This one looks pretty cool—Reprobates, John Stubbs’s history of the English Civil War. A cursory flip through the book suggests that the subtitle is perhaps a little misleading—Reprobates seems to be more of a survey of the shifts in English culture in the 17th century than a dry study of the actual war between Roundheads and Royalists. In his insightful review at Literary Review, Adrian Tinniswood points out that,
. . . the real focus of Stubbs’s book is the cavalier poets, that motley collection of royalist writers who gathered around the aging and irascible Ben Jonson in the late 1620s and 1630s and went on to seek their fortunes at court, simultaneously memorialising and mythologising its decline. The self-styled ‘Tribe of Ben’ – William Davenant, Thomas Carew, Sir John Suckling and the rest – remain resolutely minor figures, both in literature and in history. Most are remembered for a single poem, like Sir John Denham and ‘Cooper’s Hill’, or even a single line, like Richard Lovelace’s ‘Stone walls do not a prison make’ or Robert Herrick’s ‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may’. Some aren’t even remembered for that. Can you recall anything Suckling wrote? . . . Under Stubbs’s affectionate but forensic gaze these reprobates seem like figures of fun in a Restoration comedy rather than the heroes they so clearly believed themselves to be.
At The Guardian, Christopher Bray finds even more comedy in these reprobates, suggesting that,
If Ben Elton ever writes another series of Blackadder, Reprobates ought to be top of his research list. Not because John Stubbs offers a daringly revisionist take on the English civil war. The book’s subtitle notwithstanding, the war occupies rather fewer than a quarter of its nearly 500 pages. What we do get, though, is a colourful braiding of poetry criticism, literary biography and social and political history – the whole lot knotted together by characters of such effervescent high spirits the sitcom form might have been invented for them.
Looks like good stuff.
RIP Paddy Roy Bates, Prince Roy of the Principality of Sealand, who died this week at 91.
From Sealand’s official website:
Sealand was founded as a sovereign Principality in 1967 in international waters, six miles off the eastern shores of Britain. The history of Sealand is a story of a struggle for liberty. Sealand was founded on the principle that any group of people dissatisfied with the oppressive laws and restrictions of existing nation states may declare independence in any place not claimed to be under the jurisdiction of another sovereign entity. The location chosen was Roughs Tower, an island fortress created in World War II by Britain and subsequently abandoned to the jurisdiction of the High Seas.
The independence of Sealand was upheld in a 1968 British court decision where the judge held that Roughs Tower stood in international waters and did not fall under the legal jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. This gave birth to Sealand’s national motto of E Mare Libertas, or “From the Sea, Freedom”.
The official language of Sealand is English and the Sealand Dollar has a fixed exchange rate of one U.S. dollar. Passports and stamps have been in circulation since 1969 and the latter decade of the 20th century saw an impressive expansion in its activity both socially and industrially as it began to develop a growing economic base which underscored its long-standing membership of the international community of States.
Some video history:
More, via Bates’s son:
Treacherous Beauty by Mark Jacob and Stephen H. Case. Blurb—
Histories of the Revolutionary War have long honored heroines such as Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams, and Molly Pitcher. Now, more than two centuries later, comes the first biography of one of the war’s most remarkable women, a beautiful Philadelphia society girl named Peggy Shippen. While war was raging between Britain and its rebellious colonists, Peggy befriended a suave British officer and later married a crippled revolutionary general twice her age. At age 19, she brought these two men together in a treasonous plot that, had it succeeded, might have turned George Washington into a prisoner and changed the course of the war.
Peggy Shippen was Mrs. Benedict Arnold.
Ethan Allen is perhaps most noted for leading the Green Mountain Boys on a daring raid to take Fort Ticonderoga from the British. Willard Sterne Randall’s biography Ethan Allen: His Life and Times reveals and explores much more to the Vermont statesman than many fans of American history are likely aware of. Randall also makes good on the promise of the second part of his book’s subtitle, painting the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary years in keen detail. Randall was kind enough to talk to me about his book (which is new in a trade paperback edition from Norton) via email.
Randall has written many books on the American colonial and Revolutionary periods, including biographies of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Benedict Arnold. He lives in Vermont, where he teaches American history at Champlain College. Check out his website.
Biblioklept: You’ve written books about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, figures who obviously bear considerable influence on American history. Ethan Allen is a less-remarked upon figure. What made you want to tell his story?
Will Randall: When I moved to Vermont thirty years ago after a journalism career, I ran into Ethan Allen’s name everywhere—on a ferry, a federal firing range, an old cavalry fort, streets and highways, a bowling alley—but if you asked people what they knew about him, invariably it was with a chuckle and a sign of tippling or a wink and they’d say, “Ole Ethan, that drunk” or “that scoundrel.” Other than that, he knew he had captured a fort with the Green Mountain Boys (their names and his were always run together), but beyond one day at the beginning of the Revolution, they knew nothing.
