Myth and Justice: Book Review of The Making of a Nazi Hero

•August 17, 2015 • 2 Comments

I have another book to share that the armchair generals and sociologists will appreciate together. The book is The Making of a Nazi Hero: The Murder and Myth of Horst Wessel, by Daniel Siemens, translated by David Burnett, 2009.

Horst Wessel

The book, or at least the translation, is dry and straightforward, however I get the sensation that there is a virtue of clarity that is gained in this style for this topic. It’s not to be academic, but because the nature of Horst Wessel is so ambiguous and shrouded in a veneer of volkisch propaganda and National Socialist stagecraft that a cool pen prevails. Precesion is very important, not for the sake or parsing out “what is true” or “what is Truth” but to understand what has become truth and what has been constructed.

Before I picked the book up I had no idea who Horst Wessel was, however I did know that Nazi “anthems” or songs of some sort were banned in Germany. His “Horst Wessel March” is one of them.

Before anyone has the chance to leap to conclusions or is just wondering, no, it is not the song in the book burning scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That is the “Königgrätzer Marsch,” a Prussian March. Hitler did like the Königgrätzer Marsch, but do have many others before and since. You can hear it used in Triumph of the Will. If you want to hear the Horst Wessel song, you can also go to Wikipedia for a safe listen and YouTube for other options, though YouTube has its own perils. If you are a gamer, it may be familiar to anyone who has played the Wolfenstein series.


What I did not know was that the young songwriter and SA Man had a cultish following. Nominally a flag raising song (“The Flag on High” was the original or intended title) written by the young SA songwriter to melodies plucked from folk songs, the march became intrinsically tied to Horst Wessel as a party anthem after his shooting and death. Wessel became a martyr for his ultimate sacrifice and the song a rallying cry.

Wessel was shot point blank in the head January 14, 1930 and died February 23rd. Possibly political, possibly personal, his shooting was carried out by local communists who often clashed with the growing SA, the two amounting more to gangs in the Weimar years than political movements. They may have been roused by his landlady or his girlfriend, or there may have been a dispute over the girlfriend’s work as a prostitute. Everyone’s story is conflicted, and many are contradicted, rehashed, retold, suppressed, denied, hushed, ignored, silenced, paid, rewarded, or otherwise altered in some way. Truth is a relative and elusive thing.

What Siemens chronicles, after the basics are told, is the growth of the Wessel mythos after his death and the incursions of reality into it. Names are changed, people make their own songs, curriculum is developed for the children… every facet you can infuse Wessel, the noble young martyr, into is done. In this way, Wessel serves as a fantastic singular example of the propaganda machine for the Third Reich, starting in the Weimar Republic with Wessel’s death and continuing through Hitler’s chancellorship, ebbing and flowing and changing as they needed Wessel. Meanwhile, there are arguments over song and story rights with his mother and sister, and towns that fight over where to put monuments to him for the most honor- and profit. His image is still one that is being used by faulty mortals and there is far more to the story than what Goebbels wants. Goebbels, if anything, could recognize what may were willing to do on their own.

This leads me to the second theme that The Making… is a fair chronicle of: while we have the growth of myth and the state and people’s participation in it on one hand, on the other we must ask why one would want to take part, the attractiveness in it, and how Wessel-a university drop out in various underground clubs and now accused of being a pimp- would seem a hero for youth. Siemens sheds light on Wessel’s generation as one harmed, some metaphorically and some literally orphaned from the Great War, searching for answers in the far left and right when the ineffective middle – the Republic – cannot salve their economic wounds and society and family cannot salve their spiritual wounds. The gang family structure would appeal to youth and the rhetoric inspire a cause for tomorrow, and eventually a rally for action. With this lens in hand, reading Wessel’s history and subsequent beatification of sorts can provide a a very large window both into this time period and the complete adherence of Nazi faithful like those in the SS and SA, but also a comparative text to hold to other groups that provide belonging and family or promise a better future in the face of economic and other disparities, whether Crips, Norteños, or Da’ish (ISIL).

