Lauren Johnson is the writer of Shadow King: The life and death and Henry Vi published by Head of Zeus. For this issue of Inside History Lauren has focused on the power of Margaret of Anjou and the role she played during the turbulent reign of Henry VI.
Frederick Douglass 1852
You could be forgiven for assuming that this was part of a speech delivered during the recent Black Lives Matter campaign. A campaign that has made the world listen, stand up and take notice to the ongoing institutional racism that undoubtedly occurs around the world. Yet, these are not the words of a 21st Century orator but that of Frederick Douglass during his 1852 speech at the Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York.
Born into Slavery, Douglass escaped his captivity in 1838. He would go on to write about his experience as a slave in his seminal work, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave in 1845. The text highlighted the brutality inflicted in the name of the system and indeed, the cruelty suffered by those trapped within. The book would go on to become a bestseller in the northern states of the USA igniting a further desire for the abolition of slavery. However, abolition was far from a speedy process.
In 1852, Douglass let his frustrations be heard. Invited to speak to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society as part of their 4th July celebrations, Douglass delivered one of his most famous speeches. The irony of celebrating independence whilst also incarcerating over 3 million slaves who were stolen, bought and traded with impunity was not lost on Douglass. Rather than speaking on the day of U.S independence, he opted to address the society the day after.
The audience of 600 attendees had probably thought that they were on safe ground with Douglass. After all, their fight was also his own. Both parties loathed slavery and wanted to see an end to it. Perhaps they were not expecting what followed.
He highlighted that the 4th of July was not a national holiday for either himself or his race. It was the hypocritical holiday for those who claimed the importance of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for themselves only whilst others remained shackled and the property of another man.
Douglass knew the power of his words. He knew that by highlighting the hypocrisy of the national holiday and the plight of the enslaved, people would listen. He immediately printed the speech and distributed it for 50 cents a copy as he was on the road speaking to more who would listen.
Whilst it would ultimately be the Civil War that brought about an end to Slavery in the United States, Douglass’s words would go on to have a profound impact as the issue of race continued to engulf the country.
Yet, the hypocrisy that Douglass highlighted never vanished with the ending of Slavery. Whilst the chains may have been broken new methods reminded African-Americans exactly who was in charge. From Jim Crow laws, ghettoization, disenfranchisement, curfews and of course, institutionalised racism within the United States. The use of hypocrisy was later used during the years of the Civil Rights movement. The most notable to echo the sentiments of Douglass's 1852 speech was Malcolm X who in his Ballot or the Bullet speech in 1964 stated:
In many respects, it is a hypocrisy that many still endures to this day. The killing of George Floyd on the 25th May 2020 by a police officer in Minneapolis has seen a reaction many did not expect. But it is a reaction that comes after 155 years after false promises and a desire for change. The injustice of that day has now been highlighted to a new America, an America where Douglass would still be fighting to end its own hypocritical nature, where life and liberty are might be more universal but not for all.
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When the Springfield Musket arrived on the scene in 1861 it had become the weapon that effectively changed warfare, Accurate to more than 500 yards, the Springfield would get its first real outing during the American Civil War with devastating consequences. Whilst the technology had advanced, the tactics operated in the battlefield had yet to catch up.
Lining up in traditional formations, the armies of the Union and the Confederacy would charge each other head-on in the same manner as armies had fought for years prior. It provided the Springfield Musket with plenty of targets and it duly delivered resulting in massive casualties as the 0.58 calibre bullets, weighing nine pounds, penetrated the enemy. More than a third of any unit would fall victim once the whistle was blown. Back in 1861, the Springfield was a weapon of mass destruction.
Yet, the advance in technological warfare was not the only thing to be concerned about. Those who had survived the onslaught of the Springfield would be transferred from the field to the camps. Here, thousands of men would suffer as dysentery, scurvy, typhoid fever, pneumonia, smallpox, tuberculosis, measles, and malaria took hold. It is believed that 60% of Union soldiers would die from non battle injury disease.
