Machiavelli and the Problem of Memory in Tigana

tigana.Machiavelli

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“Tigana, let my memory of you be like a blade in my soul.”

-Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana

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Guy Gavriel Kay, author of Tigana
Guy Gavriel Kay, author of Tigana

Alessan’s mantra for his beleaguered nation, erased from history by the tyrant sorcerer Brandin of Ygrath, forms a central node in the theme of exile and memory in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana. A novel set in the Peninsula of the Palm, a landmass that more or less corresponds to Italy, Tigana borrows much of its inspiration from the Italian Renaissance era of warring city-states.

Brandin’s court is like that of the Medici or the Borgia. Ygrath and Barbadior’s conquests can be compared to the expansion of the empires of Spain and France, which were drawn into Italy by unwise allies who wished for them to intervene in their internecine rivalries with city-states such as Florence, Venice, Genoa, and the Papal States. The allies paid for this by being overcome by kings and emperors much more powerful than their own states.

Famously, one man who advised against taking such action was Niccoló Machiavelli. He wrote The Princea notorious book, one of the first on pragmatic political science—to advise Lorenzo de’ Medici (grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent) on how to act wisely as the governor of Florence.

In his final chapter, he exhorts Lorenzo to liberate Italy from “the barbarians,” likely a reference to the foreign armies of France and Spain who have taken up permanent residence on Italian lands. It is my observation that Machiavelli’s ideal to for Italian unification—something never accomplished until the efforts of Garibaldi in the nineteenth century—stems from the same national pride as Alessan feels in Tigana.

Which led me to wonder. If Guy Gavriel Kay used Machiavelli in his research, then in what ways could a reading of The Prince enrich our understanding of the conflicts in Tigana? Or a more precise question: is how Machiavelli understands memory and history the same as how Tigana understands it, or is there a difference?

Florence

On the surface, Machiavelli’s world—in ways I have already described—greatly resembles the world of Tigana. Brandin himself is a Machiavellian figure, a real Prince interested in establishing his authority across the Peninsula by driving out his rival Alberico of Barbadior. He superficially agrees to the terms of a peace treaty, while scheming to destroy Barbadior the moment it becomes convenient to break the agreement. Alberico, of course, plans to do the same, in a kind of polarized Cold War scenario where only the province of Senzio (perhaps a surrogate for Venice) remains neutral.

Machiavelli has several things to say about memory in The Prince. Some advice that he gives to Lorenzo may as well have been given to Brandin. For example, read the following paragraph from Chapter 5 on “How you should govern cities or kingdoms that, before you acquired them, lived under their own laws”:

“Examples are provided by the Spartans and the Romans. The Spartans took Athens and Thebes, establishing oligarchies there. However, they lost them again. The Romans, in order to hold on to Capua, Carthage, and Numantia razed them and never lost them. They sought to govern Greece according to more or less the same policies as those used by Sparta, letting the Greek cities rule themselves and enforce their own laws, but the policy failed, so in the end they were obliged to demolish many cities in that territory in order to hold on to them. The simple truth is there is no reliable way of holding on to a city and the territory around it, short of demolishing the city itself. He who becomes the ruler of city that is used to living under its own laws and does not knock it down, must expect to be knocked down by it. Whenever it rebels, it will find strength in the language of liberty and will seek to restore its ancient constitution. Neither the passage of time nor good treatment will make its citizens forget their previous liberty. No matter what one does, and what precautions one takes, if one does not scatter and drive away the original inhabitants, one will not destroy the memory of liberty or the attraction of old institutions. As soon as there is a crisis, they will seek to restore them. That is what happened in Pisa after it had been enslaved by the Florentines for a hundred years” (17, my Italics).

san gimignano 2Brandin, after conquering the province of Tigana after the Battle of the River Deisa, destroyed its main cities: Avalle of the Towers and the capital Tigana. Avalle, which was inspired by San Gimignano, once had many towers that stretched to the sky. But Brandin’s forces knocked them down, in order to ensure the city’s submission to his rule. Tigana itself (based on Florence, perhaps) was demolished as well, and renamed Lower Corte—Corte having been its bitterest enemy. Avalle was renamed Stevanien, after Brandin’s son, who was killed in battle. These policies seem to be directly inspired by Machiavelli’s advice to Princes in Chapter 5.

The tyrant’s spell adds an extra layer to the political-military strategy of Machiavelli: he uses magic to erase the very name of Tigana from memory and make its name unpronounceable. One particular difference from Machiavelli’s dry strategy and Brandin’s motive to demolish Avalle is that the Tiganese killed his son and he wanted revenge. This does not mean that Brandin acts on his emotions, however. He only knows where to direct his temper. Machiavelli advises on several occasions that a Prince should “lose his temper” deliberately under certain circumstances, such as when he is being lied to (105). The demolition of Avalle would have been one such well-advised occasion for Brandin to become angry.

Machiavelli may have also unknowingly given Brandin the idea to create his spell of obliteration, if the two had ever met in some other dimension. In Chapter 1 of The Prince, Machiavelli remarks how hereditary principalities—territories where it is traditional for a particular aristocratic family to inherit power—are by far the easiest to hold, compared to republics. “Because the state has belonged to his family from one generation to another, memories of how they came to power, and motives to overthrow them, have worn away,” he advises (7).

Brandin was not necessarily planning to share or to pass on his rule. But the implication of how enough time passing eventually legitimizes the rule of a Prince may have attracted to him. Since sorcerers can live to advanced age in Tiganas world, he plans to outlive all the Tiganese exiles, who alone carry the memory of their homeland. Once they die, Lower Corte would know no better than that Brandin is the right and honourable ruler of the land.

Cesare Borgia: possible analogue to Brandin of Ygrath?
Cesare Borgia: possible analogue to Brandin of Ygrath?

In addition to these specific remarks about the ability of a ruler to hold onto power by controlling memory, Machiavelli has an understanding of history’s usefulness in deciding policy. He constantly draws upon the patterns of the past in order to find examples that can advise rulers on present courses of action and on their future ambitions. The exploits of ancient Greeks and Romans—some real, others fictitious—are on par with those of other Renaissance Italian Princes, such as Cesare Borgia, Alexander VI, and Savanarola, as examples of what-to-do or what-not-to-do. He assumes the past serves as a map for the unknown.

Kay would use the metaphor of a mirror. “With bronze as a mirror one can correct one’s appearance; with history as a mirror, one can understand the rise and fall of a state; with good men as a mirror, one can distinguish right and wrong”: the epigraph from Under Heaven (by Li Shimin, Tang Emperor Taizong) can apply just as much to Machiavelli’s understanding of political history, as to how Kay invites us to understand history.

giucciardini
Francesco Guicciardini

That being said, Machiavelli has his detractors, to say the least. Francesco Guicciardini, a contemporary and a friend of Machiavelli, questioned even the usefulness of bringing the past to bear upon the present, although the patterns might be there for anyone to observe. Who, after all, can say they have ever successfully predicted the future, simply by looking at the past? He also believed that all men, though subject to sin, were essentially good—which Machiavelli’s pessimistic yet pragmatic philosophy seems to deny. “This is how it has to be,” says Machiavelli, “for you will find men are always wicked, unless you give them no alternative but to be good” (73).

Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche

Which brings to mind another cynical philosopher and his ideas of history and morality—Friedrich Nietzsche. Notorious in the twentieth century for his belief in Social Darwinism, which inspired the racialist ideas of Adolf Hitler, Nietzsche argued in Geneology of Morals that men behave good because they were given no other alternative.

Like Machiavelli, Nietzsche believed that the autonomy of the sovereign was mutually exclusive with morality. He also believed that all morality developed out of primitive ideas of punishment—that morals were literally beaten into our forefathers, so that as we evolved, we came to obey the laws better. For example, the brutal uses of capital punishment in the past—strangulation, hanging, drawing and quartering, beheading—produced the more civil society we live in during the present day.

I seriously doubt his conclusion on that last point. Nietzsche’s perception is affected by his retrospective analysis. I believe modern “civilization,” as he calls it, emerged because we rejected the brutality and absolutism of the past, not that brutality shaped our modern civilization. However, the idea that morals come from the memory of punishment is interesting in relation to Tigana: the idea that memory is directly tied to pain:

“Tigana, let my memory of you be like a blade in my soul.”

When Alessan speaks these words, it could be said he engages in a (somewhat) Nietzschean understanding of memory—and by extension, perhaps of history and morality as well. He must recall the pain of his exile in order to force himself to remember his nation—and then take moral action.

Nietzsche and Machiavelli exist simultaneously in Tigana: memory (problematically) is both ingrained by pain and an intellectual tool with which to gaze into the past. The heroes of Tigana do not let their fear of punishment lead them to submit to tyrants, but they do wish to experience pain, if it preserves the memory of their homeland. And that experience of self-inflicted pain guides their self-defined morality, to do anything they can to liberate themselves from Brandin’s yoke.

But does morality itself suffer under Alessan’s model? If we can determine our own morality by deciding what to remember and forcing ourselves to remember it—carrying all the pain that memory can bring—can we be expected to reach rational decisions that respect our fellow human beings? Or could this kind of morality cause us to act according to our passions and, more importantly, our self-interest—one of the guiding human principles that Machiavelli (and notably, Thomas Hobbes) understands as the source of all human endeavour?

Just as Brandin is a tyrant, Alessan is literally a Prince. Brandin’s morality—if he has any—is almost driven entirely by the interests of himself as ruler, and those of his state. But behind this self-interest is the burning memory of Stevan’s death at the River Deisa. Prince Alessan, like Brandin, carries the Deisa in his memory, but for different reasons. His father Prince Valentin died in battle, leaving Alessan without a principality to call his own. Is Alessan simply motivated by jealousy for Brandin and his own interest in becoming ruler? Is his nationalist rhetoric only a facade?

Kay intentionally makes Brandin a foil of Alessan, adding good qualities to Brandin and evil qualities to Alessan. For example, Alessan must enslave Erlein di Senzio as his wizard servant, in order to for his master plan to work. Should a man so preoccupied with liberty be damned for making a slave of one man? (Perhaps someone ought to have asked the leaders of the American Revolution this same question, many of whom owned slaves.) Furthermore, Brandin, however ruthless, also has feelings. Dianora, his favourite woman in his saishan and a Tiganese herself, notices that he cared an enormous amount for his son and that he never forgave himself for sending him to fight in battle. She intends to kill Brandin to avenge her country, but finds herself loving the man she has schooled herself so long to hate—even saving him once from an assassin.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s George Seferis epigraph sums up his own beliefs in the ambiguity of holding onto memory:

George Seferis
George Seferis

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“What can a flame remember? If it remembers a little less than necessary, it goes out; if it remembers a little more than is necessary, it goes out. If only it could teach us, while it burns, to remember correctly.”

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A long enough memory can produce a desire in you to avenge all the wrongs ever done to your kind. Witness the damage that extensive memories wreck in Middle East daily. Even Nationalism, which seems a noble enough ideology until you remember the twentieth century, can go too far. Yet having no memory at all utterly robs you of any identity. I like imagining all the whitebread kids lost in the suburban USA being asked what their heritage is, and being unable to answer “English” or “Irish” or “Welsh” or “Scottish.” Assimilation into a melting pot can do as much to erase memory as Machiavellian attempts to snuff it out all at once.

Does Alessan remember correctly? Does Brandin? The answers are ambiguous, although most readers will probably side with Alessan. But it cannot be ignored that Alessan may have easily turned into the villain in Tigana. Nietzsche argued sovereigns were above morality. Yet, following one’s own painful memories might have caused Alessan to think himself above morality while rebelling against the sovereign Brandin, in an effort to fight fire with fire.

The Ismaili Assassins
The Ismaili Assassins

Tyrant and rebel: an age-old conflict. Each obeys no law and each is the antithesis of the other. Yet, they are, in so many ways, the same. Nietzsche believed the laws we live by were oppressive. Yet, he also (quite famously) saw a way to rebel against such authority. The creed of the Ismaili Assassins said, “Nothing is true; everything is permitted.” Truths established by tyrants create a certain morality, so disbelieving in those truths frees one to perform any action suitable to overthrowing that power.

Does Alessan follow a similar creed, or does he too have a belief in truth, in morality? It would be worth a re-reading of Tigana to see just how much Alessan uses ends to justify means.

But turning away from Tigana now, other questions emerge. What are the dangers of the Assassins’ creed? If everything is permitted, do we have Hobbes’ State of Nature on our hands? Would followers of the creed then become self-interested, build up social contracts, and then begin punishing others when the contracts are breached, beginning the process of moral development all over again?

Let these questions stand as food for thought. It is not my place now to answer them, and I’ve rambled on enough as it is. But I believe it’s safe to say that memory can be a dangerous thing, especially when it forces us to disregard morality. Perhaps it depends on what we choose to store in our memory as well: if we keep hoarding pain, the fire of memory will grow so large it will consume us.

Feed the fire, but not to excess.

flame
What can a flame remember? -George Seferis
Machiavelli ac
The character of Machiavelli from Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood attests to the popularity of the duplicitous Machiavel figure in contemporary popular culture. Is he, as a friend of Cesare Borgia, a Templar, or is he the friend of Ezio Auditore, the Assassins’ Mentor?

 

Works Cited:

Kay, Guy Gavriel. Tigana. Toronto: Penguin, 1992. 1-793.

Kay, Guy Gavriel. Under Heaven. Toronto: Penguin, 2010. 1-710.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. Selected Political Writings. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis: Hacket, 1994. 5-80.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “Morals as Fossilized Violence.” The Prince. Transl. Francis Golffing. Ed. Robert M. Adams. New York: Norton, 1977. 253-275.

Rudowski, Victor Anthony. The Prince: A Historical Critique. New York: Twayne, 1992. 12-17

Wikipedia.

