How Historically Accurate is The Revenant?

I’m a keen consumer of podcasts and as the Oscar nominations were released one of my favourite podcasts, Screen junkies Movie Fights debated who would win ‘best picture’ among other things. This is when The Revenant first appeared on my radar. My interest was instantly pricked partly due to the hardships Leonardo DiCaprio went through to make this movie and partly due to this movie being based on a true story.

Hugh Glass Illustration

Illustration of Hugh Glass and his legendary bear attack published at the time for a newspaper.

I managed to persuade my regular cinema buddies to come and see this movie at our local multiplex. I have to admit that despite it being a challenge at times I really enjoyed The Revenant.

So what’s the movie about?

Well it’s a movie based in part on a novel called The Revenant by Michael Punke, which in turn is inspired by the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass. In brief Hugh Glass and other fur trappers are hunting pelts when they are attacked by Arikara Native Americans. Glass and other survivors flee on a boat. They continue their journey on foot to their outpost, Fort Kiowa. Glass is scouting ahead when he disturbs a grizzly bear and her cubs. The bear attacks him and leaves him presumably mortally wounded. Three people including Glass’s half Pawnee son Hawk stay behind to bury him when he dies. One of the men, Fitzgerald ends up killing Hawk and abandoning Glass. The remainder of the movie follows Glass as he battles to survive and make his way back to Fort Kiowa then seeks out Fitzgerald to extract his revenge.

Is it accurate?

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My Son’s Fascination with Ancient Egypt!

Pharaoh and Slave

Drawing of Pharaoh and Slave by Thomas

My oldest son is nearly eight years old. He’s not massively sporty despite my best efforts to get him playing the ‘beautiful game’. Despite being a reasonably intelligent little fellow he’s no Brain of Britain! These are all traits, for better or worse, that he shares with his father. One interest we do share is a love of history. In fact, he is planning a history themed birthday cake for his eighth birthday which will feature 4 of his favourite periods in history; prehistoric, Roman, ancient Egypt and Victorian London.

Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum

Ancient Egypt is his current topic at school and the inspiration for my blog. He’s in love with anything ancient Egypt related at the minute and is reading any book he can get his hands on and watching numerous YouTube videos.  What’s so fascinating about ancient Egypt? Well you could consider the fact that their civilisation lasted 3,000 years! In fact, in Roman and Greek times many of the Egyptian monuments were considered ancient!

What about the Pyramids? Isn’t that what everyone thinks of when they think of the ancient Egyptians? The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest of all the ancient Seven Wonders of the World and the only one still standing. The great pyramid contains about 2.3 million stone blocks and it is thought to weigh nearly 6 million tonnes! It was once thought thousands of slaves were used to build the pyramid but excavations of nearby worker camps suggest that thousands of skilled workers were employed to build the pyramid.

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The Bombardment of The Hartlepools

Bombardment of HartlepoolThis year marks the centenary of the outbreak of World War One known simply at the time as The Great War or The World War. The war raged on for four years resulting in more than 16 million deaths. I really want to write something about the conflict but I’m struggling to find a topic I feel comfortable covering. So much has already been written about The Great War, every child is taught about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Triple Entente, The Somme, Ypres, mud, bullets, trenches and the armistice. Writing about any of this would simple repeat what most people already know!

Bombardment of HartlepoolThere is one event which is perhaps not talked about too much but is very significant and very personal to me. I’m referring to the German bombardment of my childhood town of Hartlepool on 16th December 1914 known at the time as “The Bombardment of The Hartlepools (Old Hartlepool and West Hartlepool amalgamated in 1967)”.

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Is the Movie Lincoln Historically Accurate?

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States.

Last night I finally got the opportunity to visit the cinema and watch Steven Spielberg’s latest historical drama Lincoln which I thoroughly enjoyed. The film focuses on the Lincolns efforts in the last few months of his life to pass the 13th amendment to the Constitution in the House of Representatives outlawing slavery and involuntary servitude.

I was keen to see this film having had an interest in the American Civil War for a number of years. I am a fan of Ken Burns excellent film ‘The Civil War’ (I am aware it is rather pro-Union) and was lucky enough to visit the battlefields of Gettysburg in 2003. Unfortunately for me however the Civil War is simply something going on in the background and although frequently mentioned it does not receive the ‘Saving Private Ryan’ treatment. The two exceptions are the opening sequence where we see close quarters fighting during the lesser known Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry and near the end of the movie where Lincoln surveys the aftermath of the Siege of Petersburg. Continue reading

Richard III’s Remains – York, Leicester or Somewhere Else?

Richard III Oil on Panel Late 16th Century

King Richard III by an unknown artist late 16th Century. Oil on panel on display in room 1 in the National Portrait Gallery

On Monday 4th February 2013 the Greyfriers skeleton which was exhumed several months earlier from a car park in Leicester was officially identified as that of Richard III King of England. Richard III had been buried in the small monastic community of Greyfriers in Leicester. It was known that Henry VII who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 paid £50 for a monument to be placed over Richards grave.

Local legend had it however that during the dissolution of the monasteries Richards body was exhumed and thrown into the River Soar while his coffin was sold to an Inn Keeper as a horse trough! Some locals however still believed that the body was buried in Leicester. The land once occupied by the Greyfriers Monastery was developed over the intervening years since the dissolution and is now Local Council offices.