The third chronicle in The Making… is one of justice – or perhaps Justice if you were also interested in the pursuit of Truth. There is not one but two trials for Wessel’s death, neither of which are satisfactory to either the people of the time or to modern sensibilities of what might be fair. The first, in the Weimar period, convicted several involved (including the man who fired the gun) of manslaughter or participation crimes, and netted out sentences gross in comparison to when attacks were made on communists by Nazis. The second trial came from new evidence incriminating participants, and was a public affair for vengeance, doling out death sentences to lookouts. Taking the law into one’s own hands, lack of redress, and the quest for personal vengeance are all a part of Wessel’s story. A large question is where justice ends and vengeance begins, both when the case is handled by the Nazis and later after the war to bring them to justice in turn, and relieve those wronged, by both East and West Germany.

Siemens has commitment to both justice and fairness; he successfully petitioned the Berlin State Prosecutor’s Office to rescind the verdicts made during the Nazi era trial that were greater in penalty to those made during the first Weimar trial. This court decision (and some soft spoken words and memos from political offices) had the effect of officially allowing or sponsoring the quiet detention and murder of those charged earlier who had actually committed the crime itself. Two were known to be murdered and others lost lives in the camp system. While the outcome is laudable, the revision and reparation should give one pause. It is a quiet memorial to their honor, it is fitting closure to the tale, however it was one that takes years of toil to get to. That ending would not have been possible for some time. Siemens is clearly proud of the current justice system but he leaves you questioning much of it through modern years, and perhaps with a reminder that we should never stop questioning our respective systems of government and justice and we should listen to those who say something smells foul.


Apollo Q&A and Cedars of Marin

•August 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I received a comment from a reader asking were a photo I took of an Apollo test capsule was taken. It’s this photo here:

Apollo test capsule

Apollo test capsule

Unfortunately I can’t approve their comment because they included some personal contact information. Fortunately, I can share a bit on where the heck this was. This photograph was taken in San Rafael, CA, next to the Cedars Textile Art Center. It’s possibly theirs, though I have never poked into why or how that came about. The photo was taken years ago. This has a bit to unpack.

The Cedars of Marin is a very amazing, wonderful organization that creates day and residential programs for developmentally disabled adults. They have a couple different locations in Marin county. The Textile Art Center keeps sheep, alpacas, silkworms, and other animals to teach gentle animal husbandry and use their wool and hair and silk to make products by hand. They keep a garden and teach nutrition. It’s a great center for both experiential living and skills development. It is, however, rather a hidden campus.

To get to the Textile Art Center, you enter through the Tamalpais center at the end of 5th Avenue in Sun Valley, just moments away from downtown San Rafael. You turn left and go up the hillside while the rest of the old cemetery stretches up the hill, in a small valley below you, and to the right (behind you as you turn) on flatter slopes in modern stretches. You will feel like you went the wrong way and will come to the end of the road. Joggers, however, love it.

As kids, we loved it too. In middle school, when we could be trusted to tear around on our bicycles, we found that this road continued on a path over the hill from San Rafael into San Anselmo. You wind up behind a school campus. The first time I was their with my friend, it was summer, the campus was open but near empty except for a few students, and we read the name “Sunny Hills.” It felt creepy and we pushed on fast after we got the shifty eye from some adults. We made up stories over lunch as to what we saw on the trail and the campus with a few lone kids shooting hoops out in the heat, back behind School district buildings, hidden further between a community park and a cemetery, but we did eventually ask what the truth was.

Sunny Hills services started over 100 years ago as a farm orphanage supported by Presbyterians and local money from Captain Robert Dollar and Phoebe Hearst, and has since grown into a regional child welfare organization. The growth of foster care meant that residential treatment shifted to focus on treatment for children and adolescents with emotional or behavioral issues. Now residential care is gone, but Sunny Hills does support transitional housing, including transitional housing for youth emancipating from the foster care system and have their own dorm house for College of Marin, for examples, as well as many other services… and still operate a school on the original Sunny Hills campus.

