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No wonder they were peeved

From a letter in The Times (28 September 1917):

I propose to relate a few facts which came within my knowledge in the summer of 1872, the time when the inhabitants of Aisace-Lorraine were called on to determine as to their future nationality and, on a certain day, to vote whther they would remain French or become German. I was then brought into daily contact with all classes of the inhabitants. This “option,” as it was called, was in everybody’s thoughts, as all French families in the annexed provinces had in the immediate future to decide whether they would continue to reside where they had been born, or leave their homes in order to live in France, from which they had been torn, or in some other country, or, as an alternative, to become German, with all the effects and responsibilities involved in such a change. In cases where fathers were beyond the age for conscription and there were not sons, the choice was generally in favour of remaining in homes where most of them had been born, and submitting to a foreign yoke. But the wrench was a terrible one in cases where there happened to be sons, as these, if they remained in what was soon to be called the Reichsland, would be compelled to be educated in German schools and eventually to be enrolled in the German Army. Thus it was that in many cases homes were broken up and French families hurriedly sold their property at a great sacrifice and migrated in order that they might remain French and continue to dwell in the country they loved.

I really had no idea that German rule in Alsace-Lorraine was that brutal. I understand that Bismarck was totally against the annexation. Smart cookie that Bismarck.

46 comments to No wonder they were peeved

  • fcal

    Interesting letter written (?) 55 years after the events in the middle of WW1 (1917), complaining about the fact the inhabitants of Alsace-Lorraine had to choose their nationality in 1872. Since over 90 percent of these were German-speaking, they overwhelmingly opted for the German nationality. The French ‘yoke’ seemed not to be that loved. Those who didn’t were not dispossesed and were able to keep it or sell it. That was the sequel of a lost war (1870-1871) and transfer of territory. The Alsatians experienced this quite a few times in the course of history.

  • bob sykes

    It could be argued that Bismarck set in motion both WW I and WW II and is responsible for Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler and Merkel.

    When the Soviet Union collapsed, the West would have been better served if Bush I had insisted also on the breakup of West German and East Germany back into the original baronies.

  • fcal

    The industrial revolution in Germany in the second part of the 19th century brought about such affluence that Bismarck was able to introduce social security and old age pension for nearly every German. In this way he also fathered indirectly Obamacare and the fat pensions of the political personnel.

  • Alsadius

    What brutality? The draft was pretty typical in that era, as were schools only being in one language. I’m sure France operated similarly on their Germanic citizens.

  • I have to agree with commenters above who say that conscription as such, at that time, was not an unusual brutality over and above the act of annexation itself. The letter quoted does not explicitly say it is but merely describes the distress it caused to families where there was no desire to serve the German army and sons of an age to do so. After WWI, the inhabitants became French again – except for any who relocated to Germany – and had to serve in the French army.

    Bismark advised encouraging a degree of autonomy and Alsatian particularism – “The more Alsatian they feel, the less they will feel French” – but his more average German successors did not see the need.

  • Fred Z

    I stayed in Riquewihr, Alsace 20 years ago and got to know my B and B owner, who spoke English after working in the San Francisco hotel business.

    He said that Alsatians loathe both France and Germany and would, like Quebec and Catalonia, prefer independence.

    I speak fluent German and when I asked the man to demonstrate the local dialect, I understood almost nothing.

    A very interesting place, great food, wine and beer

  • Mr Ed

    When I studied French in the 1990s, the class had an ‘Assistante’ i..e. a native French-speaker from Alsace. Our teacher told us that his French and English was German-accented and he was often taken for a German in France, which he seemed to find amusing. Not hearing any particular accent to his French, someone asked him to speak in English, his satisfactory response was ‘Vot do you vont me to tsay?’.

    From that I suppose that the German influence on Alsace remains strong almost a century after WW1 ended.

  • Patrick Crozier

    A few years ago I went over to Alsace for my cousin’s wedding (to a German no less). The road they lived on had a German name. In the mairie there was a war memorial. It must have been second. 33 out of the 36 names were – to my ears – German. I spoke to one of my cousin’s colleagues. An ancestor of his (father or grandfather, not sure which) had been a fluent German speaker. In the last 40 years of his life he hadn’t spoken a word of it. The impression I gained was that it was thoroughly French.

    As way of contrast, the British did not attempt to conscript the Irish in either World War.

  • Jacob

    I also visited Alsace (a wonderful place) and spoke with an old chap, in German (I don’t speak French). He told me the story of his father who was conscripted into the French navy after WW1, at the age of 17, and served there though he spoke no French at all.
    I’m not sure which was worse – serving in the French or German army.
    But I think the French have succeeded in eradicating any Alsatian identity, as now all speak only French, and the young probably identify as French, not Alsatian.

  • fcal

    The territory of Mulhouse (Mühlhausen in German) in Southern Alsace, North of the Sundgau was part of the old Swiss Confederation from 1515 till 1798. This particular status was abolished by the French revolutionaries. During the ‘Ancien Régime’ Alsace-Lorraine was quasi independent with regard to culture and religion. Schools were anilingual German. This continued during the 19th century since there were no general schooling laws. The 50-60 year period of German sovereignty in the late 19th century and early 20th century only emphasized this direction. After WW1 the majority of the Alsace-Lorraine inhabitants were not in favour of either French or German rule, they hoped for a ‘Swiss’-like solution of an independent confederation of ‘cantons’. They even created a short lived republic in this sense. French military force put swiftly an end to this.

