english history · european history · history

A Christmas to Remember: The Truce of 1914

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“All Together Now” by Artist Andrew Edwards.

Christmas Eve, 1914

“It must have been sad do you say? Well I am not sorry to have spent it there and the recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty. At midnight a baritone stood up and in a rich resonant voice sang, Minuit Chretiens. The cannonade ceased and when the hymn finished applause broke out from our side and from the German trenches! The Germans were celebrating Christmas too and we could hear them singing two hundred yards from us. Now I am going to tell you something which you will think incredible but I give you my word that it is true. At dawn the Germans displayed a placard over the trenches on which was written Happy Christmas then, leaving their trenches, unarmed they advanced towards us singing and shouting “comrades!”. No one fired. We also had left our trenches and separated from each other only by the half frozen Yser, we exchanged presents. They gave us cigars and we threw them some chocolate. Thus almost fraternizing we passed the morning. Unlikely indeed, but true. I saw it but thought I was dreaming.” -Letter from a Belgian soldier printed in The Times, 1915

World War I began in July of 1914 with the expectation on both sides that it would be a quick victory. Over the course of 51 months the war would bring a devastating death toll of 15 to 19 million soldiers and civilians. This tragic event would practically destroy a whole generation and cause much pain to the families that had to endure. It is easy to remember the death and destruction this war brought, but it is also just as important to remember the positive points. There were moments that showed there was still hope, kindness, and generosity despite differences. In the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to dive into the unusual occasion of the Christmas Eve truce in 1914. This was truly brought on by the common soldier and the truce itself was unofficial and spontaneous. The men found that despite the death, destruction and bad feelings that had surrounded them since the summer; they could take the opportunity to still share a common experience with their enemy. It seems unbelievable to us now (and definitely to the soldiers then) that Christmas Carols were sung with their enemies. These were the same enemies that had fired shoots at them the day before. This is the story and experience of the Christmas Truce 1914.

Trench warfare was the most common tactic during World War I, yet it was a technique that really only gained inches of territory. For the soldiers on both sides, life in the trenches was traumatizing. Not only were the physical conditions absolutely disgusting (the constant stench and wetness, rats, mud, disease, etc.), but the toll on the soldiers mental health was detrimental. Living in the trenches caused extreme boredom and to fill this void one’s anxiety would kick in. Daily, the soldiers spent most of their time sitting and worrying about when the next fight was going to happen. The attitude became acceptance that each soldier was going to die here in the mud. They just existed for now, but knew a day would come when a bullet would have their name on it. It turns out that disease killed even more soldiers due to the conditions on the front. It was not just the constant wetness and rats, but also the bodies of the soldiers who had already passed on. Some were buried in the sides of trenches and others remained out in “no man’s land” for days on end. These conditions definitely had an impact on why this truce was so appealing.

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British Soldiers in Trenches 1915

During this first Christmas season of the war, the governments on both sides attempted to bring some cheer to their men fighting at the front. During the Boer War in 1899, Queen Victoria dispersed brass tins filled with chocolate all enclosed under the profile of their Queen, the symbol of Britannia, which served as a reminder of what they were fighting for. In 1914, gifts were shipped to their soldiers in the name of Princess Mary. This contained cigarettes, a pipe, tobacco, and a “personalized” note in the Kings handwriting that stated, “may God protect you and bring you home safe.” The German side received similar packages (known as the Kaiserliche), which included either a pipe with Prince Friedrich Wilhelm printed on it or a box of cigars. Many probably enjoyed these gifts, as they felt acknowledgment by their monarch and a renewal of patriotic spirit. But, some felt these were a waste of time, Major J.D. Jeffrey’s stated, [it was] “rather ridiculous to hold up rations and ammunition when, after all, our first business is to beat the Germans. Our enemy thinks of war and nothing else, whilst we must mix it up with plum puddings” (Weintraub, pg 17).

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Princess Mary Tin

Yet, the Germans did not just think solely of war and the troops on both sides were to experience a different side to their enemies.

“Climbing the parapet, I saw a sight which I shall remember to my dying day. Right along the whole of their line were hung paper lanterns and illuminations of every description, many of them in such positions as to suggest they were hung upon Christmas trees.” (Sergt A Lovell, A Company, 3rd Rifle Brigade, http://www.christmastruce.co.uk).

As described above, the soldiers were witnessing lights flicker across no man’s land. The Germans had taken it upon themselves to either carry literal Christmas trees or lights (such as lanterns or candles) that illuminated their whole line.

Just imagine the scene. It would have been just after dark on Christmas Eve and the soldiers are cold and miserable in the trenches. The constant worry about when the next shot would fire haunted their thoughts. They are missing their families on this first Christmas away. Then, hearing Christmas carols, they would look up across the dead zone and notice beautiful lights. Albert Moren of the 2nd Queen’s Regiment would report that “there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and then there were those lights–I don’t know what they were. And then they sang “Silent Night”–”Stille Nacht” I shall never forget it. It was one of the highlights of my life.” It seems that it was more important to the German troops to keep the traditions of Christmas alive despite the war (possibly for religious tradition) and they showed no fear as they sang loudly and used lights that illuminated their position. Amazingly, in most sectors the British soldiers would also begin to participate in the German’s concert. They responded through song, applause, and cries for an encore. Friendly competition would spawn from this; who could sing the best and loudest? The Germans would call out, “ A Happy Christmas to you, Englishmen!” and the British would respond in turn (Weintraub, pg 50).

It was actually the German side who brought forth the idea of the truce in the first place. There are many accounts that state the Germans beckoned the British soldiers over with suggestions of a ceasefire. Lance-Corporal Henderson, of the Royal Engineers remembered:

“To our surprise, as soon as we could see across the German lines we perceived dozens of the enemy on and about their parapet; they were shouting and waving for some of us to go over. Some of them could speak broken English, and were shouting “we no shoot, and no work to-day”. We had got the order not to fire unless the Germans started, and from day-break on Christmas morning up till late on Boxing Day not a shot was fired by either side. Towards 8.30 a.m. two German soldiers came up within 50 yards of our lines, and kept on shouting “no fire, no work”. They came up without rifles or equipment” (www.christmastruce.co.uk)

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Riflemen Andrew and J Selby Grigg posing with German soldiers of the 104th and 106th Regiment, 1914

Despite the language barrier between the two sides, soldiers would walk across the dangerous no man’s land and meet together to talk, give well wishes for the season, and trade items. Weintraub quotes a soldier, Frank Richards, who had set up a “Merry Christmas” sign pointed towards the German side. He was testing how the Germans were going to react, but the expected gunfire never happened. Richards and his comrades decided to cross no man’s land and meet with the Germans. They met and shook hands, to the fury of their commanders, but there was nothing that could stop the young men.

