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Thursday, 30 June 2016

What If: The Jacobites took power in 1745?
For several decades the Jacobites were a serious threat to the British government and in 1745 Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, could have almost achieved this. The idea of Bonnie Prince Charlie overthrowing the government has been looked at in several alternate histories on the internet but I disagree with some of the results of some of these scenarios. As always alternate history is purely speculative so no scenario is incorrect but merely a practice to look at history in a literal alternate way. However, before we begin we must ask who were the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie?

Who were the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie?
The Jacobites found their origin in the final decade of the seventeenth century. In 1688 King James VII and II of Scotland and England gave birth to a son. This turned out to be an issue for the Scottish and English Parliaments. In 1688 religion was the most important thing in the lives of everyone. You lived your entire life based on what religion you subscribed to. Denominations of the same religion were viewed with deep distrust. The Scottish Parliament was Presbyterian and the English Parliament was Anglican; the king, however, was Catholic. This was intolerable for the parliaments but they had a ray of hope. James's heir was Mary who was a devote Protestant and she was married to William of Orange, (who was Dutch), who was fighting a war against Catholic France. They hoped that when James died Protestants would succeed him. However, this changed when James had a son as they knew the son would be Catholic and start an unbroken Catholic succession. When James tried, and failed, to get Catholics more rights and with the birth of a son seven English MPs invited William of Orange to investigate the legitimacy of James's son, (they hoped the son was illegitimate). Seeing an invading Dutch force James panicked and fled from London. In England William and Mary were declared king and queen, soon after they were declared this in Scotland after a battle and, the same in Ireland after many battles between James and William. By the end of 1689 William and Mary were the monarchs of England, Scotland and Ireland, (and Wales).

However, William and Mary's rule was not completely recognized. The supporters of James and his son's lines were called Jacobites. Among those who supported Jacobites were non-jurors, (Anglican clergy who found their oaths to James binding), Catholics, high churchmen, (those who favored the theology, hierarchy and worship structure of Anglicanism) and members of the Scottish Highland clans. With the death of Queen Anne in 1714 and the succession of George of Hanover nationalism factored into this. On top of this in 1707 with the Act of Union between England and Scotland people, (mostly in Scotland), channeled their dissatisfaction over the union into Jacobitism. There were several Jacobite risings during the eighteenth century. The first major one was in 1715 and was led by the Earl of Mar who used Jacobitism for his own personal gain rather than actual devotion to James. Quickly the uprising was crushed and the Earl of Mar fled to France where James was. There would be other risings but not one on the scale of the 1715 Uprising until 1745 when the grandson of James, Charles Edward Stuart, started one. Backed by the French, (who were at war with Britain at the time), he landed in Scotland and gained support of several Highland clans (both Protestant and Catholic), before marching south. Several major cities including Edinburgh, Carlisle, Manchester and Derby surrendered with little force. After reaching Derbyshire he returned to Scotland due to a lack of English and French support. Despite a victory at the Battle of Falkirk the Jacobites were defeated on April 16 1746 at the Battle of Culloden. Following the 'Forty-Five' Uprising there were no other Jacobite risings and Jacobitism permanently ended in 1807 when the last Jacobite claimant died. Bonnie Prince Charlie had no heir so his brother Henry took up the mantle. Henry had no heir so when he died so did Jacobitism. How could Bonnie Prince Charlie take power if he lost?

Charlies becomes king
In our timeline Bonnie Prince Charlie had little chance of succeeding. Jacobite support in England was located in the north so as Charlies marched south the less support he had. However, originally the Forty-Five was to include a French invasion which never happened. In this scenario French forces land in Kent and Cornwall as the Jacobites reach Derby. The Jacobite rising had not been taken seriously by the Westminster government until they crossed the Scottish/English border and, even then most of the army was abroad fighting the French. A French invasion in the east and west and, the Jacobites from the north would leave the British army virtually surrounded. Most of the fighting at this stage would be done by the French; by the time the Jacobites reached Derby many of the Gaelic Highlander clans had returned north for the harvests. Eventually by the April of 1746 the British army would have collapsed. King George II would flee to his native Hanover and, the many Protestant MPs would flee with George or would go to the Dutch Republic or the American colonies. The only remaining MPs and members of the House of Lords would either be Jacobites or people willing to compromise with them. Following the ascension of William and Mary Catholics were barred from sitting on the British throne. Charles would have this repealed. Charles's father, James the son of James II and VII, would be invited to Britain where he would be crowned James III. When James II and VII was overthrown Mary and William were accepted by non-jurors as it was seen that James had renegaded on his commitment to be king. With George fleeing to Hanover this again would be applied. Thus in an alternate 1746 the Stuarts regain the throne.