  • Paul Marks

    Sadly not even the taking of Alsace-Lorraine proved to be enough for the ruling faction of the German elite by 1914 – the brutal fact is that the German Declaration of War upon France in 1914 was a pack-of-lies (it even has the French bombing Bavaria) and that the German war aims were not legitimate – they were unjust. Those who deny this do Germans no favours – as only by a sincere admission of fault (of starting not just the 2nd World War but also the 1st World War – and with the motive of unlimited POWER in denial of objective natural justice) can there be a true repentance. And only by true repentance can people give up such desires as a “United Europe” under German domination. Still back to the 1870s….

    Well the Prussians treated the French no worse than they (the Prussians) treated the Poles and that was an outrage that went back into the 18th century – see Edmund Burke’s “Annual Register” for how Prussian behaviour in 18th century Poland was worse than Austrian or Russian behaviour in Poland in the same period. The “Cult of Frederick the Great” in Britain (which still exists) masks the fact that Frederick was a despot and his regime behaved in a disgusting way even by the standards of the time.

    As for Bismark a century later – he was clever Patrick, but he was NOT wise. He tended to release demons, for purposes of political advantage, and then find (“surprise-surprise”) that he could not control the demons he had unleashed. For example it was Bismark who secretly subsidised the German socialists in the 1860s – in order to frighten property owners into supporting the government, the plan worked. The trouble was that the plan worked much too well – and the socialists got out of Bismark’s control, and ended up a the terrible menace to the world they have been ever since (Bismark found he could not destroy the monster he had created).

    Bismark also promoted German nationalism and militarism – he needed their support if he was to castrate the Prussian Parliament (which he did in 1861 by increasing taxes without the consent of Parliament), and if Prussia was to take over Germany. This plan worked to – but again the demons got out of control (OF COURSE they got out of control), and one sign of this was the annexing of A-L.

    Only a few years later Bismark was busy pushing antisemitism – the National Liberals (who only a little while before had been his allies – he had split them from the other liberals in one of his divide-and-rule operations) were now a “party of Jews”. Of course Bismark himself did not really believe that liberalism was a Jewish conspiracy – but he let loose devils who did believe it. He thought he could control them – but, of course, they got out of control.

    The socialists, the German nationalists and militarists, and then the Jew-haters, – each time Bismark very cleverly used them for his own purposes. But he could not think beyond clever tactics – he did not see what he was doing to the long term future. At least he did not see till too late.

    Later in life there was the campaign of persecution against the Roman Catholic (the “Culture War”) because they held that a person’s first loyalty was to natural justice (understood by the reason of God – in natural law), yet the Prussian schools taught that there was nothing more important than the state and whatever-the-state-ordered (no matter what it was) the state was to be obeyed. The “Culture War” was not a total failure (as is sometimes claimed) – as the Roman Catholic Church did compromise, but it did not make the fundamental concessions demanded. Then there was the persecution of the socialists (whom Bismark had subsidised a few years before) – and that ended in utter failure (just turning the socialists into hero figures – making the problem worse).

    True Bismark warned against making France a permanent enemy – but the forces that he himself had unleashed ignored his (too quiet) warnings. And Bismark also told everyone who would listen that the Prussian-German alliance with Russia was vital (especially in the long term) – but he had boosted German nationalists (and German racialists) too long, the new generation, such as Kaiser Wilhelm II, ignored his warnings – and Bismark himself was dismissed in 1890. It is true that both Tsar Alexander III and Tsar Nicholas II (very different men – although father and son) both thought that Kaiser Wilhelm was insane when they met him, but Wilhelm was not really insane. It was more a matter of being intellectually drunk – drunk on the vile ideas (for example “blood and iron” rather than morality) that Bismark had pushed for years (ideas that Bismark himself did not really believe in – but thought he could benefit from politically).

    Ironically Bismark came to bitterly regret the death of his arch enemy – the Classical Liberal Kaiser Frederick. Indeed even before Kaiser Frederick died (of cancer in 1888) after his brief reign (Frederick did not live long enough to really rule) Bismark was filled with dread – he desperately did NOT want his old enemy to die. Bismark finally understood that he could not control that the forces he had unleashed – and that, if Kaiser Frederick died, those forces would sweep away sanity in Germany, and lead Germany into horror.

    Meanwhile in the universities what we call the “historicists” (although they called themselves the “Historical School”) had swept away real economics in Germany. I stress “in Germany” – not in the German speaking lands, as in the Empire of the Hapsburgs it was still possible to find people in universities who taught real economics – rather than the-state-is-God, the-state-can-do-anything, citing-logical-reasoning-against-a-promise-of-the-state-is-treason. Not that such people, such as Carl Menger, were pure free market types (they most certainly were NOT) – but they did hold there were laws of economics that applied to all times and places (see Carl Menger’s “The Errors of Historicism” 1883) that the idea that different economic (and different moral) principles applied in different times and places was both wrong and evil.

    Germans of an older generation (for example Prince Albert or the short lived Kaiser Frederick) believed the same (believed that reason could find what was morally right, and that one could make one’self do it against one’s base desires) – but they had lost in Germany. And perhaps the cause of their defeat can be summed up in one word – BISMARK.

