November 26

1853 Birth of a pistolero

Who would have thought that one of America’s most iconic Western gunmen was born in Canada? Bartlomew William Barclay “Bat” Masterson first saw the light of day on this date in 1853 in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, an English-speaking area of that largely francophone province. His Irish immigrant family moved to the USA and settled in Kansas.

In his late teens Bat took up buffalo hunting and while search for a herd of bison in traditional Indian territory in 1874 took part in the famous Second Battle of Adobe Walls. He, other hunters, and a wagon train of settlers found themselves under siege at a trading post in the Texas panhandle when they were attacked by a party of Commanche, Cheyenne and Kiowa warriors, 700 strong. After 5 days they were rescued by cavalry and they abandoned the post to be burned by the vexed indigenes.

Masterston then scouted for the Army for a time, killed a man in a gunfight over a woman, and settled in Dodge City where he became a lawman. His handiness with a pistol led to many a posse, the capture of outlaws, and association with some of the legends of the West. Bat was friends with Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp, Soapy Smitth, and Doc Holliday.

In the 1880s Masterton dabbled in journalism, gambling, and theater ownership; his taste in women ran to other men’s wives, circus performers, and dance-hall girls. In 1902 he moved to New York where his colourful turns of phrase, love of boxing, and exciting adventures in the West led to him becoming a journalist. He became friends with Theodore Roosevelt who always had a soft spot and a government patronage job for a manly man. Masterton was also a timekeeper for some high-stakes boxing matches. He died, diabetic and overweight in 1921 in New York.

Though not as great a subject of popular culture as Buffalo Bill or Wyatt Earp, the figure of Bat Masterton appears in a number of movies, but most notably in an eponymous  television series starring Gene Barry.

November 25

The Ukrainian Partisan Army was formed in the midst of World War II to fight for an independent nation. As such it was opposed to the Soviet Red Army, the Poles, and the Germans, though it occasionally collaborated with the Wehrmacht is combating Communist forces. The UPA was guilty of ethnic cleansing against Polish civilians and many of its members had earlier aided the Germans in rounding up Jews.

After end of the war, it continued to battle for years as an underground army against the USSR. These Christmas cards emphasize their religious allegiance to Orthodoxy in the face of godless Bolshevism. By 1953 military action and infiltration by the Soviet secret police had ended the UPA’s effectiveness and crushed hopes of an independent Ukraine.

November 24

1572 Death of John Knox

John Knox was a driving force in the Scottish Reformation which succeeded on replacing the Catholic Church in Scotland with a stern form of Calvinist piety.

Knox was born c. 1510 to a merchant’s family in Haddington, Scotland and by his early 20s had become a Catholic priest. He fell under the influence of Protestant reformer George Wishart and assisted him in his preaching campaign. Wishart was arrested and executed as a heretic in 1546 on the orders of Cardinal David Beaton. Shortly thereafter Beaton was assassinated and Knox joined the killers in their refuge in St Andrew’s Castle, becoming their chaplain. The Scottish Regent, Marie de Guise, mother of the child-queen Mary, called in the support of the French army to take the castle. Knox and other prisoners were condemned to be galley slaves but he was released in 1549 and went into exile in England. There he became a preacher at the court of Edward VI who was attracting Protestant thinkers and clergy from around Europe.

When in 1553 Edward VI was succeeded by his half-sister, the very Catholic Mary Tudor, Knox had to go into exile again. He fled to the Continent where he eventually took refuge in Geneva, then under the sway of John Calvin. By 1558 Knox and other Marian exiles had decided that it was legitimate for persecuted Christians to rise up against a religious oppressor. He put a special spin on his doctrine of resistance making it especially applicable to female rulers.

Knox had found himself persecuted by women in power – Marie de Guise in Scotland ruling on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots, Mary I (Blood Mary) in England, and Catherine de Medici in France. He proclaimed in his First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women that philosophy, the Bible, and Nature itself testified against the reign of females. Unfortunately for Knox, the book appeared just as a Protestant queen, Elizabeth I, came to the English throne. Elizabeth was justifiably vexed at Knox who did not recant but only grudgingly admitted that occasionally God made an exception to the rule. His name was thereafter a dirty word at the English court and helped to discredit the hotter sort of Protestants in the eyes of the English government.

Back in Scotland Knox rejected the religious toleration proposed by Mary Queen of Scots and called for her overthrow. He was the intellectual foundation of the Reformation imposed by the Scottish nobility and its loudest voice until his death in 1572.

November 23

In today’s image a French soldier of World War I confronts the Hun with a piece of artillery. Its resemblance to the traditional Yule log-shaped Christmas dessert, gives us the caption “la buche de noël”.

The “75” on the cannon tells us this is the justly-famous “French 75”, a rapid-firing, highly-accurate weapon with a hydro-pneumatic recoil device.

So famous was the gun that a cocktail was named after it. To make a “French 75” mix 2 ounces of gin with a half-ounce of simple syrup and a half-ounce of lemon juice. Shake, pour over ice and add 5 ounces of champagne. Serve in a highball glass.

