On Christmas Day Tory Historian went for a walk through Holland Park and Kensington Gardens, both of which looked splendid in the winter sunshine. Near the Italian Gardens at the Lancaster Gate end of Kensington Gardens there was a memorial tablet just inside the flower beds that TH had not noted before.

The tablet was to William Forsyth, quondam Head Gardener of the Royal Park of Kensington Palace (when it was still a royal palace and park) after whom the genus Forsythia, examples of which surrounded the tablet and will be flowering in a couple of months, was named.

A man like that needs some attention, thought Tory Historian. The Concise Dictionary of National Biography had a short entry:

FORSYTH, WILLIAM (1737 – 1804) gardener; succeeded Philip Miller in the Apothecaries’ Garden, Chelsea, 1771; superintendent of the royal gardens at St James’ and Kensington, 1784; published ‘Observations on the Diseases &c of Forest and Fruit Trees’, 1791, and ‘ Treatise on the Culture of Fruit Trees’, 1802; thanked by parliament for tree-plaister.
Well, well. A good deal there and much more lurking behind those few lines.

Wikipedia tells us that he was from Aberdeenshire and a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society as well as the great grandfather of another gardener and landscape architect, Joseph Forsyth Johnson, who in turn, was the great grandfather of our own Brucie Forsyth. One wonders what that line of serious botanists might think of a popinjay entertainer.

An Overview in the Gazetteer for Scotland tells us a little more:
Horticulturist. Born in Old Meldrum (Aberdeenshire), Forsyth moved to London in 1763 to work from the Earl of Northumberland at Syon Park, at the time the parkland was being paid out by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. Thereafter he moved to the Physic Garden in Chelsea, becoming its Curator in 1771. He brought about considerable development of the garden, with much replanting and the exchange of plants and seeds internationally. In 1774, Forsyth created what is thought to be the first ever rock garden in Britain, using lava brought from Iceland by Sir Joseph Banks and unwanted stone from the Tower of London. In 1779, he was appointed Superintendent of the Royal Gardens at Kensington Palace and St. James' Palace. In this position he did much to cultivate fruit and vegetables, restoring many old fruit trees to health. This he achieved with his 'plaister' (plaster), which consisted of a mixture of cow dung, urine, powdered lime, wood ashes and sand used to seal the wounds on trees after branches or cankerous growths were removed. Forsyth promoted this mixture as a complete remedy, promoting new growth, and was awarded the great sum of £1500 by the Government for his formula in an attempt to improve the quality of the oak trees in the royal forests, which was required for building ships. He published a number of early works on horticulture, including the very successful Treatise on the Culture and Management of Fruit-Trees (1802), which ran to numerous editions.

He was a founder of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1804 and the genus Forsythia is named in his honour.
In other words, a very distinguished man and one of whom both Scotland and England may be justly proud. One wonders why it was that a flowering shrub that was named after him as his main achievements seem to have been with trees, particularly fruit trees. One also wonders whether his plaister is still in use anywhere, say the Prince of Wales’s estate.

It has to be Dickens, whose descriptions (few and far between) have become the epitome of what Christmas celebrations ought to be but rarely are. As Tory Historian has a strong aversion to A Christmas Carol, here is that well-known illustration from Pickwick Papers and the celebration of Christmas at Dingley Dell with Mr Pickwick and the old lady leading an old-fashioned dance.

Merry Christmas to all.

Tory Historian merely points out that today is the 205th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Disraeli, later Earl of Beaconsfield, first (and so far only) Jewish born Prime Minister of Britain, the creator of the modern Conservative Party, according to some, and the man who distorted Conservative foreign policy, according to others. Tory Historian hopes that readers will weigh in with comments.

Tory Historian has been a tad busy but has now returned with a few interesting dates to be celebrated or, at least, remembered this week. (Tory Historian also vows to keep this blog up to scratch in the coming year and, indeed, to introduce a few novel ideas, painful though that might be.)

December 16 is an important date in the history of the Anglosphere. The Americans mostly remember a certain event in 1773 when a number of colonists improbably disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded British ships, opened the chests of tea and threw the contents into Boston harbour. Their main complaint was that tax raised on the tea trade and taxation in general. Sad to say, by the time the American War of Independence, or the Third English Rebellion was over, those who remained, the loyalists having made their way to Canada or back to England, found themselves paying more in tax than ever before. Here are some eyewitness accounts, probably somewhat over-excited by the events and here is Walter Russell Mead on the relevance of those tea-parties to present-day United States.

Mead also mentions the really important event of December 16 (though it is hard to work out from his account whether this was the old calendar or the new) - the passing of the English Bill of Rights, which ought to be the cornerstone of the British Constitution (together with such constitutional legislation as the 1701 Act of Settlement and the 1707 Act of Union as well as numerous electoral reforms and, not to be forgotten, the 1679 Habeas Corpus). Sadly, things have changed but, Tory Historian is sure, those constitutional settlements will triumph over arrogant power once again.

December 15, 1791 saw the United States Bill of Rights become the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. Based largely on the English Bill of Rights, its provisions are still part of that estimable document, despite many attempts to undermine them.

December 17, 1778 saw the birth of Sir Humphrey Davy, inventor of the safety lamp for miners, who also discovered sodium, magnesium, calcium, barium and strontium, one of the finest of England's scientists and inventors whose influence on developments in the world was incalculable.

But let us end on a more ambivalent note: on December 18, 1946 Attlee's government won the vote (unsurprisingly, given the huge Labour majority after the 1945 election) that allowed them to nationalize just about every part of British industry. A defeat for the Anglosphere? Only temporarily.

Tory Historian is, understandably, fond of historical mysteries, which term does not refer to the perennial question of who, if anyone, killed the Countess of Leicester, but detective stories written in modern times about older times. One of the curious developments in the detective story genre has been the ever growing number of mysteries that feature real or imagined figures from the past who solve various crimes. We can only assume that detective story writers, as opposed to crime story or thriller writers, have found it difficult to keep up with modern police technology or, maybe, decided that much of that is rather dull. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine too many brilliant amateurs on the job these days.

There are advantages to placing one’s detective story in the past – the need to keep up with the latest police methods, political developments, institutional changes and suchlike boring nonsense disappears. There are also disadvantages – the story and the characters do have to be credible and a good understanding of the period is required.

