How far did Rasputin contribute to the fall of the Romanov dynasty in March 1917?

Rasputin was a Starets, a religious elder of the Russian Orthodox Church, who in the eyes of Lynch, a revisionist historian, was a ‘fatal disease’ inflicting damage to the Tsarist regime. When doctors failed to cure Tsarevich Alexei’s haemophilia, Tsarina Alexandra sought the aid of Rasputin in 1905. Rasputin appeared to treat Alexei due to his oft pragmatic advice and, thus, was invited into the royal entourage. Later he claimed, via a revelation, that Russia’s armies in the First World War would not be successful until the Tsar took personal control – an action resulting in dire consequences. During the Tsar’s absence at his headquarters at Mogilev, most of the day-to-day governing was in the hands of the Tsarina. Gradually, Rasputin became the personal advisor and confidant of the Tsarina and began filling government posts with his own candidates. This merely widened the abyss between the royalty and people of Russia. Rasputin’s influence was utilized as a ploy to weaken the dynasty’s integrity. His public disputes with the clergy and lifestyle added to diminish respect of the ruling class by subjects. Both Rasputin and the Tsarina were political scapegoats for Russia’s declining economy, actually due to the continuing war and ossifying effects of feudalism and inefficient government bureaucracy.

However, the role of Rasputin in the fall of the Romanov dynasty was less significant than other factors, namely the impact of the First World War. There is evidence to substantiate the claim that Rasputin was merely a symbol of Russian despotism and  not a crucial character in its downfall or construction, for his murder resulted in little change in the governing of Russia, ‘nothing was changed with Rasputin’s removal; nothing improved either in affairs of the State or in the Tsar’s situation’.

Instead, staggering losses on the battlefield played a definite role in the revolution. Rampant discontent lowered morale which was further undermined by series of military defeats like the Battle of the Massurian Lakes in 1915 and the failure of the Brusilov Offensive in 1916. This crisis in morale, as argued by Allan Wildman, ‘was rooted fundamentally in the feeling of utter despair that the slaughter would ever end and that anything resembling victory could be achieved.’

However, the war devastated not only soldiers and, by the end of 1915, it was clear that the economy was collapsing under the heightened strain of wartime demand. The root of such issues was the combined destructive nature of food shortages and inflation. The most affected region was the capital, St. Petersburg, a result of the distance from supplies and poor transportation networks. The initial outcome of this was growing criticism of governmental administration not war-weariness and disillusionment. However, increasing heavy losses strengthened revolutionary notions. A report by the St. Petersburg branch of the security police, the Okhrana, in October 1916, warned bluntly of ‘the possibility in the near future of riots by the lower classes of the empire enraged by the burdens of daily existence.’ Nonetheless, little response was taken.

However, the Tsar was a symbol of morality in their lives while all catastrophes originated from meddling bureaucrats, functionaries and nobles. But, from the commencement of the First World War, the Tsar took active participation in government, tactics and administration. Therefore, he was personally blamed for many later crises and royalist support crumbled. In the summer of 1915, the Tsar became the new Commander-in-Chief of the army, in defiance of almost universal advice to the contrary. The result was disastrous: firstly, it associated the monarchy with the unpopular war; secondly, Tsar Nicholas II was an incompetent leader, vexing his commanders with interference and thirdly, while at the front, he was unable to govern. This left the reins of power to his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, and Rasputin, both ostracised and detested by the Russian people.

As discontent grew, the State Duma issued a warning to Tsar Nicholas in November 1916. It stated that, inexorably, a terrible disaster would grip the country unless a constitutional form of government was adopted. This was ignored. While the Tsar was at the front, the Tsarina was left in charge of governing. She proved to be an ineffective ruler in a time of war, announcing a succession of Prime Ministers and angering the Duma. ‘From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk’ (1918) by Ariadna Tyrkova, a Constitutional Democratic Party member, states that rumours stated ‘Germans were influencing Alexandra Feodorovna through the medium of Rasputin and Stürmer.’ It, also, describes the Tsarina as ‘haughty and unapproachable’ and a ruler who ‘lacked popularity’. Although such rumours may not have been true, it would have inevitably damaged the reputation of both the Tsar and Tsarina.

Moreover, the Tsarina’s trust on Rasputin on all matters, state or personal, was ruinous. Rasputin was hated by the people for his influence: ‘Russia and History’s Turning Point’ (1965) by Alexander Kerensky, describes ‘the Tsarina’s blind faith in Rasputin led her to seek his counsel not only in personal matters but also on questions of state policy.’ Such actions of the Tsarina would have alienated the majority of Russia, even loyal subjects. In addition, unfulfilled aspirations of democracy from the 1905 Revolution fuelled anti-imperialist revolutionary ideas and violent outbursts. The Tsar sought to quieten such political surges and mitigate social unrest though patriotic war against a common adversary of the Triple Entente, supporting its ally Serbia. Instead of restoring Russia’s political and military standing, the First World War undermined both the monarchy and society to the brink of ruin.

However, all these causes are interrelated: without the influence of diplomatic pressure, Russia would have not entered the First World War which itself worsened the internal stability of the state. Moreover, without poor social conditions, due to the collapsing economy and rapid urbanisation caused by the Industrial Revolution, revolutionary ideas would not have gained traction or without the obstinacy of the Tsar, the revolution would not have occurred. Different historians apply different emphases to each cause: liberal writers would prioritise the turmoil of the war while materialist histories would highlight on the irrevocability of change. However, it can be said with some certainty, that the character of Rasputin did not play a crucial part in the downfall of the Tsarist regime in 1917.