James III's reign
One of the most common things that I have seen in regards to the Jacobites winning the Forty-Five is that the Act of Union would be repealed making Scotland an independent nation. I strongly disagree with this idea. If it was the 1715 Uprising then yes; the Earl of Mar got much support by exploiting dissatisfaction over the Act of Union. In the Forty-Five the Gaelic clans joined in because they hoped that a Jacobite regime would restore their old authority. An independent Scotland and England proved to be a serious thorn in the side of every Stuart monarch, with Charles I it even caused his downfall and execution, which James and Charles would not want to repeat. In fact this can be seen in what Bonnie Prince Charlie's brother was styled as. The crowning of monarchs in Britain goes by the English way, (showing the Act of Union was and is not a union of equals), and Charles's brother carried this on calling himself Henry IX. If the Jacobites really wished to have an independent Scotland he would have styled himself Henry I and IX. The association of Jacobitism and Scottish nationalism, (including calling Charles the Bonnie Prince), developed years later. As a result the reign of James III, (not III and VIII), would not see the repeal of the Act of Union.

British society and politics would be drastically different under a Jacobite victory. Catholicism would return as the state religion and become officially tolerated. However, Protestantism wouldn't be virulently persecuted at this early stage. The Jacobite hold over the country would be tenuous and as Catholicism was only dominant in the Scottish Highlands and Ireland any persecution of Protestantism would cause mass uprisings. Smaller Protestant denominations like Quakers and Baptists would be persecuted but this would not receive much criticism amongst most of society. It took until 1828 for government officials to not need to take communion with the Anglican church to sit on office. Only in Ireland would Protestantism be widely persecuted and even then only Presbyterianism would be. The various acts in both Ireland and Britain which forbade Catholics from owning property, inheriting land, owning land, sitting in Parliament and other things would be repealed. During the reign of James the rights of Presbyterians in Scotland and Anglicans in England would be slowly diminished. Parliament would be radically changed. Another thing which was the constant bane of the Stuart monarchs was the Parliament. As the Jacobites took power via force Parliament's power would be diminished. Instead of a regular legislative body it would become more of an irregular advisory one with some legislative power. James could not remove Parliament altogether but he would have it severely weakened. During the eighteenth century extra-parliamentary politics was born in Britain with various societies such as the London Corresponding Society which campaigned for parliamentary reform. Particularly Whig politicians would lead a very vocal underground quest for reform.

James's rule would not be stable. Only in Ireland would his rule be secure. In Scotland the Highland clans would have their power increased which would mean that central government would not govern the Highlands. In our timeline several Scottish regiments, including the Black Watch, were created by the central government to break the last ties of the clans. In this timeline they would not exist. In England, Wales and the Scottish Lowlands James would have to face risings from Protestants, low churchmen and Whigs. Parliamentary reform groups would be far more popular in this timeline thanks to James reducing it's power. The Americas would be in open rebellion. Thanks to the Seven Years' War, (the French-Indian War), and the annexation of Catholic Quebec did anti-Catholicism reduce somewhat in the British American colonies. With so many fleeing Jacobites and residing in the colonies then they would not want to answer to the new king. Although Britain would back out of the Austrian War of Succession a rebellious state would emerge in America. A weakened army could not fight this state so there would be little fighting. However, this America would be different to our USA. It would be far less of a secular society with Catholics being widely persecuted and it would have a government similar to Britain. Instead of a joint Head of State and Government it would have a president and prime minister and, instead of a Congress there would be a House of Commons and a Senate.

Long Term
An aged Bonnie Prince Charlie:
We may not be able to tell the history of the world up until today in this scenario but we can make guesses until the mid-nineteenth century. Today the Jacobites are associated with Scottish nationalism. Sir Walter Scott, the author of Waverly detailing the Forty-Five, would not turn Charles Stuart into the icon he is today. Scottish nationalism dissipated thanks to Scotland's industrial prosperity in the nineteenth century in conjunction with the growth of the British empire. With the loss of the Americas so early on the British empire would be weaker in this timeline than in ours. Britain would have to work harder to build an empire. Industrial growth also prospers when the monarchy takes a backseat. Merchants and mill owners got Britain industrialized quickly as the monarchy had less control over production as it did France. A revival of monarchical power could impede the growth of industry in northern England and Scotland. In accompaniment with the growth of extra-parliamentary politics we could see a more virulent Scottish nationalism in this timeline.

However, when our Bonnie Prince becomes Charles III parliament's power would grow. Following the collapse of Jacobitism with the defeat of the Forty-Five Charles often resorted to having affairs and drinking. Possibly with his goals achieved his purpose, until the death of James, would be over and he would succumb to his vices. By the time of James's death, 1766 in our timeline, these vices may be overwhelming for him. As a result, like with George IV, the British Parliament would have to take over more and more legislative authority. By the time of Charles's death Parliament would have managed to take back some of it's old power. However, there would be, almost, no more wars with France. As France put them in power the Jacobites would rely on France to keep that power. A series of treaties would solidify British/French relations with the possibility of there being royal marriages. Maybe with the British/French alliance Louis XVI could marry a Jacobite daughter instead of Marie Antoinette... 

I hope you enjoyed this and thanks for reading. The sources I have used are:
-The Stuart Age England, 1603-1714. Fourth Edition by Barry Coward
-The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746 by Bruce Lenman
-The Long Eighteenth Century: British Political and Social History, 1689-1832 by Frank O'Gorman

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A History of the EU
As of writing the United Kingdom votes in a referendum to decide whether it should remain a member of the European Union. Both the Remain and the Leave campaigns have spread disinformation and bad history about the EU. Today I shall give a politically neutral history of the European Union to hopefully inform both UK and non-UK readers on this institution grabbing worldwide headlines. 