Critics of detective stories these days are rarely knowledgeable bods as the genre is considered to be too lowly to be given to anyone but some junior literary aspirant. Therefore, the most ridiculously impossible historical mysteries are applauded because they have a few seemingly knowledgeable references to olden days.

David Dickinson, for instance, seems to be highly regarded by the fraternity and sorority of critics. Yet the one novel in the series about Lord Francis Powerscourt Tory Historian managed to struggle through, Death of an Old Master, was full of the most appalling errors, both factual and thematic.

Lord Francis goes to his club to read newspapers and journals that were not published till years later, for instance; there is a constant muddle with titles, something that a novelist whose hero is a rich aristocrat should get right; in one scene Lord Francis comes home to his house in St James’s Square and is described as taking off his coat while his wife comes running out to tell him some important news. Does this rich aristocratic family not have footmen? Apparently not. Neither do they seem to have a nanny for their children or a green baize door between the family and the servants. In fact, they lead the life of a suburban family from the 1950s. The book went straight back to a charity shop.

However, Tory Historian was pleased to find another historical mystery series about the Georgian apothecary, John Rawlings and the great jurist and investigator Sir John Fielding.

There is another series in existence about Fielding by Alexander Bruce (real name Bruce Alexander Cook) and it might be a good idea to try one of those. In the meantime, there is Deryn Lake’s series and, in particular, Death at St James’s Palace, in which John Fielding is knighted. In other words, it takes place in 1761.

In parenthesis, one should note that though British detective story writers love historic themes, it is Americans who often make famous English people into detectives. Both the above writers are American, as was Lillian de la Torre who made Dr Johnson into a detective. Then there is Stephanie Barron, who has written a whole series about Jane Austen detecting, presumably as a sort of Regency Miss Marple.

Death at St James’s Palace comes reasonably highly recommended. Lindsey Davis praises the series in words that make one doubt she has read any of the books; the Yorkshire Post informs us that “Lake brings eighteenth century England to life in a colourful style …. Georgette Heyer …. but with the knickers off”. As usual, one wonders what is missing from that quotation. But knickers off? Ahem, they did not wear knickers in the eighteenth century. Presumably, this means that there is more sex in Deryn Lake’s series. Tory Historian suspects that the author of those words had not read Ms Heyer’s books.

Nevertheless, Ms Lake is described as the Queen of Georgian Mysteries and Maxim Jakubowski, himself a writer, editor, critic and quondam owner of the sadly missed Murder One bookshop, writes that this series is “meticulously researched”.

Well, Tory Historian has to disagree with the great Mr Jakubowski. Death at St James’s Palace is “meticulously researched” in the sense that Ms Lake does seem to have read detailed descriptions of what parts of London looked like at the time or what sort of underwear ladies wore. We know she has done this research because she reproduces acres of it in her own book.

When it comes to understanding how people thought or spoke, Ms Lake is sadly at a loss, preferring a twentieth century speech pattern with the odd eighteenth century word thrown in. Not only gentlemen swear in front of ladies, something that the most cursory reading of contemporary literature (or of Ms Heyer’s truly meticulous novels) would have shown to be erroneous, they all use words and expressions that are simply not possible for the period.

Tory Historian very nearly consigned the book to the charity shop bag when a character in it referred to badly behaved boys as a “bunch of hooligans”, hooligan being a word that came into the English language some time in the mid-1890s, 130 years after the events described in Death at St James’s Palace.

For the moment, however, the decision is to persevere, in the hopes that the plot will develop reasonably soon.

December 1, 1919 saw the introduction of the first woman MP to the House of Commons. Needless to say, she was a Conservative. Nancy Astor was not the first woman to be elected to the House - that had happened in 1918, when Constance Markiewicz was elected as a Sinn Féin MP for one of the Dublin constituencies but, in line with party policy, refused to take the oath and was not allowed to sit in the House of Commons. [Both Wiki links need to be read with great care as there are inaccuracies and omissions but the outline of the two stories are useful.]

That was the first election, held in December 1918, after the Representation of People Act, passed in March 1918 that widened the franchise to all men over 21 and women over 30 as long as they were "either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register". Women had been allowed the vote in various local elections since the late 1880s.

Nancy Astor's candidacy and election was not, in the first place, an achievement for feminists though, obviously, it could not have happened without years of campaigning by both suffragettes (whose contribution was often counter-productive) and the suffragists, many of whom had been Conservatives. It was all a deal put together by the local Conservative Association but something of a political risk, nevertheless.

Early in October 1919 the first Viscount Astor (by birth American but a long-time resident of Britain where the entire Astor family assimilated very quickly) died of a heart attack. This made his son, Waldorf, until then MP for Plymouth Sutton, the second Viscount and he had to resign from the Commons. The Association then had the brilliant idea of putting up his wife who had been closely involved in his political career. The assumption was that there would soon be legislation that would allow those who inherit a title to reject it through various legal methods. In fact, the Peerage Act was not passed till 1963 and Nancy Astor remained an MP till 1945.

The picture above is the proclamation of her victory. Naturally, there are no pictures of her being introduced into the House by David Lloyd George and A. J. Balfour.

A moderately accurate depiction of the first Thanksgiving feast in the City on the Hill. Subsequent events are a different story.

As ever, the Wall Street Journal has published the two usual editorials for Thanksgiving Day.

From 1620 comes The Desolate Wilderness, Nathaniel Morton's account of the Pilgrims' arrival in Plymouth (the one subsequently in Massachusetts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and
savage hew.

If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.
The other is And The Fair Land, which reminds us all what Americans have to be thankful for and, mutatis mutandis, we in the West, too.

This has been a somewhat chaotic autumn but I am now on the last stages of that Journal to be sent off to the typesetter within the next 12 hours (D.V.) So, this is the last call. Anyone out there who promised and article and has not delivered (I have your names down in my little black book) or wants to dash off something now, now, now, do so and send it to me at szamuely_AT_aol.com. Otherwise, you can wait for the developments on the blog (or have an article posted on the secondary one).

The secondary blog of the Conservative History Journal is finally in existence. The aim is to post very long pieces on that with shorter links on this, the primary blog. There may well be future technological developments on the site but warnings will be posted.

