21 June 1527 – The Death of Niccolò Machiavelli

1200px-Portrait_of_Niccolò_Machiavelli_by_Santi_di_Tito

On June 21, late in the evening, Niccolò Machiavelli passed away after suffering with severe abdominal pain brought on by what his son believed was an overdose of a homemade remedy. Just two weeks previously he had been riding about, vigerously working on government business for the Florentine Government.

Machiavelli’s life had certainly not been an easy one. A contemporary of Cesare Borgia, he spent time in the company of the man who would come to be known as (thanks to Machiavelli’s own work) The Prince and had been accused of, and tortured for, treason against the Florentine Republic.

His son Piero wrote of his father’s last moments:

“I can only weep in telling you that our father, Niccolò, died…from pains in the stomach caused by medication he took on the 20th. He confessed his sins to Brother Matteo, who kept him company until his death. Our father has left us in the deepest poverty, as you know” (Unger 2011, 332)

At the time of his death, Niccolò Machiavelli was just 58 years old. He was interred in the family crypt at the basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. The original tomb was an unassuming one, a far cry from the sumptuous and beautiful memorial that greets visitors to the basilica today – his body was moved in the eighteenth century after a good few centuries of having faded into the background of history, and after his name became the epitome of realpolitik. The tomb today, an echo of his explosion to fame in the eighteenth century, is inscribed with the words, “For so great a name, no words will suffice”

Check out my article on Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia over on AISR.

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Dee Yates on the Historical Background to A Last Goodbye

Today I am absolutely thrilled to have Dee Yates on the blog as part of her blog tour for the release of her wonderful (and super heartbreaking) new novel, A Last Goodbye. Honestly, I cannot recommend this book highly enough so please do check it out.

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The story starts in 1913 and continues to 1919. It is therefore set against the background of World War 1. Before this war there was a regular army in which men served for seven years, following which they were put on the National Reserve for a further five years and called back if the situation required. Following the declaration of war there was a call for volunteers to enlist to increase the size of the army. These volunteers would be between 18 and 38 and would only have to enlist for the duration of the war. At first there was a big response to the appeal but this gradually died down and it became clear over the following months that voluntary recruitment was not going to bring sufficient men to fight the enemy.

On 27th January 1916 the Military Service Act was introduced. British males between 18 and 41 were conscripted if they were unmarried or a widower on 2nd November 1915. The act was extended to married men on 25th May 1016. Some trades were considered vital to the war economy and some but not all of men in these trades were exempt from conscription. This included farm workers.

East of Crawford in South Lanarkshire lay the peaceful and remote Camps Valley. Through its base the Camps Water flowed east to west to join the upper reaches of the Clyde. In the valley floor a few cattle were to be found but the hills were suitable only for the grazing of sheep. It was these hill sheep and the harsh weather in which the farming families lived that governed the farmers’ year.

In the second decade of the 20th century the towns of Motherwell and Hamilton and their surroundings were expanding rapidly. More water was needed, both for the growing population and for industry. It was decided that either a new reservoir or expansion of existing ones would be needed. After consultation it was decided to build a new reservoir in the Camps Valley. The period for completion of the project was to be ten years from when the site was chosen in 1913. Some of the farms in the base of the valley would be lost when the reservoir was filled. The owners of these farms would be given other land on which to farm.

As plans got underway, World War 1 began. This increased demands on the water supply because the production of munitions, begun in the aforementioned towns, needed extra water. At the same time many of the available young men who might otherwise be engaged in building work, enlisted.

In May 1916, with work falling way behind schedule, it was arranged with the government that Prisoners of War would be employed on the project. One hundred German POWs arrived on 22nd August 1916 and a further one hundred and twenty on 7th September. They were paid the standard rate of wages. At first they lived in tents erected midway along the valley. As winter approached and, with it, harsh weather, they were put to building huts for themselves near to where the reservoir embankment would be. These huts contained sleeping quarters for more than two hundred men, dining and recreational facilities, a kitchen, wash houses, bathrooms and a hospital. The complex was surrounded by a high, closely fixed barbed wire fence and had a military guard.

The POWs were not allowed to work on the main road or to handle explosives. Instead they were employed in building the combined road and railway through the valley (these would carry all materials needed for the work) and in the construction of the huge embankment. One of the POWs was killed during construction work. Shortly after the Armistice was signed, POW labour was dispensed with and work continued by British workmen.

