Thursday, June 29, 2017

Henry VIII of England Nearly Exterminated The Powerful Fitzgerald Clan Of Ireland

(Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons. by Hans Holbein  ( –1543), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Gerald Fitzgerald was the powerful 9th Lord of Kildare, located in The Pale of Ireland. He had a rocky relationship with King Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547), and was sometimes in the English king’s good graces, but at other times under suspicion or even under arrest. In 1534, Henry VIII ordered Gerald to report to London, where he would answer further questions about his loyalty. Gerald deputized his son, Thomas Fitzgerald, as the acting Earl of Kildare, then ventured to London to meet the king’s summons. Upon Gerald’s arrival in the capital, Henry VIII must not have been impressed with what he heard, for Lord Fitzgerald was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

When word reached back to Ireland that Gerald Fitzgerald had been imprisoned, many Irishmen expected the worst—after all, Henry VIII remains notorious for his many executions. Of the many concerned Irishmen, Gerald’s son, Thomas, was the most outraged.

After hearing about the imprisonment of his father, Thomas Fitzgerald declared war on Henry VIII. He managed to rally a major rebellion under his leadership, profiting from the anti-Protestant sentiment among the Catholic Irish. Thomas Fitzgerald hoped that the Catholic nature of his rebellion would entice the Scots and the Spanish to aid in his revolt, but foreign help never came. Nevertheless, Thomas was able to deliver considerable damage with his own resources.

Thomas Fitzgerald’s rebellion quickly laid siege to the major city of Dublin, which was the heart of English authority in Ireland. They succeeded in taking parts of the city, and even managed to kill the archbishop of Dublin, John Alen, but the city was never entirely occupied.

In October, 1534, English reinforcements arrived under William Skeffington to crush the rebellion. Once Skeffington’s men landed and gained a foothold, the rebellion was defeated with ease. By March of 1535, the rebels were pushed out of Dublin and slowly pressed back into the Fitzgerald territory of Kildare. Thomas Fitzgerald and his rebels made a final stand at Maynooth Castle, but by August, 1535, they were forced to surrender.

With the end of the rebellion, Fitzgerald power in Ireland virtually came to an end. Gerald Fitzgerald died of ill health in 1534, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. His son, Thomas Fitzgerald, despite being given a promise of mercy, was executed (along with five of his uncles) after the rebellion was crushed. After the mass execution of the Fitzgerald men, the leadership of the family passed to a young boy, also named Gerald Fitzgerald (11th Earl of Kildare), who was smuggled out of Ireland. He managed to stay alive until Queen Mary I restored him to power after the death of King Henry VIII.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

  • Ireland: A Short History (Third Edition) by Joseph Coohill. London: Oneworld Publications, 2008.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Some Of These Ridiculous Theories From The Age Of Witch-Hunts May Make You Facepalm

(Escena de Inquisición, by Francisco de Goya  (1746–1828), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The inquisitors that hunted and judged accused witches could often be unhealthily arrogant and vain when assessing their own power. This was very evident in the The Malleus Maleficarum, which was, perhaps, the most influential text of the witch-hunting era. In the book, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger outlined the abilities of witches, demons and monsters, and then elaborated on how supernatural attacks could be deterred or cured. Yet, interestingly, Kramer and Sprenger also addressed some of the God-given holy powers of the inquisitors. In hindsight, these inquisitorial powers seem suspiciously self-serving.

The first blanket covering of protection that the inquisitors laid out for themselves was the idea that those people appointed by the church to administer justice in religious courts were innately immune to witchcraft. Speaking of witches, The Malleus Maleficarum stated, “it is said that they cannot injure Inquisitors and other officials, because they dispense public justice. Many examples could be adduced to prove this, but time does not permit it” (The Malleus Maleficarum, Part I, Question 18). Similarly, the inquisitors found that a member of public justice could virtually never be tempted or swayed by demons into practicing dark magic, making themselves all but immune to accusations of witchcraft.

Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger recorded another really peculiar power of the inquisitor—they wrote that inquisitors had the ability to completely nullify a witch’s power. Therefore, if an accused witch could not produce any magic after she was apprehended, this predicament merely occurred because the holy abilities of the inquisitors were blocking her power. The Maleus Maleficarum stated, “the aforesaid Doctor affirms that witches have borne witness that it is a fact of their own experience that, merely because they have been taken by officials of public justice, they have immediately lost all their power of witchcraft” (Part II, Question 1). Kramer and Sprenger go on to quote another inquisitor named Peter, who calmed his worried men before arresting an accused male witch with these words: “You may safely arrest the wretch, for when he is touched by the hand of public justice he will lose all the power of his iniquity” (Part I, Question 1).

This idea of magic nullifying powers held by the inquisitors was especially potent when mixed with an ability The Malleus Maleficarum attributed to the most elite and powerful witches. Apparently, some inquisitors believed the most adept witches could force lesser witches to keep silent under torture. Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger wrote, “they can affect Judges and Magistrates so that they cannot hurt them; they can cause themselves and others to keep silence under torture” (The Malleus Maleficarum, Part II, Question I, Chapter 2).

With these short religious theories, the inquisitors proposed that they, themselves, were immune to witchcraft. Their self-proclaimed immunity was so powerful that it eradicated the ability of witches to perform their craft. If that was not enough, powerful witches, themselves, could supposedly force their underlings into silence, even during torture. As a result, even when the unfortunate souls who confessed to witchcraft under torture could not demonstrate any supernatural ability, inquisitors could explain the absence of magic by citing the nullifying effect of their public office. If an accused witch claimed innocence, the inquisitors could propose that another witch was keeping their prisoner from confessing. The fate of the accused rested with the temperament of their judge, and the degree to which the inquisitors believed in, or disregarded, ideas such as the ones listed above.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

  • The Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers. New York: Dover Publications, 1971. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Heracles Was The Name Alexander The Great Chose For His First-Born Son

(Marriage D'alexandre Et Roxanne, painted by René-Antoine Houasse  (1645–1710), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Numerous ancient sources, such as Arrian, Curtius, Plutarch, Justin, Polyaenus, Pliny and Strabo commented on the multiple marriages of Alexander the Great. Around 327 BCE, Alexander married a teenager named Roxane (also spelled Roxana). She was the daughter of Oxyartes, a vassal of Persia who ruled from a formidable fortress known as Sogdian Rock. Years later, in 324 BCE, Alexander married Stateira, the eldest daughter of the deceased Persian Great King, Darius III. At the same time, he also married Parysatis, the daughter of Darius’ predecessor, Artaxerxes. Despite these three women being the only known legitimate wives of Alexander the Great, none of them bore Alexander his first-born son, Heracles. No, the mother of Heracles was a woman named Barsine, Alexander’s mistress who accompanied the King of Macedonia during most of his military campaign.

 Barsine was born from a union between a Greek woman and a Persian satrap named Artabazus II. Although she was technically Persian, Barsine was well versed in the Greek language and culture. After participating in a revolt, Artabazus was driven into exile, where he and his family (including Barsine) found sanctuary in the court of Philip II, in Macedonia. It is entirely likely that Barsine and Alexander knew each other well as children.

Nevertheless, Barsine returned to the Persian Empire, where she was soon married to her uncle, then widowed, and then married again to Memnon of Rhodes, who served as the main commander of the Greek mercenaries serving in the Persian army. Memnon, however, also met an early death when he died of illness during his siege of Mytilene, leaving Barsine, once again, a widow.

Alexander the Great unwittingly assured a reunion between himself and his childhood friend in 333 BCE when he sent his general, Parmenion, to seize the treasury located in the city of Damascus. When Parmenion arrived at the city with a detachment of soldiers, he found a large mass of Persians gathering outside the city in preparation to flee further into the interior of the Persian Empire. The fleeing citizens of Damascus were so numerous that Parmenion initially believed an army had sallied out of the city to face him in battle. Parmenion immediately arrayed his men for a fight, but his opponents did not behave as expected—the citizens of Damascus took one look at Parmenion’s troops and scattered in fear. Parmenion immediately gave chase and rounded up his newfound prisoners. When Parmenion returned to Alexander the Great, he brought with him hundreds of tons in gold and silver, as well as a host of prisoners. Among those captured from Damascus was Barsine.

