Sunday, 30 June 2013

Picture Of The Month

I recently found this picture online and I could not help but repost it here. This is a photo showing Norwich council taking the delivery of its first computer.

Friday, 28 June 2013

A History of Royal Babies

Official portraits of the future King Edward VIII holding his brother George in 1903, the then Duchess of York holding Princess Elizabeth in 1926 and Princess Diana with her baby Prince William. Pictures via Getty Images/ Wire Image

Due to the immanent arrival of the future Royal Baby I recently began to think about the history of royal babies and how they have been announced in the past.

When Queen Victoria gave birth to the future King Edward VII on 9 November 1841 a special edition of the London Gazette announced that evening "This great and important news was immediately made known to the Town, by the firing of the Park and Tower guns." As it was custom for cabinet ministers to attend royal births at the time, the public often noticed when these politicians pulled up at the palace gates and this led to the news leaking before it was officially announced.

The tradition of politicians acting as witnesses and verifying royal births started with the birth of King James II's son, Prince James Francis Edward Stuart in 1688. The official announcement was delayed until the Queen's husband, Prince Albert appeared before a special meeting of the Privy Council, a group of advisors to the Sovereign. Once the birth was confirmed there were celebrations up and down the country; in Cambridge the bells of St Mary's rang out and  in Liverpool the news was announced to those in a theatre before the performance began.

Because of the importance of succession and lineage in England it is vital that all Royal births are officially recorded, however King George VI, the Queen's father, declared the tradition to be "archaic" and due to the fact that it has no legal basis he officially scrapped it weeks before the birth of Prince Charles, 22 years later.

When the Queen was born on 21 April 1926, the then Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks had to first see her for himself so he could then release the news through official channels.

All 15 kingdoms of the Commonwealth that have the Queen has their head of state passed a bill ending discrimination against women in the succession to the British throne, meaning the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's first child will become monarch, regardless of gender. But other traditions have continued, including the publication in the London Gazette and the Court Circular as well as the posting of a notice on the gates of Buckingham Palace.

The Foreign Office has, in the past, been responsible for notifying the UK's overseas territories, while Buckingham Palace has directly contacted all the Commonwealth realms with news of a royal birth.

For the Queen's own birth, the circumstances were slightly different as it was not obvious she would one day succeed to the throne. She was third-in-line after her uncle, the future King Edward VIII and her father, George VI who became king following his brother's abdication in 1936. Yet this did not stop a crowd from lining up outside her home in 17 Bruton Street in order to see the latest royal descendant. A month later, the interest was still so intense that Queen Elizabeth at times had to be taken out of the back door for her morning airing.

By the time Prince Charles - a direct heir - was born in 1948, the media landscape had changed significantly and the news was immediately broadcast on the BBC, with the announcer stating: "Listeners will want us to offer their loyal congratulations to Princess Elizabeth and the Royal Family on this happy occasion." Those at home could hear for themselves the crowd at Buckingham Palace shouting: "We want Philip; we want the King."

When Prince William was born 33 years later, on 21 June 1982, a notice on the gates of Buckingham Palace informed the world the Princess of Wales "was safely delivered of a son" and both mother and baby were "doing well". But the crowds outside pushed away any notion of decorum and formality, shouting: "Nice one, Charlie, let's have another one" while the announcement was immediately broadcast on the television and radio before headlining the next day's papers.

Princess Diana defied tradition by leaving the hospital just 24 hours later, and standing on the steps to give the world a glimpse of the swaddled baby. The clamour for the first shot of the child was massive. However the interest in the new Royal baby is likely to be nothing the Royal Family have ever seen before. Because of the Internet as soon as the baby is born news will be spread across the globe in a matter of seconds. The first shot of the baby will also be worth a lot of money, increasing paparazzi interest.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Magna Carta

Two days ago (19th June) marked 798 years since the Magna Carta, the basis for many constitutions throughout the world (including the USA), was signed by King John. In honour I have decided to do a short post about it. Enjoy!