A German started to walk down the tow-path towards our lines and Ike Sawyer went to meet him. The Germans handed over a box of cigars. Later the Germans came boldly out of their trenches, but our men were forbidden to leave ours, so they threw tins of bully and plum and apple jam.” -Frank Richards 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers

Food exchanges were very common during the truce. Captain Stockwell recalled trading plum pudding for beer with the Germans who crossed no man’s land to meet with them.

“Me and the five German officers and a barrel of beer in no man’s land…He said “You had better take the beer, we have lots”…We had lots of plum puddings so I sent for one and formally exchanged it for the beer. He then called out “Waiter,” and a German private whipped out six glasses and two bottles of beer, and with much bowing and saluting, we solemnly drank it, amid cheers from both sides. We then all formally saluted and returned to our lines. Our men had sing songs, ditto the enemy” (Weintraub, pg 108).

Besides beer and plum pudding, other common food trades included different meats, sauerkraut, cakes, and jams. Cigarettes and cigars were also common. All of this barter depended on the sides supply and what goods they had access too.

The truce gave the soldiers the opportunity to barter for souvenirs. Every soldier wanted to bring home something to prove that they had met the enemy. Some of the most popular trades included uniform buttons, belt buckles, and other uniform accessories. Some of the most prized trades for the British was obtaining a German Pickelhaube or the German uniform belt. Even autographs were traded. It would become a momento to remember the significance of this Christmas and the new friend they had made. A Maryport private wrote, “On Christmas Day after service in the trenches, we went halfway and we shook hands, and had a fine crack with them. Quite a number of them speak English. I got one’s autograph and he got mine, and I exchanged a button with another, and exchanged cigs and go cigars galore. Altogether we spent a pleasant two hours with them, and found them to be a nice lot of fellows” (www.christmastruce.co.uk). Despite leaderships attempts to stop this fraternization, they were unable to control it. On that Christmas day the men spent time eating and making merry with their German counterparts.

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German Picklhaube

Many of the Germans had worked in England for a time, so English was a way the two sides communicated. Some of the Germans even had family that were still living in England and used the truce to get into contact with their loved ones.

“Finally, they [The Germans] got a man out of the trenches who had lived for some years in America, and he acted as interpreter. the officers were little more than boys, and one of them had already been wounded. They were intensely polite, and there was any amount of clicking of heels. The soldiers all seemed rather young, but they did not appear very despondent or underfed. One man informed us that they had been told that Russia had been defeated and that the war would be over in three weeks.

Another begged an officer on our side to send him photograph to his sister, who lives in Liverpool. I know that is true, because the officer showed me the photo. Seems a strange idea to take a stock of one’s photos on active service, but there you are! One thing we did notice was that some of them were shy of uniforms, but that may have been merely owing to the fact that they were in the trenches and trying to save their uniforms. The Germans were all for the truce lasting for 48 hours, but we stuck out for midnight on Christmas” (The Times, christmastruce.co.uk)

To the soldiers on the front the truce was held for a more important reason than just play. When the sun rose on that Christmas Day, it was clear to see the carnage that lay across the field of no man’s land. These bodies had been laying there for days after the last battle and were badly decomposing. It was believed that they would never be recovered as everyone knew that venturing out into no man’s land was certain death. The Christmas Truce was used to negotiate the time to bury their dead respectfully. Both sides agreed to no firing and using the day to properly lay to rest their soldiers. On Christmas day, men on both ends of the spectrum took up shovels.

“On Christmas Eve it froze hard, and Christmas day dawned on an appropriately sparkling landscape. The dead on both sides had been lying out in the open since the fierce night fighting of a week earlier. When I got out I found a large crowd of officers and men, English and German, grouped around the bodies, which had already been gathered together and laid out in rows. It was a ghastly sight. The digging parties were busy on the two big common graves, but the ground was hard and the work was slow and laborious. In the intervals of superintending it we chatted with the Germans, most of whom were quite affable. The digging completed, the graves were filled in, and the German officers remained to pay their tribute of respect while our chaplain read a short service. It was one of the most impressive things I have ever witnessed. Friend and foe stood side by side, bare-headed, watching tall, grave figure of the padre outlined against the frosty landscape as he blessed the poor broken bodies at his feet. Then with more formal salutes we turned and made our way back to our respective ruts.” (Letter posted in the Essex Chronicle 1915, http://www.christmastruce.co.uk).

It is amazing to see that both sides respected the losses and even helped each other out in the burial and service for the deceased. These were men who were just shooting at each other the other day, yet on Christmas they had empathy for each other. In this event it seems to become clear that they both were going through the same struggles and dying for a war they they truly did not know what they were fighting for. This is one of the more sad, but beautiful parts of the truce in 1914.

The most common story from the Christmas truce was the infamous football (soccer) match between the Germans and the British troops. In most cases football was played amongst those of the same side, but there were a few cases of enemy vs. enemy. Most accounts highlighted the game that was played between the 133rd Royal Saxons (German) and the Scottish troops. Lieutenant Johannes Niemann (served in the 133rd Royal Saxons) remembered: “Later a Scottish soldier appeared with a football which seemed to come from nowhere and a few minutes later a real football match got underway. The Scots marked their goal with their strange caps and we did the same with ours. It was far from easy to play on the frozen ground, but we continued, keeping rigorously to the rules, despite the fact it only lasted an hour and we had no referee. A great many passes went wide, but all the amateur footballers, although they must have been very tired, played with huge enthusiasm” (Smithsonian Magazine). Supposedly, the game ended 3-2 (Saxons) with other accounts from soldiers on the British side along with publication in The Times, but it is not known for sure. The football match was so legendary that there were many fictionalized stories written about it. Niemann’s account is likely the most accurate. He continued to write about his Scottish opponents and received an interesting culture shock, “Us Germans roared when a gust of wind revealed that the Scots wore no drawers under their kilts-and hooted and whistled every time they caught an impudent glimpse of one posterior belonging to one of “yesterday’s enemies.” But, after an hours play, when our Commanding Officer heard about it, he sent an order that we must put a stop to it.”