    Perhaps it is best summed up in a work of fiction (as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have shown literature, fiction, can sometimes show) better than my own clumsy and dry words of fact (for example my own article on this site on the the moral DIFFERENCES among factions of the German elite in the First and Second World Wars).

    For the different sorts of German (different in their ideas and choices – not DNA) one can do worse (a lot worse) than watch the film “The Eagle Has Landed” – at least the start. In real life such families as the Wittelsbachs, once rulers of Bavaria, made the same moral choice (to follow objective and eternal moral law – not the arbitrary WILL of the State) that “Colonel Steiner” makes when he sees the Jewess running for her life.

    The Wittelbachs (perhaps the oldest noble family in Germany) ended up in Dachau. The Hapsburgs, once rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, also risked their lives. And sincere (“simplistic”) Christians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Admiral Canaris (head of German military intelligence) not only risked their lives in the defence of basic objective moral right – they lost their lives.

  • fcal

    Well, as far as the so-called Prussian or German oppression of the new Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine (1872) is concerned, this region which was for 90% German speaking, remained clear of the methods utilized in the East (Poznan …). These methods didn’t apply here. Some French speaking enclaves in the Western Vosges were granted the possibility to exercise their French cultural aims without undue interference. (French-language schools etc…) It seems you havea tendency to depict everything German as negative. Why?

  • Chester Draws

    There is no place Alsace-Lorraine. There is Alsace, and there is Lorraine.

    Alsace was a German speaking province of France (now a department), and many of its inhabitants were happy to be Germans. They mostly spoke German, ate German food, etc. Looking at the place names gives an idea how German it is. Annexing it to Germany is defendable (at least as defendable as the French annexation in the first place).

    Lorraine was a mostly French speaking province of France. Only a third of it was annexed anyway, but it included bits traditionally French. Those were devastated to be made German. Its annexation was purely military, and Bismark knew it to be a bad idea.

    Lumping all the annexation into one, spurious, province isn’t hugely useful.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Draws – Alsace is indeed an interesting case, but there is no case what-so-ever for “annexing it to Germany” – an state that did not even exist before 1871. Would you say that people in Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland should be “annexed to Germany” (I repeat a state that did not even exist before 1871) because they “speak German” and “eat German food”? Of course not. The idea that people who speak the same language (or sort-of the same language) should all be under the same government, whether they like it or not, is nonsense.

    German and Italian “unification” in the 19th century was a disaster leading (in Italy) to higher taxes, more government spending, conscription (Sicily did not have conscription before “unification”), rigged voting (the laughable “votes for unification” that the Italian “liberals” put on as shows), language persecution (because people did not really “speak the same language”) and very large numbers of killings (put down as as action against “bandits” in Sicily). In Germany – it led to higher taxes (for example in Hanover), religious persecution (of Roman Catholics), and war and put the German speaking people on the path to disaster in the early 20th century.

    As for the autonomy of Alsace – that is indeed, as I said, an interesting thing that you (rightly) raise. Even in the 18th century there was a lot of dispute over this.

    When King Louis XVI revoked the French laws against the Jews and the Protestants (ignorant people think that French Revolution did this – actually it was Louis XVI before the Revolution, the same is true of TORTURE it was Louis XVI who abolished this) there were legal protests from Alsace (especially in relation to the JEWS) that the King of France, although also lord of Alsace, had no right to change the laws of Alsace without the consent of the Estates of Alsace. And although I despise the laws that Louis XVI got rid of I admit that the people of Alsace (and you Chester Draws) were LEGALLY CORRECT – Louis XVI had no right to change the laws of Alsace without their consent, and so was forced to not to apply his edict on religious toleration in Alsace. By the way this one of the signs that Louis XVI was a weak man – his ancestor Louis XIV would have hanged people who disputed his authority, and the weakness of Louis XVI was noted by his enemies, people who certainly did NOT believe in the autonomy of Alsace (or anywhere else).

    Even today inheritance law is different in Alsace than in the rest of France – the strict dividing up of land among the children (an absurd system introduced by the French Revolution) is not so rigid in Alsace. As in Germany it is less difficult to keep a farm together (avoid it being broken up) in Alsace than in the rest of France.

  • Guy Sajer, who wrote the superb The Forgotten Soldier, was a French Alsation who found himself conscripted into the German army. He didn’t seen too bothered fighting for them, but his conflicted identity did get mentioned.

  • Paul Marks

    In attacking Otto Von Bismark one must not allow him to take all the blame.

    What of the man who appointed him?

    Yes Wilhelm was corrupted by the promises of Bismark that he would be able to increase taxes (in 1861) without submitting to the authority of the Prussian Parliament (just collect the taxes without the consent of Parliament – leave it to me said Bismark) and by later promises that he (the King of Prussia) would become Emperor (Kaiser) of all of a new state called “Germany” (the so called “unification”). But Wihelm knew what was being done was morally wrong – he made efforts to resist Bismark’s plans at various times, and kept saying he-did-not-want-to X,Y, Z. But he never got rid of Bismark and, in the end, Wilhelm (the first) went along with the things that he “did not want to do”.

    One can argue about the war of 1864 (the Danes had indeed violated the autonomy of both Schleswig and Holstein – but two wrongs do not make a right, and Prussia taking over these places was WRONG), but the war of 1866 (like that of 1870 – Bismark created this war by his manipulations) was an outrage and King Wilhelm knew it – he knew that he (Wilhelm) had no moral right to such places as the Kingdom of Hanover, but he allowed Bismark to corrupt him into these evil deeds. Bismark’s mocking of morality was less blatant in front of the King – he would never have said “blood and iron” rather than moral law to Wilhelm (that would be too crude), but Wilhelm knew what Bismark was – and never got rid of him. Sorry but the “it was not ME it was my evil minister….” defence does not work.

