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  1. Back in May myself and my boyfriend enjoyed a weekend in the lovely old city of York. From it's magestic cathedral to it's quaint old shops, York is iconic as a great place to visit, especially if you happen to like history. I bought a guide book weeks before we went, and managed to find plenty to keep us entertained (all photos used in this post are mine).

    York Cathedral

    The first place we visited was York Cathedral. We arrived quite late on Saturday morning to find a queue out the door, but luckily it moved quickly. York Cathedral charges for entrance (a controversy when it was first introduced) but if you hold on to the ticket you will be able to visit again any time in a year, which is a good deal if you live nearby. The Cathedral itself is as lovely as you'd think, with some gorgeous stained glass and a side-chapel with a beautifully tiled floor. The far end is currently screened off as it's being renovated, which includes cleaning the large stained glass window. There is a really excellent series of touch-screen displays around this end so you don't feel that you're actually missing anything. The screens help keep children amused while the information on them helps adults learn about some of the techniques of both the masons and the glass workers.

    TYorkhere was also a large black bubble in which was housed some of the glass that had already been cleaned, giving you a chance to see the images in far more detail than you would normally. It's a really excellent way to handle a renovation and I hope more places follow suit in the future.

    On the Sunday we visited both Castle Museum and the Jorvik Centre which were also very good. The Castle Museum had a Victorian high street, completed with costumed "shop staff" who talked to people walking around, and a history of the old prison which included using a projector to beam a series of "characters" (based on prison records) onto the walls in the cells. The Jorvik Centre was also very good with some interesting displays, including another projector showing the injuries on one of the Viking skeletons found during excavations and depicting how she would have looked when alive. The level of technology seen in both museums served as an fantastic example of the direction such places are moving in, and I genuinely hope some of the London museums catch on to the improvements. Myself and my boyfriend don't have children so I can't ask their opinion, but there were plenty of them at both museums and judging by the repeated cries of "Mum/Dad look at this!" I think it's fair to say that they do a good job of keeping anyone under the age of 14 entertained.

    Abbey RuinsIf money is a bit tight then there are a few free things to do in York as well. The York Museum Gardens (York Museum is a separate entity to the Castle Museum but they do offer a "joint entry" deal on ticket prices) are free to get in to and lovely to have a wander around on a nice day. They feature the ruins of the old Abbey, and the old "Hospitarium" which seems to be used for various events including weddings and craft fairs. There are also plenty of second hand bookshops (very useful to dive into when it starts raining) and antique shops that you can browse around. There is also the old Georgian Assembly rooms, which are now an "ASK" Italian restaurant but you can still poke your head round the door for a quick look (alternatively stop off there for lunch or dinner).

    On Sunday afternoon we decided to make our way back to the hotel via the National Railway Museum. After the level of interactivity with the other two museums this was, sadly, a bit of a let down. You can wander around and peer in to old carriages, walk up next to trains and see how big the wheels are compared to you, and again there were certainly a lot of happy children around so it was clearly popular. But for something that called itself a Railway Museum it didn't seem to tell me much about the railways and how they revolutionised transport in this country (it's quite possible that I missed it though as I was quite tired from all the walking at this point).

    However the trains were clearly very well cared for and the place was spotlessly tidy, and it was nice to be able to get so close to the old steam engines. If you need somewhere indoors to exhaust small children then this place should be a good distraction. Along with big trains there's also a model Hornby set with a train looping around it, and an outdoor play area at the back. I certainly wouldn't call the museum a waste of time, because it was still interesting to see the trains. At one point I had to get my boyfriend to take a photo of one because it was taller than me! Just don't expect to come out of it having learned much.

    York is an absolutely beautiful city, if you ever have the chance to visit I would seriously recommend that you do so. Before you go make sure you get a small guidebook that has a map in it, it will be in invaluable once you get there due to the small inter-connected streets.

  2. On this day in 1914, war was declared between Britain and Germany. When it started many people believed it would be "over by Christmas". The reality was four years of rats, mud, death and physical, geographical and psychological scars. It was the first war on a global scale as the British Empire summoned it's colonies or former colonies to come and help. It was a call that was answered by many and led to men coming from India, Australia and Canada, among many others, to fight in the rain of Belgium and the scorching heat of Gallipoli and East Africa. As a result there were advances in technology, plastic surgery, psychology and women's rights. But the price that was paid was highlighted when blood-red poppies were seen growing in the fields. The poppy became a symbol of rememberance, a symbol that still holds to this day.