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“Officers and men of 26th Divisional Ammunition Train (Army Service Corps) playing football in Salonika, Christmas 1915”

Leadership and officers, in general, did not like the idea of this truce. This was common to see on both sides of no man’s land. First, it was something that was out of their control; the whole truce was organized and put into practice by the men. Nothing had come from the command side to condon such actions. In some cases orders were just ignored. Second, the idea of fraternization with the enemy was appalling to leadership. It could be seen to take away the soldiers focus from the important matter at hand, winning the war. The men could not be off making friends with their enemies, which could affect their ability to shoot to kill the next day. In Germany, the Taegliche Rundschau published, “War is no sport and we are sorry to say that those who made these overtures , or took part in them, did not clearly understand the gravity of the situation” (www.christmastruce.co.uk). The journal went on to announce that an Army Order was issued that forbid any future fraternization and those who broke this order would be charged with high treason. This was not just the German side though, as British leadership also took steps to ensure this truce would not be repeated in the future. It worked because there was never again a truce until the end of the war in 1918.

Despite the opinion from high command, the people at home were extremely interested. The newspapers were frequently publishing articles about the unusual and astonishing cease fire. They would publish letters that were sent in from loved ones, so everyone could hear firsthand what had happened. Was this done to give the families comfort that their loved ones at the front spent a peaceful Christmas? It is important to note that while the Christmas truce was very spontaneous and spread far, it was not completely universal. There are reports of fighting in other sectors during the holidays, especially in the French and Russian sectors. For the most part, the truce took place between the British and the Germans.

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Naturally, the fighting did not end with the truce of 1914, as the war would go on for four more years before ending in November of 1918. Yet, this unofficial event brought light in a time of great darkness. It was important and, for the men who survived to the end the of war, it would not be forgotten. This event was a contradiction to all the hate that had spread throughout the war. It shows that the common soldier out on the front line everyday did not hold hatred in their hearts. All were experiencing the same conditions and dangers. There was sympathy for their fellow soldiers, no matter what side. It was understood that they were all are doing what they had to do because society was telling them that this was their duty. It was their duty to fight and win the war. This event really shows a disconnect between the common soldier and the leadership. The men are fighting a war where the true purpose is unclear, all they know is that their country needs them. They are not invested in the need for power, yet continue to die for it. This event shows what happened when the common soldier truly took matters into their own hands. They used the Christmas season for what is symbolized, a time of peace and joy. They shared, communicated, laughed and forgave their enemies. It was as joyful Christmas season as they could have had despite being forced apart from their loved ones. This was such an interesting event to research and it truly shows the goodness that is in the world even through times of darkness.

Merry Christmas everyone! I am looking forward to creating more history posts for you in 2019!

Food for Thought:

Why do you think the Christmas truce began? Why did it not continue in the following years?

Do you think the Christmas truce could have ended the war?

Sources:

Featured photo depicts the sculpture, “All Together Now” by artist Andrew Edwards. Located in Liverpool.

Silent night : the remarkable Christmas truce of 1914 by Stanley Weintraub

http://www.christmastruce.co.uk (a collection of letters from the front all describing the events of the truce)

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-story-of-the-wwi-christmas-truce-11972213/

History Channel’s Life in A Trench| World War I| History https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_G4ZY66BG38

If you are interested in photos and the myths surrounding the truce visit stevensmith1944.wordpress.com as he has a good article discussing this topic. 

https://stevesmith1944.wordpress.com/2015/12/01/christmas-1914/ 

Please note that most of the photos used are more for illustration purposes, but are not actually from Christmas of 1914. 

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english history · european history · history

Will the Mystery of the Princes in the Tower Finally Have Answers?

Could the mystery of the Princes in the Tower finally be solved?

In 1674, workers (while remodeling the Tower of London) came upon two child skeletons that were hidden in box under a staircase. Instantly, to the 17th century contemporaries, these bones were assumed to have been the lost Plantagenet princes (Edward V and Prince Richard). Sir Thomas More, in his histories, wrote specifically that the princes were buried “at a stair-foot” (possibly this information came from interviews with those who lived during the time of Richard III or maybe More was just making assumptions). This was enough for Charles II who had the bones buried at Westminster Abbey where they have remained to this day.

But, these bones have never been tested. There is no proof that these were the Princes except that they were found in the last location that the Princes had lived and were bones of children. Now, there might be a chance to solve this mystery once and for all. A direct descendant of Jacquetta of Luxembourg (the prince’s maternal grandmother) has been found and has allowed a sample of her DNA to be used to test against the bones found in the tower. From what I have read, it has been very difficult search to find a direct descendant (which makes sense due to the over 500 year time gap). The only hurdle now is to get permission from Westminster to exhume the bones once again in order to complete this test. Again, from what I have read, it seems that Westminster has been unwilling in the past to allow this, but maybe with having this solid DNA sample they may be more accepting.

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Jaquette of Luxembourg, Mother of Elizabeth Woodville

Edward V and Prince Richard were the two surviving sons of Edward IV and his queen, Elizabeth Woodville. They lived towards the end of the ongoing conflict of the War of the Roses (Lancaster v. York, cousin v. cousin). This civil war had been continuing for over 30 years, but towards the end of Edward IV’s reign there seemed to finally be a relative peace. The succession also seemed extremely secured. Edward IV and Elizabeth had 12 children which included two sons (an heir and a spare). When Edward IV died of an unexpected illness, he left his two sons who were only aged 12 and 9 years old. Edward IV named his brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, to be his son’s regent. Duke Richard had always proven himself to be one of Edward’s most loyal subjects, so who would suspect what happened after?

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Elizabeth Woodville, mother of the Princes

Duke Richard quickly took control of the heir, Edward, as Lord Protector. The Woodville family did not quite agree with the situation and preferred the heirs to be in hands of their own family (who had quickly grown powerful under Edward IV’s reign). Duke Richard knew this and quickly arrested and executed the boys uncle Anthony Woodville and their half brother, Richard Grey. Dowager Queen Elizabeth quickly took her daughters and remaining son, Richard, into sanctuary.