    Prussian actions in 1866 were less brutal than German actions in 1914 or 1939 – but the principle was the same, invading (and TAKING) lands that they HAD NO MORAL RIGHT TO. Bismark’s sneering words about morality make the offence worse (not better) – and his theft of the money of such people as the King of Hanover for his (Bismark’s) personal use, just made the thing even more squalid. Like the “liberal” thugs who went around looting banks (and other business enterprises) in 1861 in Naples as their “contribution” to a “United Italy”.

    Of course decades (generations) of brainwashing, via the government schools, gradually convinced most people in such places as Hanover that they were “citizens of the state of Germany” (a state that did not even exist before 1871), but an independence party still had some support as late as the 1920s.

    It should also be remembered that the same people who argued there was no objective economics (the people who took over German universities) also taught there was no objective morality. They held that different “races” and “historical periods” had not just “different economic laws”, but also “different moral laws” (as if morality was subjective – relative).

    They looked back to people such as the philosopher Fichte in the early 19th century (it is worth looking up what this profoundly evil man taught – he took the arguments of Kant and used them to get the opposite conclusions). Otto Von Bismark may have really been a cynic (who did not really believe in the vile ideas he pushed), but Fichte believed in them (back when Bismark was unknown) as did later German leaders such as General Ludendorff (First World War) and Chancellor Hitler (Second World War).

  • Paul Marks

    To people who do not understand the concept of having the same monarch, but not being under the same government – and therefore do not understand why the actions of the Danes before 1864 were wrong (although, of course, Bismark used it as a excuse to do even worse things), think of an example closer to home.

    Queen Elizabeth the second is also the monarch of the Isle of Man and Guernsey and Jersey. Does this give the government in Westminster the moral right to impose its taxes and laws on these places? Of course NOT – no more than the Queen being Queen of Canada and Australia and New Zealand gives the bureaucrats and politicians in Westminster any rights to impose their taxes and regulations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

    The people of the islands should say this – very clearly. For example documents from the British Home Office should be returned-to-sender (unopened), and there should be no paying of the BBC tax (“license fee”).

    Communication should be with actual servants of the monarch – not with servants of the British government who (by a legal fiction) are treated as if the Queen personally appointed them.

    But it is certainly not the place of France to annex the Channel Islands, or the Republic of Ireland to annex the Isle of Man under the “justification” that Westminster is intervening in their internal affairs. Or the “justification” that once the people of the Channel Islands spoke French and still have French names, or the “justification” that the Isle of Man (in Viking times) was ruled from Dublin.

  • Ljh

    A lot of young German men, not only those having to chose their loyalties in A-L, left newly unified Germany in order to avoid military conscription, finding Prussian militarism abhorrent. Many went to the Americas and also Australia. There is an Ozzie organisation which has carefully documented these migrants, unfortunately my mind is blank as I try to remember its name.

  • While on a visit to Aldernay, one of the Channel Islands (of the English Channel variety, not the Channel Islands of my home California variety) I was impressed by the locals insistence on calling HRH Elizabeth Windsor the Duke of Normandy (not Duchess!). As an outsider, quite amusing.

  • Robbo

    “the people of the Channel Islands spoke French and still have French names”

    No, they spoke various dialects of Norman (also known as Norman French), which is related to but not the same as French, and French, and English.

  • Mr Ed

    No, they spoke various dialects of Norman (also known as Norman French), which is related to but not the same as French

    But the point is that the pretext can be true or based on a misrepresentation, as with Germany and its many dialects, e.g. Swabian. The absolute truth of the pretext is not relevant, it is a fig leaf. Whether it covers a load of balls or only a part, it is still convenient, as the wrongdoers know they are in the wrong, and wish to pretend otherwise. Shameless bastards they might be, but a good lie is always welcome to them. They like to sneer at the credulous useful idiots.

  • fcal

    When did Britain’s monarchy switched from French to Norman (nowadays called English)?

  • Paul Marks

    fcal – the first monarch to support literature in “English” (after the conquest) was Edward III, a taste for English literature that was carried on by his son Richard II.

    We do not know which language previous Kings choose to speak in private. Certainly even Henry the first (son of William the Bastard) made a show of his knowledge of English – part of his campaign to bring the English on his side against his elder brothers. The other parts of his campaign being to stress that he was born in England (and after the conquest – and so had no part in atrocities in the north of England and so on), married a direct descendant of Alfred the Great (many Normans married Anglo Saxon heiresses – almost as if they wanted a moral, nor just legal, claim to the land they now held), and issued a charter (in 1100 – a century before the Great Charter of 1215) to have his powers limited by the law. However, I am sure he was mainly a French speaker.

    Calling English “Norman” is incorrect as most of it is from Anglo-Saxon not Norman-French (although Robbo was correct to stress the importance of diversity in what is historically called “French”).

  • Paul Marks

    ZilWerks – yes the Duke, not the Queen (or even the Duchess).

    I think this is because “Duke” implies the ruler or leader (from the Latin for “leader”) whereas “Duchess” implies just wife of the Duke.