Next door to Sunny Hills is Oak Hill school, a school for students with autism and related developmental differences. I do not know much about them, as they moved to the location in 2008 when Sunny Hills opened space up from closing down residential programs to day only programs. Oak Hill was founding in 2000 and was formerly in Marin City and serves ages five to twenty-two. Their program and facilities are robust.

So, there’s some secret space between Red Hill Shopping Center (and the Red Hill park behind it) in San Anselmo and Tamalpais Cemetery in San Rafael. Unless you poke your nose down that neck of the woods, or have a connection to the developmentally disabled or children living challenging lives, you might not know. Most people I talk to this about or mention it to don’t even realize there is a contiguous path there, even though it’s Marin and odds are there is a path pretty much over every hill in the county. If you don’t go, you just don’t think about it. I found the answer only because my mom worked with developmentally disabled adults in another program provider. I didn’t want to disturb them, though I know now that at least they love working with our students when they come to visit. Perhaps they would have taken more kindly to us girls, very much like them, though I can’t say about their teachers and staff.

Evidence of a Wolf in Siskiyou County

•August 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Another wolf visiting from Oregon (!). News brought to light courtesy of Wolf Haven International in Washington, a terrific rescue sanctuary, education, and captive breeding organization for wolves. Our new visitor is uncollared, and will be hard to track. If you live in Northern California, you can report sightings to help monitor and protect this lone and endangered animal.


The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has collected evidence that suggests at least one wolf has traveled into Siskiyou County.

Based on compelling information received earlier this year from Californians reporting they saw a large, dark-colored canid, CDFW deployed a number of remote trail cameras within southeastern Siskiyou County.

At one location, in early May, images were captured of a large, dark-colored, lone canid, which is possibly a dispersing gray wolf. Although scat was collected in the area for genetic analysis, they yielded poor-quality DNA and results were inconclusive. Since then, no other images of a large canid have been captured at this location.

In early June, CDFW biologists came across large canid tracks on a dirt road in a separate, remote location of Siskiyou County, while searching for fawns as part of an ongoing deer study. The tracks were fresh and were from a single animal. Some…

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Washington’s Spies and Founding Mothers – Double Book Review!

•August 5, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I recently finished two books with subject matter pertaining to the Revolution, Washington’s Spies, by Alexander Rose, and Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts. I’ve been reading Rose’s book bit by bit since I picked it up in the International Spy Museum one D.C. trip, and it has since gone on to become a series, which I have not seen, on AMC. Roberts’ book was recommended and leant to me by a friend and I just blew through it; published in 2004, Roberts had enough material for a further book, Ladies of Liberty: the Women Who Shaped our Nation, out in 2009. I relate these bits of information because they do actually highlight the contrasts in the books for me.

In a way, these two books offer up an interesting comparison as both rely on limited source material and are about a class of individuals who were at the time largely overlooked by the grand sweep of history, one for their sex and gender, and the other for seeming less honest and less patriotic for doing their duties of vital importance. Neither group would have their stories told by historians of their era even if they might sing other’s praises to high heavens or be lauded in private. Letters are burnt, journals are lost, and some folks who are certainly important remain missing puzzle pieces. History is pieced together though troves of extant documents and valuable rich resources that are saved, revealed, found, deciphered in script, and occasionally for Rose, declassified. Both Rose and Roberts sought to shine light on subjects who were in the shadows of the main players like the Founding Fathers, or other fighters and statesmen and Sons of Liberty and their Loyalist and British counterparts. Both have limited materials, however both found rich resources. In that there is a great likeness in subject and material available, and so I feel a comparison is fair to be made though the subject matter is different. My book review for both is so swept into a single post!