Once Duke Richard was able to convince the dowager queen to let his nephew out of sanctuary, the coronation for young Edward V was indefinitely postponed. Richard was sent to join his brother in the Tower of London, where they would remain for the rest of their lives. In 1484 Parliament declared that Edward IV’s marriage with Elizabeth Woodville invalid due to a “pre-contract” with a Lady Eleanor Butler. I personally believe this was false. Duke Richard use this existing rumor as an excuse to take the throne once the nephews were proven “illegitimate.” He was crowed as Richard III on July 3 of that year.

There are recorded sightings of the boys playing outside on the Tower ground, but eventually were restricted to the inner apartments of the Tower. There were less and less sightings of the boys outside until they seemly disappeared. Many believe they were murdered by 1483 and others believe they were alive until 1484. It is really one of histories enduring mysteries as to the fate of the poor Princes in the Tower.

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The main theory, of course, is that Richard III had the boys killed then hid their bodies. This would make sense as he did have them initially imprisoned in the Tower. The Princes were also an obvious threat. Despite Parliament declaring the Princes “illegitimate”, it would not stop those who believed in them from starting another revolt against Richard III. They were a clear danger for Richard. Allegedly, Sir James Tyrell later gave a confession that he smothered the princes under orders from Richard III. Tyrell obtained the keys and orders from the Constable of the Tower, Brackenbury and proceeded with the act. But, this “confession” has never been documented. When Henry VII later had Tyrell executed, the death of the princes was not one of the reasons. One would think that Henry VII, being so paranoid about his position on the throne, would have done anything to show his Yorkist predecessor was a kin slayer and that there was no chance the boys were still alive.

The potential DNA test, if it comes back a positive match, would be very incriminating for Richard III. There are many who, recently, have been working on rehabilitating Richard III’s reputation and often argue he was not the one who caused the disappearance of the boys. This test may hurt their cause.

There are other theories out there addressing what happened to the boys. The next most popular theory suggests that the princes were murdered due to a plot by Henry Tudor and his mother, Margaret Beaufort. Henry was out of the country during the suspected time of the disappearance, but were the boys possibly still alive by the time he took the throne? Did he have them murdered then? Were agents sent to commit the deed? Henry would definitely have a cause to eliminate the last Yorkist heirs and pave the way for his own claim.

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Henry VII

Another popular theory is that one of the boys survived. I remember Philippa Gregory in her Cousin’s War series, suggesting that Richard was whisked to safety and a replacement child was sent to Richard III (I don’t know if she believes in this theory or if it just made good fiction). This is an intriguing theory as there were two later instances where rebellions were started led by one claiming they were Richard Plantagenet, son of Edward IV. The two main rebellions revolved around Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck.

Lambert Simnel was used as a puppet in 1487 to start another Yorkist rebellion against the new King Henry VII. Simnel was under the control of the Earl of Lincoln John de la Pole and Richard Simons. Initially, they rallied support claiming young Simnel was Prince Richard who had miraculously escaped, but later flip flopped to make him Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick (the princes cousin). They gathered support in Ireland, but once the invasion began could not get the support of the English nobles. The rebellion fizzled out and poor Simnel was spared by Henry VII. Simnel went on to work in the royal kitchens.

Lambert simnel.jpg

Perkin Warbeck is a little more interesting. Warbeck always claimed he was Prince Richard, son of Edward IV and to many this was supported by his appearance. It was not until he was captured that the full confession came out revealing he was a peasant’s son (but was this induced by torture?) Margaret, Duchess of Burgandy and sister of Edward IV, brought Warbeck to her court in Flanders and groomed him for his role to revolt against Henry VII for the Yorkist cause. They gained the support of many European sovereigns, who believe Warbeck was the true heir. James IV of Scotland even arranged a marriage with a noble born wife, Catherine Gordon, who was the daughter of the Earl of Huntley. This caused extreme anxiety for Henry VII and the current English government. From 1490-1497 Warbeck and his followers worked to bring back a Yorkist government, but were eventually defeated and imprisoned by Henry VII. The rebellion failed and Warbeck was made to give those confessions about his humble origins. Then he was eventually hanged for treason on November 23rd 1499. Yet, Warbeck never wavered from his claim he was Prince Richard, until he was under the influence of possible torture. This brings up the questions: Did Prince Richard somehow survive?

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Richard III

I am not sure when the DNA test will be performed or if permission will be granted, but I am eager to hear the results. My personal belief is that Richard III had the boys killed discreetly to solidify his claim. The Henry Tudor theory seems a little far fetched and, while intriguing, I don’t think any of the boys escaped. The leaders of those rebellions used young men who could pass for one of the Princes as a pawn in their game.

I am always interested in hearing other theories as this mystery has always fascinated me. Do any of you have any theories as to the fate of the Princes? Do you think the DNA test will have a big impact in solving this cold case or do you think it won’t make a difference?

First read about the DNA testing from History Magazines Sept Edition 2018

A good reading on this topic is Alison Weir’s The Princes in the Tower published in 1992. She is one of my favorite historians, though the book isn’t without its biases. As this is a cold case there are many different interpretations of who was reaponsible and why.

biography · english history · european history · history

Add to Your Reading List: A Testament of Youth

I suppose it is better to have had such splendid friends as those three were rather than not to have had any particular friends at all, but yet, now that all are gone, it seems that whatever was of value in life has tumbled down like a house of cards.”

-Letter from Edward to Brittain in response to the death of their friend, Victor

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Edward Brittain, Roland Leighton, Victor Richardson

I have spent August reading a memoir from World War I, which really kept me thinking for days after. I believe this is a very important memoir and one most people should take the time to read. It is one of the few accounts from the era that is from a female point of view. Many accounts of World War I are from the men in the trenches, but what about the women they left behind? In Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain writes of her life during this era and a bit afterwards. Brittain was born in 1893 and had grown up in northern England. She had one brother named Edward and the siblings were very intelligent and talented. Brittain was very interested in furthering her education and in writing, while Edward was a musician. The two were part of a lost generation and much of the memoir focuses on how their generation was affected by a war of that scale. She discusses how the generations that came before or after could never really comprehend what they went through. They were on their own island.

