Sunday, June 27, 2010


The ancient land of Canaan, (today known as Israel) was of significant importance to the ancient empires because it was the overland route between the Egyptian and Assyrian Empires. For thousands of years this land has been contested, conquered and under several influences. For this reason the area is rich in different cultural influences, and history.

On June 28 I travel to Israel, and this trip could not happen at a more opportune time. I just took an Ancient Israel class, where I studied about early Israelite history: the Exodus from Egypt, King David and Solomon, the Divided Monarchy time period and exile into Babylon. Because of how old of history we are talking about, the only written source for the time was the Bible. We read this as a historical document, trying to put the religious elements on the back burner and compare the written evidence with the archeological record that has been found in the region.

Religious or not, the area provides a very interesting history because of its location, and because of the different power struggles going on in the region. Locked between two of the largest Empires in the world, the region was constantly fought over. It wasn’t until the two regions receded lands due to internal turmoil the country of Israel was able to form. The little slice of land became a monarchy under David, and later solidified under his son Solomon.

The archeological record does support a central government. Three towns, Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer all have the same six chamber gate. This gate was extremely secure against an attack, and all three towns were placed along the ancient overland travel route from Egypt to Assyria. There is also evidence of soldiers being held at these sites, so these cities were also defensive for the region.

After the short stint as a united Monarchy, the region split into two different countries: Israel in the North, and Judah in the South. The two countries were not one entirely equal proportion since Israel had most of the agricultural resources because of the wetter climate. For this reason, as well as encompassing the fertile Jezreel Valley, the country was more on the international scene, having to fight off other surrounding regions from conquest. However, eventually the Assyrian Empire was able to conquer the region and claim the land as part of the empire.

Now only Judah was left, and this area began to also feel the international pressures after a time. Then, a shift happened. The Assyrians were conquered by the Babylonian Empire and the Kingdom of Judah itself fell. It was at this time those living in Judah were exiled into Babylon. However, 50 short years later, the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians, and those living in exile were allowed to return back to Judah. It was at this time the term Jew was developed to describe those living in Judah.

After this time the region was conquered by Alexander the Great during the Hellenistic period, and eventually the rule of Rome. This last part is stretching my knowledge since we barely touched on the Hellenistic period in my class. I did touch on Israel during my Roman Empire class as well, and learned a little about the Herod Dynasty.

But this is all really to give you context about the area I will be traveling in. My hope is that I will visit some of these ancient places on my trip and be able to post more specific history and information when I get back.

So, until I get back, I wish all my readers happy history. I am looking forward to visiting and living it!

Thursday, June 17, 2010


In 1066 A.D. everything changed in England. William the Conquer claimed the throne of England, and established a feudal system while unting the Heptarchy for good. After his death, the country was fought over by his three sons, and was first ruled by his second son William Rufus, and finally by his third son Henry. Henry I ruled after the unpopular reign of his brother and had a lot of interesting things associated with his rule. Perhaps I can find a good time to speak about all of this at a later time, but for now it isn’t too relevant.

But there are two important things to note for this post. The first is that Henry’s oldest brother, the first born son William was given Normandy when his father died, and after fighting for it, Henry eventually claimed Normandy as part of his territory. This meant England consisted of both the country of England and the province of Normandy. The second important thing Henry did was mend relations by marrying Matilda, Princess of Scotland.

But the problems really started after Henry I died. During his life, Henry had 22 children, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t be a problem. The problem was of those 22 children, only two were with his wife, and only one of them was a son. Making matters even more complicated was the fact that Henry’s one legitimate heir died in a shipwreck, leaving only his daughter, also named Matilda, as a legitimate heir to the throne of England.

Despite being a woman, Matilda (or Maud. Matilda is the Latin version of Maud) had all the skills to make a good ruler. She was smart, ambitious and was a good manipulator. When she was 12 she was married to the German Emperor, but they had no children. When he died she returned to her father’s court, and she was married to her second husband Geoffery of Anjou and Maine. They were married June 17, 1129, and while it is believed they did not love each other (she was 23 and he was 13) they had three sons in four years.

Henry had his Barons swear oaths to his daughter three times while he was still alive, but when he died in December 1135 his Barons rebelled against her, and supported her cousin Stephen of Blois as King instead. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Normandy and Anjou had been rival territories for some time, and her being married to Geoffery placed Anjou as a ruling power over Normandy. Many of the Barons were Normans. The second reason was despite her skill, Maud had a reputation of being a difficult woman.

Blois was a small territory, and Stephen was a weak man, allowing the Barons to have free rule in England as they desired. Maud did not give up her throne easily, and waged a 20-year Civil War with Stephen for the throne. In the end, Stephen was able to maintain the crown, but her son Henry was accepted as the next ruler of England.

If you want a good summer read that is exciting and a bit historical, I might recommend “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett. It is a book taking place during the Civil War, and he touches a bit on both Stephen and Maud, although his main characters and not either of those. There is also brief mention of Henry II. I was reading the book when I found the date of Maud and Geoffery’s marriage, and that is probably why I felt partial to blogging about it this week.

I’m thinking of bringing the sequel to Israel with me as a good plane and bus book that will keep me occupied.

I realize that the last three posts have been about England, and I am sorry there isn’t more variety. I will try to leave next week with something from a different area of the world. Then, two weeks I’ll be gone to Israel, so I will probably dedicate at least two posts (make up ones from what I missed earlier) to some history from that area. But for now, feel free to post comments or suggestions below. Happy History all!

