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Dirk Puehl
Lives in Frankfurt am Main
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#onthisday  in 1824, 190 years ago, the poet George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron, or simply Lord Byron, died of a fever during the Greek War of Independence in Missolonghi at the age of 36.

“I am reading them now for the second time. I should not like to miss them although they leave behind a painful impression. How much gossip often about the most futile things ; what offences taken at each silly  judgment of journalists ; what a wild life with dogs,  monkeys, peacocks, horses; everything without connecting links! Only as regards taking a view on a thing, Byron judges well and clearly ; reflection is not his. His judgments and combinations are often those of children. With what patience he allows himself to be reproached with plagiarisms, firing only small shot at his antagonists for his defence, instead of thundering down upon them with heavy cannons. Does not everything that the past and the present have done belong by right light to the poet ? Why should he feel afraid of culling flowers wherever he finds them ? Only by appropriating the very best part of other people's [mental] treasures, something great can be produced. Have I not myself made use of Job and of a Shakespeare-song for Mephistopheles ? Byron was mostly unknown to himself a great poet; seldom he fully enjoyed his own self.'" (Goethe)

When “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” was published and his lordship “awoke one morning and found myself famous", his course was set for him to become the greatest cultural icon of the 19th century, rivalled only by Napoleon. As it seems, the contemporary public, softened up by a few decades of widely read Gothic fiction and the earlies of the Romantic Movement, had just waited for the libertinous offshoot of eccentric Scottish nobility, his very own meanderings through the Mediterranean world and the racy tales he told and versified – condensed into a new cult figure: the Byronic Hero, smart, passionate, courageous, marked by a cruel fate, restless, sensitive, lonely. And while the female audience, from chambermaid to duchess, from John O’Groates to Moscow, swooned over the verses of the doomed poet and the jeunesse dorée’s menfolk wore their shirt collar open with flying scarves wound around them, striking pensive poses á la Byron. And the scandals, of course. Allegedly buggering everything with a heartbeat, girls, married women, men, boys, his own half-sister. Byron was the prime mover for a rock star image. He literally wrote the book.

It is very probably quite an exaggeration that Byron had laid down his life for the freedom of Greece. In fact, he was already sick unto death when he arrived there in 1823, completely spent at the age of 35 and died barely a year later as the leader of a Greek rebel army from various ailments, topped by a sever fever. There were speculations, however, that he might have been crowned as the King of Greece, he who pondered Prinny’s idea of making him poet laureate: “The other night, at a ball, I was presented by order to our gracious Regent, who honoured me with some conversation, and professed a predilection for poetry.—I confess it was a most unexpected honour, and I thought of poor Brummell's adventure, with some apprehension of a similar blunder. I have now great hope, in the event of Mr. Pye's decease, of "warbling truth at court," like Mr. Mallet of indifferent memory.—Consider, one hundred marks a year! besides the wine and the disgrace; but then remorse would make me drown myself in my own butt before the year's end, or the finishing of my first dithyrambic”

Byron’s death in Missolonghi, along with his writings, set an unprecedented public awareness campaign in motion and his fans and followers, often well connected or in high positions themselves, caused the intervention of Europe’s major powers in Greece that finally lead to her independence in 1829 – against the arrangements made during the Congress of Vienna, a beacon that shone among the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe, longing for their own freedom and while the Byronic Hero got out of vogue during the second half of the century, Byron, the poet of liberty, became all the rage and most national poets of the age owed deliberate allegiance to Byron, often playing the Byronic Hero, at least a bit, and versifying Byronic romances that are known by heart to this day. Even if Byron himself is more or less forgotten outside the English-speaking world after the turmoil of the 20th century, when various totalitarian regimes found it no longer comme il faut to encourage the discourse and reception of a freedom loving English rock star poet. In his beloved Greece alone, the tradition of venerating Byron remains unbroken to this day.

Depicted below is the Flemish painter Joseph Denis Odevaere’s (1775–1830) imagination of “Lord Byron on his Death-bed” 1826, Groeningemuseum, Bruges

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So be it, liebe Lucia - have a wonderful, arty and very ladylike weekend!
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#onthisday  in 1864, 150 years ago, the key battle of the Second Schleswig War between Prussia and Denmark was fought at the Battle of Dybbøl, ending with a decisive Danish defeat.