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Published in 1933

This memoir was obviously written to support her anti-war belief and possibly some of the memories were exaggerated, but I tend to agree with her message. During the course of the war, Brittain lost her fiance, Roland, her two good friends, Victor and Geoffrey, and lastly (a few months before the end of the war) her brother Edward. “For the first time I realised, with all that full realisation meant, how completely everything that had hiterto made up my life had vanished with Edward and Roland, with Victor and Geoffrey. The war was over; a new age was beginning; but the dead were dead and would never return (pg 463).” By the end of the war, after the passing of her brother, it seemed she had nothing else to care about in the world. She was overwhelmed by a deep sadness, which changed her life and her generation’s life forever.

Vera Brittain was a very intelligent woman and one can tell just from the way she writes. She was one of the few females to attend Oxford University in 1915 (and it is interesting to see how her parents actually disapproved of a daughter getting an education) and she had a love of learning her whole life. She was a feminist and supported the suffragette movement (her feminist political views would continue her whole life). Her Oxford studies were cut short when the war began as Brittain decided to enlist as a nurse in the armed forces. She served in hospitals in London, Malta, and in France. She risked danger herself as she traveled on the hospital ships that were at risk for a submarine attack. One of the most interesting parts of the memoir was when she was actually serving in the ally hospital that treated their injured, mainly German, prisoners of war. According to Brittain, these hospitals were always understaffed and the conditions less than adequate compared to the British hospitals. The staff at these hospitals seemed to be very overworked and Brittain felt it, but eventually embraced it. I thought this section was very interesting and shows the conflict within many of these nurses who had to care for German soldiers who may have, just yesterday, been shooting to kill their male loved ones.

“Another badly wounded boy-a Prussian lieutenant who was being transferred to England-held out an emaciated hand to me as he lay on the stretcher waiting to go, and murmured: “I tank you, Sister.” After barely a second’s hesitation I took the pale fingers in mine, thinking how ridiculous it was that I should be holding this man’s hand in friendship when perhaps, only a week or two earlier, Edward up at Ypres had been doing his best to kill him. The world was mad and we were all victims; that was the only way to look at it. These shattered, dying boys and I were paying alike for a situation that none of us had desired or done anything to bring about (pg 376).”

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Vera Brittain in VAD uniform (1915-1919)

Vera was constantly in contact with the four men in her life (who were also her greatest friends of her youth) via letters. The sections of letters she publishes in these books are very interesting and almost sad due to the fact the reader already knows the result. It struck me that the way they talked to each other was very intelligent, and they constantly would have discussions on philosophy, the point of the war, news, literature, they would use quotes from various sources to express their feelings and would write each other poetry. I personally grew to respect these men as well and could see the loss to this world that their death were. They were so talented and smart. They could have impacted the world so much if the war had not existed. Perhaps Roland would be able to have continued his Oxford studies and Edward could have been a great musician. It was heartbreaking to read these sections and the death of her brother, Edward, affected me the most. Out of the four, it was Edward who had survived the longest, up until a few months before the end of the war. Together, Vera and Edward, comforted each other through the loss of their three friends during this time and he was her last hope at this time. At the time of his death, Edward was a respected Captain and a loyal friend, though in letters Edward knew that life would never be the same even if he did come back. What he went through in the war cast a shadow over the lives of all the men who served, he had written that he did not know if he could live the life he once imagined for himself.

One day I remembered how Edward had told me that Geoffrey’s last letter, written two days before he was killed at Monchy-le-Preux, had ended with the worlds: “Till we meet again, Here or in the Hereafter.” Had they met now in the hereafter, I wondered? On the whole I could not believe they had. Edward, like Roland, had promised me that if a life existed beyond the grave, he would somehow come back and make me know of it. I had thought that, of the two, Roland, with his reckless determination, would be more likely to trespass from the infinite across the boundaries of the tangible, and incur any penalties that might be imposed. But he had sent no sign and Edward sent none; nor did I expect one. I know now that death was the end and that I was quite alone. There was no hereafter, no Easter morning, no meeting again; I walked in a darkness, a dumbness, a silence, which no beloved voice would penetrate, no fond hope illuminate (pg 446).”

The relationship between Roland and Brittain was interesting to me as it reflected a society that was still very much holding on to Victorian values (which slowly loosened due to the circumstances of the war). Roland was her fiance, yet they had really only met together on 17 occasions. Young couples needed to be chaperoned and it was not until later that Brittain noted during one of Roland’s moments of leave that “no one, this time suggested going with me to London; already the free and easy movements of girl war workers had begun to modify convention.” The was the first time that Brittain was able to be alone with Roland. During her time as a wartime nurse (she was eighteen), she would have been shocked to suddenly being thrust into a world where she was expected to treat the male anatomy and be subject to moments where she would see things that would have been deemed improper just a few years earlier. The Great War thrust women and society into situations needed out of necessity and as a result, conventions changed. Roland and Brittain’s romance was truly fleshed out in the letters between the two until his death in 1915. In person, they had just scarcely kissed lips. Their last tearful, goodbye was at the train station. I noticed after this time Brittain always held a superstious belief that it would cause bad luck to say goodbye at a transportation stop, like the train station. She would refuse to go to the station to say goodbye to any other loved ones for a long time. Roland passed in December, just before Christmas when he was to go on leave.

Already this was a different world from the one that I had known during four life-long years, a world in which people would be light-hearted and forgetful, in which themselves and their careers and their amusements would blot out political ideals and great national issues. And in that brightly lit, alien world I should have no part. All those with whom I had really been intimate were gone; not one remained to share with me the heights and the depths of my memories. As the years went by and youth departed and remembrance great dim, a deeper and ever deeper darkness would cover the young men who were once my contemporaries.

For the first time I realised, with all that full realisation meant, how completely everything that had hiterto made up my life had vanished with Edward and Roland, with Victor and Geoffrey. The War was over; a new age was beginning; but the dead were dead and would never return (pg 462-463).”

