Friday, 22 August 2014

Today's the Day

Anniversaries & Events in Academia & Elsewhere

August 22

Another action-packed date throughout history, this one and, while much of what went on involved the all-too-familiar themes of bickering, brutality and bloodshed, with the academic barely getting a look in, we can at least get today off to a promising start with an actual saint, in the form of St Columba, who ended up with a couple of notable firsts to his name. Saint or no, however, and despite the fact that the name, in his native Irish, comes from Colm Cille, or church dove, Columba was an argumentative so-and-so who thought nothing of using his fists to settle a dispute. As luck would have it, St Finian happened to be around at the same time and, being of much the same mind (it would seem the entry requirements for canonization were rather lower back in those days), he gave him a run for his money. Around 560, the holy pair of them got into a highly unchristian squabble over a psalter (basically a book of psalms and other material), Columba spiriting away (without asking) Finian’s one in order to copy out a version for his own use, which Finian took none too kindly to when he found out, claiming that because he owned the original, he also owned the copy: hand it over, demanded Finian; certainly shan’t, replied Columba. In the end, they took it before King Diarmait mac Cerbaill for a final decision and he famously ruled that, "To every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy." Naturally enough, Columba didn’t agree with the decision and so the good saint decided the best way to sort the whole thing out once and for all was in pitched combat, the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561, during which three thousand men were killed. All because of a dispute over copyright, this being one of the first in history.

As a result, Columba went into exile in Scotland, where he determined to convert as many souls to Christianity as had perished in the “Battle of the Book.” It was here that he began working his miracles: healing people with diseases, expelling malignant spirits, subduing wild beasts, calming storms, and even returning the dead to life, not to mention casting out a demon from a pail and then restoring the spilt milk to it. But it was on 22 August 565 when he pulled off the big one: he made the first sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. Well, so some people think. Of course, we don’t mean that he went back to his followers and said, “Hey up, lads, I reckon I’ve just seen Nessie, so I have,” or anything like that. No, what is supposed to have happened, according to Adomnán (pronounced Athovnawn), yet another saint (and we’ve seen how reliable they are), Columba came across a group of Picts who were burying a man who had been killed by a ferocious water beast (meaning he couldn’t have been first to spot it, in that case) and so, being Columba and probably not wanting to get his feet wet, he sends in another swimmer to lure the dread beastie, which duly turns up. Columba then leaps into action with a sign of the Cross and the order, "Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed," at which the “terrified” monster (possibly a walrus that had lost its bearings) flees, leaving Columba hero of the hour. One tiny flaw in this Loch Ness Monster Sighting tale is that Adomnán specifically states that it happened in the River Ness but, seeing quibbling with Columba generally ends in wanton bloodshed, we’ll let that one go, shall we?

This day in 851, Charles the Bald was defeated by Erispoe at the Battle of Jengland in Brittany. Though Charles was always being beaten by someone or other (Bretons and Aquitaines mainly, with a few Vikings thrown in for good measure) and generally having a hard time of it. When he was born, his elder brothers were already adults with their own subkingdoms and, try as he might, Charles’ dad never did quite manage to find one for his youngest son, eventually making him heir to Gaul, which is what caused the trouble in the first place. Bit of an odd name, though, isn’t it? You can understand ones like Eric Bloodaxe (speaks for itself) and Rolf the Ganger (Ralph the Walker, who was such a huge bloke no horse could carry him), but then we come to Ivar the Boneless, which may be a Viking euphemism for impotence or a reference to a highly supple physique, but it may also equate to “legless” (the German bein means leg) as he may have been lame or had Brittle Bone Disease – whichever one, he was still able to be a vicious thug who supposedly killed St Edmund in East Anglia. Back with Charles, his nickname, rather like that of King John of England (John Lackland), may have been a reference to his landlessness; others believe it may be sardonic and that he was, in fact, extremely hairy; possibly, though, it was just because he really was bald. As a coot. Coots being bald in the sense of being marked with white, the same as with a “piebald” horse. Charles must have found nicknames tremendously amusing, seeing he named some of his offspring Louis the Stammerer, Charles the Child and Lothar the Lame.

