Figuring out the Winner: Propaganda and Reality, Hittites vs Pharaoh Ramesses

Judith Starkson author photoRelevant History welcomes Judith Starkson, who writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. Her debut, Hand of Fire, set within the Trojan War, combines history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’ captive Briseis. Hand of Fire was a semi-finalist in the prestigious M.M. Bennett’s Award for Historical Fiction. Starkston’s upcoming mystery series features Queen Puduhepa of the Hittites and won the San Diego State University Conference Choice Award. Puduhepa signed the first surviving peace treaty in history with Pharaoh Ramesses II; now she’s a sleuth. Ms. Starkston is a classicist (B.A. UC, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell). For more information, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


Getting to the truth in wartime has always been challenging. Governments save face and misrepresent their military strength and their moral rectitude as combatants. As a child, I remember the photographs of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam undermining my own sense of my government’s position in that unfortunate war.

Ancient propaganda in stone
Ramesses smiting the Hittites[Ramesses smiting the Hittites, Ramesseum, Photo by Morgana] In Egypt following the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE, Pharaoh Ramesses ordered a version of this battle carved onto walls of his Ramesseum, his memorial temple to himself (as well as some other buildings—repetition was a virtue in his propaganda efforts). The Pharaoh, giant-sized, is shown crushing the very tiny Hittites single-handedly with his scepter. You would assume from this grand and heroic scene that Ramesses had retaken all the disputed lands in Syria from the Hittites, that he was the undisputed victor. Pharaohs get to tell history their way in their own land. Who’s going to argue with a god who rules the land with absolute authority? (More or less, putting aside those pesky uppity priests and internecine family squabbles, etc.)

Reality on the Hittite side
However, the Hittites, Ramesses’ foes, were no weaklings, even if they didn’t leave a pictorial version of their own of this key battle. A close look at the aftermath of Kadesh shows that Ramesses engaged in some unjustified propaganda.

First of all, you may be wondering who the Hittites were. Ramesses, of “let my people go” Moses fame (if we can stray from history into possibly legendary material), is a relatively familiar character from the dust pile of history. But there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Great King Muwattalli and his younger brother and most reliable general, Hattusili. The Hittite Empire sprawled from the western Aegean coast of what is now Turkey across the Anatolian plateau and down into what is now Syria and Lebanon. The Hittite Great King and the Egyptian Pharaoh addressed each other as “Brother” in recognition of their equal power. Sometimes a Babylonian or Syrian king got to claim such lofty status, but not always. So the fact that the Egyptian kingdom stretched up into the Levant and the Hittite Empire stretched down into the Levant, and thus they butted up against each other was just sure to cause trouble.

Ramesses, early in his reign, was determined to match the heroic achievements of his predecessors after a generation or two of less than heroic pharaohs dimming the glory of Egypt’s martial reputation. He made a series of raids into these disputed areas in 1275 and then launched a full-scale war in 1274. Muwattalli was ready for him. More ready than the inexperienced Ramesses, as it turns out.

The battle
In his eagerness to take back his Syrian territory, Ramesses launched ever northward, ahead of his main fighting divisions. Not far from Kadesh, he found two Bedouins who claimed to want to leave the service of the Hittite Great King and join the Egyptians. They explained that Muwattalli’s army was far away in the Land of Aleppo. Ramesses took them at their word, sent no scouts out, and crossed the river (thus separating himself even more from his troops who hadn’t made it there yet) to set up camp outside Kadesh.
Actually, the Hittite main force was camped on the far side of Kadesh. They made a secret attack and nearly wiped out the whole Egyptian army. The eminent historian Trevor Bryce describes what happened next: “Ramesses, making up for his earlier recklessness and gullibility, stood his ground with an exemplary show of courage and leadership—at least according to his own version of the events” (The Kingdom of the Hittites p. 237).

How much this turn of the battle was due to Ramesses’ personal leadership skills in battle and how much was due to the timely arrival of some Egyptian reinforcements will forever remain debatable. But what we do know is that Ramesses listed the slain Hittite officers on the walls of the Ramesseum, and we have no reason to doubt the accuracy of that part—the Hittites took huge losses. We also know that the Hittites avoided renewed conflict, which again shows the losses they must have suffered in men and weaponry.

The long-term result: peace
Treaty of Kadesh between Ramesses and Hattusili/Puduhepa[Treaty of Kadesh between Ramesses and Hattusili/Puduhepa]It was a war whose large scale had done permanent damage to both sides, and these two sides eventually signed the first extant peace treaty in history, which you can see in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. By that time, younger brother Hattusili was Great King and his indomitable wife, Puduhepa, also placed her seal on this treaty. Queens got a lot of respect among the Hittites, not at all like most of their ancient contemporaries.