    Interesting in late Roman ranking “Count” outranked “Duke” (I am using the modern spelling) and later “Duke” outranked “Count” – some have argued that this is because many “Dukes” (i.e. front line military commanders) were of “barbarian” origin in the late (Western) Roman Empire, and when they took over they did not like the idea of being outranked (even in theory) by the (mainly Roman) “Counts” and so reversed the ranking order.

    Also heavy cavalry in the West (lots of armour) is not an invention of the Middle Ages – the late Roman period had lots of heavy cavalry (as well as lighter horse archers), even before the introduction of stirrups.

    As late as the 1980s there was still debate over whether late Roman heavy cavalry “shock charged” before the introduction of stirrups – but it is now accepted that they did, with a Roman saddle (large, like a Western saddle, and raised at all four corners) preventing people falling off their horses as a result of a shock charge.

    The problem late Roman cavalry faced was the use of caltrops (metal spikes designed to go in the foot) by their enemies (including the Angle and Saxon tribal peoples) – ironically caltrups had been extensively used by the Romans themselves.

    What every film I have seen gets WRONG is that it does not stress the Roman practice of spreading caltrups and other mines (booby traps) in front of their formations. And the Roman practice of digging and building (very fast) to funnel enemy forces to where they wanted them to be.

    Every Roman soldier carried a military pick – partly as an armour and helmet weapon (although most barbarians did not have much armour), but mostly to build trenches and so on.

    Facing the Romans (in the days before their regular army fell apart – due to INTERNAL ECONOMIC DECAY CAUSED BY STATISM) was almost hopeless – if one went in fast against them (the film “barbarian charge”) one ran the risk of stepping on a caltrop or into some other booby trap. And if one went in slow (at walking pace) that gave the Romans a lot of time to bombard an enemy force with projectiles (not just pilums – but lead sling shots from infantry and other infantry projectiles, and Roman specialist artillery also).

    Also the Romans (in as little as a few hours) will have “shaped the battlefield” to funnel enemy forces to where they (the Romans) wanted them to be. DIG, DIG, DIG – if you want to avoid being outflanked or attacked from the rear.

    The mines in Rome (from which the special building stone [softish till it hardens over time with exposure to the air] and the volcanic dust for Roman concrete comes from) are very big and very old (perhaps older than any buildings on the surface).

    I suspect that the original Romans came to this site for the stone and the dust – i.e. that they were miners. It would help explain the Roman obsession with practical engineering and building work which is at the heart of everything they do, even their military tactics.

  • Paul Marks

    For a long time people did not know what the groves on the sides of the lead bullets (Roman sling shot ammo) were for. It is now known the groves were for SOUND effects.

    Every Roman infantry soldier carried a sling (a military sling – not a school-boy one) and the whistling sound of the lead bullets fired from them would have been scary. As would seeing one’s “barbarian” friends and comrades suddenly dropping dead – seemingly for no reason. Of course other barbarian warriors would be dying for obvious reasons – large scale Roman artillery weapons hitting them.

    Some tribes of Celts liked to show off their courage by fighting almost naked in battle – and in open order. They might as well have just committed mass suicide against a regular Roman army.

    However, if the Romans could be caught on-the-march (before they had deployed and “shaped the battle field” with their building and mining work) the result was very different.

    As late as 1176 the Byzantine (East Roman – Greek speaking) Emperor Manuel (Manuel II – I think) gave up his offensive against the invading Turks in Asia Minor (what is now Turkey) partly because he had split his army and one part of it has been ambushed (the Byzantine army seems to have had a scouting deficiency in history – there are quite a few ambushes and enemy forces turning up where they were not expected), but also because an attack had deprived him of most of his ARTILLERY. Even in 1176 a Roman (or Byzantine) army still had a great stress on artillery.

    We still do not know the details of Roman artillery – which was different from the mechanical (and complicated) stone throwers and so on of the Middle Ages.

    We know it relied on coiled animal gut – but the animal gut was treated in a special way to increase its stretching and how much force it could contain and release.

    A bolt fired from a Roman artillery piece could go through several men (regardless of shields) at quite long range – a range much greater than enemy archers could return fire.

    Over the centuries the rate at which Roman artillery could be loaded and reloaded was improved (for example by two pull-back handles replacing the old wheel – one would pump-the-handles rather than turn the wheel), but at some point Roman military knowledge (how actually to prepare the animal gut for the “hell screamers” – Roman military slang for the waling sound the artillery made when being loaded) was lost.

    But then we do not even understand Byzantine “Greek fire” – the use of stuff that was fired via tubes and seemed to explode (not just catch fire) when deployed against the enemy.

    Certainly it was not used against the 4th Crusade in the early 1200s – the knowledge of how to make it seems to have already been lost (perhaps in the internal chaos that plagued the Byzantines after the death of the Emperor Manuel).

  • Paul Marks

    For the decline of the American Army officers, both in their technical knowledge and in their loyalty to the Res-Publica. See my recent “Facebook” post where I repost the statements of someone who claims to be a West Point instructor.

    I hope it is NOT true – because it reads like the account of a Roman writer in the late Empire writing about how ignorant barbarians (who could not even read and write) were taking over the command of the army.

    I half expected him to write “and the armour and helmets no longer fit” [because of the useless state arms factories] so the men go unarmoured into battle – and the shields are oval, flat and thin” and then to go on about how the sword had moved from the right hand side of the body (the Roman pistol-draw type sword) to the left hand side of the body – a sign that close order fighting was no longer being taught.