Contributed by Ali Qureshi

How do you start a revolution?

Revolution: a forcible overthrow of a government of social order, in favour of a new system.

Such occurrences are scattered throughout time, bringing rise to such figures as George Washington and Fidel Castro both of whom continue to influence our world today. However how does such an impactful event begin? Even though revolutions are complex, multifaceted events at the heart of many lie the same conditions, processes and catalysts. As the father of Communism, Karl Marx stated ‘History repeats itself…’ Even though the fundamental assumption at the centre of Marx’s idea is simplistic, common strands can be found throughout time providing the keys to social change across the ages.

The famous phrase, ‘The economy, stupid’ coined by James Carville during Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign seems to aptly summarise the underlying presence of the economy as a force for change throughout history and more specifically as a catalyst for revolution. The 1917 Russian Revolution can serve as an example of this; from 1916 Russian peasants were expected to work for 11 hours a day in adverse conditions. At the end of the long and gruelling day they returned to their living quarters typically sharing with at least five other workers. In addition to this Sergei Witte’s land reforms earlier in the 20th century that created overcrowding on the land plots in which they worked, and the continued refusal of the Tsarist regime to allow worker ownership of land led to brutal economic conditions and an appalling quality of life for the poorest in Russian society. These negative economic factors made Russian workers look for an alternative governing system that would better represent their views and allow them to remove their Tsarist oppressors. One such alternative was the Marxist-Leninist ideology gaining tract throughout Russia, an ideal based on the removal of private property and as a result the autonomy of land they so desired. Thus five years later after much violence and bloodshed the USSR was formed, with the principals the workers had fought for enshrined in the new constitution ‘It is only in the camp of the Soviets… that it has been possible to eliminate the oppression of nationalities… and to establish the basis of a fraternal collaboration of peoples.’ As proven by this example, when a large group in society is hungry and economically disadvantaged they will typically look for a new system that removes the disparity in wealth seen before.

As the French philosopher Voltaire once sardonically remarked ‘An ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination.’ Even though Voltaire died in 1778 this quote still seems to apply in a world in which assassination is a key method in upholding governments deemed unacceptable to western interests, as seen by the removal of the ruling power in Chile, Guatemala and Iran. However the use of violence to supplement suffrage and undermining democratic principles can be seen as another strand connecting revolutions in the modern world. The People Power Revolution of 1983 in the Philippines can clearly be linked to the misuse of the democratic process. Ferdinand Marcos had been the President of the Philippines since 1965, after the end of his second term in 1972 instead of standing down he used martial law to reinforce his power and by 1973 he had established himself as the lone ruler of the Philippines. Marcos’ rule slowly became more despotic, creating a new self-written constitution and either arresting or exiling all of his political rivals. Ninoy Aquino was one of such rivals, before Marcos established martial law Ninoy was the leader of the opposition. Aquino was permitted to leave the Philippines in 1980 after suffering a heart attack during his seventh year of unjust imprisonment. On August 21, 1983 Aquino returned to his home country, the speech he planned to make on his arrival stated: “I have returned on my free will to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedoms through non-violence. I seek no confrontation.” However he never read this statement as upon stepping off the plane at Manilla Airport he was assassinated. The violent killing of a popular, non-violent political figure appeared to be the final straw for the people of the Philippines and even though protest had been prevalent before the assassination of Ninoy, Filipinos became united in action against the violent dictatorship. They took to the streets in mass peaceful-protest, at the peak of the revolution three million people marched down the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, wearing yellow ribbons in homage to their lost leader. This collective action and mounting military assaults against his regime forced Marcos to resign in 1986, finally ending fourteen years of repression and corruption. The People Power Revolution truly unified the people of the Philippines showing that democracy is a concept for which people will always fight, and that going against the rich tradition of representation and egalitarianism makes revolution inevitable.

These two factors only skim the surface of the complex multi-causal nature of revolution but they do begin to explain how such an event could be started. Even though many view the idea of revolution as a cliché of a bygone era, as we move into a period of economic uncertainty and electoral fraud becomes increasingly apparent, such an event could be just round the corner.

Contributed by Joe Tyler-Todd

Franco-Prussian War

The Franco Prussian War was a military conflict which primarily took place between France and Prussia, 19th July 1870 to the 10th May 1871, with Prussia being aided by the North German Confederation, as well as numerous south German states. The war ended with the formation of Germany as a unified nation, the toppling of Napoleon III as Emperor of France, and the formation of a French republic.

After the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, Prussia had emerged in a very powerful position. The formation of the North German Confederation, initially a military alliance, soon became an obvious vehicle for a political federation, as a precursor to the unification of all German states into a Germanic Empire (Austria excluded). Aside from the fact that this would represent a fundamental shift in the balance of power in Europe (which France would not tolerate), a unified Germany would clearly include large south German states such as Bavaria, Baden, Württemburg and Hesse-Darmstadt. These states were on the eastern borders of France. With Belgium and Holland in the north, and the relatively weak Italy and Switzerland in the south, France’s entire eastern frontier was secure. The absorption of south German states into a nation like Prussia would open up the centre of this frontier to attack by an emergent military power. This was unacceptable to France, and they were prepared to resort to war to prevent this taking place.