Initial Origins
The origins of the European Union can be found in the tattered remains of a war torn Europe. In the late 1940s Europe was divided between the capitalist west and the communist east, (in 1948 a communist coup had toppled the government of Czechoslovakia), NATO was being formed by the capitalist powers, Stalin had just backed down over blockading western Berlin and, the western powers had formed the Federal Republic of Germany, (West Germany), under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The United States wanted West Germany to rise up from the destruction of the Second World War, (especially as it would oppose the communist eastern bloc), while France was fearful of this. West Germany would have the coal and steel rich areas of the Ruhr and Rhineland, and it seemed the Saarland seemed to also rejoin West Germany. As a result France feared German coal and steel would flood the markets of Europe devaluing it. However, France knew to change the approach it had taken towards Germany. French economist Jean Monnet, French-Luxembourg economist Robert Schuman and several others drafted a plan to create a High Authority controlling French and German steel and economic production. This 'Schuman Plan' in Schuman's words were: The French government proposes that the entire French-German coal and steel production be placed under a joint High Authority within the framework of an organization which would also be open to participation of the other countries of Europe'. On May 9 1950 was announced and virtually instantly ratified by the French and West German governments. The April of the next year France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed the treaty. Initially the Dutch were reluctant to as Britain refused to sign. Britain declined Schuman's intervention to join as it was upset that it had no say in drafting the initial treaty and the Scandinavian countries did not want to join. Konrad Adenauer from Germany, Robert Schuman and Alcide De Gasperi from Italy all founded the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951.
Left to Right: Adenauer, De Gasperi and Schuman.
 Treaty of Rome
France and West Germany, however, wanted reconciliation which the ECSC could not bring. Three times in a hundred years they had gone through major wars against one another and there were years of animosity between the two. Adenauer hoped that for West Germany to become a thriving country once again French fears had to be alleviated. A closer union with France could do this. The Benelux countries and Italy also wanted to increase their union with both France and West Germany. The Messina Conference of 1955 between the ECSC countries started preparations for a closer union between the countries. Political and military integration was immediately rejected but plans were made for the European Economic Community (the EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM). On March 25 1957 the Treaty of Rome was signed formally forming the EEC. The EEC created free trade among member states, (the Common Market), and put in place standardized tariffs for countries outside the EEC. A common agricultural policy was drafted but disagreements between the members meant that it would take until 1962 for it to be implemented. This would prove to be the most controversial thing about the EEC, and later EU, as the quotas implemented often caused food wastage. The option to join was offered to all European countries as long as they met certain conditions including having a stable economy and being a democracy.

Initially several states were unwilling to join the EEC. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden said 'something which we know, in our bones,that we could not do' about initially joining. However, non-EEC countries started looking at the EEC enviously when the member states started experiencing rapid economic growth. Austria, Portugal, Denmark, the UK, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden all formed the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in tandem with the EEC to keep up. Since then Norway and Switzerland have been brought close the the European market despite not being members, (all the others have joined the Common Market). In 1961 Britain even applied to join the EEC despite earlier reservations. However, Britain was blocked by French President Charles de Gaulle who feared that British entry would destabilize the Community thanks to agricultural subsidies as well as Britain's close links with the United States. Until his resignation in 1969 he would veto British application.

In 1973 the EEC enlarged to include the UK, Ireland and Denmark (including Greenland). Norway had applied at this date but a referendum on membership stopped this from happening. In 1975 Britain also had a referendum which voted in favor of remaining in the EEC. As so many economies had joined the EEC other nations started to wish to join. Francoist Spain for example wished to join as its economy was lagging behind that of the democratic EEC. In 1979 as the EEC started to grow more powerful the first elections for the European Parliament were held. Two years later Greece joined the Common Market. In 1985 the Schengen Treaty was signed. The initial founders of the EEC had open borders between one another but not the rest of the EEC. A German could go to France easily but they could not go to Denmark as easily. The Schengen Treaty brought in place open borders for EEC members but Ireland and the UK were exempted. This was due to the fact that both nations feared open borders would allow the terrorist groups the Provisional IRA and the UVF could more easily cross the borders. The following year two major developments happened. The first was that Spain and Portugal, now full democracies, joined the EEC. The other was the adoption of the flag of Europe. Finally, in 1989 communism started collapsing in eastern Europe. Germany reunified in 1990 thanks to the efforts of socialist French President Francois Mitterrand and Christian Democrat German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Maastricht Treaty until now
Kohl and Mitterrand wanted to build on the reunification of Germany and this led to the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. The Treaty would create a monetary union, a single European currency to eventually be implemented, an Exchange Rate Mechanism to keep national currencies in line and, a common foreign and defense policy. However, many aspects of the Treaty were flawed and several member states were not in favor of all of the points of the Treaty. One such was that travelers didn't have to show their passports when entering the country but Ireland, the UK, Denmark and Greece all refused to have this implemented. Also the UK left the Exchange Rate Mechanism when the pound's value dropped. Most importantly, however, the EEC was no more. The closer ties meant that it had evolved from a community to a union. The Maastricht Treaty formed the EU.

