word ‘K-eye-ser’. It was the influence of the French language on English (after the Norman Conquest) which softened the ‘c’ of Caesar to the pronunciation we generally use today. Nevertheless, the original hard ‘k’ sound of the Latinate word spread and mutated via the Danes and the Germans, to the point where the English language once again incorporated ‘Kaiser’ to mean German ruler.
Having said all of this, language does become correct by usage, so maybe I shouldn’t feel too guilty about pronouncing the original ‘K-eye-ser’ as ‘Seezer’.
Dr Elliott L. Watson
...Hollywood probably has it right, friar tuck was most likely overweight.
Have you ever noticed the tendency in Hollywood or television series to depict monks, such as Friar Tuck in Robin Hood, as rather heavy set? I hadn’t; or at least it hadn’t registered until recently. Even if I had noticed this tendency I perhaps would have written it off as a lazy stereotype to be utilised for cheap gags or, in my more cynical moments, a sly dig at the opulence of the Church in the middle ages. However, there may be a little more this depiction than you might expect.
A lot of the information that a historian has regarding gluttony on the part of monks is such that one must take it with a pinch of salt. Sources such as the reports conducted by inspectors of the Monasteries on behalf of Thomas Cromwell are easy to write off. These discovered monks engaged in a whole litany of vices, with gluttony being one of the seven deadly sins. Clearly such claims cannot be taken at face value given the vested interest such visitations had in finding wrongdoing. Much the same can be said for some of the anti clerical writings of the Reformation. However, recent archaeological investigation seems to have lent at least some credence to such accusations. Excavations of the remains of monks at three London based abbeys, for example, show the incidence of obesity related joint conditions to be five times higher than in the secular population.1 Moreover, the domestic accounts of some monasteries also paint a picture of indulgence, with monks eating five eggs and 700g of meat a day at St Swithun’s Priory in Winchester!2
Such information can hardly be deemed conclusive and we should not imagine that every monk, prior and friar was corpulent. To thoughtlessly extrapolate such limited data would be to stand on shaky ground. However, it does seem that Hollywood has a little factual backing for its caricatures of Friar Tuck and other monks as people who would mind going back for seconds.
1. Gilchrist & Sloane, Requiem: The Medieval Monastic Cemetery in Britain, 2005
2. M. Whittock, Life in the Middle Ages, 2009
...AT LEAST ONE OF YOUR BRITISH ANCESTORS (PROBABLY) SERVED IN THE ARMED FORCES.
Did your recent British ancestors serve in the Armed Forces? In short, at least one of them probably did, whether they be male or female, either as a professional soldier or as a conscript.
The British Armed Forces have been a significant employer over the past 300 years. Men from across the British social spectrum have served the Crown and taken up arms (and those of many other countries, if Britain’s former colonies are included). Indeed, until the 1860s, men from wealthy and privileged social backgrounds could actually ‘buy’ a job as an Officer in the British Army! Those who were relatively less prosperous were still needed to serve both at home and across Britain’s sprawling Empire, although they were often drafted into the lower ranks of the British Army, or forcibly ‘press-ganged’ into service in the Royal Navy where the conditions were often harsh and the pay was low.
In the twentieth century, however, via the process of conscription and national service, many British citizens who had not chosen a career in the armed forces were compelled to don a military uniform and serve under arms.
During WW1, conscription was introduced in 1916, which meant that all unmarried men from 18 to 41 years of age were liable for service in the army. This was quickly amended to include married men and to raise the upper age limit to 51. In the era of attritional and highly mechanised warfare, Britain needed all the manpower it could get, even if the recruits had not willingly volunteered. Conscription was reintroduced for the duration of WW2, 1939-1945. This time women were conscripted, too. The British government was well aware that the contribution of every available adult would be needed if Britain were to successfully fend off the threat of Fascism. In 1941 it became legal to conscript single women between the age of 20-30 to undertake essential war work. By 1943, the majority of women - single or married - were undertaking work related to the war effort, even if they were not officially in the armed forces. In short, most men of service age would have served in the armed forces in some capacity during WW2 unless they were in one of the few exempt occupations and most eligible women would have served too. This means that if you have British ancestry dating back to this period, it is more than likely that they undertook service in some form during either or both world wars
A further form of compulsion to serve in the armed forces was introduced in Britain from 1948 to 1960, in the form of National Service, where all men who were not registered as 'conscientious objectors' had to be available to serve. This was, in simple terms, peacetime conscription. If you have any male relatives who turned 18 during this period, it is possible that they may have participated in one of the conflicts that Britain was involved in at that time, such as the Korean War.
Britain's global role changed significantly during the twentieth century. It went into WW1 as a superpower and emerged from WW2 as the junior partner to the USA in the Cold War. The process of decolonisation after WW2 and its commitments to NATO meant that Britain still needed a significant military presence.