“One of the consequences of this attitude was that Sapper Klinke, who, at the cost of his life had blown up the palisade support of Bastion Three of the Düppel fortifications, was the genuine hero of all three wars in Kluckhuhn’s eyes, and when all was said and done, had but one single rival. This one single rival, however, had been on the side of the Danes and was, in fact, not a person at all, but a ship instead named “Rolf Krake”. “Yes sir, boys, while we were floatin’ across there like that, there lay that black beast staying right up close to us, lookin’ just like a coffin. And if it had wanted to, it would have been all over with us and plop, down we’d have gone right into Flensburg Bay. And since we all knew that, we just kept on blasting away at her, because when a fellow feels like that, he just keeps on shooting.” (Theodor Fontane, “The Stechlin”)

If it was the Danes’ new king Christian IX’s brightest idea from a political and legal point of view to answer the lingering Schleswig-Holstein Question along with a constitutional reform by virtually annexing Schleswig, a more or less autonomous region and right in the middle of an ethnic conflict between Germans and Danes, remains rather doubtful. It was exactly the pretence Bismarck was waiting for to unify Germany with blood and iron. He played strictly by the book, though, Prussian troops occupied the Duchies of Holstein and Lauenburg along with Austrian units and those of other German states to protect their autonomy according to the Protocol of London from 1852, that had ensured self-administration of the three regions after the first Schleswig War (1848 – 1851). King Christian was given an ultimatum in January 1864 to abandon Schleswig within 48 hours, he didn’t react and on February 1st, Prussian and Austrian troops crossed the Eider, the border river between Holstein and Schleswig.

The Danish commander-in-chief Lieutenant General de Meza decided to quit the border fortifications of the Dannevirke, a shock for the Danish public, and left most of his heavy artillery in Flensburg to avoid being surrounded, a decision that saved most of his army, but the retreat towards Jutland in ice and snow felt like Napoleon’s from Moscow and the Prussians caught up with him at the half finished fortifications of Dybbøl close to Flensburg Bay. Outnumbered, outgunned and demoralised after almost two weeks of the Prussian barrage of their positions, the only advantage the Danes had was their brand new ironclad “Rolf Krake” in the bay who could at least harass the Prussians with her 8’’ guns. Without a navy, the Prussians could do nothing to stop her except prevent her with field artillery from coming to close. On April 18th however, the Prussian commander Prince Frederick Charles decided, the Danish entrenchments of Dybbøl were softened up enough and prepared his men to storm the “Düppeler Schanzen”. Allegedly, the sapper Carl Klinke cried “Ick bin Klinke. Ick öffne dit Tor.“ (I’m Klinke – German for door handle – I’ll open this gate), blew up a 30 pound sack full of powder at the outworks of Redoubt II with a match at the cost of his life after the blasting fuse was lost during the approach. Klinke was a subject of German hero worship for the following decades, even though the author Theodor Fontane, who was present as war correspondent, could resist the door handle pun and made the story up.

However, the whole first line of the six redoubts of Dybbøl Banke were taken 15 minutes later after fierce Danish resistance to the strains of Beethoven’s “Yorkscher Marsch” performed by four army brass bands of the Prussian music corps under the direction of Gottfried Piefke, who got his baton shot out of his hand by a Danish cannon ball, wrote the “Düppeler Schanzen Marsch” in situ and inspired the Austrians to their epithet for Germans: Piefkes. By 13:30, the whole Danish resistance had collapsed, 700 Danes and 260 Prussians were dead, 1.500 wounded on both sides and for the first in history taken care of by the Red Cross. The war was over by August of 1864, Schleswig and Holstein became an Austro-Prussian condominium, a state of affairs that led to the next of Bismarck’s wars, this time against the former Austrian allies.

Depicted below is an imagination of the storming of the Danish redoubts by the German painter Wilhelm Camphausen (1818 – 1885), Düsseldorf, 1866

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Do we have any hopes that the series will be released in English as well?
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Dirk Puehl

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#onthisday in 1755, the French painter Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun was born in Paris.