The first piece on the other blog is a long interview Mark Coalter, a frequent contributor to the Journal, had with Professor John Ramsden in the summer of 2007. The interview has not been published until now. It is now up in its entirety. But just to whet everybody's appetite, here is an excerpt about Professor Ramsden and Lord Willoughby de Broke:

MC: You could always look at Lord Willoughby de Broke

JR: I was responsible for getting Lord Willoughby de Broke’s papers deposited. I was the first person to read them and I went to see the then Lord Willoughby. I said to him, that these are valuable papers which should be deposited somewhere for safety. He asked where, and I took a deep breath and thought where would he like me to say? With one eye on 1911, I suggested the House of Lords’ Records Office as an appropriate place, which he thought a good idea. We then had a discussion about 1911. Bearing in mind that this would have been about 1970 when the conversation was taking place, he engaged me in a long discussion about whether the Parliament Act of 1911 had not, in fact, been a rather bad thing; it would have been much better (he argued) if the House of Lords had retained its power. The Willoughby de Brokes were die-hards unto the very end.

MC: And yet willing to countenance Asquith’s new Peers?

JR: There was a letter in that collection addressed to, I don’t think it was Carson, rather Craig, in Belfast around the time of the so-called Mutiny at the Curragh, in which Willoughby de Broke writes to the Ulster leaders saying that I am at your disposal, I can ride and shoot well and I have many tenants who will come with me. Just like 1642, whereas this was 1911 and he was proposing to raise Warwickshire for the Union! It’s wonderful. I guess Craig’s reply, while it doesn’t quite say calm down, old boy, that’s what it means. Obviously, what the Ulstermen needed was Lord Willoughby riding to the rescue. Instead, they pointed out they could look after themselves in Belfast, as indeed they could.
There is a great deal of absolutely fascinating stuff in the interview. I strongly urge everyone to read it.

PS Tory Historian will be back very soon.

We have received the following note from Tom Hurst who is working on a thesis on Conservative Party rhetoric:

“Verbal Combat”: The role of Conservative Party rhetoric, 1979-90.

The Ph.D thesis looks at Margaret Thatcher’s public, political rhetoric during the period 1979-90. It is concerned not only with the speeches themselves but also with the process which led to their creation, the manner in which they were disseminated by various media channels and their relationship to government policy.

Any information on the areas discussed above would be much appreciated. Contact: tomhurst06_At_hotmail.com

Comments on this post will be passed on to Tom Hurst as well.

This review is part of a series on books that might be of interest to those interested in conservative history.

Was Frank Johnson a conservative? He most certainly was not a Conservative with a capital C, being, as a journalist, of a somewhat anarchic nature. He was, however, one of those who promoted Margaret Thatcher’s free-market policies and being from an East End working class family (his father had been a baker) he had a natural affinity with many of the IEA’s ideas. But Frank would not have been Frank if that had interfered with his ability to see the funny side of everything, including Margaret Thatcher’s campaign in the chocolate factory.

The Times obituary said that he excelled in “a very English art form”, which would have pleased him as he was, despite his travels to European cities and capitals, a very English person.

A good parliamentary sketch can be high art, but art with a hard-nosed purpose. Sketch writers know they are an important arm of the democratic process. Unless we can laugh at our politicians we can never keep them in order.
The Telegraph obituary quoted a number of his witticisms about politicians of every hue and stripe. Though I followed his career with interest and read him whenever I could while he peregrinated through the right-wing press, I had not realized that he invented the term “chattering classes”. That alone will keep his name alive.

The Telegraph also gives the story of his last few days, which I read at the time and found funny, moving and absolutely typical all at once:
Johnson endured cancer with exemplary courage for seven years. He would say of his illness that he bore it "with the stoicism of the London working class from whence I came".

Last Sunday, just before he went into hospital for the final time, he attended the performance of Aida at La Scala in which the tenor Roberto Alagna (as Radames) walked off the stage in a fit of pique after being booed; Johnson immediately filed the story to The Daily Telegraph.
A journalist to the marrow of his bones and all attempts to be anything else, even editor, failed. But, really, who cares when we have those wonderful sketches, many of which were collected by his widow, Virginia Fraser, in a recently published volume, called Best Seat in the House? This might make a wonderful Christmas present though the potential giver ought to be warned that there is a strong chance that much of Christmas Day will be spent by people reading out various hilarious passages with younger members of the family wondering who all those people flitting through the articles are and why is everybody roaring with laughter.

There are the stories of his childhood and adolescence with the famous one about being clutched to Maria Callas’s bosom in “Norma” as well as my favourite of young Frank pretending to talk about football or cricket though he had actually been spening Saturday afternoon at the ballet; his early journalistic career and being hired by Maurice Green, then editor of the Daily Telegraph to write parliamentary sketches alternating with John O’Sullivan (though this last fact is not mentioned). Nor is there any mention of Colin Welch, then Deputy Editor and the man who more or less controlled the motley crew of political writers on the newspaper.

And so we get to the meat of the collection: those wonderfully funny and pointed stories about politicians in Parliament, on the hustings, at party conferences, anywhere and everywhere. Johnson’s way with words was entirely his own though one sees his influence among all sorts of political journalists.

Not all the pieces are good. Some of the later, supposedly more serious ones lack soul and wit. Sometimes the wit is misplaced in that it does not do what it should: illuminate the subject of the article.

I also have my doubts about some editorial decisions. The concept of having Frank Johnson’s victims comment on the articles about themselves must have seemed like a good one but after a while those insincere sentences written with teeth firmly clenched become tedious. The choice of photographs is tilted towards Frank the later grandee rather than Frank the journalist. That is what he was all his life – one of the best. A Fleet Street legend, indeed.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

November 9, 1989 Berlin - the Wall is destroyed by the People

Sometimes one finds definitions of what history is in unexpected places. Well, not that unexpected, as Oleg Khlevnyuk's Master of the House: Stalin and his Inner Circle is a history book that describes the way Stalin gradually and often violently imposed his control on the Politburo while conducting a policy of terror against the population of the Soviet Union.