Greyfriars Leicester site

The dotted brown line indicates the area identified in 1920 as the extent of the Greyfriars grounds. The University of Leicester 2012 dig positioned the Church, Chapter House, Cloisters and monastic buildings as the pink area shown, with a black dot indicating the location of the grave which contained the remains of Richard III.

Using old maps and previous work to identify the location of the monastery a team from Leicester University identified land suitable for excavation in 2012. Their plan was to dig a number of trenches and hopefully intersect a wall of the monastery. From this they could work out where the choir was which is where Richard was said to be buried.

Amazingly the first trench immediately unearthed two leg bones; these were part of the Greyfriers skeleton which was ultimately identified as the remains of Richard III! Continue reading

The Plantagenet’s

I’m trying something different with this blog post. It would seem that my original idea to write a snappy bite sized slice of history seems to have grown to be more of a rather bloated stodgy cake of history! I’m going to attempt a short Q & A of interesting facts about the Plantagenet’s. This is inspired by Derek Wilson’s brilliant A to Z of The Plantagenets in the November 2011 issue of BBC History Magazine.  
Who were the Plantagenets? 
The Plantagenet dynasty ruled England longer than any other royal family. Geoffrey of Anjou claimed the crowns of England and Normandy in right of his wife Matilda when Henry I died in 1135. Their son Henry was recognised as hair-apparent in 1154. The Plantagenets ruled until 1485 when Richard III, the last Plantagenet was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field by Henry Tudor who became Henry VII; the first Tudor Monarch. 
What’s a Plantagenet?
In the twelfth century Geoffrey of Anjou wore a sprig of the common broom, known in Latin as the Planta genista in his hat. Plantagenet is a corruption of Geoffrey’s nickname Plantegenest or Plante Genest. Interestingly there is hardly any evidence of the name being used before the mid fifteenth century but has been applied retrospectively as a surname for all descendants of Geoffrey of Anjou. It’s suspected that the name was popularised by Shakespeare. 
Who was Edward Longshanks? 
Edward Longshanks

Edward I of England

Edward longshanks was the nickname of Edward I who reigned from 1272 to 1307. Longshanks is a reference to Edwards tall stature and literally means “long legs” or “long shins”. On 2 May 1774, the Society of Antiquaries opened Edward’s tomb in Westminster Abbey. They reported that his body had been well preserved over the preceding 467 years, and measured the king’s body to be 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm). At this length, he would tower over most of his common contemporaries who would average around 5 feet 5 inches (170cm) in height.

The Birth of The Navy Royal

A.D. 896. This same year the plunderers in East-Anglia and Northumbria greatly harassed the land of the West-Saxons by piracies on the southern coast, but most of all by the esks which they built many years before. Then King Alfred gave orders for building long ships against the esks, which were full-nigh twice as long as the others. Some had sixty oars, some more; and they were both swifter and steadier, and also higher than the others. They were not shaped either after the Frisian or the Danish model, but so as he himself thought that they might be most serviceable.

Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 8 August 1588The extract above is taken from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Annals from A.D. 881 to A.D. 898) and arguably marks the beginnings of England’s sea power. It took another 500 years however before a regular English fleet – a ‘Navy Royal’ – came into being. It was the activities of James IV of Scotland that let Henry VIII to form the standing Navy Royal, with its own secretariat, dockyards and a permanent core of purpose-built warships. Henry inherited a small fleet headed by two large carracks (ocean-going merchantmen distinguished by high super-structure fore and aft) called the Regent and the Sovereign.

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Hue and Cry

Minstrel condemned to the Gallows
Minstrel condemned to the Gallows

Most children are taught in school that modern policing in England started with the Bow Street Runners in London. The author Henry Fielding founded the Runners in 1749; they were unique as they were attached to the Bow Street magistrates’ office and paid from central government funds. Throughout history however the signs of the often rigid enforcement of the law have been visually evident. During the Roman occupation of Britain you would almost certainly have seen crucifixions or perhaps witnessed ad bestias (“to the beasts”) at the amphitheatre, where criminals were forced to face wild animals without the benefit of weapon or armour. Throughout post-Roman Britain and into the Middle Ages you would have seen gallows at crossroads with decomposing naked bodies swinging from the ropes. The putrefied heads of traitors would greet you as you approached the city gates. Every village would have stocks to punish petty offenders and rogue traders would often find themselves in the pillories. Continue reading

To Begin at The Beginning

Norwich Cathedral stained glass window

I was unsure where to start with my first slice of history. This is not only my first blog post on but my first ever blog post! After much cogitation I decided to take inspiration from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas; “To begin at the beginning”, and where better to start ‘my slice of history’ than the start of history itself.

You might be thinking that pinpointing the creation of Heaven and Earth would be difficult but in 1658 James Ussher, Bishop of Armagh in Ireland did just that. Ussher estimated that “the beginning” occurred at nightfall on Saturday, October 22 4,004 years before the Nativity of Jesus. Of course current theory suggests the Earth is 4.54 billion years old and the Universe 13.75 billion years old, but before the 18th century when geological research began to suggest otherwise, the best information the majority of the Christian and Jewish world had was the Bible. The Hebrew Bible (or Christian Old Testament) measures the passage of time through biblical history from the Creation until the kingdoms of Israel and Judah through various “begats”, reign-periods, and other means. Continue reading