The key to understanding who “won” Kadesh lies in the spoils. The Hittites regained control of some cities that had recently fallen into Egyptian influence and they took control of several cities that had always been in the Egyptian camp. Does not sound like an Egyptian win. The eventual treaty does not spell out the boundaries in detail, but it leaves in place the status quo after Kadesh—noticeably in Hittite favor.

So whatever you see while touring the famous temples and mausoleums of Egypt, the Hittites came out marginally ahead. Both sides came out chastised into peacemaking. Wouldn’t it be nice if some of those currently engaged in self-destructive wars in this same region today came to a similar conclusion? Maybe they should read some history.


Hand of Fire book coverA big thanks to Judith Starkson. She’ll give away a paperback copy of Hand of Fire to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.S. only.


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You Can’t Put That in the Movies

Sheila York author photoRelevant History welcomes Sheila York who, after a successful career in TV and radio, began writing novels combining her love of mystery, history and the movies. Her series features screenwriter Lauren Atwill (and her lover, private detective Peter Winslow) chasing killers in the last hurrah of the Great Golden Age of Film. Sheila’s first novel, Star Struck Dead, won a Daphne du Maurier award. Lauren’s latest adventure, No Broken Hearts, was praised by Charles Todd: “If you love a terrific mystery, York is a must read!” To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Censorship has a long, complicated history in America. Don’t worry, I’m going to spare you that.

Instead, we’re going on a short, high-points tour of the censorship of American film. Ah, maybe you didn’t know movies were once heavily censored. You thought in all those Golden Age films when passion overcame lovers, they just naturally pressed their cheeks together and faced the camera rather than locking lips. And never noticed the lack of cleavage and that nobody got away with a crime.

There were, you see, rules. They were called the Production Code, and they controlled the content of American films from 1934 until replaced with an early form of our ratings system in the late 1960s (following years of rebellion by filmmakers and audiences).

OK, here’s our first stop: the very first line of the Production Code.

No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it.

Wow. You’ve got to wonder what led to that.

The power of silents
The impact of silent films is hard to imagine today, in an age of instant communication, but they were our first shared national cultural experience. Across the country audiences thrilled to the same movies with the same stars, and devoured the same fan magazines (a new sensation) awash in stories about them. American film stars were the most famous people in the world – Fairbanks, Swanson, Chaplin, Pickford, Keaton, Valentino.

However, silent films had no rules, and pretty quickly communities and religious groups worried about movies’ influence, and what some filmmakers were up to: flouting conventional morality, ridiculing authority, reveling in sexual innuendo, and joking about drunkenness and drugs.

By 1921, five states—Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Kansas, and New York—had established censorship boards. With nearly 30% of America’s ticket sales, they had the muscle to ban individual films in their states or delete scenes they deemed inappropriate. Some cities followed suit. After traveling through a few towns, a film could be rendered incomprehensible.

Some citizens thought the federal government should control films.

We can police ourselves. Yeah, sure.
In 1922, the major studios formed the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America and picked Will Hays, a man well connected in Washington, to run it. The best the MPPDA could do was create a long list of content guidelines, “The Don’ts and the Be Carefuls”. Compliance was voluntary.

The sound and more fury
Mae WestIn the late 1920s, films began to speak; reformers could be shocked by what they saw and heard. And they saw and heard plenty. When the Depression cut into box office, studios discovered sex and violence could sell tickets. Tommy-gun-toting gangsters ruled in films like Little Caesar. Mae West brought her shocking double-entendres to Hollywood.

Sign of the Cross with gorillaAnd Mr. DeMille made a movie called—I’m not kidding—The Sign of the Cross. Orgies, Christians sacrificed, Claudette Colbert bathing naked. The theory seems to have been that this would demonstrate Roman degeneracy.

Maybe Mr. De Mille just couldn’t control himself.

Hey, what about a Code? It was already there.
The Code was written in 1929 by a priest named Daniel Lord and Martin Quigley, a movie-industry-publication owner (and devout Catholic). Quigley (and many others) lobbied for its adoption. Studio heads agreed, but the administration they created in 1930 had only the power of persuasion.

In response, the Catholic Church developed its own ratings system. Then came their Legion of Decency. Its pledge’s first line gives you some idea of how the Church felt: I wish to join the Legion of Decency, which condemns vile and unwholesome moving pictures.