“Painting and living have always been one and the same thing for me.” (Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun)

The French Revolution came as a bit of a shock for Elisabeth, already an accomplished paintress, sought after as portraitist by the local aristos, ill-fated Queen Marie Antoinette among them and her downright PR work for the latter monarch gave a point to her taking her daughter and step on it towards Italy. Her popularity and live expectancy in France had zeroed overnight, but brave Elizabeth kept her chin up and was soon moving in upper-class circles again, always one step ahead of the armies of the Revolution, first in Florence, then portraying in Rome, Milan, Vienna, St Petersburg and Berlin until it was safe enough for her to return to Imperial France. “I will not attempt to describe my feelings at setting foot on the soil of France”, she wrote, “from which I had been absent twelve years. I was stirred by terror, grief and joy in turn. I mourned the friends who had died on the scaffold; but I was to see those again who still lived. " and painting, of course, the rich and famous.

With an oeuvre encompassing more than 600 portraits and 200 landscapes, Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s first two decades as a paintress still bear reminiscences of the Rococo style that was slowly replaced by the Neoclassical movement and by the turn of 18th century, she had fully embraced this new outlook. She never got out of the line, accommodating to the now classicist tastes of her clientele, Prinny of England, Napoleon’s sister Caroline Murat, Lady Hamilton, Madame de Staël as well as Austrian, German and Russian nobility. However, her portraits all bear as a signature tune a distinct liveliness, in expression, looks, the blinking of an eye that rises above the common, detached pantomime of typical neoclassicist painting. Besides being one of the few highly honoured female artists of her age and one of the most famous and successful ones of all times.
Depicted below is a self portrait of her, dating from 1800, probably painted in St Petersburg.

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#onthisday   in 1910, the Russian painter Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel died at the age of 54 in St Petersburg.

“Elevate the soul by grandiose images beyond all everyday pettiness.“ (Mikhail Vrubel)

If it was tertiary syphilis or tuberculosis that finally did for him, both admittedly afflictions befitting his rank as extraordinary late 19th century artist, is not quite clear, but legend has it, that Vrubel, then patient of a mental clinic for several years, deliberately caught a cold and, thus, committed suicide. His mental state always gave reason to worry, Vrubel suffered from wild mood swings and was a bit of a maniac, climaxing in a continuous rework of his painting “The Demon Downcast”, up to 40 times a day, even when the work already hung in the exhibition hall, but he and his art were extraordinary anyway. Having a determining influence on Symbolism and Art Nouveau in Russia, he wittingly kept himself apart from contemporary art trends and drew his inspiration from Byzantine and Renaissance paintings, ornamenting the interior of churches as well as creating stages sets for Moscow and St Petersburg operas and theatres.

Besides eternalising his wife, the then famous opera singer Nadezhda Ivanovna Zabela-Vrubel, in fairytale-like costumes in her lead roles of fairy-tale operas, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Swan Princess from the “Tale of Tsar Saltan” or the Snegurochka from the “Snow Princess”, Vrubel found profound equivalents for his art by illustrating literature, “Hamlet”, “Faust” as well as “Anna Karenina”, but the deepest influence came from the tales of Mikhail Lermontov. Vrubel’s interpretations of the Byronic “Demon” and his fatal relationship with the beautiful Tatiana set in the dramatic scenery of the Caucasus Mountains are certainly a congenial approach in depicting one of the Romantic masterpieces of world literature. The topic engaged Vrubel for decades even beyond his terminal breakdown in health that provided for his institutionalisation late in 1903. 

Depicted below is another approach of Vrubel’s of one of the masters of Russian Romantic literature, the six-winged seraph from Alexander Pushkin’s poem “The Prophet”, the second version of the sujet from 1905, reflecting Vrubel’s state quite aptly:

Alexander Pushkin, “The Prophet”
Parched with the spirit's thirst, I crossed 
An endless desert sunk in gloom, 
And a six-winged seraph came 
Where the tracks met and I stood lost. 
Fingers light as dream he laid 
Upon my lids; I opened wide 
My eagle eyes, and gazed around. 
He laid his fingers on my ears 
And they were filled with roaring sound: 
I heard the music of the spheres, 
The flight of angels through the skies, 
The beasts that crept beneath the sea, 
The heady uprush of the vine; 
And, like a lover kissing me, 
He rooted out this tongue of mine 
Fluent in lies and vanity; 
He tore my fainting lips apart 
And, with his right hand steeped in blood, 
He armed me with a serpent's dart; 
With his bright sword he split my breast; 
My heart leapt to him with a bound; 
A glowing livid coal he pressed 
Into the hollow of the wound. 
There in the desert I lay dead, 
And God called out to me and said: 
'Rise, prophet, rise, and hear, and see, 
And let my works be seen and heard 
By all who turn aside from me, 
And burn them with my fiery word.' 