Washington’s Spies required thoughtful patience for me to read. One could, I think, read it quite fast and be done with it. It is narratively exciting at times, although if you do not find code interesting, that particular chapter may seem dull to you. It required two handed reading, or multi-fingered page holding, one good hold for the current page in the paperback, and a side finger or the second hand for the appropriate place in the footnotes. Rose has glorious footnotes, the kind that properly (when appropriate) expand on the material and complement the writing in the text, so his text flows and is not bogged down, but he can have these wicked little asides, or print great excerpts, illuminate the reader to side topics or the writings of others, or include humorous letters from our historical protagonists in merry footnotes. These are footnotes to be read with the text, not after it, nor abandoned as boring extra texts full of source and ibid. So really, it’s not so much that the book requires it as that I was relishing his footnotes and immersing myself in the whole book.

Where I was in the school year, and reading small portions here and there, and taking it traveling with me (it went back to D.C. the next year, it went to the U.K.that summer) meant I could fully plunge myself in for discrete moments after hours, but after hours only; it made an excellent travel book for that. But, it did mean that reading was slow for the lack of time to immerse in it.

Reading in this manner takes investment, and sometimes and extra finger for cross referencing. It takes complete attention and it is wonderful when it is done well, as Rose has done; the cast come to life as vibrant full people- not that they do not in his text, but there is greater nuance and appreciation, a sort of depth, in the footnotes. Perhaps by reading them alongside, like reading those copies of Shakespeare from middle and high school with the translated phrases and references on one side (but not a text translation) helped us slow down and be better readers of the Bard. We’re encouraging our students to comment and annotate not just to think, but to slow their reading, to take more detail in. I’d like to think that in reviewing what I’d read last month and then reading hand in hand with the footnotes has helped me slow a little and process what I’m reading and be thoughtful of both the author and his content. I am appreciative of Rose’s work in even this small regard.

Footnotes is a point of contention and comparison for Founding Mothers. My friend, the lender, was impressed and touted the number and inclusion of a variety of sources in Roberts’ footnotes. I believe I replied that the reality is you rather had to do that when writing history, however that didn’t change looking forward to reading them. If you aren’t a big fiction reader, or a historian, this may be shocking news. In her acknowledgements and author’s note, Roberts explains that she hadn’t worked with footnotes “since my long-ago college days” and she had another take on “that onerous task” though she takes full responsibility for any errors and did the correcting. I am inferring, then, that Roberts did not have to use footnotes or endnotes for the essays that she wrote, or as a journalist has not written any academic articles or papers that would employ them, or even write something for internal use that might lead her to want to cite something at the end of her work. Her work as a correspondent and analyst has taken her away from the writing side of journalism to loose a mundane but basic skill.

This resource skill is so lost that in the text itself, there are no numbers for the notes. An editor could have requested super text, and the woman who did the footnotes could have put them in, too. The footnotes are organized by chapter, with major sources in paragraph form, followed by traditional numbered and sourced footnotes, with the last words of the quotes in bold. You would have to hunt for the bold text in the chapter as there are no super text numbers for the footnotes in the text. This is somewhat sad, as it does make things harder to find, and I would be saddened further if there were any footnotes for textual items other than direct quotes, for those would be what would really intrigue me- where is that fact or reference from? What is the context of this passage? Apparently answers to questions such as those lay somewhere within one of the books listed at the beginning of the chapter’s section in the footnotes, or from Cokie Robert’s own head. As for elucidation, she provides none, purely sources, and then primarily for quotes. Cokie Roberts does provide a who’s who of the important men, “sorry though [she] is” (p. 279) to define the women by them, to help a reader keep track of the “cast of characters,” and some historical recipes shared by the women. Unless one really struggles with identities, this book is not a two hander, nor a need for an extra finger there to keep a ready reference. So, sadly, my first impression of her book was it’s lack of notes, how it connects to other material!