Seal of ApprovalFinally the MPPDA ceded full power to control content. Beginning 1 July 1934, films could not be distributed without the Code seal of approval. The Code finally had teeth. Joe Breen, a public relations man and movie lover with excellent Church connections, ruled the Code Office for the next twenty years.

His office screened books/plays whose rights the studios were considering purchasing. Studios submitted draft scripts for early advice. While filmmakers could negotiate (and the Code Office would sometimes change its mind), they had to get approval of their shooting scripts and the final cuts of their films.

So this, briefly, is how we ended up with movies striving not to lower moral standards, in which adultery could never be justified and marriage was sacred. No nudity or suggestive costumes. No excessive kissing or drinking. Justice must triumph.

Here are a few of my favorites from the 1940s, the decade in which my heroine must grapple with the Code, with some Code notes you might enjoy.

The Best Years of Our Lives (46): The Code Office wanted all drinking eliminated. Try handling that when your script has a crucial bar-hopping scene.

The Big Sleep (46): Notice how much sexual innuendo they get away with in the bookstore.

The Blue Dahlia (46): In the original script, the wounded ex-Navy flyer (William Bendix) was the killer. Shown the script, the Navy objected. The movie got a new killer.

Casablanca (42): The censors forbade any overt indication that Captain Renault exchanged visas for sex; notice Strasser must draw his gun before Bogart can fire.

Crossfire (47): The murder victim in its source novel, The Brick Foxhole, was homosexual. Breen called it “completely unacceptable.” The victim became Jewish. The writer made sure to give him a girlfriend.

Double Indemnity (44): The poignant ending was made possible because the Code Office forbade any portrayal of an execution in early notes.

The Lady Eve (41): Check out Stanwyck/Fonda nuzzling in her stateroom. Pretty hot, but notice she’s on a chaise and he’s on the floor.

The Maltese Falcon (41): The Code Office forbade the suggestion of Spade’s affair with his partner’s wife (though it’s still crystal clear).

Notorious (46): It’s amazing this movie ever got made: a woman of loose morals as the heroine? Screenwriter Ben Hecht is my hero.

Rebecca (40): No one can get away with murder. The book’s resolution changed.


No Broken Hearts book cover imageA big thanks to Sheila York. She’ll give away hardback copy of No Broken Hearts to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.S. only.


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Travel in the Sixteenth Century

Anna Castle author photoRelevant History welcomes back Anna Castle, who writes the Francis Bacon mysteries and the Lost Hat, Texas mysteries. She’s earned a series of degrees—BA Classics, MS Computer Science, and PhD Linguistics—and has had a corresponding series of careers—waitressing, software engineering, assistant professor, and archivist. Writing fiction combines her lifelong love of stories and learning. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and follow her on Facebook.


Many of us traveled over the last Christmas holidays, heading out in trains, planes, and automobiles to visit friends and family. December isn’t the best season for travel in the northern hemisphere. Snow falls and wind blows, even across the southern tier. Still, all in all, we expect to get where we’re going in a day or two under fairly predictable circumstances.

Let’s travel back four centuries to Elizabethan England. Many people journeyed home from the capitol to spend the holidays with their families, like the gentlemen of the Inns of Court, who only came to town when the courts were in session.

Horse or carriage?
Your options for transport were horse or shank’s mare (foot). Coaches appeared in England in the 1590s, but they were only for the wealthy and chiefly used inside the metropolis. Men like Sir Horatio Palavicino and Anthony Bacon, both of whom suffered terribly from gout, traveled by coach, but neither traveled far. Anthony once tried to get from Twickenham to Windsor to answer an invitation from the queen, but was forced to cut his journey short at Colnbrook, about six miles away. The coaches must have been dismally uncomfortable.

Catherine de Medici riding sidesaddleMost barristers would have ridden their own horses with their own handmade saddles and a servant or two to carry their packs and keep them company. Women traveled on horseback as well. They could choose to ride astride or sidesaddle. The sidesaddle was improved by Catherine de Medici in the sixteenth century, making it easier for women to control their mounts and thus ride independently.

Lesser folks walked when they needed to get from one place to another. I love to imagine Christopher Marlowe loping along with his rangy stride from Canterbury to Cambridge. As a cobbler’s son, he wouldn’t have owned a horse. University scholarships didn’t run to that level of luxury. Still, he was young and healthy and would easily have found companions on those well-traveled roads.

Are we there yet?
A horse walks at 3–4 miles per hour and trots at 8–10. 2–3 mph is normal for a person walking. Your servants could comfortably walk alongside your horse. Twenty miles a day—ten there and ten back—was typical on a market day. This is why towns in places like England (settled before horses and carriages became common) tend to be about ten miles apart.