    As for the lack of loyalty to (or even understanding of) the Res-Publica – the Frankfurt School of Marxism doctrines now being taught at West Point (introduced in the time of Barack Obama) make horrific reading – the barbarians not being “at the gates” but MANNING THE GATES.

    Again – I hope it turns out that what I passed on turns out or be FAKE.

  • Interesting in late Roman ranking “Count” outranked “Duke” (I am using the modern spelling) and later “Duke” outranked “Count” – some have argued that this is because many “Dukes” (i.e. front line military commanders) were of “barbarian” origin in the late (Western) Roman Empire, and when they took over they did not like the idea of being outranked (even in theory) by the (mainly Roman) “Counts” and so reversed the ranking order. (Paul Marks, October 17, 2017 at 12:14 pm)

    No, it had nothing to do with barbarian versus Roman. The duces commanded the somewhat militia-like frontier limitanei whereas the comes commanded the elite mobile reserves. While the empire lasted, the latter were of course higher-ranked than the former. When it fell, the large frontier areas garrisoned by the duces were larger than the smaller districts where the comes were stationed. Thus the practical order of importance reversed, since more land meant more important.

  • Paul Marks

    Agreed Niall I know all that – but the Duces did tend to become barbarian, and the frontier forces (the division in the army dating from Constantine) became less and less Roman (of course so did the field army itself – so I accept your point about that). Over time frontier troop became worthless (either barbarians or peasant militia). And Constantine’s idea of having the main army around the Emperor in the capital makes no sense – at least no military sense (as Romans moved at the speed of their feet and those of their horses), it makes perfect sense as a way of making frontier generals less important, and thus less of a threat to him. Who cares if the provinces are destroyed – as long as the Emperor is unchallenged.

    My mistake was to say “son” rather than “grandson” when talking about Richard II – history would have been rather different if the Black Prince had lived. Just as history would have been very different if Henry V had lived. History is decided by small events – individual choices (a choice is NEITHER determined or chance – a choice is a choice, it can not be reduced to something else) and LUCK (chance – such as getting ill, or dying in a ship wreak as Henry the first’s son Arthur did), not grand “historical forces”

    On Roman tactics – they tended (at least normally) to be counter punchers on the battle field. Absorb the enemy attack and then counter punch.

    Julius Caesar appears to have been an exception – and I admit I could not have followed his tactics. For example how does one coordinate light infantry mixed with cavalry in an attack – and make sure the heavy infantry in the centre do not get left behind? I would have made a horrible mess of all this – and much else of what Julius did.

    I can understand textbook tactics – the sort of thing Pompey did, and that is what I would do. But, of course, Pompey LOST.

    Patrick might argue that my mind is far too textbook – Classical textbook.

    For example, the Constantinople campaign of 1915 – which never even got to Constantinople due to the failure of the British army and Royal Navy to even get past or take a small peninsula (what is a “professional” officer core for if it can not even do that?), why I am so in favour of the plan?

    Could it have anything to do with “when engaged in a siege, surround (or at least cut off) the target and link up with allied forces”.

    Encircle the target (in this case the Central Powers) and link up with allied forces (in this case the Russians) – it is drilled into you into the classical texts. But that does not automatically make it the correct policy in 1915. I think it is the correct policy – but that could be something to do with accepting a certain view (the Classical view) of military affairs since I was a young child.

  • fcal

    @ Paul Marks –
    “The first monarch to support literature in “English” (after the conquest) was Edward III, a taste for English literature that was carried on by his son Richard II.
    We do not know which language previous Kings choose to speak in private.”
    In 1347 Edouard III was definitely very French when he picked up the fallen garter of his dance partner and said “Honi soit, qui mal y pense”. This souvereign didn’t seem to be very ‘Anglo-Saxon’. Of course he wasn’t all powerful in such language matters, since the 1362 statute of pleading ordered the ‘English’ language to be used in law courts.

  • Mr Ed


    Iirc the Romanovs spoke French amongst themselves, tor Edward it was not a lingua franca and the everyday language might not have been used at court. Who was the first to say ‘Pretentious? Moi?’?

  • fcal

    Mr Ed – How would I know? You tell me, please.

  • One cause of the evolution of English at court was that its provincial Norman French was mocked in France. Chaucer’s ‘none prioress’

    spoke Frensshe of the schoole at Bowe
    for Frensshe of Paris was to hire unknowe

    and English courtiers preferred to speak unchallenged English than mockable French. IIUC, by Chaucer’s day (1330-1400) the process was already pretty well complete.

    Of course, the Norman nobles’ English was not unchallengeable. It was merely imprudent for their English-knowing servants to challenge it. That is how English lost its case-endings, genders, etc. The visiting or visited French nobleman could risk having fun at the expense of the Norman noble’s attempt to speak French. The English peasant helping the Norman noble onto his horse for a day’s hunting found it expedient to suppress his giggle at the lord’s hideous mangling of old English. The mid-1100s – the Stephen and Maltida (‘Brother Cadfail’ 🙂 ) period – is when the break occurs, with such English chronicles as there were being written in old English before and in stuff like the Chaucer I quote above – which we today can more or less follow – after.