The Prussian chancellor, Bismarck, was aware that a war was likely, and that Prussian/German victory would allow Germany as a nation to come into being. He was also aware that the smaller German states were only likely to fight with him if it could appear that he was fighting a defensive war. The Ems Dispatch was used to achieve this. An angry letter written by the Prussian King to Bismarck detailing demands made by the French ambassador was published by Bismarck himself in order to inflame the tension on both sides. The resultant anger in France was a major factor in their declaration of war.

From the outset it was clear that the Germans had a technical advantage. The French still used muzzle-loaded cannons, whereas the Germans possessed Krupp-built breach-loading artillery. Germany as a whole also had a denser railway network than France (although this was largely concentrated in Prussia), which gave them an advantage in supplying their armies and mobilizing men. The French also used an ineffective strategy, staying on the defensive when their large standing army meant they should have had a short-lived advantage while the Prussians mobilized. This opportunity was missed.

The decisive battle of the war was the Battle of Sedan, which took place on the 1st September 1870, resulted in 104,000 French troops being encircled by the Germans. Among those captured was Napoleon III, who had personally been accompanying the army. With another major French army encircled at the Metz fortress, the war had effectively been decided in Prussia’s favour. Despite this, resistance would continue under the newly proclaimed French Republic, which also proclaimed the removal of Napoleon III as ruler. However, the loss of two armies in such a short time was too much for the French to cope with, and having been under siege since September 19th 1870, Paris (and France as a whole) surrendered in January 1871. On the 18th of January 1871 Wilhelm I was proclaimed the first Kaiser of a united Germany at Versailles.

The end of the war led to a Europe fundamentally unbalanced by a unified militarist Germany, and a France greatly angered by the loss of Alsace-Lorraine and the indemnities it had to pay. Europe also witnessed the power of railways, technology and industry in warfare. The aftermath of the war also resulted in a workers insurrection in Paris, leading to a short lived local government known as the Paris Commune. The Commune was praised by figures such as Marx, despite it not seeking a complete Marxist revolution, instead opting for an admittedly radical campaign of social and political reform. Paris was besieged by republican armies, and the Commune was crushed by the end of May 1871.

Contributed by Matthew Rudd

Who was to blame for the Market Garden failure?

Allied forces suffered more casualties in the Market Garden assault on Holland than in the entire Normandy invasion. Most historians agree that in the 24-hour period of D-Day allied losses reached about 10,000. In the total nine days of Market Garden combined losses, both airborne and ground forces, amounted to more than 17,000. British casualties were the highest, totaling at 13,226, and out of the total Arnhem attacking force of 10,005 men, an estimated 7,578 were killed, wounded or missing. In addition to this, RAF pilot and crew losses came to another 294, making the total of wounded, dead or missing men 7,872. The successful role of the 82nd and 101st American Airborne and also the stand of the 1st British Airborne at Arnhem remains one of the greatest feats of arms in WW2 military history. Yet it is impossible to dispute that fact that the Market Garden assault was a huge defeat. However, currently it is hard to distinguish where the fault for this mission lies.

Undoubtedly, the failure to secure Arnhem was not the fault of the Airborne force who, as stated before, held out for far longer than planned and produced one of the most astonishing feats of the second world war. It would appear that the fault lies mainly with the planning and conception of the entire Market Garden operation. From its very inception, allied administrative staff cut corners and disregarded reports of enemy activity in the Arnhem area, which would prove to be fatal. Indeed, right up until the operation had started, Montgomery believed that the “Germans in Holland…had little strength”. Reports streaming in from all over Holland, and in particular Arnhem, from the Dutch resistance regarding several Panzer divisions in the Arnhem area were disregarded, and any concerns raised by troops or generals were merely shrugged off.

It could also be argued that the entire operation was unnecessary. Patton’s drive into the Saar with the American 3rd Army was perhaps just as worthy of more resources and equipment, and considering his advance was ‘checked’ to allow for Market Garden to take place, it seems the idea of an all out Airborne attack had taken preference over everything else. It could be argued that the thought of an all out airborne attack was too enticing for Eisenhower. He had been encouraged to use the Airborne more and more ever since its success on D-Day and the haste at which the Market Garden operation was conceived could be a result of this. Yet it could also be argued that after several failed attempts at airborne invasions, Eisenhower feared that they would not be put to use before the apparently imminent end of the war. It would therefore appear that rather than lay the blame simply at the feet of Field Marshall Montgomery, it should be shared throughout the entire command.

Montgomery, however, maintains in his memoirs that, “if the operation had been properly backed from its inception, and given the aircraft, ground forces, and the administrative resources necessary for the job – it would have succeeded in spite of [his] mistakes, or the adverse weather….I remain Market Garden’s unrepentant advocate.” It is indeed hard to ignore that the operation was mostly successful, and that the Allies’ failure to secure a bridge over the lower Rhine was the only unsuccessful crossing, while all other objectives were achieved. Indeed it is clear that the Allies were attempting to capture ‘a bridge too far’.

Contributed by Tim Edgar

Were the Mongols merely pillagers and killers?

These days, it is hard to imagine an empire so vast and all encompassing as that of the Mongol dynasty. At its height in 1280, the empire stretched from the Yellow Sea to the Mediterranean, the likes of which have only been exceeded by the British Empire of the 19th Century. It is currently impossible to imagine this feat being repeated. This is why his name and his legacy are so revered around the world. Rarely has the world ever witnessed such a ‘whirlwind of destruction’ that was brought about by Genghis and his armies. Indeed, even after 750 years people speak of the Mongol rampages with astonishment and fear.