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Photo Credits:

Flame: http://pdphoto.org/PictureDetail.php?pg=8381

Nietzsche: http://pasolininuc.blogspot.ca/2011/11/friedrich-nietzsche.html

Assassin: http://www.sickchirpse.com/2011/01/13/origin-and-myth-the-mashed-assassins/

Guy Gavriel Kay: http://profunduslibrum.blogspot.ca/2012/10/guy-gavriel-kay-ysabel.html

Tigana: http://evenstarwen.com/category/books/

George Seferis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgos_Seferis

Machiavelli: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niccol%C3%B2_Machiavelli

Machiavelli AC: http://assassinscreed.wikia.com/wiki/Niccol%C3%B2_Machiavelli

Guicciardini: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francesco_Guicciardini

Cesare: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cesare_Borgia

San Gimignano: http://www.italiautleie.no/tilleggstjenester/guidedebyturer

Florence: http://bonesdontlie.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/bones-abroad-visiting-the-famous-dead-in-florence/

The Battle of Culloden Part. 3: The Bonnie Prince Escapes!

Culloden battle

The Duke of Cumberland's Birthday was 15 April, the day before battle.
The Duke of Cumberland fabricated evidence to justify his slaughter of Scots after Culloden

After the disaster of Culloden, the Duke of Cumberland continued to repress the rebellion, to put it lightly. Really, he opened the way up for genocide.

Having captured Lord George Murray’s orders to the Jacobites, which had been issued the day before the battle, he supposedly found a line that revealed the Jacobites were to give no quarter to the Hanoverians. Using this conveniently forged piece of enemy instruction, Cumberland felt justified to give no quarter to the Jacobites, either. Cumberland’s letter to his men following up on this discovery read as follows: “Officers and men will take notice that the Public orders of the rebels yesterday was to give us no quarter” (Magnusson 622).

In the end, it was Cumberland who really gave no quarter.

Following atrocities such as the massacres the followed the Battle of Culloden, it is difficult to assign blame onto any one individual. But we can pretty well blame Cumberland for most of it. His orders were stated obliquely, leaving the correct course of action he expected ambiguous—but he intended this. He likely wanted soldiers to draw their own conclusions about his desire, while ever so slightly suggesting that they should take an eye for an eye. The order would then be untraceable to Cumberland.

This resulted in wholesale massacres. Dragoons scourged the Highlands, on the search for anyone associated with the rebels. They slaughtered fugitives as well as bystanders. They robbed livestock, burned barns to the ground, and raped the wives of those they sought. These days have passed into Scottish legend.

Dragoons were the scourge of Scotland after Culloden.
Dragoons were the scourge of Scotland after Culloden.

The atrocities of the slaughter were assisted by understanding that the Gaels were subhuman, vermin to be exterminated. The statistics are as follows:

3,471 Jacobite prisoners

120 of which were executed,

600 died in prison,

936 sold in the West Indies as slaves,

121 banished,

1,287 released or exchanged (Magnusson 624).

Among the legends of that time is one about James Wolfe’s virtue, which may be true, or might not: you decide.

General James Wolfe needed his Scottish soldiers to be loyal when they fought under him at Quebec.
General James Wolfe needed his Scottish soldiers to be loyal when they fought under him at Quebec.

Apparently, he refused to shoot a wounded Highlander shortly after the battle, claiming he would rather resign than betray his honour. Cumberland himself ended up shooting the Highlander, possibly under the orders of General Henry Hawley, Wolfe’s superior.

What is interesting is how Wikipedia states this story was popular among the Royal Highland Fusiliers, a Scottish regiment that fought under Wolfe during his campaign in North America. It makes you wonder how much Wolfe wanted the Highlanders to understand that he was merciful. Merciful, despite his statement made famous by Alistair MacLeod, that it was “no great mischief” if the Highlanders fell in battle. He must have relied strongly on the perception of being merciful, to earn his men’s loyalty, since his army of highlanders might have fought against him at Culloden, or knew those who had personally, and resented him.

Whatever the case with Wolfe, Cumberland was gloating in his triumph in the wake of the repression, and London celebrated with glee. The Duke was appointed chancellor at Aberdeen University, while in London he had a beautiful flower named after him, called Sweet William. Its scientific name is Dianthus barbatus.

Sweet Will
Sweet Will, or Dianthus barbatus

The Jacobites also honoured him by naming a flower. This one was a foul smelling ragwort called Stinking Willie.

Stinking Willie
Stinking Willie, or Senecto jacobaea

But this witty response did nothing to prevent the English from consolidating their military and cultural domination over the Scots. The policies, meant to assimilate Highlanders were similar to the tyrant Brandin’s policies in Tigana following the Battle of the River Deisa.

These were the Disarming Acts. They demanded all weapons in Scotland be surrendered. These included guns, claymores, and bagpipes. I hear bagpipes are deadly at a range of sixty feet (never mind the dying cat inside). But really, these singularly loud instruments of the Highlanders were used to rally troops and encourage them to fight in battles—so as far as the English were concerned, they had to go.

Tartan was banned, the great plaid, the kilt, and every other part of traditional Scottish garb. This is extra significant to Scots, because the different tartan patterns are unique to your family, or clan, sort of like a plaid coat-of-arms. I believe this would have been an attempt to dissolve the clan system in Sotland, which meant a direct attack on Highlander kinship relations.

Allan Macaulay, of my mother's ancestry--you can tell be the colour patterns used in his kilt.
Allan Macaulay, of my mother’s ancestry–you can tell be the colour patterns used in his kilt.

Furthermore, the traditional language of Gaelic was to be repressed. If Brandin of Ygrath were the Duke of Cumberland, this would be the spell that erased the country’s name, by erasing its language. In Gaelic, Scotland is called “Alba.” Even into modern times, the speaking of Gaelic was considered taboo.

Various attempts have been made to resuscitate the vanishing language. One of the most famous was the discovery of Ossianic poetry, a set of Gaelic verses rumoured to have been written by an ancient author called Ossian. However, Ossian was revealed to be a hoax, fabricated by James Macpherson. It might speak to the romantic desire to revive a perishing language, which had once been so central to his culture, that Macpherson invented a Gaelic Homer to legitimate the language in the eyes of others.

The Disarming Acts carried lasting devastation on Scottish culture. But what ever happened to the Bonnie Prince, you ask?

Well, he decided to flee for France. 5 kilometers to the south-west of Culloden, he met some of his Scottish officers at a Fraser safehouse. By 20 April, he was staying at Arisaig until news of approaching redcoats forced him to take a boat to the Outer Isles. However, in a fateful moment he was taken in a storm and was shipwrecked on the isle of Benbecula—which is situated between North and South Uist, my ancestral homeland.

Bonnie1

Irony of ironies: had he stayed, the French would have saved him. Two ships, the Mars and Bellona, landed on 30 April at Loch nan Uamh with money and brandy … four days after he had left.

[Whistles] Bonnie Prince Charlie, lookin' pretty good there!
[Whistles] Bonnie Prince Charlie, lookin’ pretty good there!
Instead of seeing safety too soon, he was going to run into some ancestors of mine in Uist. With a £30,000 bounty on his head, everyone of Hanoverian sympathy was searching for him, and even some neutral folk would have been tempted by that much cash. His narrow escapes are the stuff of legend, but nothing compares with how he dressed up in drag to flee the redcoats closing in on him, with Flora Macdonald leading him to safety.

I have a hard time imagining why a Broadway musical has not yet been made of this event.