The chances are that at least one of your British ancestors served in or supported the British Armed Forces in the Twentieth Century, in some capacity, whether they elected to (as many did!) or conscripted.
Patrick O'Shaughnessy (@historychappy)
...president Harry s. truman didn't have a middle name.
My name is Elliott L. Watson. My middle initial is L. and it stands for Lowther. The 33rd President of the United States, Harry S. Truman, had a middle initial and it was S. This middle initial stood for...S. Yes, S. By rights, there should be a second full stop (period) after those two S’s because not only do they come at the end of two separate sentences, they are also mandated by the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual to come with their own full stop (period). Confused? Just wait.
When Harry Truman was born he was to be given, like many of us, a middle name. His grandfather on his mother’s side was called Solomon Young; his grandfather on his father’s side was called Anderson Shipp Truman. Young Harry’s parents knew they would name him after one or the other but couldn’t decide immediately after his birth and, as a result, merely wrote his middle initial as ‘S’ on the register until a decision could be made. That decision was never forthcoming. Consequently, the future president went through life with a middle initial but no middle name.
Harry Truman was adamant that his middle initial be followed by a full stop (period), despite it not being short for anything. Whenever he signed his name - from boyhood to manhood - he deliberately and clearly nailed a full stop (period) to the space directly after his middle initial. The only exceptions to this were when he signed his name using a single stroke of the pen. Because of Truman's emphatic punctuation, and for reasons of consistency, the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual decided that all governmental documenting of President Truman’s middle initial must carry the S followed by full stop (period).
What’s in a name? In Harry S. Truman’s case, nothing. Apparently.
Dr. Elliott L. Watson
...that slavery in england wasn't abolished by wilberforce et al.
If one thinks of those who led to the abolition of slavery in Britain, inevitably one thinks of Wilberforce, Prince, Equiano and Sharpe. After all, that is what I and countless others were taught at school. Their role in bringing about the ending of the abhorrent trade in human beings in legislation of 1807 and 1833 is rightly remembered as crucial. However, a detail that is easy to miss in this story is that there was no slavery in Britain itself, it was limited to the British Empire.
Slavery in England had been abolished way back in 1102 by the Statute of Westminster, overseen by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm. The capture and forced labour of men and women as slaves was a common feature throughout Europe in the eleventh century. Under the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons this was a trade in which England played an active part. However, in the 1102 Statute of Winchester a law was passed which included the provision
“let no one hereafter presume to engage in that nefarious trade in which hitherto in England men were usually sold like brute animals”
As is always the case in History, things are not as black as white as one might wish. After 1102 many people with in England remained unfree. They were forced to carry out unpaid labour services on their lord’s land, and were unable to leave without his permission, for which they were given the name of ‘villeins’. However, they could no longer be uprooted, shipped to far flung corners of the continent and sold to the highest bidder, as many of their fellow human beings would be over the next 700 years. For that there was reason for an Englishman to be grateful in 1102.
Co-Editor, Conal Smith
...THAT YOUR ENGLISH MEDIEVAL ANCESTORS WOULD MOST LIKELY HAVE BEEN TRAINED IN THE USE OF THE LONGBOW. bY LAW.
The ‘bow and arrow’ has etched itself into English folklore. The legend of ‘Robin Hood’ and his trials and tribulations in Nottinghamshire’s ‘Sherwood Forest’ is a testament to that! Indeed, the English Army won some key battles in medieval history - such as Falkirk in 1298 and Agincourt in 1415 - due largely to their proficiency, skill and experience with the longbow. However, did you know that if you have English ancestry dating back to this period, then it is highly likely that you have ancestors who used the longbow, even if they didn’t fight in any battles during this period?
This is because English men during Medieval times were compelled to use the longbow - by law. In 1285, archery targets were set up in every English town by King Edward I as part of the 1285 ‘Statute of Winchester’. To take this a step further, King Edward III mandated in 1363 that archery practice was mandatory on every feast day, Sunday and holiday for adult men. Therefore, by law, every English man able to do so had to take part:
… every man ... if he be able-bodied, shall, upon holidays, make use, in his games, of bows and arrows... and so learn and practise archery.
The reason for this is clear. The longbow had largely transformed the nature of warfare by this point in time. English Kings wanted (and needed!) to be able to call upon a reservoir of talented longbowmen from across the realm during times of War, which were pretty frequent during the Hundred Years' War, 1337 to 1453. Therefore, even if your English ancestors were fortunate enough to escape the horrors of the medieval battlefield, it is highly unlikely that they managed to elude the use of the longbow.
...that the Titanic was one of three near-identical ships built by the White Star Line.
News from Patrick (@historychappy), Elliott (@thelibrarian6) & Conal (@prohistoricman)