In Mongolian eyes, the answer to this question is a simple no. To Mongolia, Genghis Khan was their George Washington, the one who managed to unite a vast empire in an attempt to rid their land of an outside influence and internal conflict. Another argument is that Genghis and his Mongols were perhaps more tolerant of other religions than many regimes are today; amongst his army were Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. Additionally cities that offered no resistance were subject only to payment of a tribute – almost the complete opposite view many hold of the Mongols. It is also impossible to ignore the effect Mongol rule had on the infrastructure of conquered countries. The impact of Mongol rule on communication, for example, is astonishing. With no previous written language, Genghis managed to create a system of highways linking all provinces from the capital at Khanbalik, called the Yam.

Nevertheless, whilst on conquest, the Mongols killed ruthlessly, not distinguishing between opposing armies or civilians, they killed millions and put millions more into slavery. Samarkland, Bukhara, Urgench, Baghdad, Kiev and Beijing are only a few of the cities that were forced to submit to Mongol rule. At Samarkland, for example, the city’s gates were opened after only a day’s fighting. Those who chose not to surrender, approximately 1000, took refuge in the Mosque, only to have it burned by flaming arrows and vessels of oil. At Samarkland, just one example, the estimated dead total at 100,000. Indeed the extent to which Genghis’ armies roused fear among their enemies cannot be underestimated. With the arrival of siege weaponry to his armies after the invasion of Western Xia in 1205, the sight of the Mongol hoard marching on a city would have meant certain death. This is perhaps best shown by the incident of the ‘falling petals’, where approximately 60,000 women threw themselves from the walls on Yenking while it was under siege instead of seeing it fall to an invader.

Ultimately, it would be unfitting to suggest that the Mongols were merely pillagers and raiders. They created a nation from several different warring tribes and managed to create an empire with its own infrastructure the likes of which the world had never seen before. Yet it is hard to ignore the ways in which they achieved this. The countless sieges and battles in which they held next to no regard for civilians or warriors. Yet the 13th century was possibly the most war torn in history, matched only perhaps, by the 20th. Crusaders marched on the Holy Land; the Chinese constantly fought amongst one another, Central Asia had been scourge by wars before Genghis arrived. Is it not possible, therefore, that Genghis was merely a man of his time, the Mongols merely people of their time, only more so?

Contributed by Tim Edgar

What is the role of an historian?

Historians should not be confused with a chroniclers; History is not merely the cataloging of events. It would be a redundant subject otherwise. History, however, in one form or another, is the employment of what we learn from the past. How to go about learning, interpreting and consolidating information from records is, however, a difficult, often ambiguous task. We need to make sense of the obscure patterns and regularities of the past, the bias and the validity of what we know. Many historians have arrived at different conclusions on how to use History, all with subtle differences which may appeal to different audiences. Before approaching the different styles historians have used on confronting historical material, it is important to know how such conceptions came about.

Prior to the 19th century, there were considerable weaknesses in historical studies, Arthur Marwick – author of ‘The Nature of History’ – underlined some these problems. Without the systematic use of sources, historians used accounts made by previous historians. The initial problem with this method was that there was a huge reliance on work that easily could have been subjected to biases. For example, the disapproval of a monarch, an authority or a political stream could lead to the alteration of historical documents. Parts of a source could be dissembled, censored and removed so that they became more socially acceptable, creating a distorted image of the past. The actions of the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shin Huang, as he attempted to strip society of previous historical articles, involved the persecution of scholars and demonstrated how others can manipulate the authenticity of past records. The intimidating mood, created by executing scholars, resulted in academics falling into a state of restraint in their writing which left future scholars in doubt of what they base their knowledge on. Such problems are uncommon especially under suppressive, draconian regimes. Another prevalent problem associated to pre-1900 historical work was that there was no systematic teaching of History at University. In the absence of such provision and training, History was merely recorded by the literate and thus, the elite of the class system, narrowing perception and making it more difficult to ascertain fact from fiction.

In the many styles taken to deal with History, one of the earliest and more progressive styles was of Thomas Carlyle (1785-1881). In his experiences, Carlyle came to believe that anything important was affiliated more often than not with ‘great men’ and by isolating individuals we could learn from the vital parts of the past. In dismissing the great majority of those in the past – the indifferent, the un-educated and the those too disorganised to shape the future – much time could be reserved to focus on the more important and influential people of the time. Although this partiality does not give us a wholly representative depiction of the past, its main advantage is clarity. It gives a structured approach by assessing key figures and innovators only. In Carlyle’s book, ‘Heroes’, he gave detailed analysis on a range of characters from different cultures and periods of History, with the underlying similarity that they were all ‘heroes’ in some way and gained followers. These ‘heroes’ include Napoleon, Shakespeare and Muhammad. In addition, it is argued that, by examining such individuals in detail, it can be profitable to one’s own heroic side as the inspiration can be drawn from the study.

