August is drawing to a close, bringing summer to a slow end. Actually it hasn't been particularly warm (which is a bit of a relief for me) so it almost feels like autumn at the moment anyway, but a few weather people I know have suggested that September could be warmer so I won't get too carried away for the time being.
August was also a very exciting month for me as I launched a new product line, tote bags! There's currently bright red "I Love History" ones, with plans for more colours and designs in the pipework. I've been carrying one around for myself for a few weeks now and I'm completely in love with it. I deliberately went with a nice bright colour as I get a bit bored with the plain ones you normally find in shops, and I've already used it to carry heavy stuff around and it survived.
It was doubly exciting as I released my second ebook, 30 Women in History Volume 2! This is another 30 mini biographies on female figures in history, including Ingeborg of Denmark and Phillis Wheatley. You can get it from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk for a very reasonable price J
I also released two new badge designs, I Love Cicero, and Team Mary Queen of Scots. There are others due for release but it's a struggle to get good photos with the way the light is at the moment so they'll have to wait until we have a nice bright weekend. They're mostly following the Roman theme, with a Greek hero thrown in for good measure. On top of that Classics Geek and History Geek in purple were both restocked after selling out so they're now available once again.
So as you can see it has been a busy and exciting month. As Christmas starts to roll closer I'll be listing more new goodies so you should be able to find something you want to buy as a gift for someone.
Also remember that if you buy from Creative Historian and you Tweet a picture of your purchase to @CreateHistorian I'll DM you a code for 10% off your next purchase!
A few months ago while browsing around Waterstones I naturally ended up in the history section. While scrolling through the endless list of biographies on men in history I stumbled upon one of Alison Weir's works; Katherine Swynford.
Photo is mine (well-read as you can tell from the tabs)
The full title of this work is actually "Katherine Swynford - John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Mistress". I know very little about the medieval period outside of remembering the list of kings and queens and some of the bigger events at the time, so I decided to pick up this book and have a read, and in general I was quite impressed with it.
For those who don't know, John of Gaunt was a younger son of King Edward III of England and his wife Philippa of Hainault. John's nickname "of Gaunt" comes from his birthplace, Ghent in modern-day Belgium. Katherine Swynford on the other hand was the daughter of one of Philippa's servants, she was raised in the Royal nursery and married to an impoverished English knight who was in service to John and his first wife Blanche. In time Katherine became more than just a servant to John.
One of the things that Alison Weir makes quite clear from the start is that it's very difficult to find out much about Katherine Swynford. For example mentions of gifts to her are found in John of Gaunt's registers, but not all of these registers survive. On top of that Katherine and John were very discreet when their affair started, and even when it did become public knowledge it was a scandal, but not as scandalous as later Royal affairs such as that between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn since John wasn't a King. There's no evidence such as surviving letters or poems sent between them, that could give us a glimpse into the lives of this couple, most of what we know comes from those who were writing against them.
Unfortunately this lack of evidence does take it's toll on this book. If you're expecting to read a lot about Katherine then you'll be disappointed. I almost feel that it should instead have been titled "Gaunt & Swynford" or "The Knight and His Mistress" instead of "Katherine Swynford". Weir has to dedicate a lot of page space to John of Gaunt and his first two marriages, partly to explain the historical context (which was useful since, as I said above, I knew very little) and partly because if she didn't then the book would be half the size it actually is. There really is so little about Katherine that most of it involves careful estimating based on things such as dates of birth of children (even these are estimates due to Katherine's discretion), John's movements as noted by charters and his registers, and general common knowledge or mentions that have seeped down from contemporary writers.
Setting aside the lack of Katherine focus, this is actually a very good book. Weir has a clear way of writing that is easy to read, and her explanations of the political situations at the time are descriptive enough to give you a good idea of what was going on, without being so long that you get bored and give up. She puts forward her own theories about aspects of Katherine and John's relationship, such as when their affair first began, that are certainly credible alternatives to those that have been suggested before.
Overall this book is a really good read. It's not all about Katherine, but you'll certainly come out of it with a greater understanding of England at the time and know more about the couple whose descendants would bring about the Tudor dynasty.
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).
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.
There 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.
If 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.
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.
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.
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...
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