More about Mikhail Vrubel on

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#onthisday  in 1204, 810 years ago, the city of Constantinople was captured and put to the sack by Frankish and Venetian crusaders.

“A sack," Baudolino explained, like a man who knows a trade well, "is like a grape harvest: you have to divide the tasks. There are those who press the grapes, those who carry off the must in the tuns, those who cook for others, others who go to fetch the good wine from last year.... a sack is a serious job" (Umberto Eco, “Baudolino”)

The relationship between the Byzantine Empire and La Serenissima, Venice, the two major naval powers in the Mediterranean, was a mess in the late 12th century. Why the two former allies fell out is difficult to say, trade rivalries, jealousy and the mutual contempt of the long timer and the parvenu, claims to power on the Balkans and the Greece, it all reached a boiling point, when xenophobic riots in Constantinople against the Latin minority, climaxed in the confiscation of the property, the burning down of their city quarter and imprisonment of Venetians as well as Genoese and Pisans and the subsequent declaration of war by the Serenissima. An uneasy peace followed in 1177, but the afterpains of the Latin pogroms were still noticeable a generation later, when the ill-fated Fourth Crusade arrived in Venice and the pilgrims suddenly realised that they were not able to pay the Venetians to ship them to Palestine who, in return, were threatened with bankruptcy if their investments in the endeavour did not at least even up. An agreement had to be reached.

At first, against the expressed papal interdict that threatened the city of Venice with excommunication, the crusade was rerouted to the then Hungarian city of Zara in Catholic Dalmatia and the place was captured in the fall of 1202 by the pilgrims who were actually supposed to be fighting in Egypt or capture Jerusalem or spill the blood of heathens ad maiorem dei gloriam. Pope Innocent III nearly had fits when the Crusade set forth from there towards Constantinople, allegedly to reinstall the overthrown emperor Isaac II, for a fabulous reward, goes without saying. The pilgrims reached the Golden Horn in June 1203, the new emperor Alexios III fled after a few skirmishes, Isaac professed himself unable to pay his debts and 10.000 Frankish crusaders and the same number of Venetian soldiers and while the people of Constantinople rioted against the foreign army at their gates, the Latins in their city and their emperor, the Westerners had a major logistics problem if the Byzantines would not supply them very soon with provisions. By the end of the year, Isaac was toppled again and murdered and his successor Alexios V simply said: “Clear out, Latins”, the situation escalated completely.

A first assault of the Westerners on Constantinople was repulsed on April 9th, but the second one along the sea walls by land and by sea succeeded and the city was put to the sword and for three days the crusaders raped, murdered and plundered. Almost 1.000 years of accumulated riches in art as well as goods in the then largest city of the world were either looted by the Venetians or destroyed by the Franks, churches and libraries burned down and many treasures of antiquity, brought to his new capital by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century were lost – along with thousands of lives of men, women and children. The Latins put one of their own on the throne and established a Latin empire in Greece and western Asia Minor that lasted for about 50 years until the Byzantines reconquered Constantinople in 1261 and threw the Westerners out. The uneasiness between Latin and Orthodox Christianity remained, though, and the sack of the city was never quite forgotten. It was the deathblow for the Eastern Roman Empire, that finally ceased to exist when the Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1453.