Whilst Thomas Carlyle saw History as a biography of great men, Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886) stressed that History is something that shows how it essentially was, ‘Wie es eigentlich gewesen.’ Ranke’s thinking is far more inclusive than Carlyle’s, principally in the sense that as historians we must speak of those who could not speak for themselves, the poor and powerless, and document the suffrage and emotions of the majority. Leopold von Ranke introduced a new approach to Historical studies. He insisted on a number of methods. Firstly, all historical writing must be based on primary sources. Secondly, all of his books should include full scholarly apparatus (footnotes, references and bibliography). Finally, one should be determined to tackle the past and only seek to show the past as it really was. Ranke’s contributions were not merely his advice alone; he also founded the teaching of History at the University of Berlin where he spread his methodology.

Frank McDonough’s contributions to Historical studies are also rather valuable. Historians, in their approach to the past, should avoid studying individuals, especially Hagiography (the study of saints), and instead, learn from History through individual experiences and those of others. For History to be a ‘breathing subject’, it should appear relevant to the present. This concept is reflected well in the career of civil servant E.H. Carr, who through his work in the British Foreign Office, grew to have an instrumental view on History. He was only interested in what would serve the making of policy and to dealing with existing situations. Essentially, McDonough’s approach to History is expedient by nature, and is strong in the fact that connections should be made between past events and those of the future to which we should be prepared to take on.

To conclude, there are some fundamental skills that should be taken on board when attempting to understand the past. From Thomas Carlyle, we can note the importance of treating Heroes with consideration, the great men and embodiments who fulfilled the interests of the general masses. From Leopold von Ranke, we can learn that we must not forget to document the truth; no illusion or false impressions should be created in our study of the past. Finally to McDonough, who has taught that by making connections and identifying the conditions of problems in the past in our own experiences, we will be better adapted to deal with problems that face us in the future.

Contributed by Bertie Bricusse

Havoc: The Hundred Years War

The Hundred Years War was a conflict between Britain and France, which started in 1337 and lasted until 1475.  The Hundred Years War was profound on many levels, from the compelling power of feudal politics, to the characteristics of medieval warfare.

The roots of the war go back to 1066, when William the Conqueror became King of I, William’s youngest son. In 1337, the current King of England, Edward III, refused to pay the homage to Philip VI of France that he was required to as Duke of Normandy. Philip VI confiscated Edward III’s lands in Aquitaine in retaliation. Riled, Edward III claimed to be the rightful King of France, in reference to his grandfather’s, Charles IV of France, death without a male heir. The war was spurred by the question of succession of France, and it is seen to be divided into three key eras; the Edwardian War, the Caroline War, and the Lancastrian War.

The Edwardian War began in 1337, and was driven by Edward III’s ambition for sovereignty in Aquitaine, and his claim for the French throne. Conflict did however halt due to the Black Death in the mid 1350s. In 1350, Philip VI died, and his son, John II of France, took over as King. In September 1356, during the Battle of Poitiers, Edward III’s son, Edward of Woodstock, was able to take John II of France prisoner, and demanded a ransom from the French. France descended into anarchy and civil war. Eventually, the Treaty of Brétigny set the ransom at 3 million crowns, which the French paid, but John II’s son was left as a replacement captive. The Treaty also gave Edward III more land in France if he renounced his claim to the throne. In July, 1363, John II of France’s son escaped, and due to his belief that this was dishonourable, John II returned to England. He died of an unknown illness in April 1364. The peace that ensued after the Treaty of Brétigny lasted until 1369, the start of the Caroline War.

In May 1369, Charles V of France resumed war. This was because Edward III’s son refused a summons from the French king demanding he come to Paris. Charles V attempted to regain land lost in the treaty of Brétigny, and was largely successful. However, after his death in 1380, his son, Charles VI, was not so successful. He ended up making peace with Edward III’s grandson, Henry IV. This took place in 1389. This second era of peace was extended until 1415, the beginning of the Lancastrian war.

Henry IV’s son, Henry V, invaded Normandy in 1415. This segment of the war was named after house Lancaster, of which Henry V was a member. They were the ruling house of the Kingdom of England at the time. After the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V was able to get an English King crowned in Paris. However, strong French counterattacks won back all the land they had taken. The final battle, the battle of Castillon took place in 1453, when England failed to recover Bordeaux. The conflict ended there, but they technically remained at war until the Treaty of Picquigny in 1475.

Contributed by Joe Klein

Is Churchill the greatest Briton of all time?

Many may argue that Winston Spencer Churchill is (and perhaps will forever be) the greatest Briton to have ever lived. However, there are many exploits that Churchill was involved in that people forget when arguing whether Churchill truly is the greatest Briton. These range from his well known involvement in the Gallipoli campaign to the lesser known affair at Sidney Street.

Most will remember Churchill for his famous wartime role in which he lead a coalition government and Britain to a victory over Adolf Hitler and Germany. Some would even argue that for this feat alone (and, I should add is an incredibly impressive one) Churchill must be the greatest. With this belief I would agree to an extent and I would also further argue that Churchill was absolutely pivotal in holding together the coalition government. However, his time before coming to office as Prime Minister is varied and in most cases controversial.

There are many examples of Churchill rushing into things and completely misjudging public opinion in his early years. These range from his attitude to Bolshevism and striking to his firm belief in the necessity to keep fighting the Gallipoli campaign. All of these acts of extreme beliefs and actions would lend towards the fact that Churchill is actually a slightly immature, egoistic man who doesn’t consider the needs of the many in comparison to the needs of his name. Furthermore, his lack of understanding of public opinion left him disregarded and disliked by many governments and politicians. Whilst Churchill was a definitive force in the House of Commons, this force was not always used to bring good, rather it often sowed the seeds of despair. An example of this excessive political activity was his extreme article posted in the British Gazette on 4th May 1926 at the start of the General Strike, which stated that there was a “threat to the constitution.”