Twenty miles a day would make a good day of travel, whatever your mode of transportation. This delightful tool will draw a twenty-mile radius around any location you please. Francis Bacon could reach his mother’s house in Gorhambury, near St. Albans, in one day—if it weren’t for his hemorrhoids, which frequently drove him back to his chambers at Gray’s Inn.

A person on horseback with reason to hurry could travel 30–40 miles in a day, but then he’d have to change horses to go further. Robert Carey famously rode from London to Edinburgh in just under three days, to deliver the news that Queen Elizabeth had died.

Lost and found
I’ve gotten lost two miles from a major road in England, or rather I’ve reached forks in the road between which I could not choose and been forced to turn back. I once went rambling with a group of experienced hikers, equipped with maps and GPS apps, and stood waiting while these gadget-minded men debated the correct turn to take. It’s amazing how quickly landmarks disappear behind trees or gentle hills.

Unless you knew your road and knew it well, you would need a guide. Major roads, like those used by the nascent royal postal service, might be clear enough to get from town to town with minor assistance at crossroads. Major roads ran between Dover and London, London to Edinburgh, and Canterbury to Oxford (among other routes.) In December, these major thoroughfares would be muddy and badly rutted. To venture farther afield, you’d have to rely on locals for directions and hope they gave you good information.

1570 first map of ScotlandThere were maps aplenty in those days—map-making was a booming craft—but they weren’t meant to aid travelers on land. Maps of coastlines, made by sailors, were amazingly good, but interior spaces were not often well represented. The Tudors were just beginning to get England’s roads organized into some kind of system. This map gives you an overall sense of Scotland’s topography, but it won’t get you from Glasgow to Edinburgh.

In 1586, Michaelmas (autumn) term ended on 3 December. The courts re-opened for Hilary term on 12 January. That gave you a little less than six weeks vacation. If you lived in the north, in someplace like Lancashire, it might take you ten days to get home. Another ten to ride back and you’ve barely had time to kiss your wife and watch your children open their New Year’s gifts. At least you wouldn’t be stranded in an airport!


The Widows Guild book coverA big thanks to Anna Castle. She’ll give away an ebook or autographed paperback copy of The Widows Guild, her third Francis bacon mystery, to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide for the ebook and the U.S. only for the paperback.


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The Winner of Murder in the Merchant’s Hall

Carole Weiss has won a copy of Murder in the Merchant’s Hall by Kathy Lynn Emerson. Congrats to Carole Weiss!

Thanks to Kathy Emerson for showing us an example of how she extrapolates a mystery plot from historical facts. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.


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Extrapolating from the Facts

Kathy Emerson author photoRelevant History welcomes Kathy Lynn Emerson, aka Kaitlyn Dunnett, author of over fifty books. She won the Agatha Award in 2008 for best mystery nonfiction for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2014 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (The Scottie Barked at Midnight) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries as Kathy (Murder in the Merchant’s Hall). The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and group blog, and follow her on Facebook.


It always amazes me that television shows and movies claim they have to change historical facts for the sake of the story. What really happened, especially in sixteenth-century England, has all the action, adventure, sex, violence, and intrigue anyone could ask for.

In my Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries, and in the earlier Face Down mystery series, as well as in the non-mystery historical novels I wrote as Kate Emerson, I set my fictional stories against a backdrop that is as real as I can make it. I’ve been reading and writing about Tudor England for over forty years and maintain the online “A Who’s Who of Tudor Women,” containing over 2000 mini-biographies, to share some of my research. When writing fiction, the technique I use most frequently is to start with a little known bit of history, find out everything I can about it, and then extrapolate from the facts to create my plot. It might not have happened that way…but it could have.

Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster
Sir Francis WalsinghamSir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s principal secretary and spymaster and a secondary character in Murder in the Merchant’s Hall and the first book in the series, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, appears in fictionalized form in a great many novels, so the challenge for me is to make my portrayal of him accurate but also distinct from what others have done. Here’s the tidbit I found to extrapolate from in Murder in the Merchant’s Hall: in August 1583, the queen sent Walsingham to Scotland on a diplomatic mission, and while he was there he fell ill. His poor health continued after his return to England in mid-October. It struck me that this might affect his ability to supervise his vast spy network and therefore offer one of his underlings an opportunity to advance his own agenda. From there it wasn’t much of a leap to imagine that this man’s plans could go awry and cause all kinds of difficulties for my fictional amateur detective, Rosamond Jaffrey.