The 24-year-old Flora Macdonald came to North Uist to help his brother with the cattle and sheep, when she ran into the Pretender. Together, they hatched a desperate plan to bring Charlie to the isle of Skye disguised as her Irish maid Betty Burke. What followed was 11 days of fun, laughter, and a Tony Award-winning musical score. With bagpipes.

And an award-winning wardrobe to boot. According to Magnusson, the Pretender looked pretty … convincing (if a bit tall) for a lady. S/he wore a “white blue-sprigged calico gown with a quilted petticoat, a sturdy waterproof overcoat and a woman’s head-dress” (626).

They reached Skye before dawn and parted at McNab’s Inn in Portree, now called the Royal Inn. (Now, does the name change refer to a Scottish or an English king?) The site is a tourist landmark in the town today.

Flora Macdonald, the Jacobite hero.
Flora Macdonald, the Jacobite hero.

Flora Macdonald, who shares a name with my grandmother’s grandmother, was arrested later, but not executed for her treason. She was released and married Alan Macdonald of Kingsburgh in December 1750. Later, she immigrated to the American colonies, losing her money when the colonies became the United States, during the War of Independence. She returned to the isle of Skye, and was buried at Kilmaur.

Every family has heroes like Flora; but every family also has villains.

The following came as a mild shock for me, since I discovered not everyone who shares my mother’s last name in Scotland was a Jacobite, though my uncle had assured me of this.

It turns out…

Macaulays nearly handed Prince Charlie to the Government! I was more shocked than Nathaniel Hawthorne, when he discovered his ancestor was a judge at the Salem Witch Hunt Trials.

It turns out, Reverend John Macaulay of Benbecula sent a message to his father, Reverend Aulay Macaulay, telling him to capture the Prince upon his arrival at Harris.

Fortunately, Donald Campbell showed up when Reverend Aulay came with his parishioners by boat to collect the lucrative bounty. Campbell put his value on hospitality above his loyalty to the Whigs, and convinced Macaulay to lower his hand and spare the Prince. Campbells have married into my family, so I can only hope some of that good nature flows through my veins.

Thomas Babington Macaulay, famous historian
Thomas Babington Macaulay, famous historian

On a more positive note, my ancestral blood might also be responsible for my interest in history and writing. John Macaulay was the grandfather to Lord Babington Macaulay, a Whig historian in the nineteenth century.

This brings us to the end of this epic of the Battle of Culloden. Alongside the description of the battle, its causes, and aftereffects, we have had a glance at Scottish culture more generally. It has been a great journey, and I think I will be posting more historical posts like this in the future. Next post will be a review of Diana Gabaldon’s An Echo in the Bone.

memorial

Works Cited:

Maclean, Fitzroy. Highlanders: A History of the Scottish Clans. New York: Penguin 1995.

Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland: The Story of a Nation. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2000.

Wikipedia

Photo Credits:

Battle of Culloden: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Culloden

Cumberland: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_William,_Duke_of_Cumberland

Wolfe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Wolfe

Sweet Will: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sweet_William_Dianthus_barbatus_%27Heart_Attack%27_Closeup_2816px.jpg

Stinking Willie: http://www.plant-identification.co.uk/skye/compositae/senecio-jacobaea.htm

Allan Macaulay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clan_MacAulay

Charlie escapes on boat: http://www.lookandlearn.com/blog/13594/flora-macdonald-truest-friend-to-bonnie-prince-charlie/

Flora Macdonald: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flora_MacDonald

Culloden Memorial: http://teifidancer-teifidancer.blogspot.ca/2013/04/culloden-shoulder-of-lamentation.html

Thomas Babington: http://www.tumblr.com/explore

Thomas Babington Macaulay: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/8090422/Thomas-Babington-Macaulay-a-giant-of-the-British-Empire.html

Bonnie Prince Charlie as Betty Burke: http://www.clanmacfarlanegenealogy.info/genealogy/TNGWebsite/showmedia.php?mediaID=168

The Battle of Culloden Part. 2: Jacobites V. Cumberland

Culloden battleCulloden Moor, which was once called Drumossie Moor, is a “boggy, heather-clad upland moor above Culloden House, south-east of Iverness, overlooking the broad waters of Moray Firth” (Magnusson 617). It is pretty good metaphor for the mire the Jacobites found themselves in on 16 April 1746, when the battle was fought…

Iverness is boxed in yellow.

Culloden is shown near Iverness

The Battlefield is shown, near Culloden
The Battlefield is shown, near Culloden

The actual battlefield, several hundred years after.

The battlefield
The battlefield.

When the Jacobite army was assembled on that battlefield, Prince Charlie was ready to receive the Hanoverians, led by the Duke of Cumberland, in the last pitched battle fought on English soil. But he forgot one thing.

The Duke of Cumberland's Birthday was 15 April, the day before battle.
The Duke of Cumberland’s Birthday was 15 April, the day before battle.

He really should have checked his calendar because he might have realized it was his bitter enemy’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Butcher Cumberland!, he might have said. (Charlie’s followers would later call him a butcher, after the battle.) To celebrate, the English commander gave a rest day to his troops, which was thoughtful, not to mention useful.

In exchange, his soldiers would bring him back the material to make a stylish fence around his family’s country house. Believe it or not, this is not a throwaway remark, and there will be more on that later.

Celebrating with Cumberland was the infamous-in-Quebec Conquerer of Canada, General James Wolfe, though he was not a general yet. Known for his conquest at the Siege of Quebec and leading the English forces in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, Wolfe is an ambiguous figure in Quebec culture. Anglophones might occasionally stand by him, but the Francophone majority tend to resent his actions. For one thing, he ended New France and brought French Canada under British control. The Quebec nationalist movement, represented in Quebec by the Parti Quebecois, makes Wolfe into “the big bad Wolfe,” according to one Aislin political cartoon, the legendary enemy of the Quebecois.

General James Wolfe, who fought at Culloden, later went on to bag Canada for the British Empire.
General James Wolfe, who fought at Culloden, later went on to bag Canada for the British Empire.

Before all that, according to Wikipedia, he fought in the War of Austrian Succession, where he was made a brigade major after showing heroism against the French on the Continent. In Scotland by October 1745 to deal with the Rising, Wolfe became an aide-de-camp, for General Henry Hawley, who he was with on the duke’s birthday on Culloden Moor. He waited with the rest of Cumberland’s troops for the fateful encounter.

Since Charlie was missing Cumberland’s birthday, he thought it odd when the English troops did not arrive as planned, which muddled his plans. As early as 6:00 am on April 15, the army was ready to fight—except the enemy didn’t show.

Lord George Murray, a key commander at Culloden
Lord George Murray, a key commander at Culloden

Which is where Lord George Murray, a Lieutennant-General of the army, came up with the bright idea of a night raid on Cumberland’s camp. Maybe he wished they’d been invited to his birthday. They probably almost did wish it, actually, all joking aside—at least they feed you at a party.

The army had no food for two days, the clansmen were tired, and they were cold. Lord Murray’s idea was a long shot at best. It would be impossible to move 5,000 men 16 kilometres through unfamiliar terrain at night with the sort of discipline necessary for secrecy.

 

9:00 pm: The first three columns doused their campfires and marched off.

 

2:00 am: The leading soldiers were only 6 kilometres from their camp, with disorder and confusion in the ranks behind them. Everyone, officers and soldiers, had no idea where they were going.

