Jenny Bennett’s Fab Five: An Amateur Who Changed The Skies, The Definition of Incompetence & More

Luke Howard, by John Opie, date unknown.

Luke Howard, by John Opie, date unknown.

This is the sixth part in our weekly Fab Five Series, where I ask other bloggers, writers, podcasters and friends to give their five favorite historical figures. The criteria is up to them…so is the work!

Hello, I’m Jenny Bennett. A long-time blogger, I’ve just launched a new blog called “1870 to 1918”. This gives me the chance to delve into a fascinating period when the world’s major European empires swelled to their largest expanse, only to come to crisis and cataclysm in the First World War. It takes off from posts about the Boer War on my eclectic “Endless Streams and Forests” blog, which veers wildly from hiking to history and many other topics.

As you’ll see, my Fab Five people are not all people I admire. There are so many I could name that I have to admit the following five are simply ones that popped into my head this morning.

Luke Howard (1772 – 1864): Amateur meteorologist known for coming up with the classification of clouds into cumulus, stratus, and cirrus in his work Essay on the Modification of Clouds. Why is this so interesting to me? Because it was based on gazing at the sky, not performing any rigorous experiment, and yet his categories have such a rightness about them that they will likely be used indefinitely. His observations about the shifting shapes in the sky were an inspiration to the poet Goethe.

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War Paint (Part 7): Liberty Leading the People

Part 7 in a 10 part series. To view other entries into the War Paint Series, follow the link.

La Liberté guidant le peuple is a seminal piece of art by French Romanticist Eugène Delacroix. Finished in 1830, after the July Revolution, which saw the toppling and exile of monarch King Charles X of France. It has become a symbol of the Republic, and the central figure, Marianne, bearing the tricolor flag and a Phrygian cap, is a timeless figure, the same represented by the Statue of Liberty.

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Aethelred the Unready

The following post is reblogged from Susan Abernathy’s the Freelance History Writer. It’s the first in a long line of reblogs I’ll be doing in conjunction with our 1014 series. Aethelred the Unready was unseated as King of England by Sweyn Forkbeard just before Christmas in 1013. As we’ve seen, Sweyn passed away in February, paving the way for Aethelred’s return from exile, which he’ll do sometime in March.

If you haven’t checked out Susan’s blog, you should do so. Some of us write funny or interesting pieces about the things we like. Susan writes posts that can be used as a resource. Enjoy!

The Freelance History Writer

Image of Aethelred the Unready A thirteenth century chronicler recorded Aethelred as being named “Un-raed” which has come to mean Unready in modern terms. The name Aethelred is a compound of two words: Aethel meaning “prince” and raed meaning “noble counsel”. Un-raed means “no counsel” so the chronicler was basically making a pun on Aethelred’s name. But this pun had overtones and alternative meanings including “evil counsel” or “a treacherous plot”. Calling Aethelred “Unraed” could mean he was given bad counsel, he did not take advice from his counselors or that he himself was unwise. Perhaps all were true. Let’s look at the story and see.

Aethelred was the great-great grandson of Alfred the Great and born c. 968. His father was Edgar the Peaceable, King of England and his mother was Queen Aelfthryth. Edgar died in 975 leaving a young Aethelred and an elder son by a previous…

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Amazing Women Who Inspire Us ! (Part 3)

ImageRobert Horvat gives us a series called Women Who Inpire Us. It’s a response to my Fab Five Series. Neither of us listed any women in our lists of historical figures, and Robert is atoning for both of us. This installment features Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of my favorite figures from my favorite era as well as Empress Pulcheria, who I’ve just learned about. I think you’ll be as fond of her as I now am. You’ll find the rest of the series on his blog. Enjoy!

Amazing Women Who Inspire Us ! (Part 3).

An excerpt…

Empress Pulcheria 

One might wonder what the early fifth century Byzantine world would have been like if Aelia Pulcheria was not around and her younger brother Theodosius II was led by other ambitious men ? Sometimes, strong Byzantine women like Pulcheria aren’t given enough credit for the role they play in the Byzantine State and society.

Richard Shephard’s Fab Five: The First Computer Programmer, The Father of Science Fiction & More

Watercolor portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (Ada Lovelace). By Alfred Edward Chalon, 1840.

Watercolor portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (Ada Lovelace). By Alfred Edward Chalon, 1840.

This is the fifth part in our weekly Fab Five Series, where I ask other bloggers, writers, podcasters and friends to give their five favorite historical figures. The criteria is up to them…so is the work!

My name is Richard Shepherd. I’m interested in history in general and the Victorian age in particular. I chose my 5 historical figures because they were not typical of the society they lived in. Some rebelled against racism, sexism or the religious views of the time. Others were concerned with what wonders the future might bring, and how to make it happen. I can be found on Twitter as @rshepherd1964.
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Ada Lovelace (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) worked with Charles Babbage while he was developing his analytical engine. He saw it as a replacement for the inaccurate tables used by the financial system. She predicted that in the future similar devices would be useful not only in finance but also science and the arts, possibly even being used to create music. Today she is often thought of as the world’s first computer programmer. If Babbage had built his engine using Ada Lovelace’s operating system, what technology would we be using today?

War Paint (Part 6): Battle of Clontarf

Part 6 in a 10 part series.

The Battle of Clontarf took place on April 23rd, 1014. It was fought between the forces of Brian Boru, Ireland’s greatest figure of the Middle Ages, and a rival king in rebellion, Máel Mórda. Máel Mórda’s side was aided by the Dublin Vikings, long a power in the area, while Boru had various other kings in support. The battle resulted in a rout of Mórda’s forces, the eventual diminishing of Viking influence in Ireland and, perhaps most importantly, the death of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland.

