Category Archives: France

Vive l’Empéreur !! (2)

Last time, I wrote about how Napoleon wanted to export the liberal values of the Enlightenment across Europe. And how the British upper classes wanted none of it. They wanted to keep society as it was, rotten the core, but with them in charge of every facet of life. And that’s why they paid countries such as Austria and Russia £65,000,000 over the years to attack and annihilate Napoleon, without any English lives being lost:

What a chance we missed by ignoring the ideas Napoleon eschewed. Just look at what Napoleon achieved in his own country.

The Code Civil was “a fundamental change in the nature of the civil law legal system with its stress on clearly written and accessible law”.  It was created by committees of experts and closely monitored by the Emperor. He set up other codes for criminal and commercial law:

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He set up a system which established “due process”, the requirement that the state must respect the legal rights of its citizens, and which protects the individual from a powerful government.
Napoleon carried out steps which would allow both Germany and Italy to emerge within less than a century as unified nations. He helped the USA to expand with the Louisiana Purchase:

lousisa n purchase

He founded the Légion d’Honneur, awarded for excellence and achievements not just in war, but also for achievements by civilians which helped the French nation. Here is the first ever award, presented by the Emperor himself:

Debret_-_Premiere_distribution_des_decorations_de_la_Legion_d'honneur[1]

Napoleon abolished the ancient system which forced peasants to work as medieval serfs for their lord and master, carrying out specific jobs every year. This helped the growth of a money based economy, rather than paying rent, for example, by any other means, such as barter or the carrying out of physical tasks.

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Napoléon abolished the medieval guilds, allowing the birth of the entrepreneur.

He abolished ghettos for Europe’s Jews who were made equal to everybody else. In fact, everybody enjoyed equality in every field.

The power of the church was vastly reduced, especially their ecclesiastical courts. The Inquisition came to an end. (Nobody expected that.)

monty-python-spanish-inquisition_article_story_large[1]

His military innovations led Wellington to say, when asked who was the greatest general of the day: “In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon.”

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Napoleon gave enormous support to the metric system, introduced by the French revolutionary government in 1799. He made use of the process of storing and preserving perishable food in tins. His armies were the first to use the baguette:

French became the official language of the state. No more Basque, Breton, Corsican, Occitan nor, indeed, any of the countless dialects spoken in Europe’s second biggest country. Instead, everybody spoke French.

Secondary education was supported by the state, and lycées were established. State secondary schools followed the same system as nowadays. He made major efforts to keep education totally free from church interference. He introduced scholarships for poor students.

He introduced science into the school syllabus. In England, the church were still busy at this time trying to stop vaccination being introduced as anti-religious. Not so in France:

And that is not the end of Napoléon’s list. More next time.

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What do you do with your Freed Slaves ? (5)

In my last article I posed the question of  “How did the British free their slaves?”. They had none of the difficulties faced by the USA (a bloody civil war), Russia (a bloody revolution and a bloody civil war) or France (a bloody revolution in Haiti).

west injdies plantation

Unbelievably, a decision was taken that the government would use taxpayers’ money, taken from the ordinary man in the street, to buy the owners’ slaves from them. This was a very cunning plan on so many levels. The government remained popular with the rich people. The rich people who owned no slaves remained rich. The rich people who owned slaves also remained rich. Nobody lost any money whatsoever except the poor old taxpayer, who now had to wait a little longer for his free medical care, free education, sanitation, decent roads, law and order in the streets and so on.

And what about the slave owners?

Carried_Slaveowner

Well, by this windfall, they became even more unbelievably rich. And then they went on to invest their cash in other ventures so they could make even more money.

They didn’t hate the politicians who had abolished slavery either, because the slave owners had suddenly been made so rich by their actions.  You can probably guess who came out of it badly…

The population of black ex-slaves who now had nowhere to go. They couldn’t go down to the docks and catch a boat to West Africa. Instead they had to stay where they were and work for a pittance at their old job. This man’s family (218 slaves) made a good profit on the whole deal. They received £4,442 compensation, the equivalent of £3 million today. Don’t know who he is?:

orwell

And this man’s father received £106,769, the modern day equivalent of £80 million. Don’t know who he is?:

1271754717_william-e_-gladstone

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Vive l’Empéreur !!

I watched a fantastic programme, or rather series of programmes, last winter on BBC2, I think it was. They were so good that I bought the book:

cover

They were all about Napoleon.
I had always wondered why the British hate Napoleon so much and the French love him. Why the British call him names and the French name streets after him.
Both the programmes and the book were by Andrew Roberts:

andrew-roberts
He did a great job at explaining exactly why this situation has arisen.

It was because on the one hand, the England of the Napoleonic era had always prided itself on being full of free men, free to say what they wanted, to go where they wanted and so on. With a parliament and a monarch beloved by all, bless him, who never interfered in the running of an almost perfect society. Deep down though, the English knew that this portrait of their land was a complete load of rubbish.