In his Introduction Dr Khlevniuk discusses the various theories of how Stalinism came about and whether it was inevitable given either/or Russian history and the character of Bolshevism. He clearly does not like the theory of historical inevitability:

But for the historian, it seems to me, the concept of the "iron march of history" is, at the very least, uninspiring. Chronicler of the inevitable - why would anyone wh has read and analyzed tens of thousands of pages of the most diverse documents, who has learned the fates of faceless millions, not to mention hudreds of flesh-and-blood individuals, many of who desperately fought
for their interests and ideals - why would such a person agree with such a characterization?

The idea of inevitability comes when we try to arrange history into some kind of orderly progression. Specific knowledge complicates the picture, revealing the diversity of factors involved in any human endeavour, the complex interplay between historical traditions and the logic governming events as they unfold, between political conflict at the top and social pressures at the bottom, and, in the end, the role of chance.
A long way from the soft Marxism favoured by so many of our academics.

It is normally in one’s youth that one prefers rather pretentious novels, particularly if they are written in a beautiful and elaborate style, replete with quotations and abstruse references. How clever one thinks oneself to be in one’s late teens and early twenties, reading this sort of stuff before sneaking away for a quick perusal of thrillers or romances (to be disowned and despised). Later in life one finds those pretentious novels to be utterly dull and unworthy of attention.

The one exception to this rule, in Tory Historian’s experience is Michael Innes (though not in his J. I. M. Stewart persona – there the rule applies in full). What seemed utterly dull and pretentious in those halcyon days of intellectualism has, for the last few years, appeared to be amusing and entertaining with quite interesting apercus. Ha, Tory Historian can do pretentious as well.

A recently picked up novel is about the art world (they often are) and forgeries. Silence Observed is highly entertaining and has a remarkable summary of English life early on. John Appleby is now at the top of his profession in Scotland Yard as Commissioner of Metropolitan Police but still finds people approaching him informally about their problems in his club.

He muses on this extraordinary phenomenon:

There are levels of English society in which nearly all professional advice is picked up free. Cabinet ministers murmur their symptoms negligently into the ear of distinguished consultant physicians when the ladies have withdrawn from the dinner-table. Leading Queen’s Counsel know precisely what lies ahead of them when they find themselves on the right hand of brilliant and frequently dis-married hostesses. Top-ranking architects, summoned to indigestible feasts in ancient colleges, commonly take the precaution of bringing a junior staff with them and lodging them in an adjacent hotel.
Tory Historian cannot help wondering how much that has changed, if at all.

Tory Historian investigated the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum on Friday morning and a separate blog is called for that institution. However, while waiting for a friend and lulled by the beautiful autumnal weather TH took this picture of Clive silhouetted against the Foreign Office.

The next meeting will take place on November 3, at 6.30 in the Grimond Room, Portcullis House (that's the one that looks like a giant crematorium on the embankment). The speaker will be Ion Trewin, author of Alan Clark: the Biography. All are welcome but you may be encouraged to join the CHG.

October 21, 1805, Battle of Trafalgar
A decisive victory for the Royal Navy that confirmed British supremacy at sea, not to be challenged again in the nineteenth century. Soon after it, at the Guildhall dinner, the Lord Mayor toasted William Pitt, the Prime Minister, as the "saviour of Europe". Pitt's response has gone down in history as one of the finest sentences uttered by a British politician:
I return you many thanks for the honour you have done me; but Europe is not be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, I trust, save Europe by her example.
Sadly for Pitt, the war on land was not going well enough for him to witness a victory. He died the following year.

Brighton, early hours of October 12, 1984
The IRA's bomb killed 5 people and injured many more. Its intent was to assassinate the Prime Minister and murder as many of the Cabinet as possible.
Twenty-five years on the perpetrators are all out of prison and at least one (unrepentant) perpetrator was recently welcomed in the House of Commons, as Stephen Glover indignantly writes.

The Battle of Hastings, which changed English history, was fought on October 14, 1066 with the Normans (who were not actually French but Norsemen) winning a decisive victory. King Harold II killed as the piece of the Bayeux Tapestry above shows.

Here and here are some serious accounts of the battle, its causes and outcomes. Incidentally, it was not the last successful invasion of England. Henry Tudor invaded with a French army and some disaffected nobles to overthrow King Richard III in 1485.

Tory Historian thinks that the most appropriate account is at the beginning of Chapter II, William I: A Conquering King, in that historical masterpiece by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, 1066 And All That:

In the year 1066 occurred the other memorable date in English History, viz. William the Conquerer, Ten Sixty-Six. This is also called the Battle of Hastings, and when William I (1066) conquered England at the Battle of Senlac (Ten Sixty-six).

When William the Conqueror landed he lay down on the beach and swallowed two mouthfuls of sand. This was his first conquering action and was in the South; later he ravaged the North as well.

The Norman Conquest was a Good Thing, as from this time onwards England stopped being conquered and thus was able to become top nation.
How can one better that?

Tory Historian wishes Lady Thatcher, the most important and possibly the greatest British Prime Minister of the twentieth century (Churchill was a great war leader but pretty poor as politicians and something of a disaster as a peace-time Prime Minister), a very happy birthday.

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, fought on October 7, 1571. The Holy League that somehow managed to come to an agreement had a fleet of 206 galleys and 6 galleasses, commanded by Don Juan of Austria, illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V and half-brother of Philip II.

The Ottoman galleys were manned by 13,000 sailors and 34,000 soldiers. Ali Pasha (Turkish: "Kaptan-ı Derya Ali Paşa"), supported by the corsairs Chulouk Bey of Alexandria and Uluj Ali (Ulich Ali), commanded an Ottoman force of 222 war galleys, 56 galliots, and some smaller vessels. The Turks had skilled and experienced crews of sailors, but were somewhat deficient in their elite corps of Janissaries.
Not only that, but they were less well armed and less experienced.

The Ottomans had not lost a naval battle since the fifteenth century and was mourned throughout the empire as an act of Divine Will (not the best way of learning from experience). In Europe, particularly its Catholic part, this was seen as a hopeful sign: the Ottomans could be defeated and their retreat from Christian countries could now be envisaged. In actual fact, there was still some time to go.

Tory Historian's first acquaintance with the battle came through the very fine poem, written by a man who may have considered himself to be a radical but was, in reality, a Tory in the truest and most old-fashioned sense of the word, G. K. Chesterton.

