Welcome to Your Historical Compass

"The purpose of this blog is to generate discussions about historical issues. Students, enthusiasts, and friends are all welcome to join by reading and participating with comments. I hope to generate interest in history and offer help to the perplexed." Caleb Johnson

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Special

Thanksgiving 1621
If we could look back to the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, 1621 AD, what would we see? We would see a huge outdoor gathering with tables for eating and fields for playing. The pilgrims from England and the Wampanoag Indians from Massachusetts all gathered to join in a great feast. William Bradford, Myles Standish, and William Brewster were there, as well as Squanto and Chief Massasoit. All day everyone engaged in sports, hunting, playing, and cooking. When it was time to eat, they sat down around the tables to the sumptuous feast they had prepared. Turkey, bread, pumpkins and apples, as well as the three sisters: corn, squash and beans, all had their place. Sour cranberries complemented the turkey and a great assortment of other berries served to color the mound of culinary splendor.  However, before the hungry gatherers could dig in, they stopped to give thanks to God for the many blessings they had received. They gave thanks for those who survived the passage from England across the treacherous Atlantic aboard the tiny Mayflower. They gave thanks for the blessing of Squanto, whom God had provided to help the pilgrims through their first winter in the new world. They gave thanks for the Indians who had helped them by bringing them food rather than fighting them. Last, but not least, they gave thanks to God that he had brought them to a new world that was free. It was a new world where no king, pope, prince, or judge could tell them how to live or whom to worship. In this spirit and this knowledge, they celebrated the first Thanksgiving with each other.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

An Appeal to Visual and Audio Aids in the Study of History

It is recommended the the following sound clip be listened to while reading this post:

Dear readers,

It has been communicated to me that history is generally a boring subject. But why is it that some people find history boring? Do the deeds done by our ancestors in ages past inspire us less than the events that shape our modern world today? I say no! I believe that the problem can be traced back to the disconnection between text and visual aids. If I were presented with a full page of small text, I might lose my train of thought and read multiple lines multiple times. In addition, I may lose interest in the subject matter.  However, I submit to you that an increase in visual and audio aids substantially helps keep people's interest and thereby sharpens their understanding of deeds done in ages past. Art, architecture, paintings, modern representations, reenactments, sound recordings, even historical  movies can help. I encourage each of you if you are struggling with a certain period to explore the visual and/or audio sides rather than just the text of a subject matter. I hope this helps my readers and reduces the “boringness” of the historic record.
The following is a string of images that inspire my interest in history:
Interior of Chartres Cathedral
Pilgrims start a new world

Christ before Pilate

Friday, November 11, 2011

Swiss Pikemen

Switzerland is a small, mountainous country that is hard to access and has been avoided by many conquerors in history. It is for this reason that little is mentioned about this country's past until about the 14th century.  At that time, the Holy Roman Emperors held control of the regions south and north of Switzerland. As trade and traffic grew, it became worthwhile to build roads through the mountain passes and tax those who used the roads. However, when the Emperors tried to levy taxes on their Swiss subjects, the Swiss revolted. The leaders of the Swiss knew that their armies could never match imperial forces on the field since the Swiss had no mounted knights among them. However, they knew that if they could force the knights into a narrow valley where the knights couldn't out-maneuver them, they might have a chance. There wasn't a lot of steel for swords in Switzerland, but one thing they did have was trees for pikes. When the imperial knights came to punish their recalcitrant subjects, the Swiss defeated them at the feet of their mountains and drove them off.

Holy Roman Empire with Switzerland in Brown

This began a new era of Swiss independence. No one could conquer the Swiss and their pikemen were undefeated in battle. So fierce were they, in fact, that it became common for the princes of Europe to hire them as mercenaries. The major battles of the 16th and 17th centuries were dominated by Swiss Pikemen. It even came to the point that the princes made an agreement that no one should hire the Swiss anymore and that they should partake in no more wars. The Swiss acquiesced and Switzerland has been neutral ever since. However, Swiss Pikemen continued to serve as bodyguards to the King of France and to the Pope. The guarding of the King ended during the French Revolution when the guards died defending Louis XVI from a mob. In the Vatican, the Swiss continue to guard the Pontifix Maximus in their traditional garb, though their weapons are as modern as those of the US Secret Service. It is through honors such as the Papal Guard that the heritage and valor of Swiss Pikemen endure.