1995 saw Austria, Finland and Sweden join the EU and 2004 would see the biggest enlargement. Cyprus, Malta, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland all joined the union. 2007 saw Romania and Bulgaria join and, in 2013 the EU's most recent member joined: Croatia. However, in 2002 the EU's biggest development since Maastricht took place: the euro was put in place. Initially twelve nations, (including France and Germany), adopted the euro and since then nineteen countries have joined the eurozone. Closer union has, however, changed the responsibilities of it. The Treaty of Lisbon, for example, was an attempt to handle the increased unity of the EU. The EU has created a pledge to support human rights and, most of the laws passed by the EU have been about the preservation of human and labor rights. How successful this has been is questionable as the lack of action during the Balkan Wars showed that there are limits to the EU's power. A common currency has proven to be both beneficial and a drawback. The Eurozone Debt Crisis of 2009 ruined the economies of several nations, Greece for example has still not recovered, but equally Germany has benefited enough to pull some countries out from debt. 

As said earlier as I am writing the population of the UK is currently deciding whether to remain a member of the EU. Whatever the result the ramifications could change the EU for good. The sources I have used are as follows:
-Postwar A History of Europe since 1945 by Tony Judt
-The History of the Modern World by Terry Burrows, Reg Grant, Jane Lang and Mike Flynn

Sunday, 19 June 2016

World History: The Silk Road
International trade is something that shapes our entire lives. Products travel all over the world before we actually use them. Writing this I am wearing a jumper made of cotton from China where it was then shipped, (or flown), to another area of the world to be made into a jumper, then it was sent to Ireland to have the print on the front be put on, then to the General Post Office in Dublin where I bought it and now, I am writing this blog wearing the jumper in England. This international travel of goods is common. However, it is not a new phenomenon. This international goods exchange is far older than modern day globalization. It is far older than the overseas trade routes established by European empires starting from the mid-seventeenth century. The ancient Silk Road established a series of routes stretching from China to Rome to the Horn of Africa to Java almost in the second century BCE and, managed to last in some form or another until the fifteenth CE. Goods, ideas and even diseases spread across Eurasia and Africa which we shall look at today.

The establishment of the Silk Road was not thanks to the Emperor of China messaging the Roman Senate saying they'll send a certain amount of silk in return for a certain amount of wine. In fact the trade of Chinese silk had happened long before the formation of the Silk Road; silk has been found in Egypt dating from around 1070 BCE, apparent Caucasoid individuals (the Tarim mummies) have been found in what is now western China around 1600 BCE and Chinese silks were known in Athens by 550 BCE. However, the Silk Road managed to only emerge thanks to stability along trade routes. The stability of Han China, the Kushan Pakistan, Parthia (modern day Iran) and Rome allowed a relatively safe trade route going from China, through central Asia, through the Near East and to the Mediterranean. Merchants could buy Chinese silk and then travel to a place in the west with a reduced chance of being killed, robbed or both by warring soldiers, nomadic peoples or rebels. However, when the empires did intervene on the Silk Road it wasn't the help facilitate trade but rather for military purposes. For example, in 102 BCE Han emperor Wu-ti led an expedition to Ferghana in modern day Uzbekistan to seize the famed war horses there when the locals refused to give them as a tribute. The reason for this was because was that they wanted to horses to help fight the nomadic peoples north of the Great Wall. 

How it worked
A 19th Century painting of Silk Road merchants:
Merchants did not travel from Ch'ang'an, for example, all the way to Rome and Athens. Instead they would go to export goods to a town or city, trade there and return home. An example would be a silk merchant could set off from Ch'ang'an and go to Ferghana to sell his silk. When the exchange was done he would return to Ch'ang'an to get more silk. Silk had to be traded as the finished product itself because the Han emperors put a ban on exporting silkworms out of China. Silk is taken from the cocoons of silkworms which were found in China, Korea, north India, Japan and what is now eastern Russia. It was very important for China to keep the silk making process a secret as most of the economy rested on silk making. Silk was originally used to write on and the Chinese would make silk to pay nomadic peoples north of the Great Wall not to attack them. If states found out the process they could make their own silk, China would lose it's main export and the main thing that they used to pay off nomads. Hence, a penalty of death was imposed on anyone who stole the secret. At first western and eastern goods filtered to different areas of the world through dowries or gifts, quite possibly the Hsiungu tribes north of the Great Wall helped spread the knowledge of silk, which landed in the hands of the elite. We shall get to what was traded later but only the rich bought items off of the Silk Road. 