  • Paul Marks

    fcal – I do not know how much of his time Edward III spent speaking French and how much speaking English, but he could certainly speak both languages. Although Mr Ed is right about Russian (and other nations) fashion – the upper classes have always shown off their knowledge of French and Latin, and there is no harm in that.

    Niall – that is an interesting theory, I had not really thought about it. And I should have.

    English does develop in an odd way – not just adding of some French words (I would expect that), but also the radical simplification of the rules.

    As you say (and I was too thick to think of for myself) it is as if important people were trying to speak English, getting it wrong and the simplified version being ruled O.K. (because they were important people).

    Still to get back to Patrick’s post.

    Neither Alsace or Lorraine had been part of the German nation-state before 1871 – partly because there was no such place before that date (it did not exist). And most people, even in Alsace, did not want to be under the rule of Berlin in 1914.

    But this is not even the key point – because the truth (the truth that German apologists keep ignoring) is that France did not engage in aggression against Germany in 1914 – it was the other way round.

    The Imperial German government declared war on France in 1914 – and the German Declaration of War upon France was a pack-of-lies.

  • Watchman

    It’s a pretty safe bet that all English monarchs spoke English (even if badly, with an accent – see Swein, Cnut, HarthaCnut, Edward the Confessor, William the Bastard, William Rufus, Stephen, Henry II, James I and VI). It would be bloody difficult for them to communicate otherwise, since most of the population wouldn’t speak Danish/Hungarian/Norman French/Angevin French/Scots.

    Only king I can think of who might not have really spoken English would be Richard I, who I think grew up in Normandy and was never very interested in his tax-producing kingdom (which he was not meant to inherit, as Henry the Young King (Henry IIa?) was the crowned heir to Henry II). But he must have learnt some surely.

    Niall – Old English is easy enough to follow if you read it aloud with a northern accent (if you have a northern accent, you still have to put one on…). Also, can’t see your explanation for the loss of case-endings and genders working since they last well into the fourteenth century, when the gentry and aristocracy were purely English, and French was not widely spoken – even if the servants had not corrected their masters, they would have transmitted the language amongst themselves with the markets intact, and the second generation Normans would have learnt English from native-speakers (in many cases their mothers) so the issue would have passed pretty rapidly. I believe the case markers disappeared more because sentance order became firmly established, which enables us to cope without additional syntactic markers, especially the accusative case, and English for some reason developed an unusual amount of meaning in direct and indirect articles and unusually detailed prepositions, which did away with the always vague ablative case (Old English only had four cases, and the nominative and genitive are still with us). Gender markers can still be observed as a relic in Shakespeare I believe, so also lasted – no idea why we got rid of them, since I have never found out the function they perform by existing in other languages.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Paul, above:

    “[I]t is as if important people were trying to speak English, getting it wrong and the simplified version being ruled O.K. (because they were important people).”

    Thank goodness nothing of the sort goes on today. –Although today, “simplified” is hardly the apt word (“those moving boxes that distracted me”; “Can Vegetable,” very good, except I have no idea how to vegetable. Not that I can put the latter, at least, into the mouths of the Elite as the originators).


    This discussion has gotten into territory that interests me muchly. Can any of you guys recommend to me a reasonably reliable (and readable) book on the history of the English language?


    Watchman, what do you mean by “gender markers”? Romance languages, at least, have male and female articles, as well as both gender-unspecified (i.e., the antecedent is to be variable across the entire set of humans, to put it semi-mathematically) and gender-specific third-person-singular pronouns: he (gender-unspecified), he (male specifically), she (female specifically). And many French nouns are grammatically assigned as either feminine or masculine.

    Likewise I can think of at least two nouns which may serve as antecedents to any of the three pronouns or their derivatives: “a person” and “one” (used as a noun). Of course, we commonly use “you” as a pronoun in any of the three senses; just not in formal writing.


    Also, Watchman:

    “I believe the case markers disappeared more because sentence order became firmly established….”

    and is now, unfortunately, reverting to a disestablished state. [I assume that by “sentence order” you mean the order of words in a sentence. (Of course, “backward ran sentences till reeled the mind” remains respectable, if perhaps a trifle affected. And Yoda, specifically, is excused.)]

  • Mr Ed

    Regarding the loss of declension in English, in the 1980s iirc I saw a TV programme, perhaps by a Canadian chap, on the evolution of English, and one theory was that English developed as a sort of Norse/Germanic pidgin at the Danelaw boundary with ‘Saxon’ England, where Norse settlers (not slaughtered) interacted with Angles, Saxons and Jutes or whatever, and there was sufficient commonality in the Germanic family for simplification to occur and for it to spread, and the Norman overlay of loanwords was thrown into the mix.

    I’ve no idea if this theory is still professed, but it sounds ‘gut’ to me.

  • case-endings and genders … last well into the fourteenth century (Watchman, October 18, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    That’s why I identify Chaucer’s floruit as when the process was completed, with the Matilda-Stephen interregnum providing evidence of when it began to become noticeable in how English was written. There is of course room for much debate; we have no mediaeval recordings, only texts – which we know in other cases tend to lag behind demotic usage.

    no idea why we got rid of them, since I have never found out the function they perform by existing in other languages.