Much of King Richard, the Lionheart's reign (6 July 1189 to 6 April 1199) was spent fighting abroad in the Middle East and France. To pay for these wars King Richard had taxed England heavily. After his death in 1199 his brother, John continued these battles, however with less success. King John kept demanding more taxes from the nobility in England who were expected to pay as much tax as was asked from them. 

In 1209, John had been excommunicated in a dispute over the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He used this as an excuse to confiscate church property and sell it back to his bishops at a profit. Part of the money raised by these exactions was used to create a fledgling English Navy. John used this to invade Ireland in 1210, and on 30 May 1213, the Earl of Salisbury destroyed a French armada poised to invade the British Isles at Damme.

The Barons became very unhappy about John exploiting their loyalty and belief in his complete power and on the 3rd May 1215 they rebelled, took over London and forced John to negotiate. On the 19th June 1215 at Runnymede King John signed the Magna Carta (meaning the Great Charter).

It was the first formal document stating that a King had to follow the laws of the land and it guaranteed the rights of individuals against the wishes of the King; people couldn't be arrested, imprisoned or have their possessions taken away except by the judgement of their equals and/or the law of the land.
The Magna Carta established the principle that the people of England, at this stage represented by the Barons, could limit the power of a King - before the Magna Carta, widows and daughters of Barons could be sold by the King in marriage in order to make money.

Of the 63 clauses of the Magna Carta only 3 are still in use. The three include a defence of the rights of the English church, the liberties and customs of London and the right to a fair trial and only being arrested for a just cause.

The Magna Carta was authenticated by a royal seal rather than a signature - there is no evidence that King John could write at all. The Magna Carta was not actually written on the day but written at a later date by scribes working in the Royal Chancery, who used very small writing and abbreviated words to save space because parchment was so expensive! The scribes made many copies of the Magna Carta which were sent across England but only four have survived. 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Hitler's Diaries

As part of my History GCSE I have been studying Nazi Germany, and one story that fascinated me, whilst not being part of my GCSE, is the story of Hitler's dairies.

In 1983, a German magazine Stern published with an exclusive report on what would have been one of the biggest stories in history: a sixty two volume collection of diaries written by Adolf Hitler. 

The diaries were found by Gerd Heidemann a reporter, who bought them, with the magazines money, for over £2.5 million. The diaries passed three authenticity tests using its handwriting; the Times of London and Newsweek engaged historians Hugh Trevor-Roper and Gerhard Weinberg to examine the papers, with Trevor-Roper convinced of their authenticity. But Stern was too afraid the sensational story would leak, and so refused to allow any German experts on World War II to examine the diaries. Within two weeks of publication, the West German Bundesarchiv had exposed the Hitler diaries as "grotesquely superficial fakes" made on modern paper using 1980s-era ink and riddled with historical inaccuracies. Many editors of Stern, the Sunday Times and Newsweek lost their jobs. The diaries were discovered to be the the work of notorious Stuttgart forger Konrad Kujau. Both Heidemann and Kujau went to trial and were each sentenced to 42 months in prison for forgery and embezzlement.

If you want to read more, I found a more detailed explanation of the story here:

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Cottingley Fairies

In 1920 a series of photos of fairies captured the attention of the world. The photos had been taken by two young girls, the cousins Frances Griffith and Elsie Wright, while playing in the garden of Elsie's Cottingley village home. Photographic experts examined the pictures and declared them genuine. Spiritualists promoted them as proof of the existence of supernatural creatures, and despite criticism by sceptics, the pictures became among the most widely recognized photos in the world. It was only decades later, in the late 1970s, that the photos were proved false

In July 1917 the two girls borrowed Elsie's fathers camera, and used it to take a photo of the fairies they had been playing with all morning. When Mr. Wright developed the photo he assumed the picture was a trick, and believed the fairies were "bits of paper". A month later the girls took another photo, and again their father treated it as a joke. However in 1919 Elsie's mother attended a lecture on spiritualism, and afterwards she showed the photo to the speaker, asking him if they "might be true after all". The photos were taken to Edward Gardner, a leader of the Theosophical movement, who asked Harold Snelling, a photographer, to examine them. Snelling declared the photos were "genuine unfaked photographs of single exposure, open-air work, show movement in all the fairy figures, and there is no trace whatever of studio work involving card or paper models, dark backgrounds, painted figures, etc."