What was traded and the results
Silk, obviously, was China's main export. It was found as far west as Colchester in England and as far north as Sovetskoye in Kazakstan. Rome in particular went gaga over silk. It was light, could keep you warm in the winter and could be styled into a wide range of clothing for the rich. However, more austere Roman senators and emperors did not like silk clothing at all. At times the Senate even tried to ban silk as Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) said it was draining the economy of gold and silver as people were buying stuff from the east, (there isn't actually any evidence to support Pliny's claim), and it was seen as indecent. Silk was far thinner than the textiles used in Europe so it was seen as being very indecent by figures like Seneca the Younger. China also exported raw materials such as jade and silver in high quantities. Japan managed to get into the Silk Road trade. Treasures from Shoso-in in Nara built around 752 CE have been found in the Middle East, Turkey and Greece while Shoso-in also had glass from the Byzantine Empire (the eastern half of the Roman Empire), Han mirrors and Persian goods. Roman coins have been found at Vyadhapura in Cambodia, in Java and in countless sites in India. Ivory was exported in great numbers from the Horn of Africa and, incense and spices came from the Arabian peninsula. Slaves were even bought and sold. Chinese records mention 'Syrian jugglers' in the courts.
Although only the rich bought goods from the Silk Road the poorer sections of society did benefit from it. People have to be hired to make silk, coins, glass and the other goods. As a result the cities developed a new class of laborers specialized in making certain goods. The Silk Road also helped merchants become influential. Before the Silk Road merchants were not ranked highly in society. They did not rule, did not farm and did not make anything so they were seen as less important compared to a smith or carpenter. The rich were willing to pay lots for these goods which propelled merchants higher up in social ranking. Many cities were founded thanks to the Silk Road. Central Asian nomads were hired by merchants to escort goods and they capitalized on this. Travelling merchants would want to stop somewhere safe for food and rest so the nomadic peoples built towns. As these towns saw more travelers they grew to be important cities. Afghanistan became a major hub and the city of Palmyra in modern day Syria became one of the richest cities in the Roman Empire. These towns and cities became trading places for the capitals, in Palmyra's case the goods were shipped directly to Rome. In fact, Rome's wars against Parthia was partially influenced by the urge to secure goods from the east. The Silk Road also saw the expansion of geographical knowledge thanks to the maritime trade. A Voyage around the Red Sea was written in the first century CE describes both Indian and Chinese courts. Many places are mentioned in the book: Mosyllon and Nikon in Somalia, Naura, Suppara and Palaepatmae in India and Palaesimundu in Sri Lanka. 

Religion and Disease
Religion spread rapidly thanks to the Silk Road. When we last looked at Buddhism, (, it had been virtually wiped out in India and, was surviving only in China. In China a new branch of Buddhism called Mahayana Buddhism developed (where nirvana is seen as more heavenly and the Buddha is seen as divine). Thanks to the Silk Road it spread back to India and got a foothold there. It also spread to Korea and Japan where Buddhist texts spread to Japan thanks to a sixth century diplomatic mission from Korea. Christianity and later Islam spread rapidly thanks to the Silk Road as Christian and Muslim traders would take their respective religions with them as they went east. Quite likely Islam became the dominant religion in Central Asia for this reason as Central Asia was the main focal point for the Silk Road. The sea routes aided this with Christianity spreading quickly to Ethiopia via the sea and Islam to Indonesia via the maritime routes. By the thirteenth century the Silk Road had declined, however, but an unlikely source revived it: the Mongols. However, the Mongols brought negatives as well.
Smallpox had spread to Europe and the Middle East thanks to the Silk Road but the Mongols spread another disease. Also smallpox was spread unintentionally. The Mongols spread another disease to weaken cities under siege: the Bubonic plague. This caused the Black Death. There are no exact figures for the death toll but between 75 and 200 million across Eurasia are supposed to have died, including up to 60% of Europe's population. It was so devastating that it took until the seventeenth century for the world population to recover.

Permanent Decline
Despite the occasional need for resurrection the Silk Road lasted until the 1450s but by the 1500s it had permanently died. One of the reasons was the collapse of the Mongol Empire. The Silk Road depended on stability so political decline in Central Asia cut of China from western Asia and Europe. Another reason was the Ottoman Empire conquering Constantinople in 1453. The Ottomans were anti-European so refused to trade eastern goods which ended one end of the Silk Road. The final reason why it collapsed was because of the Age of Exploration. After Magellan circumnavigated the globe a new trade route was discovered. Europeans could trade directly with the empires of China and India so there was no need to go use the peoples of Central Asia. Although one part of global trade had ended an entirely new one had begun.

The Silk Road may have collapsed but it shaped the world we live in. Christianity, Islam and Buddhism are global religions thanks to the Silk Road instead of being merely regional ones. Trade shaped the lives of people on a grand scale and played a greater part in shaping the world than any war, monarch or revolution. I thank you for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-The Times Complete History of the World edited by Richard Overy
-The Penguin History of the World by John Roberts
-Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789 by Merry Wiesner-Hanks
-A History of Japan by R.H.P Mason and J.G. Caiger

Next time we'll look how a city in Italy conquered the world and how a republic became an empire without the need of Jar Jar Binks and a clone army.

For a list of other World History posts please see here

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Review: Warcraft (2016)

Warning: Spoilers!
As a huge fan of both video games and the fantasy genre I felt that I just had to see Warcraft. However, I have never played the Warcraft games so unlike the other movies that I have reviewed on this blog,like Captain America: Civil War ( I went into the movie comparatively blind. Regardless let us start the review and as always this review does contain spoilers.