Depicted below is Eugene Delacroix’s “Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople“ (1840)

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Working on it, +Pietro Montevecchio :-) - and I can certainly return the compliment with a smile, cara +Lucia Abonandi!
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Have him in circles
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Me pinguem et nitidum bene curata cute vises, ...Epicuri de grege porcum (You may see me, fat and shining, with well-cared for hide,—...a hog from Epicurus' herd. Horace)

When the Second Schleswig War was over in 1864, the Danes living in Schleswig and Holstein all of a sudden had become Austrians and Prussians and after 1871 Germans, citizenship-wise. From now on, they were forbidden to fly the Dannebrog, the Danish flag, red with the white Scandinavian cross, on their farmsteads and came up with a rather curious idea to show their allegiance: out of Holsteinian and Jutlandian marsh pigs, Tamworth and reddish Angeln Saddlebacks, a 36’' tall and 770 lbs race of red pigs with a white saddle on their backs was bred, thus coloured like the Dannebrog. The pigs were called det danske protestsvin or Danish Protest Pigs and from now on, the Dannebrog was not flying but running about the Danish farms.

Today, det danske protestsvin is one of the endangered domestic animal breeds with only 140 pigs alive worldwide and institutions such as the Arche Warder in Schleswig-Holstein, a centre for the preservation of domestic animals threatened with extinction ( and a few zoos do their best to keep the breed alive. And a few found a new home in the open-air enclosure of the #wunderkammer  to preserve the memory of an unusual and very creative form of non-violent resistance.

The picture of the three little protest pigs below was taken by Silke (eska2203_Sil) on June 17th, 2011 at the Gelsenkirchen Zoo and found on 

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It's always a good time for cake, don't you think, +Dirk Puehl? Non-rebel strawberries, meltingly tender shortcake and loads of whipped cream coming up!!
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#onthisday   in 1397, Geoffrey Chaucer told his Canterbury Tales for the first time at the court of Richard II at Westminster Great Hall.

“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote / The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, / And bathed every veyne in swych licour / Of which vertu engendred is the flour; / Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth / Inspired hath in every holt and heath / The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne / Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne, / And smale foweles maken melodye, / That slepen al the nyght with open ye / (So priketh hem nature in hir corages); /Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages. (Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Canterbury Tales”)

It was a very subtle revolution when Geoffrey Chaucer, a staunch supporter of "Old John of Gaunt, time-honoured Lancaster" and recently back in royal favour, read for the first time parts of his Canterbury Tales at the Plantagenet's court. Not in Norman French or scholarly Latin but in English. Three years later, Richard would tell a different tale, of the death of kings; How some have been deposed; some slain in war, Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed; Some poisoned by their wives: some sleeping killed; All murdered, as he himself would be when his nephew and John of Gaunt’s son Henry of Bolingbroke took the throne as Henry IV. But on this day, the tales turned on a travelling party on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Thomas á Becket in Canterbury, telling a story or two for a free meal at Tabard Inn in Southwark.

Byron once found Chaucer to be obscene and contemptible, owing his fame only to his venerable age, but, even if he was only part of a trend of writing in vernacular English that started with Wycliffe’s Bible translation some ten years before, he gave voice to others characters than the nobility and the clergy, a process of democratisation in the choice of fictional characters, along the lines of Boccaccio’s “Il Decamerone”, with the same fair amount of church criticism on the eve of the Reformation. The 29 characters of the tales and the narrator tell stories of utmost cultural relevancy in the days, when the Middle Ages ended in Europe, besides nagging questions about religion they tell of love, betrayal and greed and most haven’t lost their actuality in more than 600 years.

Depicted below is an imagination of the pilgrims’ progress through the English countryside by the illustrator Paul Hardy (1862 – 1942), a regular contributor to the “Strand Magazine”, from 1903. Canterbury City Council Museums and Galleries.

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I don't even agree with him in regards to Chaucer :-)
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#onthisday in 1450 near the town of Bayeux in Normandy, a French army under Charles de Clermont and Connétable Arthur III, Duke of Brittany, decisively defeated the English under Thomas Kyriell in the Battle of Formigny during the last phase of the Hundred Years’ War.