As I worked on other biographies of more patrician and recognizable revolutionaries, I kept running into Allen’s name. The editors of a new compendium on the American Enlightenment asked me to do a profile of Allen as philosopher: turned out Allen was the first published American Deist philosopher. My son wrote a thesis in college on the precedents of the Union’s treatment of POW’s in the Civil War: turned out it was the treatment of Ethan Allen as a prisoner of the British in the Revolution. Treatment of the British: turned out Allen wrote a memoir of his captivity under horrible conditions for nearly three years as he was shunted by ship from Canada to England to Bermuda to Halifax to New York, etc., while George Washington laid down the law that, as Allen was treated, so would be British prisoners. That narrative turned out to be the second-best-selling book of the Revolution, only behind Tom Paine. And so it went, with virtually every Founding Father in one way or another interacting with Allen while he beat off, with four
volumes and scores of pamphlets of highly-charged words and weapons from clubs and daggers to the heavy artillery that drove the British out of Boston and saved Washington’s army, anyone who tampered with Vermont, which was virtually his creation. That, I decided, warranted a book.
Biblioklept: Allen often comes across as a sort of mythical frontiersman—you note in your prologue that he “projects himself as a populist frontier philosopher on horseback.” How accurate is this reputation?
WR: I think he fills his own bill. He was so popular that some 10,000 people braved February weather in Vermont to come to his funeral (out of a population of 80,000. He spoke for the poor who couldn’t make it in other more hierarchical New England colonies and, after revolting in Massachusetts, fled to Vermont, where he protected them. All his adult life, he took on, in person and in writing, the Puritan theocracy, selling virtually everything he had to attack their Old Testament religion in publishing 1,500 copies of a book, of which only about 200 copies survived the flames of a suspicious fire. While most other Founders prospered from the Revolution—Monticello, Mount Vernon, etc.—Allen chose to live out his days in a one-and-a-half story log house with the best view of his beloved Green Mountains and Lake Champlain. There, giving Voltaire’s name to one of his sons, he raised cattle and scribbled away, signing himself, “Clodhopper Philosopher” that the philosophes of Paris read in their salons on the eve of the French Revolution. And what finally killed him: according to a toxicologist I consulted, too much applejack mixed with rum in a “flowing bowl” of punch he consumed liberally in one last party with his Green Mountain Boys.
Biblioklept: At the beginning of Ethan Allen, you point out that there are few books or credible biographies of your subject. I’m curious how this impacted the composition of the book—was it frustrating? Liberating?
WR: Actually, it was liberating. It forced me to employ all the investigative techniques I had learned and made me read as widely as I have with any other Founding Father, following the research wherever it led me.
Biblioklept: Have you ever stolen a book?
WR: Not yet, but they’re getting expensive!
Willard Sterne Randall’s biography of OG Green Mountain Boy Ethan Allen—pretty good stuff—is new in trade paperback. We’ll be running an interview with Randall about the book sometime next week. From publisher Norton’s blurb:
While Ethan Allen, a canonical hero of the American Revolution, has always been defined by his daring, predawn attack on the British-controlled Fort Ticonderoga, Willard Sterne Randall, the author ofBenedict Arnold, now challenges our conventional understanding of this largely unexamined Founding Father. Widening the scope of his inquiry beyond the Revolutionary War, Randall traces Allen’s beginning back to his modest origins in Connecticut, where he was born in 1738. Largely self-educated, emerging from a relatively impoverished background, Allen demonstrated his deeply rebellious nature early on through his attraction to Deism, his dramatic defense of smallpox vaccinations, and his early support of separation of church and state.
Chronicling Allen’s upward struggle from precocious, if not unruly, adolescent to commander of the largest American paramilitary force on the eve of the Revolution, Randall unlocks a trove of new source material, particularly evident in his gripping portrait of Allen as a British prisoner-of-war. While the biography reacquaints readers with the familiar details of Allen’s life—his capture during the aborted American invasion of Canada, his philosophical works that influenced Thomas Paine, his seminal role in gaining Vermont statehood, his stirring funeral in 1789—Randall documents that so much of what we know of Allen is mere myth, historical folklore that people have handed down, as if Allen were Paul Bunyan.
As Randall reveals, Ethan Allen, a so-called Robin Hood in the eyes of his dispossessed Green Mountain settlers, aggrandized, and unabashedly so, the holdings of his own family, a fact that is glossed over in previous accounts, embellishing his own best-selling prisoner-of-war narrative as well. He emerges not only as a public-spirited leader but as a self-interested individual, often no less rapacious than his archenemies, the New York land barons of the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys.
Founder of a nation, trouncer of the English, God-fearing family man: all in all, George Washington has enjoyed a pretty decent reputation. Until now, that is.
The hero who crossed the Delaware river may not have been quite so squeaky clean when it came to borrowing library books.
The New York Society Library, the city’s only lender of books at the time of Washington’s presidency, has revealed that the first American president took out two volumes and pointedly failed to return them.
At today’s prices, adjusted for inflation, he would face a late fine of $300,000.
The library’s ledgers show that Washington took out the books on 5 October 1789, some five months into his presidency at a time when New York was still the capital. They were an essay on international affairs called Law of Nations and the twelfth volume of a 14-volume collection of debates from the English House of Commons.
The ledger simply referred to the borrower as “President” in quill pen, and had no return date.