For those who depended on medical care from either battle wounds or disease, there was another concern. In 1860, the U.S Army had 100 doctors for every 16,000 soldiers. With the country now divided and the escalation of war it was virtually impossible to maintain that ratio. At its peak, the Union had 2 million soldiers with only 10,000 surgeons operating.
Jonathan Letterman was one of those surgeons. His army career was already well established before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter. 11 months later, he was promoted to the rank of Major and named medical director of the entire Union Army. The soldiers may not have known it yet but Letterman was about to change their lives.
Using his experience from his pre Civil War service, Letterman started to make sweeping changes. He began with the soldiers themselves and in particular, their diet. From the preparation of food and the handling of waste, soldiers were given larger and more nutritious rations prepared in more hygienic conditions. The camps became cleaner with the men well fed and rested. In improvement in morale was clear but more importantly for Letterman there was a reduction in the disease rate by nearly one third.
The conditions and wellbeing of the soldiers were only the first part of his plan. Letterman saw the devastation on the battlefield at first hand witnessing the deaths of thousands of men. Many would die on the battlefield from wounds and thrust as there was little that could be done to remove them to safety. The wounded were often left to their own devices depending on comrades to remove them. In some cases it could take up to one week to remove the wounded from the battlefield as was the case at the Second Manassas. For this reason, Letterman established the first Ambulance Corps.
Men were trained to act as stretcher bearers and to operate wagons to pick up the wounded quickly and efficiently. If necessary, the Ambulance Corps were trained to use triage on the battlefield. The success of Letterman’s Ambulance Corps was witnessed at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. With over 23,000 casualties, the newly established Corp was able to remove the wounded within 24 hours and in doing so, saved hundreds of lives in the process.
The immediate treatment on the battlefield was a game changer but Letterman had also instigated further changes for the care of the soldiers after the battle. His evacuation system comprised of three core areas. A Field Dressing Station located on the battlefield for triage, dressings and tourniquets. Then those who required surgery would be moved to the Field Hospital before a lager Hospital away from the battlefield for longer term treatment and recuperation. Having an orgainsed system from battlefield to recovery not only save the lives of the men within his own care but also later, the Union Army as in March 1864 the system was adopted by the whole Union Army.
Since the Civil War, almost 4 million Ameicans have served their country. Of these, more than 600,000 have died with over 1.3 million returning home injured, Many would have experienced the services that Major Letterman and his team had pioneered in the 19th Century. Technology may have advanced even further but the concept of Letterman introduced is still used to this day. It is for this reason that he is still referred to as “The father of Battlefield Medicine.”
James VI of Scotland would become James I of England with his coronation on 25th July 1603 and in doing so he would united the kingdoms of Scotland and England. For those in England who were wondering what to expect from their new king, then there were clues from his reign in Scotland. One thing was certain though, he would bring his belief in witchcraft with him.
James’s fascination with the dark arts of witchcraft can be pinpointed to his travels to Denmark, the homeland of his future bride Anne. She was meant to travel from Denmark to be with her groom but during her journey across the North Sea, a storm gathered. For her own safety her ship was delayed. James, eager for news and marry Anne, travelled to Denmark himself.
Married in Denmark, James made the decision to stay until the winter had passed and that the conditions for a safe journey were clear. He was not idle whilst in Denmark. He believed himself to be an intellectual open-minded monarch and was keen to discover more about his new wife and the culture from which she was from. What he discovered would change the course of his reign not only in Scotland but also England. Witch-hunting was common in Denmark. He would meet demonologist, Niels Hemmingsen, where James would become enthralled by debates about the occult.
By the spring of 1590, James had decided to return to Scotland with his new bride. The waters were calmer so the journey should have been a straight forward affair. However, the journey back to his homeland was anything but simple. A storm erupted on route, a ship was lost. Whilst James and Anne both made it home, James’s thoughts had turned to witchcraft and he blamed witches for the destruction of his fleet.
It would wrong to assume that James brought the witch-craze to Scotland. There were cases but James took it to another level. The North Berwick Witch Trials that began once he arrived back were the most brutal and fanatical Scotland had ever witnessed. James believed that a coven of witches had plotted against him and caused the storm that had almost killed him and Anne. More than 70 suspected witches were arrested.