To be fair, no one really said that one must present a certain amount of content in notes, and notes are presented primarily as a place for sources. Different style guides will offer carrying opinions on what to do there and how strict one should be in including other material – as well as perhaps one’s past experiences and marks from college professors. However, we teach our students to cite sources for facts learned as well as quotes. Notes, as a sort of backwards facing window into the mechanics of writing and research, provide a view into the scholarship and integrity of the endeavor. You get a sense of the caliber involved with Rose’s work because he has these really great notes and you loose that rear window opportunity with Roberts’ endeavor because of her struggles with notations.

Now let’s press on to content:

Cokie Roberts is on a personal mission with her research, to answer a question she always had about the mission female voices in the great family history that unfurled in retellings over the years- one to be proud of in lineage, but one that does highlight, as with much of written history, a lack of female voices. Her book is much the same. Roberts, a personality more than a journalist, analyst, or correspondent, feels free to inject her book with her own musings, exclamations, and comparisons to modern dray life. Rather than enlightening the reader, these seem to dumb down the book, over explaining, pointing out the reference, making points repeatedly when the voices of the women she is trying to shine a light on could be far more outstanding on their own.

This is a very different technique from Alexander Rose. Rose provides layers upon layers of context for motivations while Roberts seems content with not delving into anything beyond a straightforward reading. She seems not to have taken into account much of the modern research done on the men in her tale for context on them, or accepting it and moving on to focus on the ladies, and passages involving them, especially her side comments, are cringeworthy. It is like she hadn’t had her Founding Father myths shattered until she did research for this book and it has left her embittered, catty, and projecting her feelings onto the Mothers. She still holds to many common beliefs, finding singular pieces of evidence to support them, like Betsy Ross as the [implied sole] creator of the American Flag, without analysis- let alone mention- of what historians actually think that is contrary, or reverts to calling Mary Hays Molly Pitcher (“the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, where Molly Pitcher fought,” p.104) after debunking Molly Pitcher as a collective image, a “generic term.” (p.79)

Rose provides layers of nuance backed by a plethora of primary and secondary sources. For an example, I direct you to the layered contradictions of Robert Townsend, who can be described as Quaker and Episcopal, secular and devout, idealist and mercenary, pacifist and militant, Loyalist and American, all within the span of a summary paragraph, and that these bits of background are not only wholly explained, but furthermore showcase his decision to join up as a spy and give great context for the situation around him at the time and what he might muster to the ring he was joining. This is very well woven together in Chapter Five: A Man of Parts and Halves (referring to Townsend’s nature). Rose spends careful time and type space devoting attention to the background of his players.

Religion, family, location, upbringing, movements, history, the things seen and witnessed… all nuances inform the reader and give a picture. Some of it is reminiscent of genealogical research. If you know what happened in the neighborhood, or who lived down the street, you have a web of possible connections to ferret out. You know what was happening around a person, you know their environment, and you know them better. Such is the potential of subagent Hercules Mulligan and how he fit into the ring and was vouched for: he wrote no letters of his own, but physically, his shop was around the corner from Townsend, and Townsend possessed a receipt from Mulligan. (p.278) Scant evidence for normal people for a relationship, but for spies, that’s gold.

Roberts, according to an interview, said that she did not write a book so much as present the words or letters of the women writing. I do not know if she was trying to be modest, but this is both true and false. On one hand, she does not provide that depth that Rose does for her ladies, and it feels as though she is presenting only the material found within the letters. However, I notice she relies on biographers and secondary sources often, quoting them in text, so this is not truly the case. It therefore cannot be said that she presents the letters solely, with minimum context. Her interjections, her personal remarks, are all over the place. Her running commentary is throughout. She did much more than present the letters with context. The book is infused with her personality.

