Tory Historian's interest in the history of food ought to be well known to readers of this blog though not much has been written about that recently. But a new book on the subject is always good news, especially when that books is by the great Massimo Montanari.

Medieval Tastes, first published in Italian and now in English by Columbia University Press is a fascinating account and analysis of what we know and what we can surmise about life and food in the Middle Ages, a long and ever changing period.

In his introductory chapter Professor Montanari tackles the ambivalent attitude so many of us take towards the Middle Ages (a vague and simplified term along with "long ago"), on the one hand hankering for some strange notion of purity and supposed healthfulness (an attitude that disregards the reality of life for most people, including the rich in those centuries) and on the other hand seeing those centuries as uniformly dark and oppressive (which disregards the many and varied achievements).

The two attitudes, which he calls the "tenebrous" and the "luminous" Middle Ages have grown out of different post-Mediaeval historic and literary developments.

The obscure Middle Ages and the luminous one live side by side today in the collective imagination, which has digested and assimilated both premises, blending them in an unforeseeable manner. But when it comes to food, the Middle Ages are decidedly and exclusively good, for they represent the nostalgic dream of a pure and uncontaminated past that guarantees authenticity and quality.

Things change when the marketing of the Middle Ages introduces theme events, festivals, and rural and municipal feasts - all very common in many European countries - offering historical processions with ladies in costume, knights in noble combat, archery contests, games in the central square along with reconstructions of artisans's shops and markets and all kinds of amenities under the aegis of a Middle Ages filled with warmth and goodness, genuine humanity and profound sentiments. During those festivals, however, even the other Middle Ages are revealed (and later become preponderant), reflecting the obscure and malevolent, with their classic stereotypes of black magic, witches, torture, poisoning and exorcisms of fears and anxieties that are in us but that we prefer to relegate to a finished past.

Even gastronomy enters into this world of festivals when the tenebrous Middle Ages cohabit with the luminous Middle Ages. this would seem to be the "good" side, with its habitual trousseau of platitudes about the healthfulness, tastiness, and purity of medieval food. But beware: here, we are no longer talking about simple products, or products that boasts "medieval origins". Here, we are talking about cuisine and recipes prepared in the medieval manner, or presumed such.
Marketing of entertainment tends to follow certain fashions and one just has to accept that. Of greater interest is what transpires from that rather muddled attitude to "mediaeval food" and customs and that is a complete lack of desire to understand, merely to use the expression "mediaeval" as a symbol of various modern fears and longings.

There will be more as TH progresses with the book.



Do not let the French fool you. Waterloo was a victory for the Allied armies, commanded by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussians, commanded by Marshal Blücher. Furthermore, the defeat was catastrophic for France as, indeed, Napoleon's victorious and not so victorious wars had been. It was the end of France as a great power and even the attempt to create a European Union on French lines is not turning out to be the success it had been hoped for. Well, not for France.


First a notice of what promises to be an interesting talk at the British Library about the other Charters. It is called Statutes, Constitutions and a Golden Bull: Early European Parallels to Magna Carta. The Golden Bull has been mentioned on this blog before but the others,the Statute of Pamiers (1212, the Constitutions of Melfi (1231) and the imperial land peace of Mainz (1235) sound very interesting as well. If humanly possible, I shall be there and report on the event.

Meanwhile, I have been reminded by a blog reader of the chapter on King John (An Awful King) and the Magna Charter in that best of all history books, 1066 And All That. (Here is an excellent history quiz published in the Guardian that is taken from the test papers of that fine book; here is the text of the book but I would still recommend that people acquire a paper edition for the illustrations if nothing else.)

Meanwhile, what do the authors say in Chapter 19?

"Magna Charter

There also happened in this reign the memorable Charta, known as Magna Charter on account of the Latin Magna (great) and Charter (a Charter); this was the first of the famous Chartas and Gartas of the Realm and was invented by the Barons on a desert island in the Thames called Ganymede. By congregating there, armed to the teeth, the Barons compelled John to sign the Magna Charter, which said:
  1. That no one was to be put to death, save for some reason - (except the Common People).
  2. That everyone should be free - (except the Common People).
  3. That everything should be of the same weight and measure throughout the Realm - (except the Common People).
  4. That the Courts should be stationary, instead of following a very tiresome mediaeval official known as the King's Person all over the country.
  5. That 'no person should be fined to his utter ruin' - (except the King's Person).
  6. That the Barons should not be tried except by a special jury of other Barons who would understand.
Magna Charter was therefore the chief cause of Democracy in England, and thus a Good Thing for everyone (except the Common People).

After this King John hadn't a leg to stand on and was therefore known as 'John Lackshanks'."

That, I think, makes it all crystal clear. I shall be asking questions later. 


Really, I should not spend so much time on detective stories and matters related but Martin Edwards's recent book on the Detection Club and its denizens is good enough and important enough to merit a long posting on the secondary blog.