Such industry necessarily brought change, much of it unwelcome, to this peaceful and unspoilt valley, where little had changed since the time of the Roman invasion. The novel seeks to explore the effect of the changes on the local population and the relationships between the farming communities and the German ‘invaders’ who are brought in to help with the building work.

Be sure to follow Dee on the rest of her blog tour!

A Last Goodbye blog tour banner_preview

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A Date for your Diary – my very first Author talk!

I’m super pleased to announce that I’ll be giving my very first author talk on September 28 at Southampton Central Library from 1-3pm. There will also be books on sale which I can sign for you!

Save the date and please do come along if you can – spaces are limited though so it’ll be first come first serve with spaces in the room.

An event will be created on Facebook as well, via The Borgia Bull facebook page so please do keep an eye out for that.

Cesare author talk Sept

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Timeless Season 2 – The Perfect Mix of Sci-Fi & Historical Drama

 

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I discovered NBC’s Timeless thanks to a historian friend of mine on Twitter, who told me to drop everything and watch this ‘silly yet amazing’ TV show. So off I toddled to Netflix and began watching the first episode. Safe to say I was hooked from the get go, and I binged the whole first season in a couple of days. It was the characters that hooked me first and foremost – Lucy Preston, played by the incredibly talented Abigail Spencer, is the main protagonist of the show and I think it was the characters love of history that truly drew me in. Her passion for the subject reminded me of myself in very many ways. And then there’s the character of Rufus, a bit of a nerd who’s in love with his equally as nerdy but exceptionally beautiful colleague Jiya, the is he/isn’t he bad guy Conor Mason, the hard as nails but mother like Agent Denise Christopher, the PTSD suffering Wyatt and the time bandit terrorist, Garcia Flynn (who is my absolute favourite, by the way!) In Season 1 we are introduced to the idea of time travel and the idea of Rittenhouse, an organisation who wants to change time to suit their own ends.

And that’s when we find out the apparent bad guy, Flynn, isn’t really all that bad at all. He just wants to stop Rittenhouse and get his family bad. His family who were brutally murdered by Rittenhouse sleeper agents.

Season 2 continues with this story, expanding on what was introduced in the first season. We see more of just what Rittenhouse are up to with their crazy wish to change history and we learn much more about the characters who were introduced to us. We see Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer) change from a timid historian into a strong young woman who won’t take no for an answer. We see Connor Mason (Paterson Joseph) turn into a man who stands up for what he believes in. We see Flynn (Goran Visnjic) on a redemption arc. We see Wyatt (Matt Lanter) struggle with getting what he truly wants. We see Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) actually working side by side with a man who once wanted to kill him and we see Jiya (Claudia Doumit) come to terms with something incredibly life changing. And then we see other characters (the bad ones!) sink deeper into themselves. The character of Emma (Annie Wersching) is a prime example of this. Now, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the character of Emma is an example of a truly well written villain. She has her good points, and she has her bad points.

In fact, every single character within this show have their good points and bad points. There is no black and white here. There’s always that grey area.

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As in season one, we see our favourite Time Team travel through time using the Lifeboat – a device developed by Mason Industries in order to travel back through time – and during their missions to stop Rittenhouse from causing chaos, they meet some of the most iconic characters from American history including Mrs Sherlock Holmes, Mary Humiston; JFK and Harriet Tubman. What struck me about the times that our heroes travelled back to wasn’t the fact that they were visiting these times, but it was the fact that they were concentrating on parts of history that people tend to just gloss over. And for me, a historian who concentrates mainly on the Italian Renaissance, I found myself garnering an interest in these eras of American History that I truly know very little about. Let’s just say I’ll be scooting about for some books on many of the eras introduced in the second season of this wonderful show.

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What I found particularly impressive about this season was that, along with the epic stories of character development and crazy time travel to stop psycho time travelling terrorists, we are introduced to topics that are very rarely brought up in any sort of programme. Ever. I was particularly taken with Agent Christopher’s  back story and how she believed that she had to marry a man in order to keep her family happy and that she couldn’t go against her faith. In the end it was a happy ending all around (again, I don’t want to spoil it fully) but we saw her embracing her sexuality and taking a stand. This was an incredibly moving piece of television and one that had many fans of the show finding their own strength to come out to their friends and families. Now tell me, how many television shows can do that? The stories that were shared on twitter after the episode was aired were just absolutely inspiring.