The underling in question was right there waiting for me. His name was Walter Williams, called “Watt” by his boss. In December 1582, Walsingham put him in charge of the house in Seething Lane that served as headquarters for his intelligence gatherers. Some historians dismiss Williams as incompetent, but the truth is that not much is known about him. Prior to 1583 he delivered letters between England and the Continent, conducted surveillance, and went undercover in various prisons as an agent provocateur. In June 1583, he acted as the contact for a spy working undercover in the French embassy.

Plot and subplot
Since the books in the Mistress Jaffrey series are murder mysteries, a fictional murder is at the heart of the plot, but the subplot comes straight from history. In addition to material from other sources, I found a treasure trove of factual detail in Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair (1991) and Under the Molehill: An Elizabethan Spy Story (2001), both written by John Bossy. The second book adds information he discovered after the publication of the first. To blend plot and subplot, I have my sleuth, Mistress Rosamond Jaffrey, visit the French embassy as part of an attempt to clear a friend of the charge of murder. There she has a chance encounter with a fellow named Throckmorton, an Englishman who has been translating coded letters from Mary, Queen of Scots for the French ambassador. This propels Rosamond into the middle of the spy story. Walter Williams’s attempts to first warn her off and then use her for his own purposes create twists and turns in both plot and subplot.

In real life, Throckmorton was arrested, and both the French and Spanish ambassadors were implicated in a conspiracy to invade England, overthrow Elizabeth, and put Mary on the throne in her place. Could an English gentlewoman visiting the French embassy have overheard a vital clue and reported it to the authorities? Since we will never know all the details that led up to Throckmorton’s arrest, I see no reason why it couldn’t have happened that way.


Murder in the Merchant's Hall book cover imageA big thanks to Kathy Emerson. She’ll give away an autographed hardback copy of Murder in the Merchant’s Hall to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available is the U.S. only.


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The American Turtle, George Washington and Me

Robert Skead author photoRelevant History welcomes back the father-son team Robert J. Skead, with Robert A. Skead, authors of YA historical fiction. Their ancestor Lamberton Clark fought in the Revolutionary War as a member of the Connecticut Militia and the Continental Army, and their popular children’s books include the American Revolutionary War Adventure series: Patriots, Recoats & Spies and Submarines, Secrets, and a Daring Rescue (Zondervan). To learn more about their books, visit their web site and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.


I never knew the first submarine invented for warfare was created during the American Revolution. It wasn’t in any of my history books when I was a child. Had I known about it, my interest in the subject, which was already high (I was in sixth grade in 1976 during the Bicentennial), would have peaked even higher.

I stumbled on the American Turtle submarine while searching for possible hooks for the second book in our American Revolutionary War Adventure series crafted with my father. Our goal with the books is to inspire kids and adults to do great things and educate our readers about some “little known” facts or events during this important period in our nation’s history. The first book in our series—Patriots, Redcoats & Spies—used the Culper Spy Ring as a hook. When I saw the image of the American Turtle on my computer screen, my eyes widened, and I had that “Aha!” moment. When I tell kids about it during my author visits, they too are fascinated. How can you not be—a submarine during the American Revolution! Who knew?!

Turtle submarine beneath shipMy PowerPoint presentation used for my author visits shows an image of the Turtle. One child said it looked like a giant acorn, which is true, but the American Acorn doesn’t sound so cool. Others described it as two giant clam shells stuck together, but the American Clam doesn’t work either. When the sub is in the water it looks like a turtle, hence the American Turtle, maybe not a very threatening name, except when you think of its inventor, David Bushnell, saying that his Turtle snaps on command.

The turtle that more than snaps
The American Turtle was invented to secretly submerge under a British warship and attach a bomb to its hull, and then escape while the fuse burned and the clocked ticked down until BOOM! David Bushnell, a Yale graduate, started inventing the Turtle in 1775 because he first invented underwater explosives (waterproof gunpowder), and he needed a way to deliver it to blow up a ship. Previously when men of war wanted to destroy a ship, they used fire bombs made with oil or other flammable materials, all delivered above the water level. The Governor of Connecticut, the state in which Bushnell lived, who was a Patriot and knew of the invention, recommended it to General George Washington, who, even though he was a little skeptical, invested funds for its continued creation.

The Turtle could hold one man as pilot and operated via pumps and hand-cranked propellers. Tar inside the grooves of the wooden structure made it waterproof. It could submerge for about 20-30 minutes. Glass built into its structure provided some light, but once submerged there would be darkness. That problem was solved, to my surprise, by fungus that would glow in the dark, and that was placed around instrumentation like gauges. Yes, the ingenuity of David Bushnell is so impressive! The fungus would not work in cold weather, so the Turtle didn’t operate in winter.