Papal Guard at Vatican Hill

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Once a week postings

Dear readers,

Due to various reasons, I am limiting my blog posts to once a week. The Posts will continue to be posted on Friday evening in time for Saturday morning.

Thank you

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Gun Powder Plot 1605

"Remember, remember the 5th of November,
the gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see no reason why the gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot."

On the 5th of November, 1605, Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed underneath the Palace of Westminster. He was caught holding a fuse in his hand....

James I

17th century England was a tumultuous place. The Protestant Reformation had convinced only most of Englishmen to become Protestants; a little under half were Catholic. Catholics had suffered persecution under half the Tudor dynasty and were looking to restore the throne to the Church. Mary, Queen of Scots, was their first choice, but she was executed by Queen Elizabeth Tudor. The Catholics then placed their hopes for a restored Catholic monarchy in her son, James VI of Scotland. When James became James I of England, he suprised people by remaining a staunch Protestant. The Catholics were fed up and had found a new favorite, but first James had to go.

The conspirators, Guy is third from the left.
A group of assassins plotted to kill not only James and his family, but the whole Protestant Parliament. They decided to wait until all Parliament was in session and blow up the building with gunpowder. The word went out to all Catholics to stay away from Parliament on the 5th of November. However, as the date neared, one conscientious Catholic sent a letter to a friend who was a member of Parliament. He warned his friend not to go that day, "lest some harm befall you." This friend proceeded to warn the guards of Westminster. They scowered the cellars and basements looking for the terrorists. They found Guy Fawkes almost ready to light the fuse.

Needless to say, the conspirators were rounded up and executed. King James was terrified to learn that the explosion would've blown up not only Parliament, but most of the buildings around it. Catholics in general did not suffer under James, but he was a little more wary after the 5th of November. Fawkes' dramatic plan and the famous way in which he botched it has earned him his place in history as one of the world's great idiots.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Viking Attack on Lindisfarne

793 AD

In this fierce year, foreboding omens came over the land of Northumbria. There were excessive whirlwinds, lightning storms, and fiery dragons  seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and on January 8th the ravaging of heathen men destroyed God's church at Lindisfarne.
- The Anglo Saxon Chronicle

Lindisfarne Castle, where the old Abbey used to be.
The text above is an excerpt from a medieval chronicle describing the first major Viking raid on the English Abby of Lindisfarne. If we were there on that Summer day, what would we have seen? A monk on that day might have been working on one of his obligations at the island Abbey when a gray mass would have been noticed on the horizon. The Vikings would have lowered their sails and relied on oars for speed and surprise. If the tide were in at the time of the attack, the Abbey would have been completely cut off from the mainland and approachable from the sea on all sides. The reaction time for the monks would have been less than an hour, as Viking ships could make 8 knots in good weather. The ships could run right up to the beach with the Viking landing parties jumping into the waves and sand. Full of fury, the raiders engaged in the full scale slaughter of the inhabitants and the spoiling of their goods. Lindisfarne was a local pilgrimage site, which made it a treasure house for relics, expensive books, tithe from the diocese, and donations. In short, in was the ideal target for a Viking raid.  As for the survivors of the attack,  they were left to pick up the pieces of their ruined lives.

Viking Longboat

The attack on the Abbey of Lindisfarne sent shock waves throughout Europe and ushered in what historians now call "The Viking Age." The next hundred years or so saw the whole continent fall victim to these warriors and their ships. From Lindisfarne in England all the way to Constantinople in Asia Minor, the Vikings raided and pillaged the Christian inhabitants of Europe.

If my readers would like me to write more posts about the Vikings, please send in a comment and request a continuation in this saga of history.