“It is no longer with hammer blows but with cannon shots that Europe philosophizes.” (Albert Camus)

When the Burgundians and English burned the Maid of Orleans at the stake in 1431, the tide of the endless slaughter known as the Hundred Years’ War had already turned against them and the days of Edward III, the Black Prince and Henry V along with their indomitable knights and feared archers who won at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt were long gone. In 1435, Burgundy broke the alliance with King Henry VI, Paris was returned to Charles VII of France, who reorganised his kingdom along with his army on the dawn of the modern age. And while the English were beginning to be quite busy picking red and white roses respectively, a French army appeared in Normandy. Rouen fell in October 1449, Harfleur in December and in January, the French marched on Caen. With a small army of 3.000 arriving in Cherbourg in March 1450, bolstered by Caen’s garrison of 2.000, the English under Thomas Kyriell moved to counter them. The two armies met two miles south of the place that would be known as Omaha Beach 500 years later near the village of Formigny.

The French under Clermont advanced towards the English positions in the afternoon with one part of the army, while the other half under Connétable Arthur de Richemont, a veteran of Agincourt, was somewhere off to the south. The English in their traditional formation with their 2.500 archers entrenched behind stakes and low earthworks, strengthened by billmen and dismounted knights, could repulse the first French assault, then two French guns opened fire, disrupted the English lines, the archers sallied, captured the guns and everything looked like the day would end in a stalemate, de Richemont however, drawn to the battlefield by the sound of the gunfire, arrived and was about to take Kyriell in the flank. The English had to give up their secure position, drew up in a half circle but could no longer sustain the concentrated fire of the longbows. De Richemont’s 1.200 heavy Breton cavalry simply overrun them. When the sun sank at Formigny, at least half of Kyriell’s army was dead, 900 were captured along with their commander and the rest scattered to the winds.

That the two French cannon had played a decisive role at Formigny is at least doubtful, even if they showed the potential to disrupt the English field fortifications – as they did at Castillon three years later and it was certainly not the first time artillery was used on a battlefield, the Hussites did that a generation before in Bohemia already with great success. The sound of their fire, however, was crucial in drawing de Richemont to the fight and that proved to be decisive indeed. Normandy was lost for the English and Gascony fell in 1453, a major cause for the outbreak of the War of the Roses back in England in 1455. The Hundred Years’ War itself finally ended with the Treaty of Picquigny in 1475, 20 years after the fighting on the continent had ceased.

Depicted below is the monument commemorating the battle at the crossroads near Formigny with de Richemont to the left and de Clermont to the right with the goddess of victory wearing a crown with the French fleur-de-lis and holding a laurel wreath over the two victorious commanders.

The picture by jp hamon was found on

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I wonder, though, how many things we'd still have in common. Might end up with a bit of a surprise.
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#onthisday  in 1868, 400 miles north of present-day Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, the mountain fortress of the Negus Tewodros II at Magdala was stormed by men of the expeditionary force under the command of Sir Robert Napier, ending the rescue mission and punitive expedition known as the British Expedition to Abyssinia.

“…the strangest campaign in the whole history of British arms..." (George MacDonald Fraser, “Flashman on the March”

The hundreds of engineers that landed along with Sir Robert Napier’s expeditionary force of 13.000 men out of Bombay, together with ten thousands of workers and baggage animals, even elephants to carry the mountain guns, were certainly not what the Negus had bargained for with his ill-fated letter to Queen Victoria, asking for development aid in 1862. By then, Tewodros II had made himself Emperor of Ethiopia already, uniting the warring tribes for the first time in centuries and preparing the country for its way to become a modern state, when a couple of paper pushers in Whitehall simply deemed the letter of some benighted potentate from the back of beyond as important enough to bother anybody with it, it finally ended up in Calcutta, because Ethiopia basically fell under the jurisdiction of the Raj, from there at least a consul was dispatched to confirm the Great White Mother’s general goodwill but it was too late already. Tewodros, despite his remarkable skills at politics and warfare, was never known to be among the sanest of rulers, cashiered all Europeans at his court in Magdala, whipped the consul and put him and the rest of the Westerners in irons and sending a message of “So there!” back to India. The relief force to free Tewodros’ hostages was mobilised in July 1867.