There are many quotable lines in that poem of heroism and contempt for rulers but the last verse may be the best:

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath

(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)

And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,

Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,

And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....

(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

As today is the anniversary of the great Victorian poet's death, Tory Historian decided to post a quotation or two. Naturally enough, there will be no references to valleys of death or canons on various sides, as that poem is a little too well known even by people who have no idea of what it is really about. (Incidentally, the same battle saw the charge of the Heavy Brigade, which achieved its aim with the participants coming back more or less intact. No poems were written about that.)

Here are a few gems, randomly chosen:

He makes no friends who never made a foe.

There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.

We cannot be kind to each other here for even an hour. We whisper, and hint, and chuckle and grin at our brother's shame; however you take it we men are a little breed.

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Far it be from Tory Historian to suggest that these and others of his memorable lines could be studied with some profit by politicians nowadays.

Aficionados of the classic detective story will recall that Patricia Wentworth's formidable heroine, Miss Silver, was inordinately fond of quoting Lord Tennyson's apposite phrases.

October 1, 1949 Tiananment Square, Beijing (or as it was known then, Peking)
After a long and ferocious civil war during which Mao frequently turned on his own followers if their support for him was not quite fervid enough, the Communists had won. Mao Zedong proclaims the founding of the People's Republic of China, arguably the most destructive, oppressive and murderous of the twentieth century's appalling regimes. The Daily Telegraph gives a timeline and mentions a few of the horrors associated with Mao's name. Tory Historian strongly recommends that readers turn to Jung Chang's books. For those who find the Mao biography a little daunting (that is almost all of us) there are the superb and harrowing Inspector Chen novels by Qui Xiaolong.

I have to confess to finding Facebook quite useful and interesting but I don’t know what Tory Historian would think of that. The friends and contacts one makes are more varied and, above all, further flung in the world than they would be in the ordinary course of existence. After all, is it any different from those correspondences so dear to the heart of all intellectuals and wannabe intellectuals of the eighteenth and nineteenth century? Or the pen-pals of one’s youth?

Then there is all the information other people have found out and posted as their status update: all one needs to do is to follow it up. That is what I did with the poster reproduced above. Produced in 1909, it showed very graphically what the Conservative Party wanted people to think of socialism.

My first reaction was a slight surprise: did the Conservatives view the Labour Party in 1909 as the primary enemy? Surely not. It was not even clear that the upstart movement would get anywhere far in British politics, let alone become one of the two leading parties. In the Lib-Lab pact of 1906, Labour was the junior partner.

Somebody (also on Facebook) suggested that perhaps it was fear of ideas and immigrants coming in from Russia. Hmmm. Those immigrants were not in a position to strangle prosperity in Britain.

There was nothing for it but to trace matters back. First of all, through the Conservative Party Archives, I found an excellent source of material, to wit a collection of political posters. One could spend many hours looking at these and working out the details.

Generously but also sensibly the posters are available for downloading and reproduction, as long as it is not done for commercial purposes and proper accreditation is given. I can safely say that no commercial benefit accrues to me from this or any other blog and I always give proper accreditation. As does Tory Historian.

So there we are: this comes from the Conservative Party Archive Poster Collection, to be found at the Bodleian Library in Oxford and is number 1909/10-14

The collection starts with a poster from 1883 but comes into its own in the year 1909. Partly this was the outcome of better printing and lithograph techniques but there was also a political reason. Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowdon say this in “The Conservative Party – An Illustrated History”:

Radical threats have always galvanised Conservatives to mobilise support through the best means available at the time. The great reforming Liberal administration of Asquith and Lloyd George after 1906 provided one such challenge, with the defeated Conservative Party entering one of its most fratricidal periods in opposition, the new ‘legion of leagues’ spared no time in spreading their message to the electorate through a concerted campaign of leafleting and billboard posters. The Budget Protest League thus waged a fierce war of words against Lloyd George’s far-reaching 1909 budget, as well as launching a series of soften witty cartoon posters.
That is not a particularly well written paragraph but the gist of it is clear. In response to the 1909 budget, which was remarkably similar to suggestions made by the Labour politician, Philip Snowden, the Conservatives or, at least, activists who were clear-sighted enough to form the Budget Protest League, launched a ferocious but very clever attack on what they saw as the beginning of socialism in Britain. And who is to say they were wrong?

The campaign was not altogether unsuccessful as the Conservatives, catastrophically defeated in 1906, recovered a good deal of their support in the two 1910 elections but the King’s death and the subsequent fight over the House of Lords rather than the implications of higher taxation and redistribution turned the political process against them.

To this day it is a rare historian who wonders whether those opponents of the “great reforming administration” might not have had a point. Then again, it was a Conservative government under Balfour that abolished school boards, replacing them with the Local Education Authorities in 1902. And we have never looked back.

This was Open House week-end in London, a very worthwhile enterprise that appears to be losing some momentum, getting bogged down in badly written prose and trendy jargon like sustainability (meaningless in the context) as well as self-congratulation.

The programme this year was thinner than ever before with many much loved buildings missing and whole boroughs opting out.

Nevertheless, Tory Historian found two fascinating buildings, neither seen before and both, as it happens, related to Victorian self-improvement.

One was the German Gymnasium, opposite the glorious new St Pancras International station, which was staffed by Open House volunteers who had not bothered to find out anything about the building. In fact, the Q&A leaflet that was lying on the table had several questions that were not provided with answers, merely with blather.

However, the history of the Gymnasium, probably the first of its kind in Britain is fascinating, as is the building with its vaulted roof of laminated timber trusses that was copied for the original King’s Cross station. Though there have been additions, such as a platform built as a first floor in 1908, essentially the building is there as it was first built in 1864-5.

The money was raised by the German community in London (something that the Open House team seems to find “impressive”, which would indicate that their knowledge of Victorian mores is not very good).

In the first place the facility was for the German Gymnastics Society, which had very advanced ideas on the need for physical exercise for both men and women; there are illustrations of those various exercises on the wall. Needless to say there was also a well stocked library (what happened to it, one wonders) and literary evenings were held.

Soon after its opening membership was extended to all nationalities and, apparently, the records are still available – they provide interesting information about all those various nationalities to be found in London at the time.