After the war Brittain continued her higher education and became very involved with politics. She was devoted to the causes of feminism and peace. She would eventually become a lecturer and was not afraid to compete with her male contemporaries. She became a writer and ended up writing twenty-nine books in total, but Testament of Youth (her memoir in remembrance of the men she had lost) really made her career. It is interesting that all the projects she became involved in after the war were truly unconventional for women at the time. She was even hesitant to marry. She still felt some connection to Roland, but the biggest reason was because she had established such a career for herself. She had seen what other women whom she had worked with before get married and have a family, but then they often had to give up everything they had worked for in their public lives. Brittain’s career was very important to her and she did not marry until she was in her thirties (this may not seem unusual to us now, but at the time she would have been viewed as a spinster!).

With this post I just wanted to bring to other’s attention the importance of this memoir and how it is a great primary source of the time. I learned a lot about how the war really affected those who lived through it. Though I may not ever truly understand what this generation went through, I still hold sympathy. It is important to still remember those who have past and I think this was a beautiful tribute to those men Brittain held so dearly.

To look forward, I concluded, and to have courage- the courage of adventure, of challenge, of initiation, as well as the courage of endurance- that was surely part of fidelity. The lover, the brother, the friends whom I had lost, had all in their different ways possessed this courage, and it would be utterly wasted if only, through those who were left, it could influence the generation, still to be, and convince them that, so long as the spirit of man remained undefeatable, life was worth having and worth giving. If somehow I could make my contemporaries, and especially those who, like myself, had once lost heart, share this belief; if perhaps, too, I could have children, and pass on to them the desire for this courage and the impulse to redeem the tragic mistakes of the generation which gave them birth, then Roland and Edward and Victor and Geoffrey would not have died vainly after all. It was only the past that they had taken to their graves, and with them, although I should always remember, I must let go (pg 656-657).”

Further Reading:

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1893-1970)

First published in 1933

American History · history

The Declaration of Independence and its Legacy

This week celebrated one of the most important events in American history. Wednesday, July 4, was the anniversary of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence and, after spending some of the week in Boston, I find myself full of the Revolutionary spirit! I wanted to create some blog posts this month that highlight some of the key events leading to the break of the American colonies from England.

I came to a realization while traveling in Boston that in current time we don’t truly realize how radical the events of the Revolution were. The rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” and having a government that is run by the consent of the people are just what is expected. That did no exist in the world that the Declaration of Independence was born into. The American colonies were there for the benefit of the parent country first and their own needs were secondary. These figures in our history were truly risking their lives for something they did not know would work at all and I admire that. At the time, Britain, and even the world, believed these “upstart colonists” were doomed to fail. Britain was the greatest power in existence and they had the advantage. When the British looked at the colonist they saw untrained and undisciplined farmers while they had a professional army. Some in Parliament even viewed the future Americans as “lazy”. The British also knew that the colonists could not finance a war as they had no navy and no way to manufacture supplies in large quantities.

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At first the colonists were looking to negotiate with Britain and not actually break away as an independent nation (though there were radicals from the beginning, like John Adams, who did want this). As stated by Jefferson in the Declaration:

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

Back in 1765 the Colonists had protested Britain regarding the Stamp Act and all negotiations following that by the Continental Congress. All of these had been ignored by the British government in favor of keeping the present power and economic system to the advantage of Great Britain. In August 1775, George III had declared that the colonists were now considered rebels and that they were no longer under Britain’s protection. Then in October, George III ordered an enlargement of the navy and army. This indicated that Britain was ready to use force to keep the colonists in line. The Prohibitory Act was also released in 1775 which created a naval blockade against all trade going in and out of the colonies. This consideration of this type of action by Great Britain had been brewing since the Boston Tea Party in 1773. This time it is was really happening. The result of these actions caused many of the colonists to change their mind about trying to negotiate and the country began to dip in favor of independence. With this show of force Britain, in fact, brought the colonies in more unity with each other.

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In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson specifically lists 27 grievances against the British monarchy, which the Continental Congress had been petitioning the monarchy to remedy, which included some of the following:

  • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
  • He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
  • He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
  • He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
  • He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
  • For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
  • For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
  • For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
  • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
  • For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
  • He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
  • He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
  • He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
At the time the Declaration was written and signed, the colonies had essentially been running their own independent government (Continental Congress) for over two years. It was this Congress which had been negotiating with the British, who had been appointing and sending ambassadors to England, and most importantly, seeking foreign aid. The Declaration of Independence had a more practical purpose and there was a reason it was written at the time it was.  The future Americans needed foreign support with supplies and military power, but prior to the Declaration no European powers would take the gamble. By formally cutting themselves off from the British Empire and becoming a new nation in this document other countries would looks more favorably on the Americans. They had made a decisive decision and could make their own decisions regarding alliances and trade. Other countries would not have to worry as much about the Americans suddenly changing their minds; it seemed more secure. After this document the Americans became welcomed by France and beloved by the people there. The French began to send weapons and supplies. After the great victory during the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, the French were confident enough to provide great military experience. This was a turning point in the war.

 

Would the words “all men are created equal” and the “certain unalienable rights” have lived on if the British had quashed this rebellion earlier on? It is interesting to think about, but I am glad history played out the way it did. The Declaration of Independence became one of the most influential documents in the history of the world as it inspires the words used in other great revolutions. The most immediate example is the French Revolution where this was used a template for their own Declarations of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789). Women’s rights activists in America used the words for their Declaration of Sentiments where they declared “we hold these truths to be self evident that all men and women are created equal.” A specification that was lost in the original. This particular line of the original would cause much debate going forward by anti-slavery activists as well. They would hold our country accountable to the words that were written at our Founding.

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In 1790, the Manifesto of the Province of Flandars would declare, “Since it has pleased Divine Providence to restore our natural rights of liberty and independence by severing the bonds that once fastened us to Prince and House whose domination was ever harmful to the interests of Flandars…”

In 1804 the Haitian Revolution followed suit with their own declaration of independence and in 1811 Venezuela declares, “We the representatives…forming the American Confederation of Venezuela…considering to full and absolute possession of our Rights, which we recovered justly and legally from the 19th of April, 1810…in consequence of the…occupation of the Spanish throne by conquest, and the succession of a new Dynasty, without our consent: are desirous, before we make use of those Rights, which we have been deprived of by force for more than three ages, but now restored to us by the political order of human events, to make known to the world the reasons which have emanated from the same occurrences and which authorize us in the free use we are now about to make of Our Own Sovereignty.”