400 miles of rough, mountainous terrain with no roads or bridges to speak off lay before, occupied by people not exactly friendly to foreigners, let alone invading armies. However, Sir Robert overcame both obstacles in three months, with an astonishing feat of engineering and shrewd diplomacy, playing the tribal hostilities against each other, using the general disaffection with the Negus’ rule and stating that his mission was to rescue the hostages and not conquering Ethiopia for the British Empire. In the meanwhile, Tewodros handled the same challenges, pulling his considerable artillery park, including his 70-ton giant mortar “Sevastopol”, through rough, hostile country towards Magdala in an almost superhuman effort of a footslog, arriving only days before the British appeared on the plain of Arogye, stretching before the his mountain retreat. A few notes were exchanged, Sir Robert demanding unconditional surrender and handing over the hostages, Tewodros, obviously no longer compos mentis, answered rather wishy-wahsy, killed hundreds of his native prisoners by throwing them over a cliff at Magdala and Sir Robert gave the signal for general advance on April 9th.

It was touch-and-go for a while on the plain, Tewodros, who had always wanted to see a European army in action, watched with morbid fascination on his rock, while his artillery, probably deliberately sabotaged by his Swiss and German gun captains misfired, and “Sevastopol” exploded because of a barrel burst and a Congreve rocket literally blew up in his face, how the rapid fire of the new British Snider rifles, determined bayonet charges and field artillery firing at point-blank ranges cut his men still loyal to him to pieces. Sir Robert reported back to London: “Yesterday morning (we) descended three thousand nine hundred feet to Bashilo River and approached Magdala with First Brigade to reconnoitre it. Theodore opened fire with seven guns from outwork, one thousand feet above us, and three thousand five hundred men of the garrison made a gallant sortie which was repulsed with very heavy loss and the enemy driven into Magdala. British Loss, twenty wounded." Two would later die of their wounds, the only British casualties of the expedition. On April 13th, Magdala was stormed and the body of Tewodor was found. He had shot himself. The hostages were freed, unharmed, and the Negus’ fortress was burned down after a thorough plundering and Napier withdrew with pipes and drums and flags flying to the coast and quit the place, his mission thoroughly accomplished at the cost of £ 9.000.000 – worth about a billion Euros in today’s money. The crown of Tewodor II, captured at Magdala on April 13th 1868, was returned to Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia by King George V in 1925.

Depicted below are men of Napier’s 4th (The King's Own Royal) Regt of Foot in their just recently issued khaki uniforms and white topis, helmets made of cork or pith with a cloth cover, posing at the Koket-Bir gate of Magdala on April 14th 1868.

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Wyrd bið ful aræd, eh? Well, the idea is quite appealing on a Monday... however, thank you, dear +Chryssa Kotsanidou for the encouragement :-)
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#onthisday  in 1809, 205 years ago, the last major naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars, the three-day engagement known as the Battle of the Basque Roads, began 20 miles south of La Rochelle on the French Atlantic coast. 

“To our consternation, the fuses, which had been constructed to burn fifteen minutes, lasted little more than half that time, when the vessel blew up, filling the air with shells, grenades, and rockets; whilst the downward and lateral force of the explosion raised a solitary mountain of water, from the breaking of which in all directions our little boat narrowly escaped being swamped. The explosion-vessel did her work well, the effect constituting one of the grandest artificial spectacles imaginable. For a moment, the sky was red with the lurid glare arising from the simultaneous ignition of fifteen hundred barrels of powder. On this gigantic flash subsiding, the air seemed alive with shells, grenades, rockets, and masses of timber, the wreck of the shattered vessel. The sea was convulsed as by an earthquake, rising, as has been said, in a huge wave, on whose crest our boat was lifted like a cork, and as suddenly dropped into a vast trough, out of which as it closed upon us with the rush of a whirlpool, none expected to emerge. In a few minutes nothing but a heavy rolling sea had to be encountered, all having again become silence and darkness." (Thomas Cochrane)

The naval war was far from being over after the British victory at Trafalgar in 1805, even though the immediate danger of an invasion was banned for good. However, Napoleon still had a fleet of line-of-battleships, frigates and smaller vessels – along with very active privateers, all ready to harass British merchant shipping as well as posing a threat to the vital colonies and act as suppliers for men and material, especially for the French army fighting for its very life in the Peninsula. And the Royal Navy still blockaded the major naval bases along the Channel and Atlantic coast to prevent at least the larger units to gain the open sea and wreak havoc. Every now and then though, a French squadron gave the British the slip and one such formation, 11 battleships-of-the-line and four large frigates, found itself bottled up off La Rochelle by their British pursuers.