They knew that Napoleon was a child of the Enlightenment, the fullest and finest flowering of ideas in the history of Mankind:

stamp-napoleon-france

Napoleon wanted to export the values of the Enlightenment across Europe. And the British wanted none of it. That’s why they coughed up £65,000,000 over the years, paying for countries such as Austria and Russia to attack and annihilate him, without any English lives being lost:

wallpaper_cossacks_2_
The British saw Napoleon as a direct threat to “England’s Green and Pleasant Land”.

A “Green and Pleasant Land” where the rich seized the poor’s common land and called it their own.

Where Corn Laws prevented hungry poor people from eating bread made from cheap imported foreign wheat, so that rich English farmers could stay wealthy.

Where all of the people in charge of anything, the army, the navy, the government, everything, was a nobleman and had a title:

house-of-lords4[1]

And parliament was full of greedy men elected by unbelievably tiny numbers of voters. This practice made use of “Rotten Boroughs” and Pocket Boroughs”. Here are two of the “Four Prints of an Election” by William Hogarth.  You can see them in greater detail here.

This is the “Election Entertainment“:

chairing

This one is called “Chairing the Members”:

election enter
Next time, we will look at the achievements of Napoleon. They are many and apply to so many different fields, from giving a mole catcher a more important job to making the arrangements to educate young women:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What do you do with your freed slaves? (3)

I suppose that the major problem with abolishing slavery is knowing what exactly to do with this newly created army of probably uneducated people, who may well be quite ill fitted to deal with an independent life. Jefferson, the man who coined the expression “all men are created equal” seems to have supported a gradual process, with slaves being first educated and then freed as they reached adulthood:

Thomas_Jefferson_Regular_Issue_1968-1c

Apparently he later realised that this would created an inadequate return on the slave owner’s investment, if that’s the word, and altered the age of freedom to 45. After that, they would be taken back to Africa:

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Overall though, mainly for various personal reasons, Jefferson did not have a lot to say about slavery.
He did recognise one dilemna though.

The difficulties of freeing the slaves and the difficulties of not freeing the slaves:

“There is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from (slavery).
We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other”

Jefferson was not the only one to have worries about “safely letting go” the country’s slaves.. In 1806, the Virginia General Assembly grew so concerned about the number of free black people living in the state that they changed the law to make freeing slaves more difficult.  From 1790-1810 the population of black people there had risen from virtually nothing to more than seven percent. In Delaware, they too were worried about freeing their slaves. By 1810, 75% of the state’s slaves had been given their liberty.

Many of these politicians were equally worried about the influence Haiti might have on the thinking of black people in the USA. Around this time, of course, Haiti was a revolutionary state on an island in the Caribbean to the south of the USA. A little like a black Cuba rather than a red one:

revolution in haiti

And presumably, the Americans did not want similar scenes of bloody revolution in their own southern states:

haiti

In 1801 President Jefferson was delighted to see the French intention to take back the island and thereby stop it becoming a base which might foment black revolution in the United States. He loaned the French $300,000 “for the relief of whites on the island.”

The southern slave owners in the US, of course, were just as scared of similar rebellions in their own states as President Jefferson. He said of this dilemma:

“If something is not done and soon, we shall be the murderers of our own children.”

But, in practical terms, what could be done?  Another article to follow in the near future.

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Freedom and the Americans (2)

In a recent article, I wrote about Thomas Paine and his defence of the French Revolution of 1789, Rights of Man, which was published two years later, in 1791:

paine

Fifteen years earlier, on July 4th 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence had also been a major step on the road to freedom.

Back towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Americans were more than a little dissatisfied with the treatment they received at the hands of the British, and rightly so:

bostonmassacre

The document, originally composed by Thomas Jefferson, explains why people, have the right to rebel against their government. I have tried to make the language a little easier:

“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  Whenever any Government becomes destructive, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers such as to them shall seem most likely for their Safety and Happiness.”
Prudence will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

Fine words, and you can hear Thomas Paine clapping in the background.
King George III, of course, around this time, was beginning to show the very first signs of his madness.