The Turtle was used several times in New York Harbor but failed to achieve the purpose for which it was created. Patriot Ezra Lee piloted its first mission. The target: The HMS Eagle, Howe’s flagship, stationed off Manhattan.

Lee’s personal account (found in the back of Submarines, Secrets and a Daring Rescue) details how he couldn’t get the bomb to attach to the hull because he hit metal. He tried to connect with another part of the hull, but was not able to stay underneath (imagine all the currents). He had to give up. He reported that the British did spot him and rowed out to investigate. He then released a charge (a floating bomb), which they saw and avoided in retreat. When it exploded, it did so “with tremendous violence, throwing large columns of water and pieces of wood that composed it high into the air.”

The Turtle was exhausting to operate, as you might imagine. Lee tried again a month later, but he was spotted, so he abandoned the mission. The British sunk it later as it sat on its holding device in Fort Lee.

Not so secret, after all
Despite the Continental Army’s best attempts to keep the Turtle’s existence a secret, the British did learn about it, and they didn’t take its threat too seriously. It seems a Loyalist tavern keeper and postmaster had intercepted Bushnell’s mail and learned of it, and a coded message was then sent to British attention. The message contained some inaccuracies, stating it was ready to be used when in fact it was still being developed in the Connecticut River.

Washington says!
George Washington wrote to Thomas Jefferson that the Turtle was an “effort of genius.” He described David Bushnell as “a man of great mechanical powers—fertile in invention and a master in execution.”

Our adventure
Entering  the TurtleIn Submarines, Secrets and a Daring Rescue, fifteen-year-old twins, Ambrose and John Clark, once again find themselves in the thick of things in service of the newly forming United States of America. Their new mission: help transport much-needed gunpowder to the patriots. When they end up in an even more dangerous situation—manning one of the first submarines—it seems the worst is behind them. Until they have to attempt a prison break to rescue one of their older brothers. Follow these brave young patriots as they continue to follow in their father’s footsteps and take even bigger leaps of faith.


Submarines, Secrets, and a Daring Rescue book cover imageA big thanks to Robert Skead. He’ll give away autographed paperback copies of Submarines, Secrets, and a Daring Rescue to two people who contribute a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available is the U.S. only.


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The Winner of In the Shadow of the Storm

Warren Bull has won a copy of In the Shadow of the Storm by Anna Belfrage. Congrats to Warren Bull!

Thanks to Anna Belfrage for describing a daring escape from the Tower of London. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.


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Roger Mortimer—Prisoner Turned Conqueror

Anna Belfrage author photoRelevant History welcomes Anna Belfrage who, had she been allowed to choose, would have become a time traveler. Instead, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time-slip series “The Graham Saga,” winner of multiple awards, including the HNS Indie Award 2015. Her new series, “The King’s Greatest Enemy,” is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The first book, In the Shadow of the Storm, was published 1 November 2015. To learn more, visit her web site and blog, and follow Anna on Facebook and Twitter.


On the first of August 1323, a certain Roger Mortimer managed quite the escape from the Tower of London. He’d been kicking his heels behind locked doors since January of 1322—more than eighteen months in a confined space and with a death threat hanging over him. So how come Mortimer ended up in the Tower to begin with? Well, for that we must step a couple of years backwards in time.

The Mortimers were a power to be reckoned with on the Welsh Marches. As a Marcher lord, Roger would have spoken Welsh, and his household would have included a number of Welsh retainers, but he would never have defined himself as part Welsh. No, Roger Mortimer was first and foremost an English baron—and it was as a loyal servant to the crown Roger Mortimer set out to make his mark.

Initially, he was quite successful. A capable man, ruthless when so necessary, Mortimer was entrusted with various complicated missions, including the pacification of Ireland. This he did so well even the Irish were sad to see him go, and once back in England he was chosen by Edward II as one of the men charged with brokering some sort of peace between the king and his troublesome (and very powerful) cousin, Thomas of Lancaster.

However, there was a big fly in the ointment: Edward II may have been an admirable man, but he was a weak ruler with a tendency towards favouritism. In his early years as a king, it was the handsome Gascon Piers Gaveston who captured the king’s heart and ear, a relationship that ended more than badly when Edward’s barons rose in rebellion and demanded that Gaveston be exiled. When the king brought Piers back, he was summarily killed by the barons.