Alexander the Great welcomed his childhood acquaintance warmly when he learned of her capture. There is no clear account of how their relationship sparked to life, but most ancient sources agreed that Alexander and Barsine became enthralled in a passionate affair quickly after Parmenion secured Damascus in 333 BCE. Sources such as Plutarch reported that Barsine remained an important person in the life of Alexander the Great until as late as 324 BCE, when she was present at the marriages between the Macedonian king and his new royal Persian wives, Sateira and Parysatis, at the mass wedding in Susa.

As the Persian Empire collapsed, fruit soon formed from the affair between Alexander and Barsine. Diodorus wrote that a son was born to the pair in 327 BCE, but Justin suggested that the birth occurred much later, in 324 BCE. Precision of dating aside, Barsine gave birth to the first known son of Alexander the Great. In a calculated, prideful move, Alexander the Great named his first-born son, Heracles. It was an unsubtle reference to his self-proclaimed divine lineage. After all, through his mother, Alexander supposedly traced his family back to Achilles and the nymph, Thetis. From his father’s side, Alexander claimed familial ties to the mythological Heracles and Zeus. As far as historians know, Alexander and Barsine were the first Hellenistic nobles bold enough to name their son ‘Heracles’—the name would become more fashionable after the death of Alexander.

Heracles, however, was an illegitimate child and his future in his father’s empire would always be uncertain, especially after Alexander’s first wife, Roxane, gave birth to a son named Alexander IV in the year of Alexander’s death. Yet, neither boy would live to inherit power from their father. Upon the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, Heracles and Alexander the IV were largely pushed aside and used as pawns by powerful Macedonian generals. Both of Alexander the Great’s sons met suspicious or violent ends before the turn of the century.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

  • Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2011.  
  • Alexander the Great: The Story of an Ancient Life by Thomas R. Martin and Christopher W. Blackwell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

According to Plutarch, Cleopatra Introduced Herself To Julius Caesar In A Peculiar Way

(Cleopatra painted by John William Waterhouse (1849–1917), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

When King Auletes of Egypt died in 51 BCE, the leadership of the kingdom was left to his two children, Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII. The two were meant to be co-rulers of Egypt as an incestuous married couple, yet a divide quickly formed between the siblings. Despite their young ages (Cleopatra was a teenager and her brother was even younger than she), the two children had far different visions for Egypt. Ptolemy, heavily influenced by powerful advisors, supported the traditional style of Ptolemaic rule. Cleopatra, however, strove to bridge the widening divide between the Ptolemaic government and the Egyptian people. She learned the Egyptian language, as well as Hebrew and Ethiopian, and participated in the religious ceremonies of Egypt. Cleopatra’s ambition and vision was incompatible with the methods used by Ptolemy and his advisors. Soon, civil war erupted to decide which sibling would rule Egypt.

Julius Caesar threw himself into the Egyptian conflict when, in 48 BCE, he arrived at Alexandria in pursuit of his Roman rival, Pompey the Great. At that time, King Ptolemy XIII’s supporters had control of Alexandria and the twenty-one year old Cleopatra had been forced to abandon the city. When Pompey arrived in Egypt, the supporters of Ptolemy saw a chance to gain support from Julius Caesar—they had Pompey assassinated and presented the man’s head to Caesar when he arrived in Alexandria. The ploy turned out to be a mistake. Caesar was irritated and disgusted by the actions of the Egyptian government. Instead of showing gratitude for the killing of Pompey, Julius Caesar demanded payment of ten million denarii owed to Rome by the previous Egyptian king, Auletes. Then, to the horror of many Egyptians, he occupied Alexandria with his battle-hardened Roman soldiers.

Caesar was determined to end the civil war in Egypt before returning to his struggles in Rome. From his fortified position in the royal palace of Alexandria, Julius Caesar declared himself to be the guarantor of the late King Auletes’ final wishes. Caesar then called for Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra to meet with him and discuss the future of Egypt. Ptolemy was sent to Julius Caesar, even though the advisors assented only grudgingly. Cleopatra, however, was still outside the city, denied access to Alexandria by hostile soldiers and assassins who supported her brother. Nevertheless, the young Queen of Egypt was determined to attend that meeting with Julius Caesar.