 

Dawn: They were 6 kilometres away from their target, and deprived of a night’s sleep. Meanwhile, Cumberland’s forces started waking up, stretching, and began thinking of breakfast. Bitter Scotsmen slowly returned to camp, fearful of being spotted.

 

Upon their arrival, Prince Charles is said to have shrugged and said, “It is no matter, then; we shall meet them, and behave like brave fellows.”

He was right about being brave. The problem was, it was an enormous matter.

The Scots were famished and freezing (In Scotland, who isn’t?). Once Cumberland’s men were done with their morning routines, breaking fast with bread, cheese, and brandy, their marching drums awoke the dreary-eyed Highlanders. If ever a pot of coffee were needed more at any time in history…

The enemy was only 6 kilometres away (all these ‘6’s might have been an omen, in retrospect). Utter confusion followed in the Scottish ranks at the arrival of Cumberland’s army, and only 1,000 men answered the threat on their own initiative.

 

A battlefield layout I drew, but mostly copied from Magus Magnusson's book. The positions are very approximate.
A battlefield layout I drew, but mostly copied from Magus Magnusson’s book. The positions are very approximate. Modern features include the memorial cairn, the highway, and the visitor center. (As far as I know, Cumberland did not look at pamphlets on re-enactments times for a battle that had not yet happened.)

Approximate positions at start of battle10:00 am: 5,000 Highlanders assembled themselves at last, though they are disoriented and dead tired, still not fed. Each man was eventually given a single biscuit to eat before they set off. A chilling nor’easter brought in stabbing sleet and rain to oppress them even further. The English had 800 mounted dragoons, ten three-pounder guns, six mortars, and outnumbed the Scots by 2,000 or 3,000 men. It was not shaping out to be a great day.

 

11:00 am: The armies were within sight of each other. Now would be time for an inspiring speech on the part of the Bonnie Prince, and an opportunity to moon the enemy, but this wasn’t Braveheart, unfortunately.

 

Around this time, they had to come to terms with the grounds they’d chosen. It was decent ground for a Highland charge, though it also gave great advantage to the enemy dragoons, who were mounted and well equipped, unlike the Scottich cavalry. Lord George Murray disapproved of the terrain vehemently, but by this time, it was too late.

 

12:00 pm: BATTLE COMMENCES

Culloden battle

The Jacobites fired first with their rifles. The Hanoverian forces responded with precise roundshot from their cannons, which created a few casualties among the Scots but mostly succeeded in creating confusion. Communication was so terrible among the Jacobites that the Highlanders awaiting the command to charge (“Claymore!”) had to wait for a good hour until they heard it at last. During all that time, powder clouds, sulfur, and thunder from canons caused blindness and uncertainty.

Finally, the shout of “Claymore!” went through, and 1,500 men forming 8 clan regiments, charged “in a wave of unleashed kilted fury” (Magnusson 620). These included the Camerons, the Macintoshes, Macphersons, the Macleans, the Maclachlans, and Clan Chattan, all of whom encountered the first shock of battle.

This happened when Cumberland switched his artillery from roundshot to grapeshot, a deadly strategy. The new ammunition was essentially cannisters filled with iron nails, led balls, and other sharp objects. Imagine clouds of flying wedges flying at you. The clansmen were decimated and massacred. Furthermore, one row of Government infantry would shoot a volley of bullets at the Jacobites, while the others loaded their muskets, repeating so there was always a volley of lead hissing through the smoke, finding their targets in a haze of bloodied tartan.

claymore

If a Highlander even came close to Cumberland’s forces, he even had a secret weapon to stop the claymore broadswords used by the Jacobite infantry. “Instead of engaging the clansman coming directly at him (thereby catching his bayonet on the enemy’s leather shield), each soldier went for the unprotected right-hand side of the man on the attacker’s left,” writes Magnus Magnusson. “The tactic took steady nerves, and complete faith in you comrades—and it proved very effective” (620).

After the Government employed these devastating techniques, organization fell apart and the battle was all but lost. The Highlanders fought bravely, but ineffectively, kilted bodies littering the moor. Then the dragoons stormed the battlefield to bring the battle to a swift end, all after only 30 minutes.

Along with the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, Culloden ranks among the shortest most important battles in history.

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Wolfe had a knack for fighting in half-hour battles that decided the fate of an entire nation.
The Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Wolfe had a knack for fighting in half-hour battles that decided the fate of an entire nation.

The Jacobites lost 1,500 troops while the Hanoverian losses amounted only to 50 dead, though 259 were wounded. The Jacobites killed one Hanoverian for every 300 they lost.

In the midst of the carnage, MacDonald of Keppoch is said to have run at his enemy, weeping as he was struck down by a volley of led balls, yelling in Gaelic, “Mo Dhia ando threig clann ma chinnidhmi?” In English: “My God, have the clansmen of my name deserted me?”

Lord George Murray marshalled some order to the right wing of the army in order to withdraw. But the sight of Prince Charlie weeping as he was escorted on horseback from the battlefield by his Irish officers was too much for many of the Jacobite supporters. Lord Elcho, a commander of Charlie’s bodyguard, yelled, “Run, you damned cowardly Italian!” (See, Rome was the new home of the Jacobite leaders after the Hanoverians supplanted them. They spent a lot of time arguing there.)

The claymore steel that Cumberland used for his stylish fence around Cumberland House. It cost many Scotsmen their lives. Photo scanned directly from Fitzroy Maclean.
The claymore steel that Cumberland used for his stylish fence around Cumberland House. It cost many Scotsmen their lives. Photo scanned directly from Fitzroy Maclean.

In the carnage that followed (for the blood of the day was not yet all spilled), the Duke of Cumberland would earn his derogatory title as Butcher Cumberland. Having been handed a fine birthday present in his easy victory at Culloden, his soldiers would soon run the field, slaying wounded Scotsmen and taking the steel from their claymores to present as trophies to the Duke.

According to Fitzroy Maclean, Cumberland used the swords to make a fence at Cumberland House, his family property. But such trophies do not last forever, and when the house was demolished in the 1800s, the sword blades were brought to Inverary Castle.

 

 

Thus concludes Part II of the epic of the Battle of Culloden. Stay tuned for the third part, in which Bonnie Prince Charlie dresses in drag to escape redcoats in pursuit of his £30,000 bounty! Also, I uncover something rather shocking about my family heritage…

The Bonnie Prince evades redcoats and gets into a boat that will carry him to his destiny.
The Bonnie Prince evades redcoats and gets into a boat that will carry him to his destiny.

 

Works Cited

 

Maclean, Fitzroy. Highlanders: A History of the Scottish Clans. New York: Penguin 1995.

Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland: The Story of a Nation. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2000.

Wikipedia

 

Photo Credits:

 

Battle of Culloden: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Culloden

Battle of the Plains of Abraham: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/battle-of-the-plains-of-abraham

Bonnie Prince Escapes: http://www.illustrationartgallery.com/acatalog/info_JacksonDisguiseLL.html

Broadswords Rescued: Maclean, Fitzroy. Highlanders: A History of the Scottish Clans. New York: Penguin 1995.