    Poppies by Jean-Pol Grandmont via WikiCommons

    If you haven't been aware of it The National Archives has been running it's First World War 100 campaign since the beginning of the year, a campaign that will only end when the full anniversary of the war finishes. As part of this campaign they have been recataloguing documents with more details so they're easier to find, and they are digitising the war diaries from the battalions so people can now download and see what the men of their families may have been doing. You can also help with the digitisation project by "tagging" the documents with names, dates and places, making it much easier for other people to use them. You can find more information at Operation War Diary.

    Ancestry has also been busy recataloguing some of their records to show next of kin details, and they've added more pension records. Local history groups and museums have been researching people in their area who fought, and the impact that the war had on their towns and villages. Many schools are organising projects that encourage children to research an aspect of the war, such as any of their family members that fought, particular battles, the causes of the war, and some of the technological and medical advances that came from it.

    In London the Flanders Field Memoral Garden has been created. It will open on 9th November and it contains soil taken from the battle cemeteries across Flanders in Belgium. The Tower of London has been "planting" thousands of ceramic poppies in it's moats, which will eventually be sold with the money being donated to charity. There are currently a lot of photos circulating around Twitter and Facebook showing the incredble effect that has been created. The Imperial War Museum has reopened after a massive refurbishment which let them open the First World War Galleries. Like many museums in London the IWM is free to get in to so seeing these galleries really is an opportunity that shouldn't be missed.

    The Royal British Legion is organising it's own events. This evening it is encouraging everyone to join in wit the Lights Out campaign, which includes a service being held at Westminster Abbey. They have also created a new memorial database called Every Man Remembered. In it you can add information about those who died in the First World War, to give more information about those whose graves are protected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

    If you've never really looked in to your own family's history during the First World War then there has never been a better time to do so. You'd be amazed at what you find. Yes, most service records were destroyed in bombing during the Second World War, but there's still information out there that can help you. If you do identify a deceased family member you can then use the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website to find where they are buried, and potentially visit.

    Keep an eye out on Twitter, Facebook and the news for information about other events and memorials, and I'll be adding a few more blog posts as well.

  3. Welcome to August! I must admit, it's not my favourite month of the year as I don't like the hot weather. But it is nice to see so many flowers in people's gardens, and I suppose it makes a change from all the rain we had over winter.

    Even though the website has only been up for a month it's still been one of change. Along with sorting out some new photos for a few badges I also released a new product line; fridge magnets! At 58 mm they're a lovely size and I deliberately went with bright colours for the designs so that they stand out on the fridge, I've got I Love Ancient History on my fridge at the moment and I always smile when I see it.

    I also released a collection of new greetings card designs. Along with some of my slightly infamous innuendo ones (seriously, Archaeologists Do It With Trenches was surprisingly popular during Valentines) I've also added a few that are a bit more appropriate for new parents and weddings.

    Naturally August isn't going to see me slowing down. There will be new badge designs and a brand new product line. There will also be more blog posts, with the first one coming on Monday for a certain important anniversary that we've been building up to for a while now...

    If you want to keep up to date with The Creative Historian you can Like the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter.

    See you soon!

  4. If you're not familiar with certain aspects of history, and you're working through a book on medieval history, dozens of unfamiliar terms and situations can assail you. Salic law, primogeniture, proxy weddings.

    Proxy weddings? What on earth is that!?

    What was a proxy wedding?

    A proxy wedding will generally only refer to a marriage that is being held between two upper-class people in different countries or territories. Most of the time it will involve a Prince and a Princess, but one or both parties could be a duke, duchess or another highborn person, since these were the people who contracted marriages across whole countries. Such a marriage would often be designed to cement alliances or provide a balance against regional political problems. Quite often the first step would involve officially arranging a betrothal, this could involve children but also infants and newborns, at least one French Royal marriage was arranged when the bride was a mere three months old.

    Once the bride reached a suitable age - twelve was the legal minimum for marriage but was no guarantee that anything would take place before they were fourteen or fifteen - a proxy wedding would be held. This ceremony was identical to the proper marriage ceremony, but with a stand-in or "proxy" for the groom, sometimes a close family relative or another highborn nobleman from his country. This marriage was completely legally binding, but only between the bride and the real groom, the proxy had no claim over the bride. The marriage would be celebrated by the bride's family with the usual banquets and festivities, and it was often soon after this that the bride would be packed up and sent to her new husband and home in the company of those who had been sent over to take part in the proxy wedding.