Plot and Characters
The homeworld of the orcs, Draenor, is dying so the leader of the Horde Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) uses a magic named the Fel to transport the orcs to a new realm of Azeroth to live. However, an orc chieftan called Durotan (Toby Kebbell) has doubts as the Fel requires life to be used. Meanwhile the people of Azeroth have to withstand the bloodthirsty attacks of the Horde as Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) of Stormwind, a young mage called Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and a captured half-orc called Garona (Paula Patton) must work with Durotan and the protector Medivh (Ben Foster) who may also harbor ulterior motives. The plot may seem convoluted but it works really well. It dabbles with the tropes of the fantasy genre, the type of fantasy that is popularized by Tolkein, and brings new life to it. I must give credit though to Duncan Jones (the director) and the writers. For one, they did rewrites of the script to tell the both sides point of view which really fleshes out the motives of the characters. You want to see the orcs defeated as they are murdering people but simultaneously you want them to succeed as the reason why they are doing this is somewhat justified. At times the orc commander Blackhand (Clancy Brown) seemed relatable and the apparent betrayal of Orgrim (Robert Kazinsky) seemed more justified. Also they new how much of the Warcraft lore to put in. Whereas The Hobbit trilogy focused too much on explaining every detail of Tolkein's lore the writers went the Lord of the Rings route where they put in lore when it was essential for the plot. The plot drove when lore was used and not the other way around. For that they did a good job.

The orc characters were done really well. I genuinely liked Durotan and really enjoyed seeing his relationship with both his friends and his wife. Garona was portrayed very well also. The writers really captured a struggle between two literal worlds. Considering that orcs are rarely viewed as protagonists this added new life to the fantasy genre. Much of this was down to good acting (discussed later) but the orcs were done really well. However, the only human character which I felt that was done right was Lothar. He was well written with good motivations as well as realistic reactions to those around him. The other characters were not nearly as memorable. Medivh seemed in essence a useless character until the final act where his corruption by the Fel was apparent since his first scene. In comparison to Gul'dan he was a much less impressive antagonist. Khadgar fitted the trope of 'bookworm becomes hero' which seemed extremely forced. Like Medivh he seemed to be a useless character. I really dislike the 'bookworm/shy person/loser becomes the hero' trope regardless but I disliked it even more here. Mostly as when it is normally used the bookworm/loser/shy person is the protagonist. To me Lothar seemed the central protagonist for the Alliance which negated the need for this trope. Finally we have the human king and queen. Quite frankly they meant so little that I never learnt their names. They seemed tacked on whose only use was to be McGuffins. Overall Lothar and the orcs were the only well written characters.

Most of the reason why the above characters seemed either so good or so bad was the acting. Good acting can make a poorly written character good. Batman in Batman v Superman was poorly written but Ben Affleck's performance made him good. Virtually all of the human characters bar Lothar were poorly acted. Most of the lines were delivered with virtually no emotion. It seemed that the acting was equivalent of the first take that they did. During the ambush scene when Lothar's son basically says goodbye to his father for the last time it was given with so little energy that me ordering a pizza at a restaurant before the movie had more emotion than his performance. As said earlier the king and queen were so forgettable that I never learnt their names. Paula Patton as Garona was passable. At times, particularly the final scene, it was good but half the time her performance was bland. The only saving grace was that her character was well written. However, Lothar and the orcs were really well done. Travis Fimmel really got into his role and brought some of his charm from Vikings with him. He brought energy to a lethargic movie and I genuinely enjoyed every scene he was in. He was funny and he could be serious. His anger and sadness following the death of his character's son seemed very genuine and very emotive. However, the orc acting really stole the movie. Literally every character was well voiced. Robert Kazinsky, Toby Kebbell and Anna Galvin were extremely good. It felt that there was a bond between them and out of all the characters they were by far the best. Daniel Wu felt very foreboding as Gul'dan and his voice gave off a clear air of omnipotence and malevolence but, it also sounded very cunning. Very few could effectively pull that off. Finally we have Clancy Brown who did a stellar job. I hardly recognized him; he was one of my favorite DC Animated Universe voice actors playing Lex Luthor so judging by how I didn't recognize him shows how good he was. Lothar and the orcs were good whereas everyone else fell flat.

For the most part the effects were done extremely well. I particularly loved seeing the wolves that the orcs rode on. You could see virtually every individual hair move. That level of detail really pushed the immersion factor for me. I liked also the mixture of practical effects and CGI. The makeup and costume design for Garona was really phenomenal and looked very realistic. Several scenes where live action actors stood alongside orcs and backgrounds made via computers looked very good. I know the orcs were made with motion capture suits made the orcs look so much more real. The crew did a really phenomenal job with the orcs; they were easily some of the best CGI created beings that I have seen in a movie since the last Star Wars. I also like how they created props of the weapons to give ideas of sizes and shading. It is some extra work that goes a long way. For the most part I really liked how they kept the design of the Warcraft world. The video game world from what I have seen is very unique which came off well on the screen. It also gives a very good homage for the fans of the Warcraft series. At times though the special effects can work against it. This mainly happened during battle scenes where so much was going on simultaneously and it seemed to look like a video game cutscene from five years ago. Also, some of the Warcraft designs did not adapt well to the big screen. Some of the Alliance armor looked too over the top to be taken seriously which was really immersion breaking and the elves, briefly that they did appear, definitely did not look good live action. The Fel as well did not look good at all with it appearing very fake. Maybe the film could have benefited from being entirely CGI instead of being both live action and CGI.