And there was more to come:

Due to the work of one of its early presidents, Ernst Ravenstein, the building also claims a pivotal role in the birth of the modern Olympics, and in 1866 the German Gymnasium hosted the indoor events of the first National Olympic Games.
Amazing: all done on private money and as a result of private initiative. These indoor events continued until the 1908 London Olympics.

What is proving to be very difficult to find out is the date when the building ceased to be a gymnasium and what other uses it has been put to since. At the moment it is an “event space” and houses a moderately interesting exhibition about the development of the King’s Cross area. Somehow, an “event space” sounds anaemic and lacking in real activity, compared to the heroic history of this building.

The other building visited by Tory Historian was the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution, established in 1839 as a Mechanics’ Institute. These were founded, as every school child ought to know, by industrialists partly out of benevolence but more importantly and usefully, because of an assumption that a better educated work force was a more efficient one.

Today the Institute building is made up of a couple of old cottages and an old stable yard, knocked together with an addition or two. It has a library, made up of the original 400 volumes and later additions, many of which, in Tory Historian’s opinion, are not what is required. All lending libraries have stacks of the latest popular paperbacks. Why does an institution whose space and, presumably, budget limited acquire them as well? We can be sure those Victorian founders did not think that housing popular novels was the purpose of the library of the Institute.

There is, however, a large and comprehensive collection of books on London, old and new, and they also hold some of Coleridge’s and John Betjeman’s archives as well as the old Highgate archives. All the papers can be viewed on application.

The Institute still holds classes, lectures, discussions on scientific subjects and film shows. Tory Historian was sorry to see that almost all courses are held during the day on week days, making it impossible for anyone with a job to attend them. Not, surely, what the Institute had been founded for. But the lectures, discussions and films shows are in the evenings.

Today is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Dr Samuel Johnson, poet, essayist, critic, journalist, biographer, lexicographer and, above all, one of the greatest Tories. This is a preliminary posting, to remind readers of the event. There will be more. Tory Historian cannot let an anniversary like this pass by without writing a good deal on the subject.

September 17, 1939 Soviet forces invade Poland without any declaration of war and quickly defeat the retreating army, taking many thousands of prisoners of war. A good many of them were subsequently "executed" in various camps.

A delightful picture full of ironies. General Heinz Guderian, the outstanding German panzer commander shares a joke with the Soviet General Semyon Krivoshein at the joint parade held by the two invaders in Brest on September 22, 1939 (though fighing went on for some time longer). Less than two years later General Guderian led Panzergruppe 2 in Operation Barbarossa, rapidly capturing Smolensk and almost taking Moscow.

General Kriovshein, who was actually Jewish, also fought in the Second World War, though first he fought against Finland. He was one of the commanding officers in the great Kursk tank battle and played a prominent part in the battle for Berlin. The man had a charmed life though, presumably, his Civil War service with Stalin's favourite commander, the less than talented Semyon Budyonny, stood him in good stead. Krivoshein survived the great purge of the army in 1938 completely unscathed and was not caught up in the second, largely anti-Semitic purge either.

One wonders in what circumstances the two generals met again.

David Low's cartoon sums up the situation.

There is a posting in the pipeline (and what a painful position that is to be in) about Sir Jack Drummond, nutritonal scientist, public servant and historian of food in his ground-breaking "The Englishman's Food".

In the meantime, as a link between the postings about the outbreak of World War II and the Drummond piece, here is a link to an article published in Time magazine about meat shortage and food rationing in Britain in January 1941.

It talks about Lord Woolton, a man about whom Tory Historian will write again and describes the activity of that fairly repulsive journalist, William Connor a.k.a. Cassandra of the Daily Mirror.

The story of him finding restaurants where politicians and others stuffed themselves while Lord Woolton cut the meat ration for everyone else is amusing in its consequence. One can't help suspecting that among the diners there were journalists, editors and friends of journalists and editors. Were they, one wonders, all that pleased by Lord Woolton forcing restaurants to abide by the rationing rules?

September 11, 2001 New York City

December 29, 1940 London

Back on line and on my own computer. It is a matter for rejoicing but it does mean that there has been a serious gap in the work on the Journals. This will be resumed instantly but not all the articles that have been promised have arrived. I hope to see the missing ones in the next few days.

September 3, 1939

Introduced by the great Alvar Liddell, the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, announces that the United Kingdom and the British Empire are now at war with Germany.

I am speaking to you now from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note, stating that unless we heard from them by 11o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you that no such undertaking has been received and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.

It was not what he or most people in the country had wanted but it was what everyone had to face up to. Well, everyone except the CPGB, which continued its campaign against the war until June 22, 1941.

The Conservative Party website is running a Conservative Party history week, which is to be welcomed, as too many members of the party have no idea of where they, as an entity, have come from.

There is a short film about the party's development, concentrating on the progressive aspects, which is an important part of the history.

There are also blogs that deal with various subjects that Tory Historian will probably fisk at some later stage.

September 1, 1939, Germany invades Poland

There are only three second-hand bookshops left in Charing Cross Road, though there are a few more in Cecil Court that leads from that road to St Martin's Lane. This is a grave problem for those of us who are addicted to second-hand books and the shops that house them. I hate to have to admit to it but buying them on the net without the happenstance aspect to the whole procedure is not the same.

Still, there is Any Amount of Books, open most days till 9.30 in the evening, somewhat ramshackle inside and with boxes of cheaper paperbacks outside.

Browsing through its shelves one evening I came across a completely new copy of a recently published book, The Conservative Turn by Michael Kimmage, a dual biography and analysis of the role of two of my great heroes: Lionel Trilling and Whittaker Chambers.

Professor Kimmage follows the two careers from their differing childhoods, joint time at Columbia University and subsequent divergence - Trilling into liberal academia, Chambers into Communist espionage, then journalism and the notoriety of the Hiss case.

Between them these two people, argues Professor Kimmage, created the conservative intellectual atmosphere that is still present in the United States, despite the odd political aberration; Trilling by turning liberalism away from support of Communism and Chambers by laying the foundation of modern conservatism.

I am still in the early stages of the book but I shall be interested to see how the author argues that liberalism has remained the middle of the road, anti-Communist movement that Trilling had fostered. Reports on the book to follow.

The Kremlin, August 23, 1939 though the document was dated August 24.