Plutarch gave one of the more vivid accounts about how Cleopatra was smuggled into Alexandria. He wrote that she and an attendant named Apollodorus were ferried into the royal quarter of Alexandria in a small boat, easily hidden among the merchant ships busily trading in the city. Before they departed the docks in the royal quarter, Cleopatra either was rolled up inside a rug or hid herself in a laundry bag and had her assistant, Apollodorus, carry her into the royal palace. Reportedly, Apollodorus was not stopped or searched in the palace, for he apparently delivered Cleopatra straight to Julius Caesar, opening the laundry bag or unrolling the rug before the dicatator’s very eyes.

With the meeting of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, one of the world’s most famous love affairs began. With Caesar’s backing, Cleopatra was able to defeat her rivals and usurp what remained of her younger brother’s power, making her the undisputed Queen of Egypt.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

  • War Commentaries by Gaius Julius Caesar and Aulus Hirtius, translated by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn, 2014.  
  • Julius Caesar by Philip Freeman. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2008.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Oglala Sioux Leader, Crazy Horse, Was Killed By U.S. Soldiers After Resisting Arrest

(Crazy Horse Model (cropped) for a monument under construction in the Black Hills of South Dakota, [Public Domain] via

Crazy Horse, or Tashunka Witko, was born in the early 1840s (perhaps, 1840-1842), during the height of Lakota Sioux power. He was introduced to warfare against the United States at an early age. In 1854, the Grattan Massacre occurred, where U. S. soldiers, led by Lieutenant John Grattan, killed a Sioux chief named Conquering Bear. As a consequence, the soldiers were then killed in return by the dead chief’s enraged warriors. The Grattan Massacre became the primary spark that began the long wars between the Sioux people and the United States military.

Crazy Horse had a long and respectable military carrier. The earliest known major fight in which he was involved occurred along the Oregon Trail in 1865. A year later, Crazy Horse won an impressive victory against the forces of Captain William J. Fetterman in what would come to be known as the Fetterman Massacre. Later, Crazy Horse teamed up with Sitting Bull in 1876 to fight in the battles at Rosebud Creek and Little Bighorn. After the utter destruction of Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the United States escalated its campaign against the hostile Native American coalition. With U.S. pressure rising, many Sioux dissidents chose to flee to Canada rather than continue fighting a losing battle.

On May 6, 1877, Crazy Horse finally surrendered himself to United States authorities in Fort Robinson, Nebraska. There, he was confined until the United States assigned him to a reservation. Nevertheless, Crazy Horse would not live long enough to be resettled.

Mystery surrounds the death of Crazy Horse. By September 1877, rumors were beginning to spread that Crazy Horse was planning another great revolt against the United States. Though these rumors are now considered unfounded, the soldiers of Fort Robinson took the gossip very seriously. On September 5, 1877, Crazy Horse was arrested and apparently told that he was simply being brought to speak to the commanding officer of the fort. Yet, instead of taking Crazy Horse to the commanding officer, the soldiers began pulling him toward a nearby guardhouse. When Crazy Horse realized he was about to be locked away in a prison cell, he began to struggle against his captors—possibly with a knife. The soldiers, however, quickly overpowered the agitated Sioux chief and the brawl turned deadly. The soldiers stabbed Crazy Horse to death with their bayonets.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

  • Black Elk Speaks, narrated by Black Elk and recorded by John G. Neihardt. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2014.  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Donkey Made One Of The Greatest Archaeological Finds In Egypt

(Donkey and the Pyramids of Giza, both [Public Domain] via Pixabay and

In 1996, fate found an agent in an unnamed donkey belonging to the antiquities security patrol of the Temple of Alexander, in the Bahariya Oasis, southwest of Cairo, Egypt. Reports of what happened vary slightly, but the results all end the same—with one of the greatest discoveries of modern Egyptology. Two stories can be found about the donkey and its important accomplishment. In one account, the donkey got loose from its handler and was later found staring at a hole in the ground. The other version claims that the security patrol and the donkey were doing their rounds, when the beast’s leg fell into a hole. Either way, the donkey found a sprawling complex of tombs containing an unknown amount of wall paintings and mummies.