Pacing and Editing
I must say this was the movie's biggest flaw. Scenes seemed to end very abruptly which was very off putting. Also the pacing was not good at all. It seemed that the film continue beginning and then end. Instead of a beginning which seamlessly transitions to middle and then end it seemed to have one elongated beginning before ending quickly. Although the script rewrites did have a positive of showing more sides to the story I feel that may have caused the problem. They tried to fit too much into the film. As a result all the issues with pacing, editing and character development occurred as a result in my opinion. A good example is Lothar and his son. They have a few scenes of rushed dialogue together and then the son dies in a supposedly heart wrenching scene. However, not enough time was devoted to their relationship for me to properly care. We felt so bad when Gandalf died in Fellowship of the Ring was because the film makers chose to build a bond between us and Gandalf. Of course you do not need a large portion of the movie devoted to this, the video game The Last of Us tugged at the heart of every gamer with the death of a character in the first few minutes of gameplay. We cared so much because the writers built a relationship up. Warcraft lacked this for almost all the characters. The king's death and the betrayal/salvation of Medivh also fell flat for this reason. Luckily, they knew what to do with the lore of the world so that at least remained interesting. Warcraft is a rare case of a movie needing to be in two parts. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows worked so well as it was split over two movies which enabled us to really engage with the characters without hindering the lore and story. This could have benefited Warcraft. We could have had time to create character development instead of blurting out what the characters are feeling to have time to fit everything in.

If you are a Warcraft fan you will love this film. Judging from reviews on IMDb Warcraft fans love this film so if you love those games you will love this film. This film has actually got me interested in the Warcraft franchise and the lore behind it so it has done something right. If you like the series I would give it a 7.5/10 but I have never played the Warcraft games and, what enjoyment I had of the film was let down by bad acting, poor editing and poor pacing. These aren't minor problems though. They are serious faults which ruins a promising film. Hopefully, if sequels are made they can fix the pacing and editing to make every character be memorable so a true classic fantasy series like Lord of the Rings can be made. Overall I give Warcraft 6.3/10. An average film with some highlights but with flaws. It does have two major positives though: it got me interested  in the series and it is by far the best (live action) video game movie out there.

Friday, 3 June 2016

World History: Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great is one of the few people in history who is universally known. At the young age of twenty he had inherited the throne of one of the dominant states in the ancient Mediterranean and by the time he was thirty-two he had ruled an empire spanning from Greece to the Indus River in India. However, does Alexander deserve the title of Great? Also should we look at history only through the life of one individual? Before we look at Alexander and whether the title 'The Great' is justified we have to instead look at Great Man History.

What is Great Man History?
Great Man History was popularized, (but not created), by 19th century historian writer Thomas Carlyle. This idea centers around the notion that history is shaped and moved by 'heroes' or 'great men' whose charisma, intelligence and political skill necessitates this. Although criticized as early as the 1860s, by Herbert Spencer, it has up until this day remained a popular way to look at history. Today there is less emphasis on historical figures being studied alone it is still nevertheless studied in great detail. At my university this year I studied early modern and modern European history and only one lecture could be considered Great Man History, (one about Napoleon), whereas my friend studied Roman history where every other lecture centered on one (or more) figure. This begs the question: should we study Great Man History? I believe yes and no, (with more emphasis on no however). Certain figures in history, such as Alexander the Great, undoubtedly shaped history. With no Napoleon Europe would be a completely different place. However, Great Man History removes everything from history bar the figure we are focusing on. Using the Napoleon example, Great Man History ignores the events of the French Revolution, what was happening in other countries, the people who supported him and the French soldiers who helped him win his battles. The economy, religion, politics, people, culture and society shape history which allows individuals to become 'great'. Also Great Man History has a habit of only focusing on white men who were normally in the social elite. Everyone knows Napoleon but few know Charlotte Corday who assassinated a key Jacobin. Now with that out of the way let's be hypocritical and look at the life of Alexander the Great.