James actively took part in the subsequent trials listening to their testimonies and confessions. Many confessed following torture with a number dying from the injuries inflicted in order to make them confess. Those that survived the torture, would be burned at the stake. The North Berwick Witch Trials opened the door for further hysteria and over the 17th century more than 3000 people would be accused of witchcraft in Scotland alone.
His time in Denmark and his experience of the North Berwick Witch Trials convinced James that witchcraft was very real. He ensured that word spread across his kingdom about the events. In doing so, he helped to spread and even reinforce, not only his own fear of witches, but also the population as a whole. In 1597, he would write his own book about witchcraft and the occult. Daemonologie was his attempt to disprove the skeptics. With Elizabeth I childless, and James being England’s heir in waiting, it would only a matter of time until he would ascend the throne south of the border. English nobility would have the opportunity to find out more about James’s obsession through his writing.
Elizabeth I's passing in 1603 saw James become King James I of England. With him, he brought a symbolic union of the two countries under one crown. He also brought with him his fears of witchcraft. He aimed to change the English law regarding the issue. He saw the English laws regarding witchcraft as too lenient.
The Witchcraft Act of 1604 made sweeping changes. For example, the discovery of the devils mark (a mole, birthmark, wort) upon a suspected witch would be enough to condemn them to death. Hanging would also become the preferred method of execution and was the punishment for witchcraft even if the supposed witch had not murdered anyone. Soon the hysteria would infect England in the same way as it had in Scotland.
Only a year later, the Gunpowder plot threatened James. The Protestant Monarch had a new fear. Seeing Catholicism as largely superstition other than the word of God, Catholic priests were considered to be sorcerers. In some cases, members of the clergy were tried as witches.
James's influence would soon be felt in Pendle. Prior to his ascension to the throne, children's testimonies were prohibited in English Law. The case of the Pendle Witches would change that by allowing the testimony of nine-year-old, Jennet Device.
This change would lead to more children coming forward most notably, in Salem. Nearly 100 years after the publication of Daemonologie, it's impact would be felt on another continent. The ideals of the Devil's mark would be enough to condemn many during the reign of the self appointed, Witch finder General, Matthew Hopkins, who would go on to make a tidy profit from witch hunting during the chaotic English Civil War.
Whilst attitudes changed it would only be in 1736 when the laws against witchcraft were repealed. King James VI of Scotland brought a hysteria against witchcraft with him from Denmark. The result of which was the murder of thousands of innocent people who were caught up in a period of fear. This fear would be one of James's own. Wherever James would go, the same hysteria would follow. Most of this would come in the form of desperate attempts to gain the king's affection and favor.
His death on the 27th March, 1625 would not bring an end to it. His ideas had now become ingrained. The eruption of civil war would allow law and order to become manipulated in favor of individuals like Matthew Hopkins who used the text produced by James to continue slaying the innocent.
Hopkins influence would travel the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. The New World would still focus on old ideas as copies of Matthew Hopkins pamphlets and Daemonologie would be brought over by the puritan pilgrims. Even after his death it would appear, that James VI and I was still hunting witches. His Majesty the witch-finder's ideas were still alive and well.
When the Peaky Blinders television series first aired in 2013 it had all the hallmarks to become a smash hit. Stylish, gruesome and dark. Telling the story and exploits of Thomas Shelby and his family, the Peaky Blinders were ruthless in their criminal endeavours. Aimed with razors within the peaks of their paperboy hats the gang would profit from illegal bookmaking and target anyone who got in their way.
Set after the First World War in 1919 the series would continue to show their rise to power over time. Whilst the series has been a massive success it has also gained a lot of attention from historians. The truth about the Peaky Blinders gang in Birmingham maintains the dark gritty aspect of the series but the Shelby family were certainly not a part of it.
Professor Carl Chinn is a historian specialising in the real role that the gang played in Birmingham. The author of The Real Peaky Blinders is quick to point out that the timeline for the series is completely wrong.
"By the early 20th century the Peaky Blinders had disappeared. The idea that the Peaky Blinders took their name from their flat caps into the peaks of which they has sewn razorblades is a false one. It's a myth, there is no evidence at all to support it."