Claymore: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scottish_claymore_replica_%28Albion_Chieftain%292.jpg

Duke of Cumberland Portrait: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_William,_Duke_of_Cumberland

Lord George Murray: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_George_Murray_%28general%29

Satellite photos and battlefield ground shot: Google Maps

Wolfe Portrait: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Wolfe

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle of Culloden Part. 1: The Rising of ’46

Culloden battleOn 16 April 1746, the Scottish Jacobite army, led by Prince Charles Edward Stewart, fought the English Hanoverians in the bloody Battle of Culloden—the last pitched battle on British soil (the Battle of Britain in World War II was fought in the air). A last stand such as this defines an age, and many legends and songs about “Bonnie Prince Charlie” have celebrated the heroism of that day and mourned the fatal outcome. The loss at Culloden, the climax of Prince Charlie’s Rising, preceded the English repression of Scotland and attempts to obliterate Gaelic culture.

For those familiar with Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, it can be said that Culloden is Scotland’s Battle of the River Deisa. It is a last stand (close to a river, the Moray Firth, no less) against a dominating force which eventually consolidates its control over the defeated defenders with slaughter and cultural repression, in an attempt to assimilate them. History has seen a few such battles…

Culloden features prominently in Alistair MacLeod’s novel No Great Mischief and in popular fiction such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, in which one of the protagonists, Jamie Fraser, is a veteran of the battle. For those interested in such novels, or Scottish history more generally, this three-part telling of the battle (before, during, and after) is for you.

My personal interest in this battle extends deeper than a mere interest in Scottish history, since Scotland and particularly the Jacobite cause is within my heritage. People from my own ancestry played key roles in the build-up to the battle and the aftermath. My mother is a Macaulay and her mother was a MacDermid, and her grandmother shared a name with one of the key players in the Prince Charlie legend: Flora MacDonald. Furthermore, Campbells and MacDonalds appear with frequency in my family tree.

According to my uncle, who is the genealogist of my family, my ancestors were Jacobite politically and Catholic devotionally, which fits because Jacobites tended to be Catholic rather than Presbyterian or Anglican. My family is originally from South Uist, North Uist is more Protestant.

Uist
Uist

Now, to begin with the boring part (actually, not that boring) to the narrative, a.k.a. the politics. The reason for why.

Anyone familiar with films such as Braveheart will know that Scots have hated the English frequently in their history. The iteration of anti-English feeling that is called the Rising “arose” (get it?) as a reaction to the Act of Union in 1707, which unified Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and England into Great Britain.

Many of those who opposed the Union in Scotland wanted the old Stewart dynasty, instead of the Hanoverian kings of England (the first being George I), who were from a German family. Even among the anti-royalists, Stewarts were preferred over foreign Hanoverians. “Jacobite” came to refer to those who supported the Stewart cause, after “James,” the name of many Stewart kings.

The first Jacobite uprising followed the Act of Union and revolved around the pretender to the throne James Edward Stuart, who Louis XIV, the Sun King, recognized as King James VIII and III. The two numbers in his title refer first to his position on the Scottish line and then the English line. For some reason, Scotland really liked to call their kings James. During the first Rising, the Scots, as usual, had the support of France, a partnership called the “Auld Alliance.” Basically, the country that hated England the most after Scotland was France.

The first Rising ended when Prince James returned to France before ever setting foot in Scotland. Later Risings, such as the one 1715, also ultimately failed.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Stewart), aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Pretender
Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Stewart), aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Pretender

Now the Rising of Bonnie Prince Charlie, who will serve as the tragic protagonist of my narrative, is also known simply as “The 46.” It began with the mounting (to avoided the word “Raising”) of the Prince’s standard on 19 August 1745. By this time, Jacobite support had waned considerably. Since 1727, George II sat on the English throne, proving that the Hanoverians were here to stay. Meanwhile, the Jacobite leaders were still largely in Rome, bickering over futile plans to win back the throne. It might be said that Charlie had higher “standards,” which he “raised” but that’s enough with the bad puns.

What enabled him to raise his standard? Well, in 1743, the Jacobites saw an opportunity. The hilariously named War of Jenkins’ Ear, in which British captain Robert Jenkins had his ear cut off by a Spaniard who did not apologize, had hurt England’s feelings, making it enemies with Spain. And then came the War of Austrian Succession, which was unpopular except among our favourite rebels, the Jacobites, since it drove France and Spain to war against England. Party time! The time was ripe for a Pretender’s dreams, and Bonnie Prince Charlie landed on the isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides on 2 August, hoisting the standard 17 days later.

Here’s where Alistair MacLeod’s ancestor comes in. Meeting Charlie at the landing site was MacLeod of MacLeod, who stands as a bit of traitor, unfortunately. He mentioned his arrival to the English government—in a shrewd, say-no-more kind of way—as if he expected no one would notice. A tough legacy to live down for Alistair. And all the way from South Uist, the rocky homeland of my Scottish ancestors, came MacDonald of Boisdale to tell Charlie to go back to Italy. These people two did not want a war. But the exiled prince gave MacDonald a sly look (in a very Alessan di Tigana moment) and said, “I am come home.”

So the struggle began. Rounding up his allies and dealing with the clansmen who supported the Hanoverians, Prince Charlie fought a guerilla-style war against the redcoats throughout Scotland. In September he promoted Lord George Murray and the Duke of Perth as Lieutennant-Generals. Both men would play crucial roles at the Battle of Culloden.

Edinburgh
Edinburgh

The high point of the campaign was capturing Edinburgh. Fighting off English dragoons with his army, Prince Charlie marched into the Scottish capital after the Camerons beat the sentries guarding the city. He was proclaimed King James VIII on 17 September.

Unfortunately, that title meant little so long as the Rising itself was unconcluded. During a siege on Stirling Castle, morale fell apart. On 30 January, the Duke of Cumberland claimed control of the English army from General Henry Hawley and scattered the disorganized Jacobites, setting off for Linlithgow. The leaders convened in Falkirk, agreeing after much debate to march north, where they would encounter Cumberland for a final decisive battle.

The battle would take place on Culloden Moor, and it would see the end of the Rising, though not before a much romanticized battle, in which heroism meets the hard flying nails of grapeshot from regimented English canons.

Stay tuned for Part II of the epic of the Battle of Culloden, and learn how the battle was fought (including a guest appearance by the infamous James Wolfe, the Conqueror of Canada, of Plains of Abraham fame).

To be continued....
To be continued….

Works Cited:

Maclean, Fitzroy. Highlanders: A History of the Scottish Clans. New York: Penguin 1995.

Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland: The Story of a Nation. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2000.

Wikipedia

Photo Credits:

Battle of Culloden: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Culloden

Death of James Wolfe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Wolfe

Edinburgh: www.edinburghtravelguide.co.uk

Prince Charles Portrait: http://crivensjingsandhelpmaboab.blogspot.ca/2011/08/death-of-prince-bonnie-prince-charlie.html

Uist: http://www.western-isles-wildlife.com/visit_uist.htm

Nothing is True; Everything is Permitted: Historical Reality and the Creation of the Myth behind Assassin’s Creed

Horseback altair

A white-robed hooded rider spurs his stallion to the castle of Masyaf to receive an assassination contract from his master Rashid al-Din, the infamous leader of the Assassin Brotherhood. The rider’s name is Altaïr ibn la-Ahad. They meet in a library, and the assassin receives his instructions: Marquis Conrad of Montferrat, a Templar crusader, must die.