The Life of Alexander
Alexander was born in the capital of the Macedonian Empire, Pella, in 356 BCE to King Philip II and one of his wives, Olympias. As the son of the king he was given the best education, until the age of 16 he was taught by the Aristotle, as well as being taught to fight. Aged twenty he was made king when Philip II was assassinated in 336 BCE, possibly by Olympias, but had to face the revolting of several Greek cities. To the Greeks the Macedons were barbarians and Greece being conquered by Macedon was seen as a disgrace. Despite his young age Alexander brutally crushed the revolt having 6000 men slaughtered at Thebes as well as having the inhabitants sold into slavery. He then invaded the Achaemenid Empire (here's a post about it:, just as his father had planned to. Quite possibly this urge to invade Perisa was due to Macedonian propaganda accusing the Achaemenids of assassinating Philip II. In 334 BCE with an army where a quarter of the soldiers came from Greek cities he went to war. In legend he supposedly cut the Gordian Knot on his way but there is little evidence to support this. In 333 BCE the Macedon army defeated the larger Persian army, (supposedly numbering 600,000 but this is a wide exaggeration), at Issus before sweeping down through Syria until he captured Egypt. Here Alexandria was founded in 331 BCE and would be one of the many cities that he would not only found, but also name after himself. The same year at the Battle of Gaugamela he broke the Achaemenid army (Gaugamala means 'camel's back') so by 330 BCE he had managed to conquer the Achaemenid's capital of Persepolis. The Achaemenid king Darius was murdered by his satraps whom Alexander went after. On his way to India he met Roxana of Bactria whom he married. However, before he could invade India his army 'mutinied' as they were tired of marching and did not wish to face an army of 5000 in the Punjab. He would later marry the daughter of Darius, Stateira II, as well as the daughter of Darius's predecessor, she was Parysatis II. After forging an empire covering two million square miles and founding 70 cities (where twenty were called Alexandria) he died of a fever in 323 BCE. Immediately Roxana had Alexander's other wives murdered to ensure the safety of her unborn child, the Greek cities revolted and Alexander's empire fractured into three 'Hellenistic Kingdoms'.

Alexander's Rule
If we only look at how much Alexander conquered we can easily award him the title of 'The Great'. However, if we look at his ruling of the empire that he founded it is hard to justify this. For one, his empire collapsed barely ten years after he had died. Alexander only focused on forging an empire, not building one, so when he died with Roxana still pregnant his leading generals clashed, the diodochi war, over who would succeed him. Even during Alexander's life was his rule not that secure. While warring against the Achaemenids Agis III of Sparta rose up alongside Thrace. They were crushed but the fact that they managed to do so in the first place showed the weaknesses in Alexander's rule. This can be shown also with the city of Aspendos. Aspendos was a Greek city in Turkey which Alexander took from the Achaemenids. As it was a Greek city he gave it autonomy in return for an occasional tribute of 50 talents (silver) and horses. The city eventually defaulted on payment and Alexander had to send troops to make it a subject city again. His rule was dependent on his army. After all the reason why he didn't invade India was because his army didn't want to. He was well aware of this as he knew that any military setbacks would encourage Greek revanchism at home.

However, there is an idea that Alexander wanted his empire to engage in: integrating cultures. Referred to as Hellenization Alexander encouraged his troops to marry women in conquered lands. At Susa in 324 BCE Alexander not only married the Persian Stateira and Perysatis but also had his soldiers marry Persian women. Around 10,000 marriages between Macedons, Greeks and Persians took place where the ceremony itself mixed Persian and Macedonian customs. Coins found in Afghanistan bare Greek designs and the successive Greco-Indian and Greco-Bactrian Kingdoms were heavily influenced from Greek administration and culture. Buddhism was even influenced by this Hellenization with the anthropomorphising of the Buddha possibly coming from Greek influence. At the same time eastern goods became in demand in the west with there being a huge demand for Chinese silk in Rome during the first century BCE. In fact the ancient historian Diodorus claimed that one of Alexander's generals, Perdiccas, produced papers following his death claiming that Alexander wanted a mass intermarriage of Europeans and Asians (as well as to conquer Carthage and build a tomb for his father greater than the Pyramids of Egypt).

Alexander, his Legacy and Great Man History
Does Alexander and Great Man History fit together. If we only look at his conquests then we can say that he proves that Great Man History is a thing. At such a young age he conquered so much land as well as toppling one of the most powerful empires in history. However, looking at a wider picture his exploits may not have been that great. Alexander fought against an empire not fully mobilized where it was rare in their history to actually fully mobilize. He had inherited an already powerful army and state from his father who had done much hard work for him by conquering the Greek states. He had no administration so his empire barely lasted twenty years after his death, (in some places less), and his death before the birth of an heir lead to his generals squabbling over his empire and, his first wife having the others murdered. Alexandria in Egypt was not finished in his lifetime and the two wonders of the ancient world located there (the library and lighthouse) were not built until many years later. Why then is he known as Alexander the Great instead of Alexander III? The simple answer is he did an astounding feat at a young age. A young man conquering so much would capture the imagination of any other would be conqueror. The founder of the Mauryan Empire in India, Chandra Gupta Maurya, claimed to have met Alexander (the founding of the empire was only possible thanks to the power vacuum left by Alexander's death), Julius Caesar admired him and conquered Alexandria to copy his actions and Napoleon was so eager to fight the British in Egypt was because he could emulate his idol.

Alexander is only great in the eyes of the individual. If you see greatness as conquering the world at a young age then he was great. If you see greatness as forging and ruling a multicultural empire successfully then he was not great. Regardless of whether he was great or not his actions were only possible thanks to the climate that he was in. Maybe in some strange alternate dimension where Alexander and the Macedonian Empire was around at Rome's height of power we may not refer to him as 'the Great'. There is more to history than just great men.
Thanks for reading. The sources I have used are as follows:
-Alexander the Great and his Empire by Pierre Briant
-The Penguin History of the World by J.M. Roberts
-History of the World edited by John Whitney Hall
-1001 Days that Shaped the World edited by Peter Furtado
Next time on World History we'll look at the Silk Road. Thanks and goodbye.

For a list of other World History posts please see here