An inauspicious day for at least two kings of England, firstly Richard III, last of the Plantagenets (a word derived from the medieval Latin, planta genista, the broom plant, which the first of them, Henry II, is supposed to have sported in his hat) was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 by Henry VII, first of the Tudor monarchs. The whole day hinged on the intervention of the Stanleys, who, in true chivalric style, held back to see which side it would be most advantageous to join. When Richard made a headlong cavalry charge for Henry to finish things off quickly, he became separated from his forces, leaving him vulnerable, especially when he was unhorsed, which made the Stanley’s minds up for them and in they went. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, also switched sides to the winning one, making your medieval aristocracy every bit as reliable as your Pictish saint. Henry VII later hired chroniclers to portray the Battle of Bosworth as a victory for good over evil and to show his reign (which was a usurping one) in a favourable light, one of the earliest instances of the use of spin doctors. History, however, remembers him as a grasping miser, so it doesn’t always work.

Not so good either in 1582 for James VI of Scotland (later James I of England), who was captured in the Raid of Ruthven (or abducted, depending on which spin doctor you believe) and held for almost a year, with Elizabeth I of England, highly pleased at the development, sending up £1,000 as wages for the guards to keep him under lock and key. In 1603, she died and he took her throne to become the first of the Stuart monarchs. His own son, Charles I, chose the selfsame day of 22 August in 1642 to call Parliament and its soldiers traitors, declaring war on them at Nottingham, which would soon lead to the Battle of Edgehill (October 23) and eventually to Charles losing his head.

August 22 didn’t improve much from a monarchy point of view, despite the fact that Captain Cook claimed Australia for George III this day in 1770. Only five years later, George (he was the mad one, of course) would be proclaiming the American Colonies to be in open rebellion, seeing they didn’t quite care for Taxation Without Representation or for being scammed over tea prices, so decided to have (and win) a War of Independence. In 1864, however, twelve nations signed the Geneva Convention “for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field,” which was actually the first of four such conventions and brought about the foundation of the International Red Cross at the same time (the others being 1906, 1929 and 1949, the one referred to today by the term).
This day in 1906 saw a bit of inventing, when the Victor Victrola hit the shelves, this being the first gramophone with an internal horn, which proved hugely popular. The Victor Company owned the rights to use the famous image of the terrier listening to a Berliner Gramophone, originally painted by Francis Barraud in 1898 as a memorial to his deceased brother, who had bequeathed him both an Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph (complete with cylinders) and his dog, Nipper (who was much given to doing just that). Every time Barraud played a cylinder recorded by his late brother, the dog would run to the horn, cock his ear and listen intently. If you look closely at the picture, Nipper is seen sitting on a polished surface and there is much dispute as to whether this is a tabletop or actually the lid of his deceased master’s coffin. Barraud never said. The image was used in magazine adverts, urging record buyers to “Look for the dog,” and became known as “His Master’s Voice.”

August 22 1914 saw the first major encounter between British and German troops of World War One. The first actual coming together occurred the previous day when a British bicycle reconnaissance team encountered a German unit near Obourg and Private John Parr became the first British soldier to be killed in the conflict. He was seventeen, only five feet three tall, and was nicknamed “Ole Parr,” possibly (and ironically) after Old Tom Parr, who was said to have lived to be just short of one hundred and fifty three. The next day at 6.30 a.m., the 4th Dragoon Guards gave chase to a patrol of German lancers at Casteau (near Mons), led by Captain Charles Beck Hornby, who then became the first British soldier to kill an enemy. On horseback, armed with a sword, fighting against a lance. Drummer Edward Thomas is then reputed to have fired the first shot of the war for the British Army, hitting a German trooper.

At the other end, Private George Lawrence Price, a Canadian soldier, is traditionally recognized as the last soldier of the British Empire to be killed during the First World War. At 10.58 a.m., just two minutes before the Armistice came into effect. Thanks to the blundering egotistical conceit of generals bound on last minute vainglory and seizing every inch of ground whilst they still could (Pershing amongst them, who also refused point blank to lead black troops) almost eleven thousand men died needlessly that November 11 day (all the generals survived, of course), which exceeds the ten thousand casualties suffered by all sides on D-Day, 6 June 1944. The men storming the Normandy beaches were risking their lives to win a war; those who fell on November 11 were made futile sacrifice of in a war already won, for no better reason than to pin tatty ribbons on the undeserving chests of gilded and brasshung selfserving barbarians: come the Cenotaph next Remembrance, spare a thought for these worthless wretches also, who “toddled safely home to die, in bed.”


"James I of England by Daniel Mytens" by Daniël Mijtens (circa 1590–circa 1647) - Scanned from the book The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson, ISBN 1855142287.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

"Boston Tea Party Currier colored" by Nathaniel Currier -[dead link]. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

"His Master's Voice" by Original uploader was NewYork1956 at en.wikipedia - Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

"George lawrence price" by Gord Goddard - Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

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