Dame Sybil of Sark

An interesting article on Mental Floss, courtesy Stephen Bartlett:

How the World’s Only Feudal Lord Outclassed the Nazis to Save Her People

When Germany invaded the Isle of Sark—the last foothold of feudalism in the western world—Dame Sibyl Hathaway protected her people with the unlikeliest of weapons: Feudal etiquette, old-world manners, and a dollop of classic snobbery.

Read the whole thing.

Goths

A laff from Facebook:

I’ve always found the evolution of the word “Gothic” to be most interesting. It originally meant what the second paragraph in the graphic refers to: an eastern Germanic language spoken by a large group of people who invaded the Western Roman Empire in the fourth century, eventually carving out kingdoms for themselves in Spain and Italy (like the names of most languages, it came to describe the people who spoke it, thus the Gothic people or simply “Goths”). Renaissance humanists resurrected the name to describe the style of ecclesiastical architecture prevalent in the thirteenth century, characterized by pointed arches, flying buttresses, and rose windows. To them, of course, such architecture was just awful, given that the Romans would never have built buildings that looked like that, most importantly because such buildings lacked all sense of proportion. Even though they were quite sophisticated in their way, and quite beyond the capabilities of the actual Goths to build, the humanists denigrated them as “gothic,” a name that has stuck.

The name got a third life in the eighteenth century when it was used as an adjective to describe literature that “combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance.” Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Ortranto (1764), originated the genre, which perhaps derived its name from Walpole’s revival of gothic architecture at Strawberry Hill, a house he had built for himself. From this Romantic, melancholic association, “gothic” then came to designate the subculture it’s identified with today, which:

began in England during the early 1980s, where it developed from the audience of gothic rock, an offshoot of the post-punk genre. The name, goth subculture, derived directly from the music genre. Seminal post-punk and gothic rock artists that helped develop and shape the subculture include Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Joy Division, and Bauhaus. The goth subculture has survived much longer than others of the same era, and has continued to diversify and spread throughout the world…

Gothic fashion is marked by conspicuously dark, antiquated and homogeneous features. It is stereotyped as eerie, mysterious, complex and exotic. A dark, sometimes morbid fashion and style of dress, typical gothic fashion includes a pale complexion with colored black hair and black period-styled clothing. Both male and female goths can wear dark eyeliner and dark fingernail polish, most especially black. Styles are often borrowed from punk fashion and − more currently − from the Victorian and Elizabethan periods. It also frequently expresses pagan, occult or other religious imagery. Gothic fashion and styling may also feature silver jewelry and piercings.

Goths!

Vikings in Boston

Yet another example of the American desire for Viking roots is detailed in an article on WBUR.org (hat tip: Chris Berard):

Vikings, Baking Powder And Poets: Boston’s Long And Confusing History With Leif Erikson

If you were to believe a small plaque on the grounds of Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, you’d think there was a time when the Vikings sailed the Charles River.

But there’s a reason you didn’t read that story in your American history books.

The plaque, which can be found if you walk along Fresh Pond Parkway with Gerry’s Landing Road to the left, reads, “On this spot in the year 1000 Leif Erikson built his house in Vineland.” One of our readers asked why the marker is there, and it turns out the plaque is not the only nod to the renowned Viking explorer that Greater Bostonians could spot across the region.

So we set off to break down the long timeline of Massachusetts’ complicated, largely unproven and definitely unorthodox infatuation with Erikson and Viking heritage.

Check it out.

St. George at the UN

Chris Berard.

My friend Chris Berard sends me a photo he took on a recent trip to New York City. This St. George statue is relatively famous: Zurab Tsereteli’s Good Defeats Evil (1990), located north of the entrance to the United Nations’ General Assembly Building. Given the Georgian nationality of the artist and the date of the installation, it would be tempting to see this statue as symbolic of the defeat of Communism, but the “evil” represented here is the Cold War itself – the dragon’s body is made up of pieces of US Pershing and Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles.