Renowned Egyptologist, Dr. Zahi Hawass, took over the excavation and study of the site in 1996. The tomb complex is now known as The Valley of the Golden Mummies and contains as many as 10,000 possible mummies. Already, around 250 mummies have been found. More importantly, the tombs, and the mummies and paintings within them, date to the Greco-Roman Period (332 BCE-395 CE), giving valuable insight into how the Greek and Roman cultures interacted with, or were absorbed by, the potent and durable Egyptian culture.

As the name “Valley of the Golden Mummies” suggests, many of the mummies found in the Bahariya Oasis tombs were covered with gold. Interestingly, many non-Egyptian mummies have been found in the tombs. These Greco-Roman elites seemed to have taken a liking to Egyptian burial traditions, for their remains were mummified and laid to rest with golden burial masks. Still, old customs were hard to relinquish—many of the Greco-Roman mummies had coins on their person with which to pay the ferryman of dead souls, Charon, for passage into the underworld.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

  • Egypt’s Ten Greatest Discoveries. Written by Dr. Zahi Hawass and produced by Discovery. Documentary, 2008. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Benito Mussolini Was An Ardent Socialist Before Becoming The Father Of Fascism

(Photograph (with added color) of Benito Mussolini, c. 1940, by Roger Viollet, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Socialism was a family affair for the Mussolini family. In 1883, Benito Mussolini was born in Forlí, Italy, to a blacksmith named Alessandro and a Catholic schoolteacher named Rosa. Besides being a blacksmith, Alessandro Mussolini was also a vocal socialist who wrote about his beliefs in journals and debated his political philosophy in nearby taverns.

In his childhood and early adult life, Benito Mussolini shared his father’s socialist ardor. Mussolini’s first major choice for a career path was in the field of education. He obtained a teaching certificate in 1901, but soon realized that his calling was not that of a teacher. In 1902, he abandoned his teaching job and set off for Switzerland. One of his few possessions on the journey was, reportedly, a medallion decorated with the engraved visage of Karl Marx.

Benito Mussolini made a name for himself as an advocate of socialism while he was in Switzerland. In particular, observers began to notice the young man’s abilities in speaking, writing and propaganda. Mussolini helped trade unions with publicity and propaganda on multiple occasions.

Mussolini’s actions in Switzerland became so disruptive that the Swiss authorities eventually threw him out of the country. He returned to Italy in 1904, where he continued his writing, speaking and propaganda services. Benito Mussolini founded multiple socialist newspapers, including Popolo d’Italia with the subtitle of “Socialist Daily” and La Lotta di Classe (The Class Struggle). His work with these newspapers caught the attention of Italy’s official socialist newspaper, Avanti (Forward), and he was soon hired on as the paper’s editor. During his youth and early adulthood, Benito Mussolini was arrested as a consequence of his socialist beliefs at least five times.

The schism between Benito Mussolini and the socialist movement only came about in 1915, when Italy was debating how it should react to World War One. The socialist movement in Italy, for the most part, rejected the war. Benito Mussolini, however, supported joining the Allied side of WWI, thinking war would act as a catalyst, allowing Italy to change and expand, both geographically and socially. As a result of his pro-war beliefs, Mussolini resigned from his position at Avanti, left (or was expelled from) the socialist movement and joined the Italian armed forces.

It was only in 1919, after his experiences in WWI, that Mussolini rallied his fascist movement and transitioned from being a radical socialist to a staunch counter-revolutionary militant. After swinging from one extreme of the political spectrum to the other, Benito Mussolini adapted his oratory, writing and propaganda skills to bolster his new fascist movement. With a militia of around 30,000 men in black shirts, Mussolini marched on Rome in 1922 and convinced the Italian government to make him Prime Minister. In only a few short years, he would become the fascist dictator of Italy.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

  • Varieties of Fascism by Eugen Weber. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1964.  
  • How to Stage a Coup. Documentary directed by Cal Seville, 2017.