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Most typical was his talking at great length, with enormously long sentences. Four hundred words per sentence. He repeated himself. Talked so much that he frothed at the mouth. Page boys would have to hold him down on the floor for his own safety. He spoke to dead relatives and thought he was in heaven. He talked with the angels. We don’t know what was wrong with him. Bipolar disorder, perhaps. Porphyria, maybe. It may have been his doctors who gave him “ James’s Powders” until his arsenic levels were 300 times the level of being merely toxic. After all, he did get better when his doctors stopped treating him.

george III picture

Wearing a big hat, though, is no recipe for stable government, and you can understand why the Americans left the Empire.  Their declaration contained one of the greatest, if not the greatest, sentences ever written by Man:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Even when the Declaration was being signed though, the inevitable question of slavery raised its ugly head. Thomas Day wrote:

“If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”

Thomas_Jefferson_Regular_Issue_1968-1c

Thomas Jefferson owned two hundred slaves and freed only five. George Washington had 317 and of the other ten presidents who had slaves, the totals were James Madison (100), James Monroe (75), Andrew Jackson (200), Martin van Buren (1), William Henry Harrison (11), John Tyler (70), James K Polk (25), Zachary Taylor (150), Andrew Johnson (8) and Ulysses S.Grant (5).
Clearly, a difficult and awkward problem, and one to be returned to in the near future.

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Freedom and the English (1)

The other day, I was reading that classic work, the “Nottingham Date-Book” when I stumbled upon two little gems. The first was dated September 30th 1793 and showed a Blackadder type of world where alcohol replaces political thought:

“The Mayor’s installation banquet at the “New Change” as it was termed, was distinguished by excessive displays of loyalty. Amongst the toasts were “the King and Constitution,” with three times three, “the Duke of York and the Army,” “the Duke of Clarence and the Navy,” and so on.

george III stampcccccccccccccccccccccccc

The Mayor himself sang the air, “God save the King,” and his guests the chorus, followed by loud huzzas and  Constitutional songs.”

These drunken fools in the past made me realise just how free Englishmen are in our present time. Free  to do what your rich betters want you to do. A good citizen as long as you think exactly what you are supposed to think. And any thought of a questioning kind is just not welcome. As it is now, so it was then, back in 1793, in the era when first the Americans and then the French had found other ways to rule themselves than with a king.

declaration of independence

The next entry in this diary of Nottingham is for November 12th 1793, in an entry where the author of the book promises us that “The spirit of the times will be observed in the following circumstances”. The events all took place in  Spalding, just over forty miles from Nottingham, in neighbouring Lincolnshire.

spalding

Here is the sorry tale:

“One of the Officers of the Nottingham Regiment of Militia” states the Journal, “now lying at Spalding, went to a shoemaker’s of that place to order a pair of boots, but on observing that detestable outcast of society’s book, Paine’s Rights of Man, lying on the table, he thought proper to countermand the order, and take the book along with him. Next day, the soldiers being under arms and forming a circle round a large bonfire, this knight of the lapstone was summoned to appear before them,, and made to burn the celebrated jargon of nonsense, the music playing “God save the King” during its burning, at the end of which the soldiers and inhabitants gave three loyal huzzas, and then this wonderful would be wiseacre was suffered to depart”.

And just in case you are wondering, a lapstone is, according to the Free Dictionary, “a rounded device or stone on which leather is beaten with a hammer by a cobbler”

Here is Thomas Paine:

paine

According to Wikipedia, Thomas Paine is exactly what you don’t want in a society run by the upper classes, especially when, deep down, they know that they are not particularly clever or competent. And they worry therefore when the ignorant peasant class produces a “political activist, philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary” like Thomas Paine, “The Father of the American Revolution”:

paine statue

Paine came from Norfolk and his famous book, Rights of Man,  was in part a defence of the French Revolution:

rights man book

Paine believed that each individual has rights and that all the institutions that do not benefit the nation are invalid.  Top of the list was the monarchy and the aristocracy.
He wanted a written Constitution for England, a national assembly and a national budget without any money to be spent on military or war expenses.

He demanded lower taxes for the poor and free education for all.

He wanted a progressive income tax, to limit the power of wealthy estates, so that a ruling class could not preserve power, whether economic, political or religious, uniquely within the nobility.

Indeed, Paine stated that the ability to govern is not hereditary. This would mean that any idea of inheritance or royal succession would be abolished.

Paine was tried in his absence for seditious libel against the King and the Royal Family but could not be hanged because he never returned to England.
At this time, George III was as mad as a fish although there are plenty of people who say that it was mostly down to the medicines given to him by his doctors.

Madness_of_king_george-715444

When the doctors stopped treating him as, presumably, a hopeless case, King George got better almost straightaway.
It says a great deal for the repressive machinery of the government that those buffoons in Spalding who gave “three loyal huzzas” for the king didn’t even realise that their king was completely mad. They might just as well have gone down to the local fishmongers and pledged their undying loyalty to the largest cod on the counter.