November 22

1837 William Lyon Mackenzie calls for an uprising

On this date Toronto newspaper publisher William Lyon Mackenzie called on his neighbours to rebel against their British colonial rulers with this Proclamation to the People of Upper Canada:

We have planted the Standard of Liberty in Canada, for the attainment of the following objects:

Perpetual Peace, founded on a government of equal rights to all, secured by a written constitution, sanctioned by yourselves in a convention to be called as early as circumstances will permit. 

Civil and Religious Liberty, in its fullest extent, that in all laws made, or to be made, every person to be bound alike.

The Abolition of Hereditary Honors, of the laws of Entail and Primogeniture, and of hosts of pensioners who devour our substance. 

A Legislature, composed of a Senate and Assembly chosen by the people. 

An Executive, to be composed of a Governor and other officers elected by the public voice. 

A Judiciary, to be chosen by the Governor and Senate, and composed of the most learned, honorable, and trustworthy, of our citizens. The laws to be rendered cheap and expeditious. 

A Free Trial by Jury — Sheriffs chosen by you, and not to hold office, as now, at the pleasure of our tyrants. The freedom of the press. Alas for it, now! The free presses in the Canadas are trampled down by the hand of arbitrary power. 

The Vote by Ballot — free and peaceful township elections. 

The people to elect their Court of Request Commissioners and Justices of the Peace — and also their Militia Officers, in all cases whatsoever. 

Freedom of Trade — every man to be allowed to buy at the cheapest market, and sell at the dearest.

No man to be compelled to give military service, unless it be his choice. 

Ample funds to be reserved from the vast natural resources of our country to secure the blessings of education to every citizen. 

A frugal and economical Government, in order that the people may be prosperous and free from difficulty.

An end forever to the wearisome prayers, supplications, and mockeries attendant upon our connection with the lordlings of the Colonial Office, Downing Street, London.

The opening of the St. Lawrence to the trade of the world, so that the largest ships might pass up to Lake Superior, and the distribution of the wild lands of the country to the industry, capital, skill, and enterprise of worthy men of all nations.

This was viewed by most Upper Canadians as smacking too much of republicanism, innovation, and the example of the United States. Despite Mackenzie’s attempts to lead a march on Toronto and to involve American and Quebecois supporters, the rebellion was a pathetic flop. Mackenzie fled to the US where he was jailed for violating the Neutrality Act.

November 21

Today’s wartime Christmas cards come to you from the Dominion of Canada. When Canada entered the Great War in 1914 it did so automatically as part of the British Empire. When Britain declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939, Canada was able to come to a separate decision on whether to join the struggle. A week after the British declaration the Canadian Parliament voted to sign on.

The first two cards, both from early in the war, show that the Union flag was  still the one to wave in a patriotic fashion rather than the Canadian Ensign.

In both Canada and the USA Christmas cards were used to raise money for the war effort. Here is a French Canadian version.

The captions read “Gifts that will hasten victory” and “A Guarantee of Peace and Liberty. We must all contribute, so that is why I am sending you these War Savings stamps with my best wishes for the New Year. It is the best investment we can make to ensure a lasting peace.”

November 20

1863 The OTHER Gettysburg Address

The brief remarks at the Gettysburg battle site by Abraham Lincoln are rightly remembered as one of the greatest speeches in history. Almost forgotten is the address which preceded the President’s, given by Edward Everett, the politician and diplomat whose oratory was so fabled in his day that he was considered the featured speaker on this occasion. If you like two-hour lectures, rich in florid phrases, metaphor, and allusion, this is your baby. 

In the course of 13,000 words, Everett gave a minutely-detailed history of the war to that point, a microscopic analysis of the three days of battle, a salute to women,  and a lengthy constitutional analysis of why the Confederate cause could justly be called a rebellion, ending with a discussion of how a post-war reconciliation was possible. His second-last paragraph (longer than the entirety of Lincoln’s speech) will give you an idea of his style. If you like that sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like:

But the hour is coming and now is, when the power of the leaders of the Rebellion to delude and inflame must cease. There is no bitterness on the part of the masses. The people of the South are not going to wage an eternal war for the wretched pretexts by which this rebellion is sought to be justified. The bonds that unite us as one People, – a substantial community of origin, language, belief, and law (the four great ties that hold the societies of men together); common national and political interests; a common history; a common pride in a glorious ancestry; a common interest in this great heritage of blessings; the very geographical features of the country; the mighty rivers that cross the lines of climate, and thus facilitate the interchange of natural and industrial products, while the wonder-working arm of the engineer has levelled the mountain-walls which separate the East and West, compelling your own Alleghanies, my Maryland and Pennsylvania friends, to open wide their everlasting doors to the chariot-wheels of traffic and travel, – these bonds of union are of perennial force and energy, while the causes of alienation are imaginary, factitious, and transient. The heart of the People, North and South, is for the Union. Indications, too plain to be mistaken, announce the fact, both in the East and the West of the States in rebellion. In North Carolina and Arkansas the fatal charm at length is broken. At Raleigh and Little Rock the lips of honest and brave men are unsealed, and an independent press is unlimbering its artillery. When its rifled cannon shall begin to roar, the hosts of treasonable sophistry–the mad delusions of the day–will fly like the Rebel army through the passes of yonder mountain. The weary masses of the people are yearning to see the dear old flag again floating upon their capitols, and they sigh for the return of the peace, prosperity, and happiness which they enjoyed under a government whose power was felt only in its blessings.