Some will look at the previous argument and suggest that while Churchill did have a extreme views and was often seen as a negative force there isn’t anyone else to replace him and, in the end ‘he did come good’. This is of course a respectable viewpoint and one that I am inclined to believe. You could argue any numbers of people were great Britons from Nelson to Wellington to Isambard Kingdom Brunel but none of these people led Britain through the toughest years she has ever faced and none led quite as emphatically as Churchill. I’m sure the majority of people will know of his legendary speech in which he stated “we will fight them on the beaches…” and many more will remember the iconic figure with the Cuban cigar in his mouth.

So, where do we conclude? I would argue that Churchill’s early career (that is before he became PM in 1940) is to some extent a failure. He presided over many budgets as Chancellor of the Exchequer yet was dropped by all parties until 1940; he was not exactly loved by the lower class following his actions against all industrial progress (although he did introduce several welfare reforms when he was Chancellor) and many of his decisions were stubborn, excessive and inappropriate. But isn’t that what defines a Brit; someone who is stubborn and excessive and inappropriate all at the same time and no matter what he did before can we not forgive and forget and simply marvel at his career from 1940 to his death in 1965. So, I conclude that Churchill is like a film that is slightly dull and doesn’t seem to go anywhere for the first hour and a half, yet the last half hour is electrifying, exciting and thrilling all at the same time and that is what we remember it for (and yes, Churchill is the greatest Briton of all time).

Contributed by Hamish Brechin

China 1914-1948

The history of China in the 20th Century is often overlooked; indeed, few people would name China as a combatant in the Second World War; despite the fact that they officially joined the Allies in 1941 and had been in practice fighting the Japanese Empire since 1937 (after the incident at Marco Polo bridge), taking over 20 million casualties in the process. Even fewer know about the final collapse of the Qing dynasty, and the short lived period of relative stability before all out civil war. It had been overshadowed by the Bolshevik revolution. In this article I’m going to look chronologically at the history of China: its endless civil wars, its attempts at modernisation, and its struggle against corrupt government, which ended with a Communist dictatorship.

The Qing Dynasty that had come to symbolise the bureaucratic inefficiency and refusal to modernise of Victorian China finally came to an end in 1911, with a revolution led against the Emperor by Dr. Sun Yat Sen (also known as Sun Zongshan). A former viceroy called Yuan Shikai was brought out of retirement in order to negotiate with the revolutionaries, who demanded a constitutional republic. Once the new (provisional) constitution was agreed in March 1912 Dr. Sun was to step down and Yuan Shikai was to take his place. This went as planned, and it seemed as though China was on a path to modernisation and reform.

However, Yuan did not respect the authority of the parliament, and began to take actions which were outside his authority, such as funding the Beiyang Army (which was under his personal control) with a large loan from several European powers, as well as Japan. Since one of the aims of the revolution had been to end foreign hegemony over China, this move caused a great deal of anger in China. Eventually, the resentment at Yuan’s dictatorial nature produced the Second Revolution, which Yuan easily crushed. Dr. Sun and his followers (who had helped lead the revolution) fled from China. As a mark of his authority, Yuan promoted several Beiyang Army generals to be members of his cabinet. On the 12th December 1915 Yuan proclaimed himself Emperor of a newly revived Chinese Empire. Outraged by this, a series of regional governors led by republican revolutionary Cai E declared their independence, and began the National Protection War. Yuan’s authority had collapsed following his appointment as emperor, and he was forced to abdicate on the 22nd March 1916 .However, this did not mark the beginning of stability for China, and 1916-1928 is known as the warlord era.

In the twelve years following the short lived reign of Yuan Shikai, China tried to modernise its industry and prevent the spread of corruption; however its efforts were undermined by constant war and the almost non-existent authority of the central government. The deaths of both Dr. Sun (1925) and Cai E (1916, aged only 33) fundamentally weakened the republican cause, and meant that there was no central figure-head for democratic values in China. As early as 1919, the May the 4th movement argued for a rejection of Western domination of China, and for China to embrace “modern” ideals to become strong again. These demands for new ideas lead to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921.

In direct opposition to the Communists was the Kuomintang (Nationalist) Party, which advocated traditional Chinese values and for the influence of the military in public affairs. The Kuomintang had been present, in one form or another, since the collapse of the Qing dynasty. It had originally been a liberal republican party, but now was under the control of General Chiang Kai-Sek. By 1927, Chiang had led a campaign against the warlords, called the Northern Expedition, and was intent on re-uniting China. However, in the anarchy of 1920s China, a small Communist state had been set up in the South. Chiang, as a traditionalist, hated Communism, and attempted to destroy this small Soviet Republic. The Communists then endured an ordeal known as the Long March, where most of the Party members and Chinese guerrillas in all of China marched approximately 8000 miles over the course of a year, beginning in 1934.

The Communist party remained holed up in a mountain fortress in Yan’an for another three years. At this point, the newly militarist Japanese government began a full-scale war with China, after a Japanese soldier was shot at Marco Polo Bridge. By the end of the war, the Kuomintang had exhausted their resources and was on the verge of collapse. The Communists at that point began the Chinese civil war. By 1949, the Nationalists had been forced to evacuate to the island of Taiwan, and the modern Communist Chinese State was born.