Friday, June 11, 2010


On the 28 of June I am leaving to go on a 10-day trip to Israel. Needless to say, I am very excited and because of that it seems I’ve gotten my dates mixed up.

Last Friday I posted about Henry VIII and his first Queen Catherine of Aragon. They were married on June 11, and I thought last Friday was the 11. But instead, my post was a week early, so I find myself in a bit of a predicament about what to post on for the real this week.

So I decided since history is looking at things in retrospect anyway, I would post something interesting that happened on Tuesday of this week, Tuesday June 8 in 793 A.D.

In 793 the Vikings raided Lindisfarne in North Umbria and this event is commonly accepted as the beginning of the Scandinavian invasion of England. Lindisfarne Priory was one of the most important centers of early Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England.

The monastery was founded in 635A.D. and since it was located on an island along the coast it was an easy target for Vikings. The Vikings began to travel to other countries because of the cooling climate in Scandinavia, and many began to settle in Greenland, Iceland and even England. The people who settled on land were not known as Vikings, but rather as Norse. It was only those who went on raiding parties to gain wealth to sell who were known as Vikings.

During this time the Monastery’s were some of the richest places in Anglo-Saxon England. The Anglo Saxon chronicle was kept every year about activities in the country, and for 793 I found this entry:
"AD. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter."

After 793 more Viking raids would come, and North Umbria would continue to be the destination of the raids. The Monastery’s continued to offer wealth to those who raided them, and the Vikings would not be dispelled until after Albert the Great came to power in 871, uniting all seven of the states in England (North Umbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Sussex, Wessex, Essex, Kent) into one united country.

The Vikings continue to be romanticized today, and they are definitely a cooler part of history, I must admit. I would to take the opportunity to say the horns of the helmet were not really historically accurate; they began as a costume for an opera in the 1800’s.

Next week I will have a time accurate post. Until then, leave comments and happy history!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

Everyone knows the story: Henry VIII wanted a son, and his first wife couldn’t provide one so he divorced her for Anne Boleyn and in the process changed the religious landscape of England forever.

This is all fine and dandy, and while I know that Anne is the interesting one (the typical intelligent conniving woman men of the time feared) Catherine was an interesting woman in her own right. Instead of sitting back and allowing her husband to discard her, she put up a massive fight to maintain her control in England.

This is all relevant because on June 11, 1509 Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon were married. However, this was not the original destiny for Catherine.

Catherine was the youngest surviving child of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The two monarchs were revolutionary, uniting all the different territories of Spain into one country, and together were able to make Spain one of the most powerful countries in Europe. It was Ferdinand and Isabella who financed Christopher Columbus and his expeditions to the New World, and it was also these monarchs who carried out the Spanish Inquisition.

When Catherine was three, a marriage alliance was put in place between Catherine and Arthur, the elder son of Henry VII.

In 1501 when Catherine was 16 she traveled to England where she married Arthur on November 14, 1501. Six months later Arthur died, and Catherine was widowed. Because Catherine was still young, and Henry VII was keen on keeping her dowry, she was betrothed to Henry 14 months later. However, Henry was too young to marry.

By 1505 when Henry was old enough to wed Henry VII wasn’t as keen on a Spanish alliance, and Catherine’s future was uncertain for four years until 1509 when Henry VII died. One of Henry VIII first actions was to marry Catherine, and she was finally crowned Queen on June 24, 1509.

Catherine had six children total with only Princess Mary surviving. Her last recorded pregnancy was in 1518. Henry did have mistresses and two who are known are Mary Boleyn and Bessie Blount.

By 1526 Henry began to separate from Catherine because he had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn, the sister of Mary one of his mistresses. This is when the debate began. Henry wanted a male heir, up until this time there had only been male rulers of England. Matilda had attempted to gain control of England 3oo years earlier, but had been unsuccessful because of the male authority engraved at the time.

Now we all know the rest of the story: Henry decided after reading the Bible to have his marriage annulled. Catherine appealed the case to the Pope to try and maintain the status of her daughter Mary, and insisted her marriage to Arthur was no consummated and therefore they were not truly husband and wife. Finally in 1533 when Anne became pregnant and Henry broke from the church and had the Archbishop of Canterbury grant the annulment, and limited Catherine’s status as Princess Dowager of Wales. Catherine refused to accept the title, and died three years later.

This is the part of Catherine’s life that everyone knows. But what about the Queen Catherine; what was her life like between becoming Queen and being discarded.

Immediately after her marriage, Catherine was regarded as a close political advisor to her husband. In 1513 Henry went to war with France and made Catherine regent over England. While he was gone, Catherine had to deal with Scottish rebellion and put herself at the front of the troops to lead in war against the Scottish until the battle of Flodden Field ended the campaign.

It was after this that Ferdinand made a treaty with France, and Henry was greatly angered by the action. At this point Catherine realized she had to chose between her father or her husband, and changed her loyalty to England.

Despite this, Henry’s chief advisor Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey never trusted Catherine, so over time Henry began to disregard her political advice.

Despite all of this Catherine was well loved by the people. She often gave to the poor of England food, clothes, money and fuel for fires in the winter. When Henry sought to divorce her the people were outraged.

I think Catherine is an overlooked woman in history. She was a very strong character considering all she was up against. If she had the right husband, I think things may have panned out differently. Instead of making her an enemy, making her an ally may have allowed England to gain an even stronger position. Catherine had been to war with her parents, and had first hand knowledge of how to unite a country and make it strong.

Sure, considering all of Henry’s six wives, Anne is usually the favorite because of the scandal she created. And because of the religious legacy left in England. However, Overlooking Catherine is not wise: given her chance she could have shined.