The last lines of Mr Edwards’s book are:
The last word belongs to Christie. In 1940, at the height of the Blitz, when she could not know if she or her family and friends would survive for long, she inscribed a copy of Sad Cypress: “Wars may come and wars may go, but MURDER goes on forever!”
How right she was. Furthermore, despite all predictions to the contrary, traditional murder and detective fiction go on forever. Nothing could prove that more clearly than the popularity of the British Library series of reprints, first of Victorian but more recently of various half-forgotten Golden Age detective novels and collections of short stories, all of which have been immensely popular.

Martin Edwards’s role in publishing and publicizing the series cannot be overestimated. He has chosen the books, provided highly knowledgeable introductions to a number of them and edited collections of short stories. While doing all that he has been writing his own books and running a blog about detective fiction that is to be recommended to anyone who is even half-way interested in the subject. His greatest achievement to date, however, is this massive volume, a history of the Detection Club in the thirties and forties, a collection of biographies of the extraordinary people who were its members and, incidentally, a history of the genre in the period. That is what I call a useful book.

The rest of this posting is here and the details of the book are:

Martin Edwards:                     The Golden Age of Murder

The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story

2015                                        London

                                                HarperCollinsPublishers

And here is Dorothy L. Sayers with Eric the Skull:


Today is Magna Carta Day as the great document was signed on June 15, 1215, though there is a slight problem with it all as dates before September 14, 1752 were in the Julian Calendar, the ones after, in the Gregorian Calendar. The Wikipedia entry gives a reasonable background and explanation of its importance at the time and even greater importance since (though, as we know, the document was not unique in the thirteenth century).

This might be of interest to this blog's readers: only three of the clauses have remained in English law but they are of great importance:
I. FIRST, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for Us and our Heirs for ever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the Freemen of our Realm, for Us and our Heirs for ever, these Liberties under-written, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of Us and our Heirs for ever.

IX. THE City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it hath been used to have. Moreover We will and grant, that all other Cities, Boroughs, Towns, and the Barons of the Five Ports, as with all other Ports, shall have all their Liberties and free Customs.

XXIX. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.
Some useful (or more or less useful) links on the subject:

The British Library, though it is hosting the biggest and most important exhibition on the Magna Carta, has recently adopted a rather jocular style on its website, which I find rather irritating. Nor do I think someone from the Monty Python team is the best person to narrate the story but that is what the powers that be at the BL have decided. For those of greater tolerance than the author of this posting, here is the link.

A better summary on the BBC History Magazine website. The best collection of articles are in two very different publications: spiked-online and the latest issue of History Today. In particular, here is a selection of the most important and interesting books on the subject, chosen by Nigel Saul.

Of course, what really matters today of all days is the actual text of the document. without it we cannot even begin to discuss what influence it has had in various countries and centuries and whether any of the clauses can or should be revived for our own use. Here is the English translation of the 1215 text.

Working on that article about the under-appreciated Lady Knightley, whose activity sends me into complete exhaustion, I have been reading Conservative Women by G. E. Maguire, published in 1998 at an early stage of studies devoted to the subject. Dr Maguire cautions against the assumption that is still widespread despite studies like hers that the movement for women's political involvement and suffragism were entirely on the left. I have no doubt that the forthcoming film Suffragette will uphold that hoary old tenet.

If we look at the history of women's rights, we find the following:

The Primrose League, a Conservative organization, was the first political group to admit women, Conservatives like Lord robert Cecil, the Earl of Lytton, Lady Selborne and Lady Betty Balfour worked tirelessly for somen's suffraage - sometimes even uniting their efforts with those of the Pankhursts or Millicent Fawcett.

It was a Conservative dominated coalition government that gave women over thirty the vote in 1918 and an entirely Conservative one that gave women the right to vote on the same terms as men in 1928.

The first woman member of Parliament, Lady Astor, was a Conservative. It was Harold Macmillan's government that introduced equal pay for teachers and non-industrial civil servants. Later, Edward Heath ordered the formation of the Cripps Committee whose job was to examine the legal disabilities against women and recommend legislation to remove them. Finally, and most obviously, the Conservatives were the first and, to this day, the only, party to choose a woman leader.

Women have mobilized in mass numbers since the days of the Primrose League for the Conservative Party. it has been estimated that, if women had not been given the vote, the Labour Party would have been in power almost continuously since 1945. It would not be going too far to say that women have provided the basis for Conservative Party dominance in the twentieth century.
A few qualifications need to be made. Lady Astor was the first woman MP to take her seat in the House not the first woman to be elected, it was Constance Markievicz who was not Polish except by marriage or Irish but an English aristocrat whose family owned an estate in County Sligo. Also, there are a couple of other parties in the UK now who have women leaders, both, however regional ones: the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

Finally, I cannot resist pointing out that H. H. Asquith, Miss Helena Bonham Carter's great-grandfather, that Prime Minister in an entirely Liberal government, was a staunch opponent of women's suffrage, which is one reason why it was not introduced till after the First World War. Will this be mentioned when the publicity for the new film hits the media?