    Upon arrival at her new country a second marriage ceremony would often be performed with her real groom, complete with even more celebrations. There was no real need for a second ceremony as the first was technically legally binding, but it did give an opportunity for a party and gave the political elite a chance to show off to their people.

    Anne of Denmark had a proxy wedding

    Anne of Denmark had a proxy wedding to James VI of Scotland (image from WikiCommons)

    Why was it needed?

    Proxy weddings served both a personal and public service. The bride and groom would be strangers, they may have exchanged some letters as they grew up if they had been betrothed as children, but they wouldn't see each other until the day before their wedding, or a few days earlier if they were lucky. If the bride got to her new home and the groom or his family took an instant dislike to her then the legally-binding proxy wedding prevented them from sending her home in disgrace. They could annul the wedding, but that was a lengthy process that involved appealing to the Pope, and in the meantime they would have to deal with vociferous complaints from the bride's family and demands to cover the costs of sending her home. Likewise it protected the groom, should the bride find that she didn't want to marry then there was no choice, short of possibly entering a convent (and even then the groom's family could appeal to the Pope, who could nullify any Holy Orders she had made since she was, technically, married). By marrying by proxy neither party could flee the altar.

    On a public level it provided the bride with protection. Travelling in the medieval period was a dangerous business. While it was unlikely that a common thief would attempt to rob a Princess escorted by a dozen knights, her ladies and a retinue of servants, a hostile nation with an army was a very real threat as were pirates in the Mediterranean and the English Channel. Should the bride end up captured, or forced by bad weather to take shelter in hostile territory, then it was in the best interests of her groom's family to help her family retrieve her since he couldn't marry someone else.

    Very often there is some confusion between a betrothal and a proxy wedding. Generally a betrothal would be considered to be the first step in the process, it was a promise that the couple would marry in the future. Betrothals were also legally binding, but it was fairly easy for them to be revoked in the future should circumstances change. In a proxy wedding the couple were married, just at a distance.

    It should also be kept in mind that not all upper-class medieval weddings included a proxy marriage, for some a betrothal was enough. Marriages could also be arranged when the bride was past the canon-age for consummation, while it was possible for some to be betrothed in the cradle others were teenagers before a suitable groom came along.

    Proxy weddings in history include James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark and Arthur Prince of Wales and Catherine of Aragon.

  5. On this day in 1501, Isabella of Austria was born to Philip of Burgundy and his wife Juana “the Mad” of Castile. I first came across Isabella when researching 30 Women in History, and her story has always struck me as one tinged with sadness.


    Isabella of Austria (image from Wikipedia)

    Her family life was unconventional even for the time. She was left with her father’s step-mother-in-law, and then his sister, while her parents frequently travelled to Spain. Philip died when Isabella was only five years old and her mother was declared mad and eventually locked up in Castile by Isbella’s grandfather Ferdinand of Aragon. She was under the care of her aunt Margaret, with her grandfather Maximilian, the Holy Roman Emperor, acting as father in Philip’s place.

    When she was fourteen she was married to King Christian II of Denmark, making her Queen of Denmark. But Christian had a mistress, Dyveke, and Isabella found that she came second in both her husband’s heart and at court, where she had very little influence. She only came into her own after Dyveke died.

    She and Christian had three sons (of whom two died in infancy) and two daughters, as well as a further stillborn son. But in 1523 her husband was overthrown as King of Denmark (and Norway, and he had also conquered Sweden for a short time) and she was given a choice between exile with her husband or staying in Denmark under the protection of the new King. She chose her husband, and the pair of them moved to Germany, seeking allies who would help Christian regain his throne. It was in Germany that Isabella came in contact with Lutherism. It is believed that she had been considering a conversion to what would become Protestantism, but when her fiercely Catholic Hapsburg relatives heard about her new interest they were furious and Christian encouraged her to keep her feelings quiet, probably because he was worried her family would refuse to help him regain his throne.

     In 1525 Isabella fell ill and never recovered. She died later that year near Ghent in modern-day Belgium. She was only twenty four years old. Even in an age of high mortality and powerless women she seems to have had more than her fair share of problems, and it’s quite sad that she is rarely remembered.