Roberts likes analogies to the modern day. She likens Abigail Adams’  “feisty” nature to Barbara Bush (p. 61) though one would need the right lens to know why Bush is feisty- this may be lost on the younger set, and I fight back the image of her solely as the kindly looking lady doing all the literacy stuff from when I was a child and she was first lady. Roberts took the space to spell out that Ben Franklin’s 1728 wedding gift to his sister Jane Mecom, a spinning wheel instead of an expensive tea table, was “the equivalent of getting a toaster for an anniversary present.” (p.28) This is fairly self evident to the reader, however, wouldn’t it be more interesting to highlight how oddly precognizant this gift is when American ladies will be, in the later span of these siblings’ years, giving up English tea and spinning American homespun, topics which Roberts uses to paint the scene for her Founding Mothers in the beginning of the very next chapter?

Some of her insights and opinions- her comments for analysis- are cringeworthy. An example of a typical cringe comment (at least to me) comes on p. 91, when discussing how Lucy Knox, like Martha Washington, would stay close to her husband General Henry Knox during the war. General Knox tried to persuade her otherwise and an argument of letters ensued. Says Roberts, “She could be biting, and she could get into all kinds of trouble- a family she stayed with in Connecticut reported to the general that the crockery was broken, the furniture damaged, and the rum, twenty-five gallons of it, missing-but Henry Knox loved his fat and funny Lucy.”

There is no follow up to this comment; Roberts changes topics immediately after. It reads like a statement from an annotation, a catty remark, a gut comment. There is no discussion or illumination on what sort of activities the general’s wife might be up to that could break furniture or crockery, nor indeed what she is doing with the rum, a most valuable wartime ration, though we could surmise that she could have been involved wartime causes gone wrong given her patriotism, or drowning her sorrows and in deep personal turmoil given her longing for her husband; something is going on with Lucy and it isn’t pleasant or fun. (See the letters at Womenhistoryblog for her mental state during their separation and her drinking the rum in a depressive mood as a possibility. The full accusation letter is available here.) Either way, the General remains mum on the subject. This is telling.

Instead we are told by Cokie Roberts that Lucy is “fat and funny.” We have never been told this before. Lucy had previously been described as “headstrong” (p. 87) however now we are ascribing her headstrong nature, “biting” or not, that leads to the breaking of furniture where one is lodging to being “funny,” and missing rum possibly to being “fat.” Or both. Or that her headstrong ways are forgivable because she was a plump and pleasant looking doll, even when a report of her stealing rum means something is going on? What does one make of this comment? What does one make of it when other mentions in the book of Lucy Knox continue to focus on her size? What does one make of it coming from a journalist, an analyst? What does one make of it coming from another woman? Lucy is reduced to a humorous person of size, devoid of any intent or emotion, and her husband’s response is stripped of nuance and concern. Roberts demonstrates fully that she cannot infer past the text to what the authors are trying to get at or intimate in the language of their time and she is potentially humiliating towards women of size. Potentially she is negligent towards those with mental health issues as well if she understood the gravity of the situation, if not, she’s being quite dim.

Alexander Rose stays even keeled, however that does not mean his book is dry or without personality. He finds humor and wit and pathos and infuses it into the text (and is part why the notes are enjoyable). Rose can get quite on a roll with a topic and suck you in. He has a great ease with his pen and a storyteller’s knack. Rose is helped perhaps because he picked a nicely focused topic: the inception of American spying and the Culper spy ring with depth and a goal of total comprehension, whereas Roberts wants to bite off all the Founding Mothers. That she had enough material for another book on the same topic, a “companion” (with better Amazon reviews, FYI) makes me think, perhaps wrongly, perhaps right, of someone so inundated or overwhelmed that they didn’t know what to choose or couldn’t form a thesis about it as it was too broad. There are other books about these women; Abigail Adam’s letters are published, Roberts quotes Ellet’s great work on Women of the American Revolution, now Revolutionary Women is out (2006) that speaks for the women Roberts won’t. What makes Roberts’ take unique? She has a name. Her name, plus the topic, a little, could make the book a bestseller.