    It is not likely that the first words invented by Ug the caveman, or Ugga his wife, or Uggins their child, included “abstract”, “neuter” and “gender”. Words for each other, and for the animals they hunted, seem more likely candidates, and gender would be be a very important and obvious aspect:

    When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride
    He will shout to scare the monster, who will often turn aside,
    But the she-bear, thus accosted, rends the peasant tooth and nail
    For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

    Himalyan peasants – and anyone else around at the dawn of language – had good reason to see the sex of the first things they named as a pretty important point. The rest of language, deriving from these early beginnings, might naturally continue this gendered and personified trend. And in the absence of less common historical effects (like conquerors adopting the language of the conquered as a pidgin), why would you ever get rid of a basic aspect of the medium by which you discuss whether to get rid of things.

    case markers disappeared more because sentence order became firmly established

    Baffled am I, like Julie above, that English than French could, in her sentences’ structures, more ordered be thought. OK I’m laying it on a bit there, but I am indeed unable to see either the fact (that English sentence structure is less free than other languages – it always seemed more so to me) or the logic (why that would particularly motivate loss of endings). I think of French and Italian as having more order and more endings. By contrast, it is a well established linguistic rule that pidgins lose genders, conjugations and declensions.

    In older times it was no very unusual thing for a monarch’s native tongue to be not that of most of his subjects. When William the Bastard became William the right bastard in 1066, he and his followers spoke French – and had interpreters. Lawyers’ French – let alone monarchs’ – lasted a long time. Stephen was pure Norman whereas Matilda’s mother’s mother was English. Richard I did indeed spend much of his life in Acquitaine (not Normandy) but the idea he was somehow specially disinterested in England is, I believe, one of the many legends, some flattering, some less so, that throughout succeeding centuries tended to accumulate around that particular monarch. (But that is so large a subject it had better wait for another thread – or forever, this blog not existing to clarify such points. 🙂 )

  • Julie near Chicago

    I note with pleasure the appearance of Yoda in this venue, just above, although I do wonder whether off at the pub on the way have stopped he might.


  • No, Julie near Chicago (October 18, 2017 at 8:40 pm), but malt, single, of the best, sampled a dram he might have. 🙂

  • fcal

    “But this is not even the key point – because the truth (the truth that German apologists keep ignoring) is that France did not engage in aggression against Germany in 1914 – it was the other way round.
    The Imperial German government declared war on France in 1914 – and the German Declaration of War upon France was a pack-of-lies.” stated Paul Marks.

    Indeed that was the case, however the origin was the mobilization of the Russian Army. The response to this was not only a declaration of war to Russia but also to its ally France on rather dubious grounds. The Germans had painstakinly elaborated and calculated the possibility of a war with France and this materialized in the von Schlieffen-plan, which took for granted the passage through Belgian territory of German troops. This had not been the case with the Prussian-French war of 1870. The UK then rather supported Prussia. So instead of having a Western defensive posture and a free hand in the East, the Germans in their hubris thought that it was a 1870 redux and could manage both fronts. It proved to be a serious mistake, since Belgium wasn’t that easely beaten and these actions provoked the entry of the UK in the fray. Ultimately although Germany won the war against Russia (1917) it was beaten in the West thanks to many factors such as among others the appearance of the US on the Allied side.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I see the issue of the Dardanelles has come up once again. I have always been rather dubious about the viability of the scheme but let’s, for the sake of argument, assume it was possible.

    The idea is that it is a good idea to surround your enemy.

    Traditionally you wanted to surround your enemy for two reasons. Firstly, to stop him escaping and, secondly, to prevent him being resupplied. In the case of the Dardanelles neither of these applies.

    A third, novel, argument is that success at the Dardanelles would have allowed the British to supply the Russians. This depends on the idea that a shell sent by ship on a journey of thousands of miles to the Russian army is likely to do more good than a shell sent on a short journey of a couple of hundred miles at most to the British army in France. This seems unlikely.

    For a century, the appalling reality of the Western Front has sent armchair generals scurrying in search of less appalling alternatives. Unfortunately, all of these depend on a huge dollop of wishful thinking. They did then, they do now.

    The truth is that there was only one way to victory: defeating the German army on the Western Front. Accepting huge casualties was an inevitable part of that. Sometimes all the options are bad.

  • Mr Ed

    This depends on the idea that a shell sent by ship on a journey of thousands of miles to the Russian army is likely to do more good than a shell sent on a short journey of a couple of hundred miles at most to the British army in France. This seems unlikely.

    Looking forward a bit Patrick, are you suggesting that the Arctic Convoys were not a good idea on logistical grounds?

  • Patrick Crozier


  • Mr Ed

    So Patrick,

    How would the materiel in the Arctic convoys have been used, if not on the Soviet front? There is a military argument that the stuff ought to have been either sent to Africa, or Burma and the Antipodes, the latter two hardly being closer.

    Basically, whilst it might have been bloody dangerous, costly and awful to have shipped stuff to the Soviets, if that was the war plan, to drain the German beast of strength, it strikes me that it could not have been done without the convoys. Personally, I would have preferred the stuff to have been used in the Far East.

  • Patrick Crozier (Twickenham)

    Perhaps I was being a bit hasty there. The truth is that I have no idea how effective the Arctic convoys were in the Second World War. I also have no idea whether or not there were Arctic convoys in the First World War. Presumably they would have been easier to arrange not least because Norway wasn’t invaded and couldn’t be used as a base by the German navy.

    Assuming there were no Arctic convoys the first time round, or if there were they were on a small scale, it seems unlikely that the capture of Constantinople would have made much of a difference.