Fish-with-Crown-

 

 

 

 

 

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Wolves (the animal not the football club)

When I wrote about the Beast of Gévaudan, I came to the conclusion that the ferocious creature was a previously unknown type of wolf:

bete-du-gevaudanzzzzzzz

For some unknown reason, it was being forced westwards from its normal habitat of the Polish or Russian primeval forests such as Białowieża. If ancient bison could live there, so could something even more prehistoric:

rejigged bison

At the time I did research the likelihood that the Beast was an ordinary wolf or wolves but I rejected that as a theory because I did not think that wolves would eat human beings.
It would be dishonest, however, not to make it patently clear that in the past, wolves certainly have eaten people but they don’t seem to now. Why should this be?
Firstly, extremes of weather centuries ago, more severe than what we have now, may have lead to a situation where wolves either ate any available prey items or just died. This would account for the Wolves of Paris which I have previously discussed:

wolf bounding

In actual fact they may also have acquired a taste for human flesh by eating corpses. Apparently, until as late as 1820, corpses in France were frequently thrown into open charnel pits. Presumably, these were paupers, drunks, stillborn babies, in short, anybody dead without the money for a funeral. And it is not outrageous to presume that this lovely way to dispose of the late dearly departed might have taken place in neighbouring countries too. An unfortunate situation that taught wolves to associate the scent of Man with a full belly.
If the hungry wolf wanted a better quality of prime human meat, young, and blood drippingly fresh, the best place was the battlefield straight after the battle. Once the local peasantry had stripped the bodies of everything valuable, they were not buried, but were gradually eaten by the ravens and other corvids, the eagles, both golden and especially white-tailed, and most of all, the local wolf pack.
This association of human flesh, its scent and taste, with a full stomach, was a recipe for disaster when wolves came across, say, lone travellers or children picking berries deep in the woods. And don’t forget. In France the peasantry were forbidden to own firearms to reduce the admittedly tiny risk of a blood spattering revolution.
Nowadays, the situation is completely different. Admittedly France had 7,600 fatal attacks by wolves between 1200–1900 but there has been nothing since. Italy has a population of wolves but without any fatal attacks on humans since 1945 and no attacks by wolves since the eradication of rabies in the 1960s.

wolf pack one

In the Baltic states, where rabies is still allowed to exist, just under a hundred people were bitten between 1992-2000 in Latvia and Lithuania, although the statistics are muddied somewhat in Estonia by the locals’ love for wolf-dog hybrids and keeping wolves captive on their properties.
And what about North America?

wolf baby

Well, in 2002, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stated that there had been no human deaths in North America attributed to wild, healthy wolves since at least 1900. Concerns were caused though, when, on April 26th, 2000, a six year-old boy was attacked by a wolf in Icy Bay, Alaska. He was not killed, but then, on November 8th 2005 the body of Kenton Carnegie was found in northern Saskatchewan. He had died from “injuries consistent with a wolf attack.” The local wolves had apparently lost their fear of him because he fed them regularly.

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To increase the risk, natural food was scarce in the area at the time and four wolves had been feeding on rubbish tips in the previous weeks. They were no longer scared by human activities. On November 4th, two of Kenton’s fellow campers clashed with two extremely aggressive wolves. Zoologists have now said that this was probably an “exploratory attack” just to see how difficult it was to kill a human being. Another perhaps more serious attack was imminent.
On the day of his demise, Kenton ignored warnings from his companions and went for a walk in the woods. It took the Coroners’ jury two years to rule out Black Bear, but their eventual verdict was “Death by Wolf”.

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f
On March 8th 2010, Candice Berner, a thirty two year old special education teacher who had only been in Alaska since the previous August was killed by two, perhaps three, wolves as she jogged along a road outside Chignik Lake. It was late afternoon.

Candice_Berner12

This was the first ever fatal wolf attack in Alaska. David Mech, a senior research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey has studied wolves for more than fifty years. He said:

“There have been about two dozen nonfatal attacks in North America in the past century or so. Most involve wolves that have become habituated to people who have been feeding them at campgrounds, dumps and other sites near wolf habitat.”

Ms Berner was only 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighed just over eight stones (c 112 pounds). David Mech said that her slight, almost childlike build, and the fact that she was running may have attracted the wolves, who, after all, are predators by nature:

“Wolves are very much like dogs in a lot of respects. Things that are running, they have tendency to want to chase them,”

 

DogChasing

Ms Berner was thought to have been listening to music on a headset, but Dr Mech discounted this, as in his experience wolves move so silently that the wind is enough to mask their presence completely.

Whatever you think about wolves, the truth is that the inhabitants of the tiny village of Chignik Lake have lived alongside wild animals since time immemorial:

chig

This one attack has spooked all of the 73 inhabitants of the area, so remote that it can only be reached by aeroplane. The school’s stuffed wolf mascot had been there a good while, but now it has been kicked well into touch. The wolf badge of the school will also have to go if Virginia Aleck, a local woman, gets her way.
She said that everyone felt trapped in the village. None of the surrounding hills were considered safe anymore.  Nobody walked on their own and everybody carried a rifle.
Is this an over-reaction? Or are wolves just a part of living outside the big city? I’ll try to answer that question in a future article.

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