Roberts is a personality. Her personality, as much as it weaves through the book, is what folks are going to buy, whether they want it there or not. You will have the declarations of “I should think so” (p.105) and the amazements of “can you imagine…” (p. 2) and personal judgements “how dumb can you get? (p.150) Some editor decided that this was okay, that this was consumable, personable rather than hokey, an asset rather than undermining to the material. Roberts set us up that this is indeed a personal quest of hers; this book is a personal journey and exploration. Roberts is looking for herself and injecting herself. In a way, this book is a very large Mary Sue.

Don’t get me wrong, as historians, we research what interests us, and sometimes, that is very personal. There’s a connection there, and we see ourselves in it, and we get defensive and a little into ourselves. We like to pretend and try things on and do living history and take things too far. Sometimes too much. We may not be as bad as Sir Arthur Evans and his wife, wearing the jewels of Helen of Troy, but we dream. We understand that folly. We want to be spies and heroes and heroines, too. We can glory and revel in it. But we don’t have to loose our integrity over it. That doesn’t mean we should demean our subjects or reduce our standards.

Roberts structures her book by time, chapters are periods in short year periods except the first and last, Before 1775 and After 1789. Before 1775 draws heavily on the life of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, though she will have some role herself later as will her daughter and sons (come chapter four). While she is nominally for the “stirrings of discontent,” (p.1) not much focus is drawn to such stirrings, focus is instead broad and soft on daily life, using other Founding Mothers such as Catherine Greene, Abigail Adams, Mercy Ottis Warren, Deborah Franklin and Esther Edwards Burr to flesh out life’s circumstances. Sally Franklin and a few other women mentioned would have been very interesting to follow but are barely given type space; Esther Edwards Burr, while a great parable for daily life, is ostensibly included for the sweep of the Burr family tragedy to tell us something of the character of Aaron Burr as a “villain,” (p. 15) however what we learn is that he is not exceptional in a time and place where fear of death and disease and accident is common. His family tragedy is like many others’.

Roberts turns her focus to grade school milestones that the lives of her mothers and ladies weave through and past. She sets the stage for her cast of characters with unnamed women, women of lower status or social position or wealth (or all three), and women of color, like a page on the poetry of former slave Phillis Wheatley. She connects her Founding Mothers to other elite writers like reccuring character Catherine Macaulay but not to the influence of poets like Wheatley who were prominent, published, and and correspondence and invitations to meet with their husbands. Surely they knew of her! There is what the people are doing, spinning, drinking Liberty Tea, writing, spying, fighting, and then there is what the Founding Mothers are doing. They are, as written, somehow removed from the pattern of the people. They are above it all. They are propagandists, philosophers, and general’s wives. They are not camp followers, they are ladies. This is very elite.

While the maintenance of social structure is a product of the time, one can and ought to be critical of it, see the integration of the lady in the pattern and her presence in the domestic sphere and analyze the intersecting and blurring lines brought about by war and politics. Great work has been done with this with women’s diaries from the Civil War and that is some damn murky territory and a nest of hornets to boot. Cokie Roberts, it seems, would like her ladies to stay elite, to stay above it all, and be on the pedestal with, or equal to and next to, the Founding Fathers. Though we cast critical eye towards the men, these ladies are sadly predictively modern in sentiment, without context of their times (sad because it is without context), and their faults are handwave-able as feisty, funny, and fat!

Roberts does best and shines when writing topically, such as the bounding outcomes of Esther Reed’s “Sentiments” and the fund raising efforts that women created in different cities, counties, and states, to support the Continental Army. She delves into the responses from officers, the participation of different women and men, such as the Marquis de Lafayette making a donation in his wife’s name, and the contrasting opinion that one paid them to go away, (p. 126) still a sign of their doggedness and zeal.