Contributed by Julian Hewitt

The American Revolutionary War: The Story of Two Victors

During the American Revolutionary War, France and America fought Great Britain. After five years of fighting together, they had defeated Britain in America. But this military victory had very different results for the two countries.

America gained many benefits from the war. First, and foremost, it gained its independence from Britain and it was given larger borders than it had at the end of the war. Furthermore, America drew up the ten articles of the Treaty of Paris which stated that Britain would never claim to have any control of America . Not only Britain had to leave American soil, it was banned from taking any supplies and such out of the country. Both sides also had to return any prisoners of war and various trade links were established for both sides such as fishing rights.

Overall, it is now agreed that America did very well out of the Treaty of Paris, especially in terms of its enlarged borders. Britain did not do too badly itself with several other territories that it lost during the war being returned to it. Finally, both countries established trade links with each other.

The real losers of the war, however, appeared to be France who fought as an ally of America. They officially joined the war in 1778 until the end in 1793. But they had been bankrolling the Americans right from the start in 1775 with various supplies like munitions. One of the main reasons that France joined the war was an attempt to halt the power of Britain and to exact revenge on them after the defeat of the seven year war. But this compulsion to be involved had a detrimental impact on France and most importantly, on its economy. France spent 1.3 billion livres on direct support for America; this figure did not include other skirmishes occurring outside the USA. This meant that at the end of the war, after receiving no compensation, France was severely in debt. This crippling debt led to possibly the biggest event in French history happening;the French Revolution. But France did make some small gains at the end of the war. All the territory that it lost to Britain was returned to it. In addition, they were given the island of Tobago and Senegal, but these were hardly gains considering how much money France put into fighting the war. The only other real gains for France was the guarantee of fishing rights of Newfoundland, which did provide another way for France to try and very, very slowly recoup cost. France’s biggest gain was actually a psychological one. This was the conformation that France was a military power and the national pride at beating the British.

To conclude, despite being crucial in winning the war for America, the French did very poorly out of it. Whilst America obtained its independence, large borders and many trade agreements, France only obtained crippling debt and a vague sense of pride all of which lead to a revolution in the country. Some thanks for helping America win the war and gain independence.

Contributed by Matthew Rudd

Vasily Zaitsev

Hero of the Soviet Union, Vasily Zaitsev, is the most famous sniper to make his name from the Battle of Stalingrad. With 225 confirmed kills and an estimated total of 400, none would have predicted this legendary feat when he joined the Red Army in 1937.

He entered the fray of the infamous Stalingrad when he crossed the River Volga on 22nd September 1942, joining the 1047th Rifle Regiment of the 284th Rifle Division of the 62nd Army. His career as a sniper began when he was awarded the Medal for courage and a sniper rifle for shooting three Germans from 800 meters away, when instructed by his commanding officer. His career soon took off, scoring his 225 kills between 10th November and 17th December, of whom 11 were enemy snipers. His sniping ability presented him with the opportunity to run a training school for snipers in a metal hardware factory. His 28 students were known as Zaichata and during the war they killed an estimated 1000-3000 enemy troops.

The most famous moment of his life as a sniper was an epic duel between him and Major Erwin König, which was immortalised in the 2001 film, Enemy at the Gates. Despite the fame of this tale, there is not actually any evidence the König even existed. He was supposedly the head of the Berlin sniper school, sent to find and kill the notorious Zaitsev. According to his memoirs and Russian propaganda, Vasily managed to track down König and tricked him into revealing his position by using a helmet on a stick. König fired and when he looked to see if his target was dead, Zaitsev shot him through the head. While it is unlikely that this actually happened, the Armed Forces Museum in Moscow claims to have the rifle of König in their possession.

In January 1943, a mortar blinded him and he was wounded heavily. In a Moscow hospital, his sight was restored by Professor Filatov and he soon returned to the front after being awarded the honour Hero of the Soviet Union. He continued his work with his sniping school as well as becoming a Regiment Commander. He then fought in Ukraine at the Dniestr river, again as a sniper, and ended the war fighting at Seelow heights, 90 kilometres east of Berlin, as a Captain. Some of the greatest awards he received that haven’t already been mentioned include the Order of Lenin, Order of the Patriotic War and Order of the Red Banner (which he earned twice).

After the war he made his home in Kiev, where he studied at a textile university, prior to working as an engineer and eventually as a director of a textile plant. He passed away in 1991 and was buried in Kiev, despite his wishes for his body to lie in Stalingrad. He was reburied on 31st January 2006, with full military honours, in Volgograd (once Stalingrad).

Vasily Zaitsev has been celebrated as an iconic figure of the war for Russians and it is arguable that his work as a sniper and training his students helped the Soviets hold onto Stalingrad, stopping the onslaught of the German army. He will be forever remembered as one of the greatest snipers ever.

Contributed by Matthew Rudd

Revolutionary Cycles

Many of us are aware of the changing world around us, especially the exciting new changes to the Middle East, where revolutions are taking place in countries such as Egypt, Libya and currently Syria. This process of revolution has been occurring for thousands of years but has only recently in the last three hundred years gained so much power. From the early Roman revolution, to the overthrow of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and the start of the Roman Republic in 509 BC, revolutions have always been taking place. However, revolutions only held significance in the change of social power later on: namely the Glorious Revolution (1688) in England and the renowned French Revolution of the late 18th century, where the bourgeoisie seized power.