The timeline and the razorblades has now ruled out as merely poetic licence. There is no doubt that the gang still terrorised the people of Birmingham. Professor Chin continued to say that: "People were scared of the Peaky Blinders in the 1890s...they caused mayhem where they were aloud to and they picked on the innocent."
The real gang first came to prominence in the media on the 24th March 1890 in the Birmingham Mail. The article stated that:
"A serious assault was committed upon a young man named George Eastwood. Living at 3 court, 2 house, Arthur Street, Small Heath, on Saturday night. It seems that Eastwood, who has been for some time a total abstainer, called between ten and eleven o'clock at the Rainbow Public House in Adderly Street, and was supplied with a bottle of ginger beer. Shortly afterwards several men known as the "Peaky Blinders" gang, whom Eastwood knew by sight from their living in the same neighborhood as himself, came in."
The land grabs by Gilbert and others allowed for the gang to grow from their original stomping ground of Small Heath. With each land grab the gang were able to insert their influence over local businesses. It also allowed them to recruit more youthful members of the gang.
One such recruit was Harry Fowles. Referred to as “Baby-faced Harry", Fowles was part of the youth culture that the Peaky Blinders aimed to encourage. Arrested in 1904 for stealing a bike, the 19 year-old would have made his way to the holding prison on Steelhouse Lane in Birmingham where we would spend up to the night before going through the tunnel to the magistrates. It would have a similar fate for any of the gang who got caught.
Fowles was not the youngest to get caught and punished. David Taylor was only 13 years-old when he was arrested for possession of a loaded firearm.
Others like Stephen McNickle and Earnest Haynes were also arrested. West Midlands police records described them as: "foul mouthed young men who stalk the streets in drunken groups, insulting and mugging passers-by."
The influence of the gang would soon decline. The emergence of Billy Kimber's Birmingham Boys would soon take over. Whilst the series portrays it other way around, it would be Kimber (who was a former Peaky Blinder himself) who faced the rival Sabini gang.
One key reason why the gang began to fade was that they opted to expand its empire into racecourses. The escalation of violence between the Peaky Blinders and the Birmingham Boys saw many leaving Birmingham into the safer countryside. Over time their influence, contacts and lands were usperted by Kimber's gang.
It is somewhat bemusing that the story ends there. The series would of course continue seeing Tommy and his gang take over and even go on to enter Parliament. Yet the gang that stood up to Billy Kimber never did anything of the sort. Instead they ran with some joining Kimber's gang. In short, the fearsome Peaky Blinders that is portrayed is simply great television. The real gang, whilst still feared by the people of Birmingham, were the starter for Billy Kimber's main course of gangs in the Midlands of England.
The new issue of Inside History focuses on the theme of Crime and the Underworld as we delve deep into the murky world of murderers, thieves and gangs.
Our title article takes us to Fall River, Massachusetts to revisit the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden. With their own daughter, Lizzie Borden, the prime suspect, we mainly focus our attention on the several trials she endured for the murders. Although acquitted of the crime, she has faced the trials of public opinion, media, films and history. Even today, she continues to face trial for a crime that happened back in 1892.
Dr Rebecca Frost takes a closer look at how H.H Holmes was able to create his own myth surrounding his crimes and in doing so, perhaps became more famous in the newspapers than any other killer in the USA.
Some murders are more simple in their motives than others. Money is often a key to crime. Burke and Hare were no different only their occupation was somewhat more sinister. Trading in cadavers for anatomical science and realising that the fresher the meat the higher the price, Burke and Hare would soon find a solution.
Crime can often become glamorised with television, movies and books. We have two such examples in the magazine where the reality is somewhat surprising. Dick Turpin is seen as the "dandy highwayman", dashingly handsome and a gentleman thief. The truth is much darker as Dr Stephen Carver suggests. We also look at the real Peaky Blinders when compared to the popular television show featuring the Shelby clan.
There is, of course, so much more in the magazine that covers crime from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century. Take a look, if you dare.
Release date 24/01/2020
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