A

If this sounds like a video game you’ve played, then you might be aware of how the creators of Assassin’s Creed conduct thorough historical research. Although they take liberties in inventing a fanciful storyline, there are historical realities behind the famous video game.

The fida’is, brave soldiers of the Ismaili sect of Islam, are the real-world historical source for the Assassin myth. In Crusader-era Syria and Iran, they would infiltrate the social circle of political targets and wait, keeping up appearances, before threatening them by thrusting a dagger beside into their pillow at night.

Often, the threat would be enough to deter the enemies of the Ismailis, but occasionally they used real violence against targets, as a last resort. One such a target was Marquis Conrad of Montferrat, assassinated in 1192 in a courtyard at the port-city of Tyre just before his coronation as King of Jerusalem—by figures disguised as Christian monks. Wearing robes reminiscent of these assassins, Altaïr is the character that players of Assassin’s Creed guide through multiple levels, conducting similar assassinations. However, the names of the real assassins are lost to history.

Rashid al-Din Sinan (left) was a real leader of the Ismaili.
Rashid al-Din Sinan (left) was a real leader of the Ismaili.

As for the castle of Masyaf, it actually does stand in Syria, though not in the location specified in the game. Sinan Rashid al-Din, Altaïr’s master, was the actual legendary Ismaili leader who once called it home. Called “The Old Man of the Mountain,” he was lame in one leg, a learned alchemist, and was said to have had telepathy, clairvoyance, and the ability to communicate with spirits. Perhaps the Apple of Eden, Assassin’s Creed‘s illusion-creating artefact, had had something to do with that .. but once again, these stories are lost to history.

The truth of the Ismaili Assassins is often difficult to separate from myth.

Modern-day Masyaf castle.
Modern-day Masyaf castle.

One of the first myths is from Marco Polo’s account of the Earthly Paradise of the Assassins in his Travels. Assassin’s Creed II: Revelations has sequences that play off Niccolo Polo’s supposed encounter with the Brotherhood.

A painting of the Old Man of the Mountain receiving assassins in his castle within the garden of the Earthly Paradise.
A painting of the Old Man of the Mountain receiving assassins in his castle within the garden of the Earthly Paradise.

Supposedly, the Old Man of the Mountain had command of a fortress called Alamut (in Polo’s account not Masyaf), where he had an exceptionally beautiful garden. Milk and honey flowed in rivers through his garden, which was filled with fragrant fruits and flowers, appearing as the Qur’an’s vision of Paradise. The Old Man would bring men into the garden and have young virgins entertain them, before serving them wine laced with hashish. He would then bring them into his presence.

There, mission briefing would occur, and a promise. Since an assassination was essentially a suicidal job—it was assumed that the guards protecting the target would inevitably kill or capture an assassin—the Old Man offered Paradise itself to his minions. Since the drugged assassins thought they had truly found Paradise at Alamut, they believed the Old Man could offer that.

Through this method, the Old Man of the Mountain supposedly eliminated his political rivals and advanced his own interests.

Marco Polo’s account is a juicy myth. Essentially a result of Western fascination with the East, Europeans found in the Earthly Paradise of the Assassins a way to explore fantasies forbidden within their moralistic society. The myth gained popularity throughout the ages. According to Wikipedia, Friedrich Nietzsche in his Geneology of Morals considered the Assassins free spirits not bound by Western strictures of morality, operating according to the creed—now made famous by the video game—that states, “Nothing is true; everything is permitted.”

The Ismaili Assassins have captured the imagination of the West for centuries.
The Ismaili Assassins have captured the imagination of the West for centuries.

However, the historical reality behind the Brotherhood demolishes these Orientalist fantasies.

To begin with, there could never really have been a garden at Alamut. Peter Willey, in his book Eagle’s Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria, to which I am indebted in this article, describes the castle’s physical details at great length. Alamut, which means “Eagle’s Nest,” is perched above a steep and rocky ridge. It is a very narrow castle and is said to have once contained a great library. However, it is simply impossible to imagine a luxurious garden growing in such a narrow courtyard.

A modern-day shot of the castle of Alamut.
A modern-day shot of the castle of Alamut.

Marco Polo clearly had never seen Alamut, which leads scholars to suppose that his famous journey to the Orient never actually happened. He may never have left Constantinople, composing his Travels from hearsay and the stories of other travelers.

To debunk the myth that the Assassins took hashish before carrying out their murders, Peter Willey draws attention to how it is impossible to aim a blade with any accuracy while high. Dexterity takes a serious hit when the mind is clouded, and a successful assassination would require presence of mind to quickly slide a blade between a target’s plate armour or through chain mail—and sometimes the target would be on horseback.

It also must be emphasized that the fida’is did not always kill. Often, the mere threat of a dagger thrust in a target’s pillow would make him withdraw a siege from a castle, or pull back his troops from a strategic region. The fear caused by the fida’is had a real affect on the enemies of the Ismailis, who were much more powerful and numerous. It kept them away from strongholds and villages—and added to the paranoia that would launch the Assassin myth.

The Ismailis were considered heretics by many Muslim religious groups. Hunted like witches by enemies seeking to weed out the fida’is from their ranks, they became blamed for assassinations that they did not commit. Innocent people were accused of being Ismaili assassins. For these, the punishment could be severe: al-Ghazali suggested the death penalty for any Ismailis who remained apostates of the Islamic faith. Meanwhile, the political situation in the Middle East—so little has changed since—was volatile and paranoid, filled with many rival political groups, most of whom employed assassination as a tactic.

In such an environment of fear, myths can easily arise. The Ismailis were blamed for more assassinations than it would have been prudent to commit. Those who blamed them were either reacting out of paranoia, or seizing an appropriate scapegoat, to better mask their own political and military stratagems.

It is precisely through such times of paranoia that fantasies take root. The historical record today can only give us glimpses into the past, and those records may be contaminated with hearsay at best, if not a deliberate falsification of information. Today, you can immerse yourself in the myths that history has passed down to you, playing a part in them through your PS3 controller.

What the the Assassin myth tells us is that human beings prefer to indulge in great stories rather than seek the truth of history. Fiction and reality: these are opposed modes and people enjoy fiction more than reality. For a writer of historical fantasy such as myself, what an insight! “Nothing is true; everything is permitted”: the creed of the historical fantasist!

Photo Credits:

http://www.gamesradar.com/awordfromoursponsors/?page=2&zone=p3_pc_x3/reviews&sendMeBackTo=http%3A//www.gamesradar.com/assassins-creed-review/%3Fpage%3D2

http://assassinscreed.wikia.com/wiki/William_of_Montferrat

http://assassinscreed.wikia.com/wiki/Rashid_ad-Din_Sinan

http://www.iis.ac.uk/view_article.asp?ContentID=101164

http://www.sickchirpse.com/2011/01/13/origin-and-myth-the-mashed-assassins/

http://simerg.com/special-series-i-wish-id-been-there/the-great-resurrection/

Christopher Marlowe : An Elizabethan Assassination Conspiracy?

