The assassination of Sir Henry Wilson Ireland’s Sarajevo?

Regardless of the British reaction to Wilson’s death, the Irish civil war was likely to happen

The assassination of Sir Henry Wilson Ireland’s Sarajevo?Michael Collins was the most dynamic figure in the events leading to the establishment of the Irish Free State. And he was killed in an ensuing civil war ambush on August 22, 1922. Just two months earlier, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson had been assassinated in London. Allegedly, Collins ordered the hit. Irish journalist Ronan…

Fenians used Canada as an Irish revolutionary pawn

There were five failed armed Fenian incursions into Canada between 1866 and 1871

Fenians used Canada as an Irish revolutionary pawnUniversity of Toronto historian David A. Wilson has an interesting new book called Canadian Spy Story: Irish Revolutionaries and the Secret Police. It’s a detailed examination of a mid-19th-century episode that had the potential to turn Canadian history upside down. And Wilson makes a credible case that the danger wasn’t entirely farfetched. Following the conclusion…

Hereditary empires and the struggle with modernity

Hereditary dynasties could not survive the industrial revolution. Well, except for one

Hereditary empires and the struggle with modernityLast week’s column drew from British historian Dominic Lieven’s current book about emperors and empires. Called In the Shadow of the Gods, it’s an exploration of the characteristics that contributed to dynastic success or failure. Lieven’s penultimate chapter deals with the challenges modernity posed to hereditary dynasties. As the environment changed rapidly, the crowns adorning…

War and brutality go hand in hand

Combat naturally leads to behaviours that would be deemed shocking in normal life

War and brutality go hand in handAntony Beevor is a prolific English military historian, most famous for the bestseller Stalingrad. First published in the late 1990s, the book’s narrative covers the period between the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union and the conclusion of the Battle of Stalingrad in February 1943. That battle is often described as the Second…

Wheat makes the world go round

Wheat is one of the world’s staple crops. And Ukraine and Russia are critical exporters

Wheat makes the world go roundFor American academic Scott Reynolds Nelson, the timing was fortuitous. His Oceans of Grain came to market coincident with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And as Nelson’s thesis revolves around the critical role wheat has played in history, the invasion’s implications for supply disruption add to the book’s topicality. For sure, Nelson may egg the pudding.…

The last children of Anglo-Saxon England

For the upper class of England, the Norman conquest was wipe out time

The last children of Anglo-Saxon EnglandHarold Godwineson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, died on the battlefield at Hastings in October 1066. It wasn’t a pretty ending. Whether he was killed by an arrow through the eye (the traditional story), trampled underfoot, or hunted down and (literally) cut to pieces by invading Norman knights remains a matter of speculation. For…

Did John F. Kennedy really win the U.S. presidency?

There was significant anecdotal evidence of election fraud

Did John F. Kennedy really win the U.S. presidency?Theodore White’s The Making of the President 1960 set the tone for subsequent conventional wisdom. John F. Kennedy was the handsome, charming, forward-looking hero. And his opponent, Richard Nixon, was the dour, resentful, unscrupulous villain. White’s many readers would’ve been in little doubt. The prince of light had vanquished the prince of darkness. Now, supported…

When Reagan fired the air traffic controllers

It was assumed that Reagan would cave to the aggressive labour action. He didn't

When Reagan fired the air traffic controllersSomething unusual happened in August 1981. Ronald Reagan, then president of the United States, fired the country’s illegally-striking air traffic controllers. Most observers were astonished. This wasn’t part of the normal political playbook. Increasing union militancy had become a prevalent feature of the economic landscape since the 1960s. And when faced with aggressive labour action…

What we get wrong about the Islamic empire and crusader armies

Author Steve Tibble’s message is that much of the crusader narrative is simplistic caricature. But it can’t erase facts

What we get wrong about the Islamic empire and crusader armiesAs imperial enterprises went, it was a stunning performance. Coming from apparently nowhere, an extensive Islamic empire was born in the century following the Prophet Muhammad’s 632 death. Arab armies swept out of the remote Arabian peninsula to conquer the Middle East and North Africa, subsequently crossing the straits of Gibraltar to Spain and establishing…

Napoleon was a bitter man in his final years

He bitterly resented his exile to St. Helena, blaming it all on Wellington

Napoleon was a bitter man in his final yearsA childhood history book included a reproduction of Jacques-Louis David’s famous portrait of Napoleon crossing the Alps. It’s an idealized representation, not a realistic one. Mounted on a rearing Marengo – his grey Arabian stallion – the man who became emperor of the French and conqueror of Europe gives off an invincible vibe. Two recent…
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