Such revolutions were commonly unstable and usually it took multiple revolutions before an enduring democracy was in place. For instance, the French Revolution took place in 1789, but it was not until 1870 that the Republic that remains until this day (aside from the German control in the Second World War) was first established. In fact, all recent and major successful revolutions have been followed by a military dictatorship in under 15 years. The Russian Revolution quickly fell under the spell of Lenin and Stalin; the German Weimar Republic fell to Hitler; the French Revolution fell to Napoleon and even the English Civil War fell under Cromwell’s command (1653). Usually it takes another dictator succeeding a previous revolution to create a stable democracy. This second cycle of democracy is usually less spectacular and innovative as the first, rather a return to the previous revolution.

This begs the question of the modern day world; will today’s revolutions be successful in creating democracy, or will they become a part of the revolutionary cycle? In Libya’s case it seems unlikely in a historical context; it was militarily led, leading to violent and bloody conflicts which could easily lead to a second coup whilst the military is so closely linked to political matters. As shown by the first French Revolution, this is a strong potential outcome. The future of Libya also depends on whether the new constitution is too radical, or rather a return to the previous democracy that ruled before Gaddafi. In Egypt’s case, it seems much more likely that the eventual outcome of its revolution will be a stable democracy. It was a relatively bloodless revolution and despite the fact that the military is heavily involved, the people seemed determined to remove them from power, clearly aware of that danger.

On the other side of the revolutionary cycle is Russia, a country that is still in democracy in name. Vladimir Putin seems ever more likely to regain the presidency for the second time and is becoming increasingly dictatorial. Political dissenters (aside from recent protests) are becoming progressively rare. Russia is entering its 3rd complete centralisation of power, having had two democracies (the first being very brief before the Russian Revolution in 1917). It seems likely that after sometime during which Vladimir Putin is overthrown, a democracy will once again return to stay, unless some other political ideology should come into play.

Since the English Civil War and French Revolution, many countries have been spiralling in and out of democracies, in some the spiral has slowed but perhaps not stopped. Conversely, in the volatile countries of Libya and Egypt, perhaps the spiral is accelerating rather than slowing.
History can help us predict the outcomes of the current Middle-Eastern revolutions, but only time will tell.

Contributed by Alex Boitier

Europe and the Middle East – Millennia of Friction

The conflict between Europe and the Middle East has existed throughout human history. This was evident as early as 4th Century BC where the Persians invaded and sought to control Greece. This quarrel lasted for centuries with numerous battles occurring such as the ‘Battle of Marathon’ where the Athenians defended Greece and did so successfully, despite being heavily outnumbered. This is clearly a geographical conflict. In addition, Europe and the Middle East have been in deep religious conflict, with the Crusades as the most significant example. However, even in Roman times, there were conflicts with the Jewish people, over the rule of Jerusalem. Having briefly considered these conflicts, are current conflicts a result of a huge geographical or religious power struggle?

Throughout history, the Middle East has mainly been under the control of large Western Empires. The first of these empires was under the rule of Alexander the Great who conquered Persia and created an empire which stretched from Greece to India. After his death, the successor states were still largely under Greek influence and it took the power of several more native people such as the Egyptians (whilst still a successor state they were certainly more tuned to more inherent customs) and Parthians to change the Greeks’ influence on Asia Minor. The subsequent Roman Empire held this territory for centuries and after their decline, it was once again under native control. Finally, the British assumed control of the Middle East during the 19th and 20th century. Western influence has always been large in the Middle East and our association with the area has gone some way into leading into the current affairs of today. The Middle East could have been a more remote and unrelated part of the world. Furthermore, in more recent times, the Middle East has become, geographically, more significant due to its one key resource that was so helpful to the British in World War Two and is commonly used as an explanation by other than the government as a reason for war today, oil.

From a different perspective, there have been several religious conflicts in the Middle East. The most known and important of those conflicts is the Crusades. The fight for the Holy Land inspires many of the Muslims who fight against Western forces today in the name of “Jihad”. However, the same cannot be seen of the Christians, who seemed to have lost this interest, most likely due to increased secularisation. The war was lost for religious power in the region after control was relinquished, following the Third Crusade. However, a lesser known but almost equally important war in history was fought over this region, a long time before the crusades; the Jewish rebellions. These rebellions eventually lead to the exile of Jewish contingent from Jerusalem and the death of their populace after the Third Rebellion (more commonly known as the Bar Kokhba revolt) in which 500, 000 Jewish people were slaughtered. It led to a more Christian influence after Constantine reformed the Roman Empire into becoming Catholic which eventually led to the Crusades. More critically, it was the loss of the Jewish homeland and after the centuries of persecution, the Jewish people were given their homeland of Israel, despite Islamic dominance.

In the final analysis, the importance of the Middle East and its friction throughout history hold importance, in the aggression of its natives today, for the current western society. Furthermore, as our predecessors have vied for the land for so long, we have so much influence over the area. In addition, it lead to the current situation of today in Israel and the long standing dispute over the Holy Land in which the future seems determined to twist around in Iran’s attempts to obtain Nuclear weapons and the struggle between the Palestinians and Jewish people for the territory. In conclusion, it seems that today’s wars in the Middle East are simply the pawn of an extended struggle between clashes in inherent perceptions, interpretations and arrangements.

Contributed by Alex Boitier