The fairy images soon became famous. Sir  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries spotted the photos, and, convinced they were conclusive photographic proof of the existence of supernatural fairy beings. he convinced the girls to take three more pictures of the fairies in August 1920. Doyle then wrote an article about the photographs that appeared in the December 1920 issue of The Strand Magazine, in which he passionately argued for the authenticity of the images. This article brought the photos to the attention of the wider public and sparked an international controversy that pitted spiritualists against sceptics.

Sceptics noticed many problems with the photos, for example, the fairies looked like bits of paper. In one of the photos, one of the girls hands is elongated and in another the fairy is wearing the latest French fashions.

Fairy figures in Princess Mary's Gift Book
In 1978 James Randi pointed out that the fairies in the pictures were very similar to figures in a children's book called Princess Mary's Gift Book, which had been published in 1915 shortly before the girls took the photographs.

In 1981 Elsie Wright confessed to Joe Cooper, who interviewed her for The Unexplained magazine, that the fairies were, in fact, paper cut outs. She explained that she had sketched the fairies using Princess Mary's Gift Book as inspiration. She had then made paper cut outs from these sketches, which she held in place with hat pins. In the second photo (of Elsie and the gnome) the tip of a hat pin can actually be seen in the middle of the creature. Doyle had seen this dot, but interpreted it as the creature's belly button, leading him to argue that fairies give birth just like humans.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Top 10 Most Important Events in America's History

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor and Confederate sympathizer, fatally shot President Abraham Lincoln at a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. The attack came only five days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his massive army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the American Civil War. After 600,000 American men had died in the Civil War Booth decided Lincoln had to die for his crimes, considering Lincoln the root cause for the destruction of the South, the death of hundreds of thousands of its men, and the dishonour done to its institute of slavery.

Booth shot Lincoln in the back of the head with a pistol during a performance of “Our American Cousin,” at Ford’s Theater in Washington D. C, then leapt onto the stage and shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” and may have shouted, “The South is avenged!” Lincoln’s assassination reminded humanity that when a war ends, the animosity between opposing sides does not. Winning a war does not put an end to hatred, and therefore no victory will ever be the last.

Buying Louisiana

In 1803 Thomas Jefferson doubled the United States of America’s area. America paid 60 million francs, plus an extra 18 million francs to cancel France's debts, which is about $15 million, for the whole of Louisiana. Today that would be worth about $220 million, which is an extraordinarily good sale price for 828,800 square miles. The acquisition of the Louisiana Territory for the bargain price of less than three cents an acre was among Jefferson's most notable achievements as president. American expansion westward into the new lands began immediately, and in 1804 a territorial government was established. On April 30, 1812, exactly nine years after the Louisiana Purchase agreement was made, the first state to be carved from the territory -Louisiana, was admitted into the Union as the 18th U.S. state.

The Manhattan Project

America became the first nation to complete the understanding of nuclear fission and developed the first weapon using this technology. Harry Truman’s decision, in 1945, to use it on the civilian population of Japan, the only serious threat to Allied safety at the time, remains extraordinarily controversial, but it did its job: putting a final end to the mightiest, deadliest war in human history. Japan was largely intent on fighting to the last man, which would have lasted years more. The atomic bombs Fat Man and Little Boy changed their minds in 4 days.

The Vietnam War

In many ways, the Vietnam War was a product of decades of poor politics, not just American, but including the global spread of Communism. America entered the Vietnam conflict largely because it felt threatened by Communism’s spread into democratic South Vietnam, and had sworn to defend democracy. Yet The Vietnam War did establish something good: peace rallies. Tens of thousands of U. S. citizens paraded, marched, and crowded into various public places, especially Washington D. C., to protest the War, and these rallies worked. Most scholars credit them with shortening U. S. involvement in Vietnam. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Gerald Ford’s administration seriously considered various re-invasion plans but the American public was so sick of the War, that the U. S. government decided to cut its losses. The War was over. America had lost. 58,000 Americans had died for no good reason.