A famous portrait of Marlowe from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, painted in the year he may have become a spy for England
A portrait of Marlowe from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, painted in 1585, the same year he may have become a spy for England. Who killed him? But more importantly, why?

On 30 May 1593, Christopher Marlowe, illustrious author of such plays as Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Tamburlaine, walked into the Deptford house of the widow Eleanor Bull. There, he encountered three men: Robert Poley, Ingram Frizer, and Nicholas Skeres. Marlowe never left the place alive: a knife wound in the eye dispatched him presently to the afterlife.

The question that has been buggering Elizabethan historians is, why?

The assassination of Marlowe has spawned countless hypotheses, many conspiratorial. What they teach in high schools is that Marlowe was murdered in a bar fight. However, closer analysis of events suggests that Marlowe’s death may have had to do with a little more than simply an excessive bar tab.

Historians such as A. D. Wraight in his book In Search of Christopher Marlowe and Curtis C. Breight in Surveillance, Militarism, and Drama in the Elizabethan Era have investigated the mystery behind one of literature’s greatest dramatists.

First, the witnesses.

The three men called to the witness box during the trial were all gentlemen. Robert Poley was a secret agent of some repute in the service of Queen Elizabeth. Nicholas Skeres served as a court messenger and was likely also an agent, having played a major part in the disclosure of the Babington Plot, which led to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots. Ingram Frizer was a retainer in the service of Sir Thomas Walsingham II, before becoming joined to his son, also named Thomas, who was Marlowe’s patron. It was Ingram knife that was found lodged in Marlowe’s skull.

The evening seems to have begun pleasantly enough. They had dinner and walked in the garden, making business conversation. After their 6:00 supper, the coroner Willian Banby remarks that Ingram and Marlowe became involved in an inflamed argument “about the payment of the sum of pence, that is, le recknynge” (qtd. in Wreight 293).

Marlowe, lying on a bed in the room where they had supped, then drew a dagger and rushed at Ingram, whose back was against him as he sat at the table and the other men. Marlowe struck two wounds in Ingram’s head, an inch long and a quarter inch deep.

Ingram struggled against Marlowe to save his own life and, in the fight, reclaimed the dagger. The wound he inflicted in Marlowe’s right eye went in two inches, supposedly killing Marlowe instantly.

Mr. Banby’s story proves that Ingram acted “in the defense and saving of his own life” (293). Queen Elizabeth eventually pardoned Igram for his crime.

However, Wraight notes how unsatisfactory the testimony has been to scholars, ever since Dr. Hotson’s observation that Robert Poley and Nicholas Skeres may have lied to save the life of Ingram Frizer. What, after all, could explain how Marlowe, with the advantage of surprise, only managed to inflict two cuts to Ingram’s skull? Did Skeres and Poley merely stand back and watch? There is even medical evidence that says “a knife thrust two inches in depth into the brain would not result in instantaneous death, or necessarily death at all”! (296)

Furthermore, upon his release from prison, Frizier immediately re-entered the Walsinghams’ employment. Such forgiveness on the part of patrons was exceptional; other men, whether servants or gentlemen, found no such forgiveness after becoming prisoners of the state.

Marlowe was also supposed to appear before the Privy Council—he may or may not have actually done so—on 20 May 1593, ten days before his death. The charges he was supposed to answer for included blasphemy. He later made his fatal journey to Deptford. The connection, or absence of connection, between his murder and these charges has never been proved.

Naturally, such anecdotes give rise to all kinds of theories.

Perhaps the juiciest theory is advanced by Dr. S. A. Tannenbaum, who claims that Sir Walter Raleigh had Marlowe silenced out of fear that he would confess to the atheism of those involved in the fabled School of Night. A face-saving gesture by a Machiavellian hermeticist.

A secret society speculated to have existed, the School of Night was centred around Raleigh and consisted of scientists, courtiers, and poets such as George Chapman, Thomas Harriot, and Marlowe. However, all other evidence seems to acquit Raleigh of conspiracy to commit murder. His noble personality and his lack of caring about his public image, Wraight says, suggests he would not stoop to whacking Marlowe, or using him as a scapegoat.

But could the assassination still have had a political motive?

There is convincing evidence to support the theory that Marlowe was a spy. In 1587, the Privy Council awarded Marlowe an MA from the University of Cambridge as a reward for serving his country in certain secret affairs. Waight says he might have been a spy since 1585. Later on, reports of Marlowe’s shady dealings include an attempt to falsify coinage in Flanders in 1592, where he was briefly arrested. He was suspected of siding with Catholics, but may have been attempting to penetrate the group associated with the Catholic plotter William Stanley as a double agent.

Might he have fallen in with Catholics again, shortly before his death?

Perhaps Marlowe’s patron Thomas Walsingham involved the trio of secret agents in a great conspiracy to eliminate the poet, and have each other pardoned according to a pre-arranged giving of false testimony. Or, we may imagine with a smile Marlowe’s hasty burial in the Deptford parish church as evidence that Walsingham had his agents replace Marlowe’s body with another corpse! Of course, Marlowe would have had to disappear, if he was going to write Shakespeare’s plays in total secrecy…

These conspiracy theories have a way of fogging the real evidence. Elizabethan England’s witch hunts, Puritan hearsay, and paranoia about Catholics, atheists, and “Machievels” played their part to create a paranoid society. Curtis C. Breight describes how Sir William Cecil, the Secretary of State, maintained a police state reminiscent of the McCarthy era, if the use of twentieth-century anachronism can be forgiven.

Similarities between both eras of Elizabethan espionage (including that of our present Queen) have also been drawn: James Bond’s MI6 origins had their origins under Sir Francis Walsingham and William Cecil’s intelligence networks. When spies are behind every corner, you have to careful what you say about your political or religious beliefs. And Queen Elizabeth, as ahead of the Church of England, represented both State and Church.

Cecilian England gives rise to one final theory about Christopher Marlowe’s death, one that may be as incredible as the others. It says that Cecil gave the order, because of Marlowe’s Catholic sympathies.

At the time, England was supporting the French king Henri IV against the radical Catholic League. The war was unpopular, necessitating the use of Protestant propaganda. Christopher Marlowe wrote a play called The Massacre at Paris, which told the story of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. On 23 August 1572, King Charles IX ordered the assassination of Huguenot (French Protestant) leaders in Paris, resulting in the deaths of anywhere between 5,000 and 30,000 souls. However, some scholars have argued that the play, told from the perspective of the Catholic Duke of Guise and Catherine de Medici, who act as Machiavellian characters, depicts the Protestants as no better than their Catholic foes.

Might it be likely that Marlowe was considered too much of a intellectual rebel?

Perhaps. We may never know, after all, what really happened to Christopher Marlowe after that supper in Deptford. What historians do confirm is that history is arguable. Whether we might personally believe in the conspiracies, or adopt a more grounded understanding of what happened, we each construct a narrative of events that may or may not represent the true course of history.

If one thing is certain about Marlowe’s death, it is that his disappearance has spawned many stories to fill the void of his absence. It is only human nature, after all, to find meaning to the unexplainable.

The sign over Marlowe's grave.
The sign over Marlowe’s grave.