It occurs to me that I’ve seen this image before, at the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas. There, it is rendered on a copper shield with cloisonné enamel artwork, by the same artist. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze presented this piece to Pres. Bush, presumably before 2003, when Shevardnadze was ousted from office as a result of the Rose Revolution.

Emperor Norton

A Wikipedia discovery:

Joshua Abraham Norton (February 4, 1818 – January 8, 1880), known as Emperor Norton, was a citizen of San Francisco, California, who proclaimed himself “Norton I, Emperor of the United States” in 1859. He later assumed the secondary title of “Protector of Mexico”. Norton was born in England but spent most of his early life in South Africa. He sailed west after the death of his mother in 1846 and his father in 1848, arriving in San Francisco possibly in November 1849.

Norton initially made a living as a businessman, but he lost his fortune investing in Peruvian rice. Hoping that a Chinese rice shortage would allow him to sell at a steep profit, he bought rice at 12 cents per pound from Peruvian ships, but more Peruvian ships arrived in port which caused the price to drop sharply to 4 cents. He then lost a lawsuit in which he tried to void his rice contract, and his public prominence faded. He re-emerged in September 1859, laying claim to the position of Emperor of the United States.

Norton had no formal political power; nevertheless, he was treated deferentially in San Francisco, and currency issued in his name was honored in the establishments that he frequented. Some considered him insane or eccentric, but citizens of San Francisco celebrated his imperial presence and his proclamations, such as his order that the United States Congress be dissolved by force and his numerous decrees calling for the construction of a bridge and tunnel crossing San Francisco Bay to connect San Francisco with Oakland.

On January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed at the corner of California and Dupont (now Grant) streets and died before he could be given medical treatment. Upwards of 10,000 people lined the streets of San Francisco to pay him homage at his funeral.

Norton was buried in the Masonic Cemetery at city expense. In 1934, his remains, along with all others in the city, were transferred to a grave site at Woodlawn Cemetery in Colma, California.

Robin Hood

Kevin Harty, at Medievally Speaking, reviews the film Robin Hood (dir. Otto Bathurst, 2018):

The legend of Robin Hood celebrates transgressive behavior.  King Arthur is authoritarian—the focus of a structured legend rooted in long foundational medieval texts by the likes of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chrétien de Troyes, and Sir Thomas Malory. Robin Hood is anti-authoritarian—the focus of an unstructured legend rooted in popular culture and shorter anonymous texts.  In literature, the Hoodian legend begins as what Roman Catholics used to call an occasion of sin.  In the B-text of Piers Plowman, William Langland in the late fourteenth century presents an idle priest, a figure of sloth, who has failed to learn his prayers but who knows instead the “rymes of Robin Hood.” Those “rymes” mark the literary beginning of a legend that would grow by bits and bobs and cross genres for centuries, adding along the way characters and incidents with which we have become more than familiar, and, at one point, resituating itself in the time of King Richard I, some two hundred or so years earlier than when it sprang up.

Film began its fascination with Robin Hood at least as early as 1908; television, in 1950 in the United States, and three years later in England. Rarely, it is safe to say, no matter what genre or media is employed, does someone retell the story of Robin Hood without nodding to earlier versions of the tale and to contemporary politics. In the case of cinema, arguably the three best Robin Hood films react to world conflicts past (the 1922 Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.), present (Richard Lester’s 1976 Robin and Marian starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn), and future (the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn). The Robin Hoods of television have similarly been used for political purposes: opposing the Hollywood Blacklist (the 1950s’ The Adventures of Robin Hood), opposing pollution and attacks on the environment (the 1980s’ Robin of Sherwood), and opposing the policies of Mrs. Thatcher (the 1990s’ Maid Marian and Her Merry Men).

More at the link.

Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635) was a French navigator, cartographer, and explorer, who is commonly designated “The Father of New France” for his role in founding that particular colony in 1608. He died and was buried in Quebec City – but the exact location of his grave is currently unknown, and has become a holy grail of sorts for archaeologists. A recent article in the Globe and Mail (hat tip: Robert Black) rejoices in the discovery of a seventeenth-century palisade at Quebec, but laments that Champlain’s grave is still unfound. From the article:

Records suggest Champlain died on Christmas Day in 1635, and his remains were moved to a chapel that was later burned to the ground. A Jesuit text from 1642 refers to a priest who was buried alongside the founder and another friend, but there is no record of where that burial took place.

“It is likely the remains were moved, but nobody knows when or where,” Mr. Lavoie said.

Serious efforts to find the tomb began in the mid-1800s. Scientists began “digging left and right” to find Champlain, he said, but without success. More recently, an archaeologist who shared the name of former Quebec premier Rene Levesque led a series of digs in the 1980s and 1990s that proved equally fruitless.

Mr. Lavoie believes the location of the original “Champlain chapel” to which his remains were moved has been found in the old city. Mr. Lavoie believes there’s a good chance Champlain could be lying somewhere beneath Quebec City’s basilica, either on his own or in a common grave.

But the search for the founder’s remains are at a standstill, and even if found, they would not be easy to identify. Champlain fathered no children and left no descendants, which eliminates the possibility of DNA matching. To confirm the identity, researchers would have to match up remains with what little that is known about Champlain physically — for example traces of the arrow wounds he suffered during a 1613 conflict with the Iroquois.

Robert comments:

Champlain was a Protestant, was he not? And the prevailing theory for many decades has been that he and other Protestants were buried apart from later cemeteries (and therefore, not under the Basilica). If anything his remains have for a very long time thought to be buried under the Anglican cathedral, either the car park or the outbuildings.

I did not know this. Wikipedia claims that:

He belonged to either a Protestant family, or a tolerant Roman Catholic one, since [Champlain’s birthplace of] Brouage was most of the time a Catholic city in a Protestant region, and his Old Testament first name (Samuel) was not usually given to Catholic children.

A note elaborates:

According to many modern historians… Champlain could have been born a Protestant. Professor [Alain] Laberge [of Laval University] suggested that Champlain’s Protestantism would have been downplayed or omitted from educational materials in Quebec by the Roman Catholic Church, which controlled Quebec‘s education system until 1962.

I discover that the Champlain monument in Orillia, Ontario, which I remember seeing as a kid, has been removed for restoration – perhaps indefinitely, given concerns expressed “over the monument’s representations of Indigenous peoples raised by members of the public and by Indigenous communities.”

Interesting Tidbits

From the always-interesting Slate Star Codex (direct quotations):

• A Swedish news team went to Gotland to film a segment on the problem of amateur treasure-hunters disturbing archaeological sites. To collect footage, one of them borrowed a metal detector and went around an archaeological site in what they figured was a treasure-hunter-like way. Just after filming finished, the metal detector started beeping – and thus was made the largest discovery of Viking treasure in history, 148 lbs of silver worth millions of dollars.

• Early 18th-century London looked a lot like the setting of the average superhero comic – plagued by crime, weak on policing, crying out for a charismatic figure to take matters into his own hands. Enter Jonathan Wild, the “Thief-Taker General”, who won public adoration by catching all the worst criminals and bringing them to justice. Spoiler: he was secretly a mob boss who arranged all the crimes, then arranged to “solve” whichever ones benefitted his reputation.

• Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke once held the world record for beer drinking, and “suggested that this single feat may have contributed to his political success more than any other, by endearing him to an electorate with a strong beer culture”.

• Did you know: the Punic Wars officially ended in 1985.

• Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122, is widely believed to be the oldest person ever. Scientists were puzzled by her health and long life, which was an extreme outlier even among record-holding supercentanarians. Now a Russian gerontologist presents evidence that Calment was a fraud – she died at a normal age, and her daughter assumed her identity for financial reasons.