One would have thought that seeing one favourite killed would have made Edward careful. Maybe it did, at least for some time, but in 1315–16 a new man wormed his way into the royal affections. To be correct, two men, seeing as Hugh Despenser father and son quickly became the king’s preferred and most trusted companions. Especially the son. Soon, Edward II was seemingly incapable of making any decisions without Hugh the younger.

This was bad news for Mortimer. Despenser hated Mortimer—it had been a Mortimer who’d chopped off the head of Despenser’s grandfather, albeit on a battlefield. In actual fact, the Despensers were bad news full stop. Avaricious and ambitious, they asked the king for ever more land, more power, and Edward II was more than happy to comply, even when what he was giving them belonged to someone else…

Predictably, the barons were less than happy. Thomas of Lancaster made warning noises. Mortimer followed suit, and in 1321 the barons once again rose against the king, forcing him to exile the Despensers. An unhappy and humiliated king licked his wounds and struck back with uncharacteristic ferocity. Faced with the king’s rage, the barons sneaked off, until at last it was only Mortimer—and the powerful Earl of Lancaster.

Lancaster was not about to leave his northern power base to come to Mortimer’s aid. Severely outnumbered, Mortimer had no option but to submit, which he did in January 1322. He was thrown into the Tower, his death considered imminent…

Fortunately for Mortimer, he had friends. After all, he wasn’t the only one sick to death of Despenser and their fickle king, and so Mortimer began to plan for an escape. It helped that the king chose to reprieve him, converting the death sentence to life imprisonment. Not that Mortimer held any higher hopes of surviving all that long—what was to stop someone from entering at night and killing him?

The longer Mortimer remained in royal custody, the higher the probability that Despenser would convince the king to change his mind and execute Mortimer. At the same time, Mortimer needed time to plan things in detail—he would only get one chance.

The day the 1st of August was chosen because it was the day of St Peter ad Vincula. Tradition had it that this was a day of partying for the Tower guards, and Mortimer managed to ensure the wine was drugged. Very drugged. Once the guards were fast asleep, the sub-lieutenant d’Alspaye released Mortimer from his room. With the help of the cook, they managed to sneak into the kitchen, clamber up the chimney and escape over the roofs. Long before anyone had noticed Mortimer had fled, he was galloping hell for leather towards an obscure port on the English south coast. From there, he went to France, there to plot his revenge.

Upon hearing of Mortimer’s escape, King Edward went frantic—as did Despenser. They turned England inside out in their determined pursuit of Mortimer’s allies. Men died and were imprisoned, as were wives and children. Ultimately, none of it would help. Mortimer was a beacon for all those who no longer trusted their king—or his favourite. And soon enough, Mortimer would be joined by none other than Queen Isabella, as determined as Mortimer to rid England of the plague of the Despensers, no matter what the cost might be to her husband.

In 1326, Mortimer and Isabella returned to England at the head of an invading army. Some months later, Despenser was dead and Edward was forced to abdicate in favour of his son. The Wheel of Fortune had turned, and Mortimer had come into his own—for now.


In the Shadow of the Storm book cover imageA big thanks to Anna Belfrage. She’ll give away an autographed paperback copy of In the Shadow of the Storm to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. The giveaway is available worldwide.


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The Winner of Napoleon in America

Richard Abbott has won a copy of Napoleon in America by Shannon Selin. Congrats to Richard Abbott!

Thanks to Shannon Selin for a discussion of Napoleon’s fan club in America. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.


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Napoleon’s Followers in America

Shannon Selin author photoRelevant History welcomes Shannon Selin, author of Napoleon in America, alternate history which imagines what might have happened if Napoleon had escaped from St. Helena and wound up in the United States in 1821. Shannon lives in Vancouver, Canada, where she is working on the next novel in her Napoleon series. To learn more about Napoleonic and 19th century history, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.


In writing Napoleon in America, I had to figure out what Napoleon Bonaparte might have done if he had escaped to the United States in 1821. My first task was to find out who was around at the time who might have been able to help him. To my surprise, I discovered there were many Bonapartists in America.

Joseph Bonaparte
Napoleon’s older brother Joseph escaped to the US in 1815, after Napoleon’s final abdication from the French throne. Trying to remain incognito, he called himself the Count of Survilliers. Joseph had amassed a fortune in Europe, where he had been King of Spain, among other things. He transferred much of it to America. He rented a house in Philadelphia and bought land in upstate New York and in Bordentown, NJ, where he built an estate called Point Breeze. It was the most impressive home in the country after the White House. According to a 19th-century account:

It had its grand hall and staircase; its great dining-rooms, art gallery and library; its pillars and marble mantels, covered with sculpture of marvelous workmanship; its statues, busts and paintings of rare merit; its heavy chandeliers, and its hangings and tapestry, fringed with gold and silver. With the large and finely carved folding-doors of the entrance, and the liveried servants and attendants, it had the air of the residence of a distinguished foreigner, unused to the simplicity of our countrymen. A fine lawn stretched on the front, and a large garden of rare flowers and plants, interspersed with fountains and chiseled animals in the rear.