Ireland was a very fractured place at this time. There were numerous Kings and endless clan politics dominated life. Mórda had risen up a few years earlier, but a tentative peace had been agreed upon. He began enlisting the aid of numerous clans who would like to see Boru deposed. He also enlisted the aid of Sigtrygg Silkbeard and the Dublin Vikings, who then called in help from Orkney and the Isle of Man. The battle would go back and forth over the course of the day, Good Friday. Brian’s forces eventually got the upper hand and the Vikings fled. Their retreat was cut off and nearly all of the Viking leadership was killed in the process.

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That’s No Beggar, That’s Gaudí, or A Street Car Named Expire

Sagrada Família in Barcelona. Photo by  Marek Holub via Wikimedia Commons.

Sagrada Família in Barcelona. Photo by Marek Holub via Wikimedia Commons.

On June 7, 1926, a ragged beggar crossed the street in Barcelona, the bustling Catalan metropolis on the Mediterranean coast. Perhaps he was lost in thought, or perhaps the street car was somehow at fault. The man was struck and lost consciousness. Due to his ragged condition and lack of identification, he was left to his fate by the passersby.

Eventually, a police officer reluctantly decided to do something about the situation and took the bum to a nearby hospital where he received the most basic treatment. The following day, the chaplain of the Sagrada Família church, the beggar’s life’s work, recognized him, but it was too late. His previously untreated condition had deteriorated and he would go on to die on the 10th of June.

If you couldn’t gather from the title (apologies for the horrible pun), the beggar was no beggar at all, but was indeed Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, one of the most famous, if over-the-top, architects known to man. He was already in his 70’s at the time, but seemed otherwise healthy, was still working on his all-consuming life’s passion, the aforementioned Sagrada Família, and there really is no telling how long he would have carried on.

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On This Day in 1014: Henry II Crowned Holy Roman Emperor

Holy Roman Emperor Henry II. and his Wife Kunigunde, 15th century.

Holy Roman Emperor Henry II. and his Wife Kunigunde, 15th century.

One thousand years ago today…

…Henry II, King of Germany and Italy, former Duke of Bavaria, was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Benedict VIII. The HRE had gone 12 years without an emperor following a power struggle to fill the void created by the untimely death of Emperor Otto III in 1002 at the age of 21.

Henry II had a rather remarkable run to power after a troubled upbringing, which saw him moved about by his father, exiled after a succession dispute over the Duchy of Swabia. Young Henry was given an ecclesiastical education at Hildesheim Cathedral and he would become known for his inclusion of many church officials in his administration.

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Fab Five Series – Sean Munger’s Version: Dinner with the GenSek, the Sage of Monticello and More

General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev speaking at a news conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1986. Permission via Commons: RIA Novosti

General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev speaking at a news conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1986.
Permission via Commons: RIA Novosti

This is the fourth part in our weekly Fab Five Series, where I ask other bloggers, writers, podcasters and friends to give their five favorite historical figures. The criteria is up to them…so is the work!

I’m Sean Munger, a historian, teacher and author. I wrote the historical horror novel Zombies of Byzantium and I run a lot of history-related articles on my website, seanmunger.com. Big thanks to Aaron for letting me participate in the “Fab Five” series, which seemed like a lot of fun from the moment I heard about it! I’ve been fascinated by history for as long as I can remember. After spending years as a lawyer, I chose history as my second career, and I’m very happy to have made the choice.

My selection criteria for my “Fab Five” historical figures is pretty loose and undefined: people from history I’d most like to meet and have dinner with. It may be because of their own accomplishments, their own opinions and personality, or perhaps just the time they lived in. It’s so hard to narrow it down just to five, and if you asked me on any other day my list would probably be very different. But, at the time of this writing, here’s who I would enjoy meeting

The GenSek: Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the USSR.

The only figure on my list who’s still alive, I’m astounded that Gorbachev doesn’t have more historical cachet in the world than he does. I believe Mikhail Gorbachev is one of the most important figures of the 20th century. He was incisive, innovative, and brave enough to seize the bull of history by the horns and do what he could to guide it, regardless of his own risks. Coming to power in the period of Soviet stagnation, Gorbachev recognized that the USSR had to modernize and reform, and he was willing to accept the thankless job of doing that amidst a government and power structure filled with spineless apparatchiks. Furthermore, the personal relationships he formed with Western leaders—Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, George Bush—became the basis of lasting change in the world and indeed a more peaceful order. If I had dinner with Gorbachev I would ask him when and how he decided upon his course of reform and whether he suspected it might lead, as it eventually did, to the collapse of the Soviet Union. I’d also ask him about what he thinks of the course Russian and world history have taken since he exited the stage (for the most part) in 1991. I think this would be a really fascinating conversation.

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War Paint (Part 5): The Third of May 1808

Part 5 in a 10 part series.

Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808 is an iconic painting by one of the great masters. The image depicts the execution of prisoners following the Dos de Mayo Uprising in Madrid against Napoleon’s invading forces. The events form part of the Peninsular War. Napoleon was invited into Spain by the Spanish King Charles IV. The pretext was that the two nations would conquer and divide up Portugal. Napoleon had other ideas and the expeditionary force showed no signs of leaving.

On May 2nd, the population of Madrid took to arms. Oddly enough, this is the second painting in a row in this series to deal with an uprising against Napoleonic occupational forces. Once unrest was inevitable, the French gave the order that anyone involved was to be shot. Fighting broke out in the city and the French forces quickly put it down. Some hundred or so French soldiers were killed along with numerous Madrileños.

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