Then New Zealand followed in 1835 and declared themselves the United Tribes of New Zealand and an independent state.

In 1776, the colonists were taking an extreme risk in order to fight for what they believed in. They were the underdogs and knew at any point they could fail. But, without the risks they took our world may be very different today.

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Sources and Further Reading:

Transcript of the Declaration of Independence

https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

https://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/legacy-declaration-independence

https://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/declaration-of-independence

Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War the Won it by John Ferling

The Declaration of Independence: A Global History by David Armitage

 

 

American History · biography · history

Victoria Woodhull: First Female Presidential Candidate and Activist

Victoria Claflin was born on September 23, 1838 in Homer, Ohio. She was the seventh of ten children and was closest to her youngest sister, Tennessee. She grew up in a very rural area and her parents were considered “undesirable” in society. Her father was a con man and her mother a religious fanatic. Victoria would learn the valuable trade of fortune telling and how to be a medium through her mother. Victoria had to drop out of school after only three years of elementary school in order to earn income for her poor family. She earned this through fortune telling. The family was exiled from Homer after her father burned down their gristmill to try and cash in on the insurance policy. From this moment on Victoria spent much of her time traveling with her family attempting to earn money. Through her difficult childhood, Victoria learned to be independent and find strength within herself.

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At fifteen years old she met the 28 year old Canning Woodhull who allegedly was an educated doctor coming to rural Ohio to start a practice. He wooed Victoria with promises of stability and they married on November 20, 1853. In reality, Canning was a stranger to Victoria and now, through marriage, she was required to be obedient to this stranger. In the 19th century women had very little power within their marriages. A wife was essentially the husband’s property and he had a right to reclaim her if she ran off. Men could beat their wives and have control over the family finances while the wife was expected to either prosper or fall with him. Victoria soon became disenchanted with this life learning that Canning was actually not an up and coming doctor and had virtually no income. He was a drunk and was constantly unfaithful. To quote Victoria herself, “I soon learned that what I had believed of marriage and society was the nearest sham, a cloak made by their devotees to hide the realities and to entice the innocent into their snares. I found everything was reeking with rottenness….”

Victoria would go on to have two children with Canning Woodhull. Her first son, Byron, was born with a mental disability and Victoria blamed this on her husband’s drinking habit. “I realized from that day that I should wage war against this seething impacted mass of hypocrisy and corruption, existing under the name of the present social system” Victoria would say later. The birth of her first son marked a change in her life. Her second child was a daughter whose name was Zulu Maude. With a useless husband, Victoria took it upon herself to find odd jobs to earn some income for her family despite the difficulties as a woman to even be considered for a job. Starting in 1860, Victoria and her sister, Tennessee, began their own traveling medium business where they ended up getting in trouble for fraud in Cincinnati and Chicago. As they traveled they profited off those who lost loved ones in the ongoing Civil War and they “connected” their customers with their dead relatives. Throughout this time in her life, Victoria learned and witnessed the difficult lives many different women had. She learned the abuse the women felt and witnessed the women who were abandoned and had to resort to sex work to make ends meet. This influenced Victoria’s later campaigns.

In 1864 Victoria divorced Canning Woodhull, which was something very rare during the 19th century. She became a supporter of the free love movement which was the idea that a person had the choice to stay with a person for as long or as short as they wanted. That a person could then commit to a different relationship after leaving the first. This may sound like something obvious to our modern ears, but for women during this era once they were married it was almost impossible to get out. In some cases one could divorce (like Victoria did), but, as a woman, you became an outcast on society. Victoria soon met and began a relationship with a very socially progressive man named Colonel James Blood. He had served in the Union army and they actually met when he came to her for a spiritual encounter. The two essentially became engaged, but there is no documentation to show that they were actually married. Blood provided Victoria with the education she never had and Victoria was exposed to the early women’s rights movement.. Blood introduced Victoria to free thinking and different radical social reforms and she was lucky to have a partner who believed in the same progressive ideas she did.

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Victoria’s sister and business partner, Tennessee Claflin

Victoria moved back to New York to meet up with her sister, Tennessee and began their fight for women’s rights. They needed money to get started though and this is where their paths crossed with Cornelius Vanderbilt. He paid the sisters generously for their spiritualist predictions, included ones that brought financial success. Vanderbilt supported the sisters as they started their own brokerage on Wall Street! Woodhull, Claflin & Co began in 1870 and the sisters began to make more and more money in the stock exchange, despite the anger of their male competition. In six weeks Victoria made over $700,000. The women became front page news and Mary Gabriel quotes some of the headlines in her book, “Queens of Finance”, “Future Princesses of Erie”, and “Vanderbilt’s Proteges”. Though women taking part in the “man’s” world did attract criticism as well. “When I first came to Wall Street,” Victoria later states, “not 100 women in the whole of the United States owned stocks or dared to show independence in property ownership. Highest positioned men scowled at any thought of woman investment. For a woman to consider a financial question was shuddered over as a profanity…the step we were induced to take with the view of proving that woman, no less than man, can qualify herself for the more onerous occupations of life..”

Victoria struggled in the beginning of her life in a limited and poor background, but now she was famous and wealthy. She became involved with by attending women’s rights conventions around the country and, using the profits from her business and investments, the sisters began their own newspaper. It was called Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly and would run for six years. In these issues the women addressed ideas of women as equals including how Victoria was a mother of two and still successful in what she did. The articles supported the suffrage movement and advocated free love. It even dabbled in calling out different frauds and con men among the different brokerage shops. Most importantly the newspaper announced Victoria’s candidacy for the president of the United States.

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In April 1870, Victoria announced her candidacy for presidency. She campaigned on a platform which centered around women’s rights, regulation of monopolies, eight hour workday, abolition of the death penalty, welfare for the poor, free love, direct taxation, and nationalization of the railroads. She used her magazine to promote herself and organized the Equal Rights Party (the party which would end up nominating her). She even was so bold as to declare Frederick Douglass her running mate, but this was never acknowledged. Victoria was hurt by scandals in her personal life though, including her life with her two husbands and her mother’s lawsuit against her second husband. Some states did run Victoria’s name on their ballots, but it seems her votes were not even counted. Ulysses S. Grant would end up winning re-election in that campaign. Still, it is remarkable that Woodhull was able to get her name on some ballots though she did not have the right to vote herself.