Point BreezeJoseph remained in the United States on and off until 1839. He welcomed artists and sightseers to Point Breeze, and generously lent from his collection for art exhibitions. He has been called “one of the most significant catalysts in disseminating European culture and artistic knowledge to early nineteenth century Americans.” Though Point Breeze was demolished in the 1850s, paintings, furnishings and other items that belonged to Joseph can be found in museums and private collections across the country.

The Texas Invaders
Champ d'AsileJoseph’s home became a gathering place for other Napoleonic exiles, including officers who were avoiding death sentences in France. In 1818, two of these men—Generals Charles Lallemand and Antoine Rigaud—led some 150 Bonapartists, including four women and four children, into the wilds of Texas, which was then part of Spanish-ruled Mexico. They built a military fort called the Champ d’Asile (Field of Asylum) on the banks of the Trinity River, near the present site of Moss Bluff, TX. Within months the colony collapsed under the pressures of infighting, lack of food, Indian attacks and news of Spanish troops on the way from San Antonio to eject them. The settlers retreated to Galveston, where pirate Jean Laffite helped them return to New Orleans. A survivor recounted “how many tears our story caused to flow, we who looked as if we had returned from another world.”

Though the Champ d’Asile was short-lived, it spurred the United States and Spain to agree on the disputed border between their territories. The Transcontinental Treaty of 1819, also known as the Adams-Onís Treaty, transferred Florida to the United States, established the Sabine River as the boundary between Louisiana and Texas, and defined the Mexican border all the way to the west coast.

The Army Man
Simon BernardNot all of Napoleon’s officers engaged in unsavory pursuits. General Simon Bernard, a French military engineer, was issued a special commission in the US Army. James Monroe (then Secretary of State) wrote to General Andrew Jackson in 1816: “It required much delicacy in the arrangement, to take advantage of [Bernard’s] knowledge and experience in a manner acceptable to himself, without wounding the feelings of the officers of our own corps…I…find him a modest unassuming man, who preferred our country…to any in Europe, in some of which he was offered employment, and in any of which he may probably have found it.”

Bernard is best known for designing Fort Monroe in Virginia, the largest stone fort in America. He also designed Forts Adams, Hamilton, Macon and Morgan. He returned to France in 1831, after the Bourbons were overthrown, and later served as France’s Minister of War. When Bernard died in Paris in 1839, President Martin Van Buren directed all US Army officers to wear mourning dress for thirty days.

Other Bonapartists of Note
General Henri Lallemand (brother of Charles) settled in Philadelphia and wrote a two-volume Treatise on Artillery, which the US Army adopted as its standard manual. General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes joined the Society for the Cultivation of the Vine and Olive, which successfully petitioned Congress to grant the French emigrants land on the Tombigbee River in Alabama. His property at Demopolis included a log cabin, in the centre of which stood a bronze bust of Napoleon, surrounded by swords, pistols and flag-draped walls.

Pierre-François Réal, who served in key police positions throughout Napoleon’s reign, settled at Cape Vincent, NY. He built an octagon-shaped dwelling, known as the “cup and saucer house,” and devoted one of the rooms to Napoleonic memorabilia. A number of exiled Bonapartists wound up in the area. In honour of its French heritage, Cape Vincent hosts an annual French Festival, complete with a Napoleon-led parade.

Other Napoleonic soldiers had to scrape a living in occupations to which they were unaccustomed, such as farming, teaching and shopkeeping. Many did not thrive. Captain Louis Lauret wrote: “I have become a man of the woods, wandering in the forests of Georgia….I am on my way to Florida, where I plan to camp out this winter.” This allowed Lauret to “avoid the sight of the world, which fills me with horror.” Though they tended to return to France as soon as it was safe to do so, the Bonapartists had a lasting impact on American place names, culture, and mutual Franco-American sympathy among their descendants.

Read more about the characters mentioned above, and other Bonapartists who went to America, on my blog.


Napoleon in America cover imageA big thanks to Shannon Selin. She’ll give away an ebook copy of Napoleon in America to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. A winner within the US or Canada may choose between an ebook or a paperback copy.


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