Molotov signs the infamous Nazi-Soviet Pact, secret protocols and all, thus making World War II inevitable. It took another week for the Germans to invade Poland with all that was to follow. It took another three and a half weeks for the Soviet Union to invade Poland

Tory Historian was very excited at the news, which, for some reason was only on AFP, in English and in French, that a cache of early twentieth century films were found in Poland, in a parish building in the city of Sosnowiec.

There were these two metal boxes, left by the film buff priest, Father Jerzy Barszcz, who had been collecting films since just after World War II until his death in 2004. Or so it appears from the story. There are a few gaps in it, though.

For instance, where are the more recent films? He cannot have collected only early twentieth century ones. Did he ever show the films? Why did it take five years after his death to open those metal boxes? And why were some of them dubbed or sub-titled into Czech, as the French version of the story has it?

All of that pales into insignificance at the news that one of the films appears to be "a 1929 German version of the Sherlock Holmes adventure "The Hound of the Baskervilles" by Richard Oswald", which was officially considered to be 'lost'. How terrifying must that be.

After far too long an interval in posting (memo to self: must do better) Tory Historian can think of nothing better or more important than post a paragraph from Edmund Burke's famous acceptance speech to the electors of Bristol, delivered November 3, 1774. This paragraph is very apposite to the debates that are going on now about the role and task of MPs though we must remember that the question of renumeration did not arise at the time.

Certainly, Gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a Representative, to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and, above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But, his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgement, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you; to any man, or to any sett of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the Law and the Constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your Representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.


Parliament is not a Congress of Ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an Agent and Advocate, against other Agents and Advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative Assembly of one Nation, with one Interest, that of the whole; where, not local Purposes, not local Prejudices ought to guide, but the general Good, resulting from the general Reason of the whole. You chuse a Member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not Member of Bristol, but he is a Member of Parliament. If the local Constituent should have an Interest, or should form an hasty Opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the Community, the Member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it Effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject. I have been unwillingly drawn into it; but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you. Your faithful friend, your devoted servant, I shall be to the end of my life: A flatterer you do not wish for. On this point of instructions, however, I think it scarcely possible, we ever can have any sort of difference. Perhaps I may give you too much, rather than too little trouble.
Of course, Burke was not a Tory but a Whig. Does that make a difference?

Tory Historian is not really one of the shooting fraternity but has known many people who are. Therefore, the Glorious Twelfth (which is not called that by anybody who actually shoots on that or any other day) has to be marked on this blog.

It seems that the beginning of it lies in the Game Act of 1773, which laid down that the hunting (or shooting) season for red grouse should run from August 12 to December 10. Wikipedia, which gives a reasonable summary, gives the Game Act of 1831 as the start of the tradition. It certainly tightened and consolidated the legislation.

For the sake of tradition as well as a healthy rural economy Tory Historian hopes that there will be many more grouse-shooting years, some good, some not so good. Also, let's face it, grouse tastes good.

Looking for something different Tory Historian found these two excellent sayings by Charles de Montesquieu, well, Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, to give him his full name, who lived from 1689 to 1755 and was a man of many parts, as well as author of "The Spirit of the Laws", a crucial political text.

The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.

There is no crueller tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.
What can one add but: discuss.

This review is part of a series on books that might be of interest to those interested in conservative history. “In Denial” by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr deals with the shock the American historical establishment received when the brief opening of the KGB’s archives and the publication of the Venona documents showed that the accusations about the CPUSA and Communist infiltration in the American government were true; it shows the largely dishonest and bullying manner in which so many historians tried to deny the truth and to continue to produce propaganda rather than history in order to “educate” the younger generations in their own mindset.

Though the story starts in the nineties when temporarily the KGB allowed some western historians limited access to its archives and the Venona decryptions were finally declassified and released for public consumption, there was a long prelude to it.

There were the post-war revelations by people like Elizabeth Bentley, Whittaker Chambers, Hede Massing and other Soviet agents who had recanted for various reasons. There were the investigations, HUAC sessions, Senatorial sessions and trials such as that of the Rosenbergs and of Hiss. All in all, enough evidence came out despite the ferocious fight-back by the left, organized mostly by the CPUSA, to influence public opinion and government policy. The CPUSA lost ground, Communist agents diminished in number and subsequent spies had to be paid for by the Kremlin. (Whereas, throughout the thirties and forties it simply channelled millions of dollars to the CPUSA.)

Above all, most historians took what is now known as the traditionalist line about Communism though many hummed and ha-d about the domestic variety of it. As against that, the supposedly serious media and some parts of the intellectual community continued to proclaim the innocence of Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, and anyone else who had been shown to be a Soviet agent.

Then in the late seventies a determined and growing group of younger academics who, as they became more senior, made sure that only people who agree with them followed them up the ladder, decided to “revise” the study of the Soviet Union. According to this (and I recall not only reading books and articles but hearing people solemnly proclaiming the new trendy ideas) there was really not that much difference between Western democratic and Communist systems. There were bureaucracies in both and both had a kind of pluralism. Mind you, the Communist pluralism was somewhat different in that it meant different organizations agreeing with the party line.

Old-fashioned historians like Richard Pipes and Robert Conquest were attacked and abused and their findings dismissed. There could not have been that many people murdered in the Soviet Union; Stalin could not have ordered the purges – it was a bureaucracy getting out of hand; and so on. Sometimes it proved to be necessary to disregard certain events such as the Katyn massacre.

This was not, as the authors point out, “a perverse pastime”. After all, there was never the slightest attempt on the part of a single reputable historian, department or publication to “normalize” views of the Nazi regime. The revisionist historians who came out of the various New Left movements deliberately wanted to underplay the notion that Communism was a totalitarian system. Even more importantly, many set themselves the task to re-write the history of the CPUSA, its links with the Soviet Union, total obedience to the Comintern line and the various Soviet agents whose work it organized and facilitated.

For some years they could scream abuse at all those who pointed out that Chambers’s account was well supported in court by material and personal evidence and, indeed, repeat the canard that he was completely neurotic and unbalanced (as described by two psychiatrists called by Hiss’s lawyers who had never met him). They could pour contempt on the likes of Elizabeth Bentley and insist that every single person who had ever testified about Communists must have been evil, venal, hysterical or pathological. Sometimes all of those things.