Racism and sexism throughout history are also topics that come up throughout the season. Not only do we see the recording of Robert Johnson’s wonderful blues album in 1936 and how people of colour back then had to deal with racism, but we are also shown the work of the suffragette movement in 1919. These subjects are dealt with in a sympathetic and completely expert manner – I truly cannot fault the writers of Timeless for any of their work on not only these episodes, but every single other episode as well.

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The cast of this show are incredibly talented and truly make you either fall in love with their characters or despise them. Yet even if you end up despising a character, there’s a part of you that either loves them or feels sorry for them. Like I said earlier, there are grey areas galore in these characters and that’s only a tiny part of what makes this show so damned good. With a diverse cast who truly live and breathe this show, there is really nothing that Timeless can do wrong. Not only does it introduce eras and people from history who aren’t so well known, but it gets people interested in history and for me that is one of the most important things that this show is doing right now. It has proven that history isn’t just about learning dates and being able to recite them by heart, but that history belongs to all of us. It’s gotten people wanting to learn more which is something I believe every historical drama should be doing – hell, history teachers even show Timeless to their classes and have spoken widely about just how much their students love the show and how it reels them in to a discipline that has long been seen as ‘one for the nerds’.

I highly recommend Timeless to anyone with even an inkling of interest in history. Even if you have no interest in it and are more of a Sci-Fi person, watch it anyway. Or just watch it even if you don’t care about either. I promise you that you will love this show.

Now all we need is for NBC to hurry up and renew this phenomenal television show. We need a season 3 after that EPIC season finale!

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[Review] A Last Goodbye by Dee Yates

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In a remote hill farm in beautiful Scotland, Ellen and her father Duncan are enjoying a peaceful life away from the belching mills and hustle and bustle of the growing towns. In time they’re joined by rugged farmhand Tom, come to lend some muscle to Ellen’s ageing father, who has begun to find sheep farming hard to manage alone. Almost inevitably romance grows between Ellen and the new arrival but once married however, Ellen discovers that Tom has a brutish side to his character. As war in Europe spreads, she begins to dream of him leaving for the trenches as a way for her to escape.

Even with Tom fighting abroad however, the family can not hide from the realities of war as a group of POWs are brought to their valley to build a reservoir. And amongst the men, sworn enemies and shunned by all the locals, Ellen finds a gentler heart that she finds difficult to resist…

First of all I’d just like to extend a massive thanks to Head of Zeus for allowing me to review this book. I’ve been on a bit of a historical fiction kick recently so when I was approached to review it, I jumped at the chance. It helped that the subject line in the email said it was heartbreaking.

I’m a sucker for pain.

And let me tell you…it was worth every painful moment that made me want to hate this book and throw my kindle out of the window in a storm of tears.

Yates’ newest work is set in the highlands of Scotland on a remote sheep farm, right in the midst of the First World War. Our main character is Ellen, a young woman who lives with her aging father and gets a little too involved with their new shephard Tom. And when I say gets a little too involved, I mean that she lands herself in a whole heap of trouble and has to marry Tom. I’m going to be honest here, I despised Tom from the moment I first met him – there was just something terribly off about his character, the sort of young man who comes across as slimey – and my hatred for him only got worse after he married Ellen and shipped himself off to fight in the War.

Poor Ellen finds herself stuck in a violent marriage with a small child so is it any wonder that she wants to find happiness elsewhere?

With Tom away fighting in France, Ellen ends up spending time with a young German POW. This young man is sweet and kind, everything that Tom isn’t. And you can really see the differences between the two men when Tom returns from the Front. He’s brutish and violent, affected by his time in the trenches (which I’ll be honest, I did feel very sorry for him at this point. I’ve studied the First World War in some details and the effects of shell shock are horrendous) Ellen’s loyalties are completely torn and as you read, you can literally feel her confusion and her pain over it all. She’s married and has fallen out of love with her violent husband, but she knows she has to remain loyal to him. Yet at the same time she’s fallen head over heels in love with a man who is supposed to be the enemy.

This book is seriously gripping and I couldn’t put it down no matter how much I wanted to at times. Yates’ writing really hooks you and reels you in, her characterisation of these people practically consuming you. It’s not often that a writer can make you despise and love a character with just a flick of a page. And it’s even more rare to find yourself feeling sorry for, and crying over, a character who has just been a massive arse for the whole novel.

If you like painful romance in your historical fiction, then this is the book for you. And trust me when I tell you it is painful. Very painful. The ending is so bittersweet that it leaves you feeling almost bereft – and Yates should be commended for that. This read is a gripping, fast paced page turner that truly takes you into the world these characters live in – I highly recommend it.

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