Loup de Mers Thomas Cochrane, after dabbling in politics and making him quite a few enemies because he couldn’t keep his big mouth shut and mercilessly criticised the conditions in the navy, the corruption and the conduct of the war in general, became his old self again in the Basque Roads. Given the command over 21 fireships, two of them filled to the rim with explosives, 3 Congreve rocket barges and 2 bomb vessels, the master of coastal warfare devised a plan his admiral “Dismal Jimmy” Gambier regarded as "a horrible and anti-Christian mode of warfare", but convincing the First of the Admiralty of his plan, Cochrane finally had his way – against the French who had taken up a position of all-round defence with a sound battle line protected to the north by the Ile d'Aix and tot he south by the Boyart shoal behind a boom made out of the top masts and yards of the ships-of-the-line. Cochrane used his two “explosion ships” to blast away the barrier, the French panicked, cut their cables and, unable to get underway without their mainsails, drifted towards the shoals, went aground and Gambier didn’t follow up.

On the following day, Cochrane, meanwhile back on board of his frigate “Imperieuse”, had to manoeuver his ship under the guns of the coastal defences and hoist a signal of distress to lure Gambier’s battleships into the straits, 7 followed the call and managed to destroy at least four of the eleven French ships-of-the-line and a frigate that had all ran aground until Gambier gave the signal to break off the action. What might have been a complete victory, ending the war for one fourth of Napoleon’s remaining Atlantic fleet at one blow, was a decisive blow, all in all, but one that left a stale taste and all due to Gambier’s capital incompetence – Cochrane and his admiral both insisted on a court martial – and Gambier was acquitted very probably because of his excellent political connections, Cochrane, furious, couldn’t hold his tongue, made even more enemies and ruined his career in the navy for good. He would never command a British warship again until 1832, was compromised in a stock exchange fraud and left for South America to become a hero in the local wars of liberation, but that’s a different story.

Depicted below is a contemporary caricature, called “Sternhold and Hopkins at Sea” by Charles Williams of Gambier and Cochrane that can be summarised as follows:

Gambier: "Moab my wash pot, my shoe, o'er Edom I will throw." (Gambier had a reputation of being quite a Bible-thumper)
Sailor: "Your shoe won't do for the French Fleet. I think we had better throw some shells your Honour."
Cochrane: "Why Admiral? Damn their Eyes they'll escape if we don't make haste."
Chaplain: "Oh the wicked Dog he has put us quite out, he is insensible of the beauties of Divine Poetry."
Discarded on the cabin floor lies Gambier's telescope, log book and a batch of Congreve rockets. On his desk is a large edition of a Sternhold and Hopkins psalm book, and on the bulkhead a map of the Holy Land. (wikipedia)

 And more on:

#history   #ageofsail   #napoleonicwars   #europeanhistory  
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"I deny nothing, but doubt everything.” Lord Byron

About what I do and post here on Mother Google her networks:

Blood and thunder, artsy things, curiosities and lots of ships, everything featured in my little #onthisday-series. I post a daily feature about something that happened “on this day”, weather permitting.

Usually, the posts turn on Literature with a heavy focus on the 19th and early 20th century and silver screen adaptions. The dark and macabre, vampires, ghosts and ghoulies, the plain fantastic, the Byronic tradition in Europe, dandyism as well as Thomas Mann, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. History, often military history, from antiquity to the dawn of the 20th century and everything an armchair sailor can come up with. Fine arts with pretty much the same foci during the said period as well as Mythology.

And besides that I currently collect curiosities online, often with a touch of #steampunk and collect them in my virtual #wunderkammer, an online cabinet of curiosities. 

Speaking of what. I don’t discuss politics on the Internet.

There is a legend from the beginning of the Great War: The German High Command cabled to their allies in Vienna: “The situation is serious but not hopeless!” and some wisecrack in Vienna cabled back: “No. The situation is hopeless but not serious.” That pretty much sums it up. ‘nuff said.

The same is true for religion. Although I am willing to discuss religion from a historical point of view, I am not interested to hear people’s personal persuasions on god(s) or atheism. If you are interested in my opinion – read The Brothers Karamazov.
It’s all in there.
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