Then some really nasty things started happening. First of all, with the collapse of the Soviet Union there was ever more information about what really happened in those seventy years and, unsurprisingly, the truth turned out to be much closer to the accounts given by the “Cold Warriors” than by the revisionists. Famously Robert Conquest said, when asked what he would like to call the updated version of his classic “The Great Terror”: “How about ‘I told you so, you f***ing fools’?”

Then the archives of the former KGB were briefly opened and western researchers were allowed to look at documents, write histories and even reproduce those documents in original and in translation. Oh dear, dear, dear. It appeared that much of what the CPUSA and the various spies had been accused of was actually true. Yes, dear children, Alger Hiss was, indeed, a spy, though he worked for the GRU not the NKVD, later KGB. And the Rosenbergs, together with Ethel’s brother, who has since given fairly accurate accounts of what had happened, were successful Soviet agents. Harry Dexter White, Lauchlan Currie, Laurence Duggan, they were all spies. And there were many more.

Finally, came the Venona documents, decryptions of some of the heavy Soviet exchange between the embassy and the various heads of espionage departments back in Moscow during the war, when the two countries were supposedly allies.

The bulk of “In Denial” is taken up with the various methods used by the revisionists (some of whom recognized and acknowledged that they had been wrong) to evade the truth, dismiss evidence, lie about facts, pervert historical studies. In the process the various academics (most of whom are not particularly well known outside their own establishments), supported by the media and, always, Hollywood tried to reduce the importance of the CPUSA at the same time as pretending that it played an important part in the development of the American left while trying to deny its absolute allegiance to the Comintern.

Through it all runs the one mantra endlessly repeated by these academics – however bad Communism was, however dishonest the agents might have been, the worst and most evil of developments in American history has been “McCarthyism” by which they designate all opposition to Stalinism and Communism, whether it came from the right or the left. In fact, in true Stalinist fashion, these people hate left-wing opponents far more than the right-wing ones.

Klehr and Harvey compare this dishonest and destructive approach to Communism, domestic and foreign with attitudes to Nazism with the usual results we have all noted. But they also, interestingly, compare the last-ditch supporters and glorifiers of American Communists to those who have attempted to create a romantic image of the Confederacy, arguing that just as one can never quite get away from the problem of slavery the other can never quite get away from the problem of Stalinism.

Revisionist historians have openly explained that they do not consider it necessary to be objective or to look at facts. History, in their view, is a method of indoctrinating the next generation to continue the fight for a socialist America. To that end they can use Soviet methods in their debates and discussions though, to be fair, there are times when even the worst of them have to admit some of the truth, hard though it is. To what extent have they succeeded is an important question. Or have Klehr, Harvey, Weinstein and others put a spoke in their collective wheel and we shall see a new generation of historians reverting to their proper activity?

Not a round date but here is a slightly unusual photograph connected with Hiroshima. This is an aerial view of the USAAF North Field on Tinian Island, from which the B-29 bombers flew. That included the ones to Hiroshima on august 6, 1945 and Nagasaki 1945. The picture comes courtesy of DefenseImagery.mil, the Department of Defense's prime image website that is open to all.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki bring out a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Tory Historian feels no compunction at all in linking to this article on American Thinker, which reminds us all of the many thousands of lives thate were saved by the swift conclusion of the war in the Pacific.

Some had been forgotten:

August 19 - 21, 1991 - abortive Soviet coup aimed at reversing developments but the result is the final collapse of the Soviet Union, the "greatest geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century" according to Prime Minister Putin and, no doubt, various historians like Professor Eric Hobsbawm;

August 7 - 16, 2008 - war in Georgia when Russia invades actual Georgian territory;

Tory Historian is not sure the last one is as important as the others in the grand scheme of things but it might yet be. And another date which might be of some importance but how much is not clear:

July 12 - August 14, 2006 - Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon;

Enjoy the silly season.

Ah yes, Tory Historian is told, the silly season. Nothing ever happens in late July and August. Oh no? Well how about a few random events from the twentieth century?

July 23, 1914 - Austria-Hungary delivers an ultimatum to Serbia with ten extremely difficult demands;
July 28, 1914 - when Serbia acceded to eight of the demands, Austria-Hungary declared war because of the remaining two;
July 29, 1914 - Russia orders partial mobilization;
July 30, 1914 - Germany orders mobilization;
August 1, 1914 - France orders mobilization; Germany declares war on Russia
August 3, 1914 - Germany declares war on France and a few hours later France declares war on Germany;
August 4, 1914 - Britain declares war on Germany;

Hmm, some silly season that turned out to be.

Let's try a few more dates.

August 28, 1939 - Nazi-Soviet Pact is signed and World War II effectively begins;
September 1, 1939 - still in the silly season, just about Germany invades Poland though the USSR does not invade till September 17;
September 3, 1939 - Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand declare war on Germany;

Not much of a silly season there, either.

A few other events in the silly season:

August 13, 1961 - construction of the Berlin Wall starts
August 21, 1968 - Soviet tanks roll into Prague

From the point of view of historic symmetry it would be nice to have a few events from 1989 that took place in the silly season. Alas no. The nearest is May 29, when the Hungarian border guards started dismantling the border with Austria, cutting the wire fences and lifting the mines. Perhaps, it is only important bad things that happen in the silly season.

Today is the anniversary of the Treaty of Breda that brought an inconclusive ending to the Second Aglo-Dutch War and a temporary halt in the hostilities between England, the United Provinces, Denmark and France, who immediately started invading the Spanish Netherlands.

Let's face it, for most of modern European history it was France, not Germany (which did not even exist till 1870) that was the "neighbour from hell".

While the Dutch were victorious around Europe and in Asia, England won in North America with four new colonies, New York, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This marked the end of Dutch ambitions in that part of the world.

Tory Historian is very fond of St Pancras station, its combination of exoticism with the Eurostar trains and the longest champagne bar in the world with the more homely commuter trains and the large shopping, eating and drinking area.

One of the best sights is this charming statue to Sir John Betjeman, poet, writer, campaigner and all-round Good Egg, besides the Eurostar trains. Around the statue it is written: Sir John Betjeman 1906 - 1984, Poet and Saviour of this glorious station. A great memorial even apart from his poems.

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