The last posting was about the General Election of 1955, won by the Conservative Party led by Anthony Eden. (Incidentally, why didn't anybody point out that my maths was wrong and it was only sixty years ago? Never mind, stealth edit has been accomplished.) There is one particular MP, re-elected on that day that I should like to write about now: Florence Horabrugh, later Baroness Horsbrugh as she is not as well known as she should be.

As Kenneth Baxter wrote in the Winter 2009/2010 issue of the Conservative History Journal  (p.21)
It is a general rule that a second is lessfamous than a first. However, this is not the case when it comes to the first and second women to serve in a Conservative cabinet. The second woman was of course Margaret Thatcher whose name is (almost) universally known. The same cannot be said of the first woman to hold cabinet rank in a Conservative government, for few people today have heard of Florence Gertrude Horsbrugh, who was Minister of Education almost twenty years before Lady Thatcher made her cabinet debut. While some writers such as Pamela Brooks and G.E. Maguire have shown at least some recognition of her importance, overall she has received surprisingly little attention by historians of the Conservative party or scholars of Scottish and British politics, with many omitting her entirely. Yet in her day Florence Horsbrugh was arguably the best known woman MP in the UK and she is deserving of being even more widely known.
Florence Horsbrugh was the first woman to move the address in reply to the King's Speech in 1936 and, as mentioned above, the first Conservative woman to sit in the Cabinet. Yet, even when it is acknowledged as in the DNB article that the first paragraph links to, written by Martin Pugh, her achievements are dismissed as unimpressive (apart from being one of the few women who were ready to smoke in public).
As a public figure, Florence Horsbrugh enjoyed the advantage of a resonant, well-modulated voice and a tall, dignified bearing. At a time when women were often reluctant to smoke in public she became noticeable ‘puffing briskly at a cigarette held levelly between the lips’ (Horsbrugh MSS, 1/4). Despite a reputation for being severe in the manner of a Scottish schoolmistress, she was a good-humoured woman who enjoyed political controversy; she once described herself as ‘representative of all the maiden aunts in Britain’ (Horsbrugh MSS, 2/12). Although it was claimed in her obituary (The Times, 8 Dec 1969) that she had ‘achieved many victories for feminism’, these successes were of a minor or largely nominal character; for example, in 1936 she was the first woman to move the address in reply to the speech from the throne. In fact she was a beneficiary of gains made by women before and during the First World War rather than an active worker for women's causes.
Allow me to disagree with that for two reasons: women in politics are still fighting for equal status though progress is being made all the time, and, more importantly, conservative women's contribution to that progress has been ignored and dismissed by too many historians both of the party and of the women's movement.



On May 26, 1955 the Conservatives achieved a notable victory in the General Election under a new leader, who was considerably more popular than the previous one. I know that some readers are going to spit with anger at that comment but it happens to be the truth: Churchill became popular only in the last ten years of his life when he had finally retired from politics.

The DNB entry for Anthony Eden, under whose leadership the party increased its majority from seventeen to sixty and winning the popular vote as well, is interesting in that it explains the situation in the mid-fifties when many in the party and the country thought that Churchill should finally retire and hand over the leadership to the man seen as his successor for some years. Some people thought that Churchill should have retired immediately after the war and the landslide defeat by the Labour Party under Attlee. One can argue about that as about Eden's own strengths and weaknesses - oddly enough, his political career was destroyed by foreign affairs, which were  supposed to be his strength. (The Wiki entry is, as usual, less outspoken about the problems and the achievements.)

Eden was unusual in one respect. Normally, leaders who take over in the middle of a Ministry go to the end of the mandate, calling an election as late as they can, in order to impose their own personality on government and Parliament. Eden, became leader on April 7, 1955 and called an election for May 26.

It is, undoubtedly, interesting to look at the results in 1951 and 1955:

In 1951 302 Conservative MPs were elected on 12,659,712 votes, 295 Labour MPs on 13,948,883 votes and 19 Liberal National MPs (on 1,058,138 votes) who were in alliance with the Conservatives, thus increasing the government's strength. There were also 6 Liberal, 2 Independent Nationalist and 1 Irish Labour MPs.

In 1955 there were 345 Conservative MPs on 13,310,891 votes, 277 Labour MPs on 12,405,254 votes, 6 Liberal and 2 Sinn Féin MPs.

It was also the last time the Conservatives won an absolute majority of both seats and votes in Scotland.

How sad then, that the Ministry did not live up to the expectations of that day sixty-five years ago when the results were proclaimed.

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