November 19

The Hartlepool Monkey

According to legend, a monkey in a French military uniform was washed up on the shore during the Napoleonic Wars near Hartlepool, England, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Locals were said to have been baffled by the beast and, supposedly moved by ignorance of what a real Frenchman looked like, hanged the monkey as a spy. 

Some have suggested that it was a “powder-monkey” — a ship’s boy charged with carrying ammunition — that was hanged. Others claim that it was only a myth suggested by a popular song of the era:

In former times, mid war an’ strife,
The French invasion threatened life,
An’ all was armed to the knife,
The Fishermen hung the Monkey O!

The Fishermen wi’ courage high,
Seized on the Monkey for a spy,
“Hang him” says yen, says another,”He’ll die!”
They did, and they hung the Monkey O!

They tried every move to make him speak,
They tortor’d the Monkey till loud he did squeak
Says yen, “That’s French,” says another “it’s Greek”
For the Fishermen had got drunky, O!

“He’s all ower hair!” sum chap did cry,
E’en up te summic cute an’ sly
Wiv a cod’s head then they closed an eye,
Afore they hung the Monkey O!

What is undeniable is that the inhabitants of Hartlepool have warmly embraced the accusation of simiancide and adopted the incident as a part of their public identity. There are two statues to the little hominid in the town; H’Angus the Monkey is the official mascot of Hartlepool United football team and one of the men wearing the costume won election as mayor running under the name of “H’Angus” and promising free bananas for school kids. The Hartlepool Rovers rugby team’s crest is a beret-wearing monkey hanging from a gibbet.

November 18

Today’s Christmas cards in wartime come to you from the Spanish Civil War, a nasty fratricidal struggle waged from 1936-1939, pitting the forces of right-wing rebels (backed by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy) against the left-wing republican government  (backed by the Soviet Union and an army of foreign volunteers called the International Brigades.)

Thousands of Marxist sympathizers from the United States (the Lincoln-Washington Battalion), Canada (the McKenzie-Papineau Battalion), Germany (the Ernst Thälmann Battalion), Italians (Garibaldi Battalion), etc., fought and died in battles against Francoist armies. Theirs is a tragic story, full of misunderstanding and hostility in their own countries and of betrayal by the Comintern, with moments of genuine heroism. 

November 17



Boniface VIII issues Unam Sanctam

Since the middle of the eleventh century popes had been asserting their power over secular rulers. They claimed that the spiritual authority ordained by God held precedence over mere earthly power. They had deposed kings and emperors and named substitute rulers; they had precipitated civil wars; claimed dominion over entire kingdoms and excommunicated princes right, left and centre. By 1300 they had gutted the power of their chief rival, the Holy Roman Emperor and begun to quarrel with the new centralized monarchies of western Europe.

Benedetto Caetani, elected Pope Boniface VIII in dubious fashion in 1294, had twice forbidden the kings of England and France from taxing the Church in their countries. The King of France Philip IV “the Fair” responded by cutting off money from the French church to the papacy. Boniface replied by hinting that he might exercise his right of deposing Philip who immediately began a campaign of vilification of the pope including circulating forged documents.

This led Boniface on November 17, 1302 to issue the proclamation Unam Sanctam, which asserted the doctrine of papal monarchy in the most uncompromising terms ever. He asserted (1) there is but one true Church, outside of which there is no salvation; (2) that head is Christ and His representative, the pope who is above, and can direct, all kings; (3) whoever resists the highest power ordained by God resists Himself; and (5) it is necessary for salvation that all humans should be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

Philip the Fair now summoned a kingdom-wide assembly, and before it he accused Boniface of every imaginable crime from murder to black magic to sodomy to keeping a demon as a pet. A small French military force crossed into Italy in 1303 and took Boniface prisoner at his palace at Anagni with the intention of bringing him to France for trial. The French plan failed—local townspeople freed Boniface a couple of days later—but the proud old pope died shortly thereafter, outraged that anyone had dared to lay hands on his sacred person.

This marks the beginning of the waning of medieval papal power. In 1305 the cardinals elected the Frenchman Clement V who submitted to the French king on the question of clerical taxation and publicly burned Unam Sanctam, conceding that Philip the Fair, in accusing Pope Boniface, had shown “praiseworthy zeal.” A few years after his election, Clement moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon in southern France, the start of the period of papal humiliation known as “The Babylonian Captivity”.