Victoria actually spent election day in jail as she had published an article naming famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, as an “adulterous hypocrite.” Victoria had faced a lot of hate from outsiders in the past due to her support of free love, but she wanted to point out the hypocrisies of those who fought against her. She faced a lot of backlash for this article and Beecher’s supporters ordered an arrest warrant for Victoria on the grounds that she was sending “obscene material” through the mail. Victoria and her sister stayed in jail for about a month after this incident.

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In 1871, Victoria became the first woman to address a congressional committee. She argued that women already had the right to vote under the 14th and 15th amendment:

“That since the adoption of the fifteenth article of amendments to the constitution, neither the State of New York nor any other State, nor any territory, has passed any law to abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote, as established by said articles, neither on account of sex or otherwise.

That nevertheless, the right to vote is denied to women citizens of the United States by the operation of election laws in several States and Territories, which laws were enacted prior to the adoption of the said Fifteenth article, and which are inconsistent with the Constitution as amended, and therefore are void and of no effect; but which, being still enforced by the said States and Territories, render the Constitution inoperative as regards the rights of women citizens to vote:

And whereas article sixth, section second, declares ‘That this Constitution, and the laws of the United States which…shall be the supreme law of the land; and all judges in every State shall be bound thereby’…

And whereas no distinction between citizens is made in the Constitution of the United States on account of sex, but the fourteenth article of amendments to it provides that ‘no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States,’ ‘nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws…’ “

Basically, Victoria was saying that according to her interpretation of the constitutional amendments women were considered citizens and no state had the right to block the rights all citizens were given through the constitution. She also believed “the citizen who is taxed should also have a voice in the subject matter of taxation.” She found it hypocritical that she was taxed like a full citizen, but was not given the rights of a full citizen.

Her petition to congress was rejected, but this event proved that she was one of the leading members of the suffragist cause (for a fuller account of Victoria’s speech refer to Notorious Victoria pg 76-77, 84-86). Later, she even went so far as to call for secession for women to form their own government since they were not invited to be a part of the one men had created and excluded their sex from. These were bold statements, but her speeches helped to energize the women’s rights movement. Victoria would continue to give speeches fighting for women’s suffrage and their rights in marriage (through the free love movement).

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Victoria Woodhull would receive quite a bit of negative feedback due to what she spoke about and believed in. In this cartoon she is portrayed as Satan.

After all the scandal with Victoria’s personal life (she ended up divorcing Col. Blood in 1876) and the drama with her arrest, many of the leaders of the suffragist movement began to pull away from Woodhull. They viewed her too radical even for their movement. It was truly due to her free love ideals and her ideas of sexuality more than anything else. After her divorce, Woodhull’s publication of the Weekly ended. She continued to lecture, but her life was slowly falling apart.

By 1877, Victoria and her sister were now bankrupt and left to find a new life in England. In December of 1877, Victoria appeared as a lecturer at St. James Hall in London. Through her lectures she met the wealthy banker, John Biddulph Martin, who would become her next husband. In England, Woodhull published a new magazine, The Humanitarian, under the name Victoria Woodhull Martin from 1892-1901. She became active in the suffrage movement in England and advocated from women’s rights, but knew to stay away from her former topics of free love which got her in trouble in the past. Victoria died on June 9, 1927 at the age of 88.

Victoria Woodhull was very controversial throughout her life, but she was bold enough to actually fight back against the Victorian ideals of a woman’s place. She was a trailblazer and others would soon follow her lead. She spoke out for women’s equal education, for a woman’s right not to stay with an abusive husband, for women to take charge of their own health decisions, and for their right to vote. She did so much good, yet it was tinged with scandal which hurt her in the end. Victoria will be remembered as an activist, businesswoman, writer, and presidential candidate.

 

Further Reading:

Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored by Mary Gabriel

https://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-should-know-about-victoria-woodhull

https://ehistory.osu.edu/biographies/victoria-woodhull

American History · art history · european history · history

Places to See: Ancient Spanish Monastery, Miami, FL

In the 20th century, 11,000 wooden crates were brought across the Atlantic in order to rebuild one of the most beautiful (and oldest) buildings. I visited Miami this weekend and was able to tour this amazing place. I was astounded at the beauty and overall peaceful feeling while in this ancient Spanish Monastery. It is most likely the oldest building in America and I felt I needed to share its history (and my pictures!).

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Currently this church is known as the St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church, but it was originally created in 1133 in Sacramenia, Spain. The construction was completed in 1141 and the Monastery was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was built in the Cistercian Romanesque style and was located in a mainly Muslim area of Spain during this period. It would have originally contained some defensive structures (as the Christians and Muslims where at war during this period). This monastery also contains two of the only three known telescopic windows from the medieval period that exist today (pictured below). These are placed above the altar Continue reading “Places to See: Ancient Spanish Monastery, Miami, FL”

art history · european history · history

A Mania for Tulips! The Economic Craze that Rocked the Dutch Republic

Take a moment to imagine that by selling a single tulip bulb that you would be able to pay off your entire house. You could even use that profit to buy a better and grander house. You could get that nice car you always dreamed about just by selling a single bulb! Not even the flower itself! This may sound crazy or just wishful thinking, but during the 1630s in the Dutch Republic a Tulip Mania occurred!

I don’t have the proper conversion between 17th century guilders to today’s American currency, but from my research I have found comparisons. Mike Dash, author of Tulipomania, describes that in 1633 one bulb of Semper Augustus was worth 5,000 guilders which quickly rose to 10,000 guilders by 1637. He states “It was enough to feed, clothe and house a whole Dutch family for half a lifetime, or sufficient to purchase one of the grandest homes on the most fashionable canal in Amsterdam for cash, complete with a coach house and an 80ft garden…” To me this is just incredible, but you have to remember that tulips were much rarer during this period and many of the most expensive bulbs were unique strains of the flower. Continue reading “A Mania for Tulips! The Economic Craze that Rocked the Dutch Republic”