The Death of Osama bin Laden

Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin had, until bin Laden’s death, been without parallel in the world’s opinion of villainy. Bin Laden’s status the world over was virtually equivalent to this. He still has plenty of supporters, most of them in various places throughout the Middle East, but their percentage is microscopic compared to the favourable response to his death on May 1, 2011. And it was the United States military, without help from anyone else, that did it.

The most important thing is the technical difficulty involved in finding and dealing with him. It is no easy thing to find someone on Earth who does not want to be found. The USA employed almost every single weapon in its arsenal, the most powerful in the history of Earth, in locating him, and he still evaded justice for a decade. That justice that was able to be served, long after most people had given up hope, is a testament to “waking the sleeping giant and filling him with a terrible resolve.” That America never gave up and overcame the difficulties is the true death knell of global terrorism, showing that eventually, terrorism can be stopped.

The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

No one has yet decided quite why Kennedy was killed. There are plenty of conspiracy theories, most centring on the Chicago Mafia. Sam Giancana is thought to have rigged the election to get Kennedy into the Office, but why he did this is a long, complicated story. In general, Giancana believed his interests would fare better under Kennedy. The answer is almost always money. However as much as the Mafia might have thought Kennedy would be on their side, he definitely was not once he took office, appointing his brother Bobby to be Attorney General. Bobby came down very hard on organized crime, especially in the Chicago area, and the conspiracy theory goes that Giancana felt betrayed and resolved to avenge this.

The similarities between his and Lincoln’s assassinations are uncanny. Among them are that both spoke prophetic words regarding their deaths. Lincoln dreamed his death not long before it happened. Kennedy once said, “Look, if someone wants to sit up in a window and take potshots at someone as they ride by, there’s not a hell of a lot they can do to stop him.”

The American Revolution

The establishment of America as a nation all its own occurred from 19 April 1775 to October 1781.

The Civil War

The causes of the Civil War, or more properly, the War over States’ Rights, include much more than slavery, but the sustenance or abolition of slavery was the result everyone watched for, and what all the politicians fought for. At no other time in American history was the nation more polarized over any issue. In hindsight, fighting over it was the only resolution. Many war experts consider it the first modern war, not because of the Gatling gun, but because of musket rifling and the Minie ball. As said in #10, 600,000 Americans died. This was horror on a scale no American ever saw before or since. . By the time it was over, Richmond had been bombed into a moonscape, General Sherman had burned Atlanta to the ground, and the President was killed.

But with the unconditional surrender of the South, the Union was able to welcome back all seceded states, per Lincoln’s wishes, and permanently outlaw slavery of any kind. The Constitution was amended to this effect, Blacks were given the right to vote and hold office, and a nation much more similar to that of the present finally existed in the Western Hemisphere.

September 11, 2001

On a Tuesday morning, Islamic extremists directed by Osama bin Laden hijacked 4 commercial passenger jets and deliberately flew them into major American landmarks. Their sole intent was indiscriminate mass murder, for the purpose of causing as much physical, emotional, mental, psychological and financial harm on America as they possibly could.

Today, the entire world can rest assured that never again will an American airplane be overtaken by anyone for any reason, because no terrorist of any culture or motive can ever again be trusted not to kill himself and innocent bystanders for the goal of entering Heaven. The terrorists will not stop until there are no terrorists. And now the civilized world knows it.

Apollo 11

On July 20, 1969, humanity did itself proud; we set foot on another world. And it was the United States of America who saw it through. England can claim some pride, in that Sir Isaac Newton was proven right about everything he said. Without him, NASA wouldn’t have known which way was up.

But only Americans have walked on the Moon, 12 of them. No one of any other nation has. There are five different flags on the Moon: the first planted is from the USA; out of respect for other superpowers, the USA has planted the flags of the Soviet Union, Japan, the European Union, and India.

NASA is now very intent on going back, and someday the next, much more giant leap will be taken: to Mars. Whoever it is who speaks first on Mars must remember the sentiment Neil Armstrong expressed, “We came in peace for all mankind.”