Roberts’ writing suffers when she is unnecessarily vague. Take Kitty Greene’s nursing duties to the men of the Continental Army while in South Carolina. The soldiers have “the usual diseases of the Carolina Low Country,” to which one must infer, and when Kitty Greene accompanies the invalids to Kiawah Island as nurse for recuperation, “by officer’s accounts, a good time was had by all,” and Kitty “served” “as the life of the party.” (p. 141) We, as readers, unless we know otherwise, are left to speculate as to the diseases of the men, the nature of nursing in the era, the accounts of the officers, and the service actually rendered by Kitty Greene. Given prior discussions, it would appear that she threw parties for officers with malaria or yellow fever, a rather macabre sight, or that they stayed much longer after they were well if they were well enough to have such a good time. There are implications. The question is, is Roberts intentionally setting us up for those implications, making a joke at Kitty Greene’s character, failing to make connections herself about the harshness of life for the soldiers and ladies who supported them, or something else? We can’t know easily, because there is no quote nor footnote specifically for this passage; it is all Roberts’ writing and that writing is unclear. The closest source is Stegeman and Stegeman,  (for Greene dealing with “turncoats”) which it may well be from, however, there is still a point of spotty sources.

It is interesting to compare the few people who overlap in these books, and their portrayals. Washington is a player in both, though a secondary subject. Benedict Arnold and his wife Peggy Shippen Arnold have treatment in both (or the other way round for Roberts). This is a more interesting comparison, though much can be made out of Washington. Peggy Shippen Arnold is Roberts’ focus for a spell, and she comes across as a key figure in Arnold’s correspondence with his British handler, Major John André, even if the tale is convoluted, with minimal evidence to the extent of participation, and many questions are left unanswered. The story is of a pursuit ruled by the libido, and Peggy’s squandering of money, and this perhaps is a motive for Arnold’s pushing the British for more in his deal with them. (p.131-6) The story feels incomplete, or like Shippen Arnold must be a young naive rube to fall for Arnold’s recycled love letters and is barely passing on his intelligence, despite her loyalty to King and husband and introductions twixt him and André. She does not come off as smart, inventive, or cultured in any way for her participation, just a bit of a pawn and object of desire.

Rose, in contrast, focuses his tale on André himself. André is the spy and British counterpart to Tallmadge who became their symbolic Nathan Hale. (p.199-201) General Benedict Arnold is a “first-class intelligence asset” (p.196), and has his own background motives for turning though is decidedly a “mercenary entrepreneur”  in the endeavor, (p. 203) yet is still to be fully utilized through defection. Any role Peggy Shippen Arnold played is included in the statement that “the André-Arnold correspondence even mirrors that which passed between the Culper Ring and its manager, with its manifold examples of crossed wires, elementary mistakes, and petty irritations.” (p. 201) Rose provides enough examples for the parallel to be clear, however Peggy’s role is not included. Is this injustice or streamlining? Arnold wrote in invisible ink to André between his wife’s innocuous lines, she received a stipend from the British for services, she certainly played a role. Rose perhaps paints the better picture of the situation, Arnold, and André, while Roberts brings forward Shippen Arnold’s story, mostly told. As a note, the AMC series Turn, based on Rose’s work, is including Shippen Arnold in Season Two, so she is not forgotten- this lady was indeed remembered. The glory of a television series is expansion.

There are also little differences that mean quite a lot. In portraying the danger of their duties, it is necessary for Rose to show that the spies risked not only the enemy but their own side, and as such he does show rather unflattering activities of the Continental Army, or locals who amount to opportune brigands, or the whaleboat privateers that built up what feels like a grudge in Tallmadge, leading to his overt sanctioned attacks to take out the monster they had legally sponsored. Roberts, without fail, leaves the bloodiness, brutality, murder, and rape – especially rape – to the British. Her book would still square nicely with the theme that the British were bad, evil, and depraved from a backwards unkind (if learned) place, and she uses the text of letters from her ladies to support it thoroughly. Rose, on the other hand, shows American brutality and unnecessary violence against civilians as much as the British, sometimes more, sometimes less. He gives us plenty of reasons to fear the strangers on the road, the soldiers on both sides, your neighbor, your friend, your cousin, your brother, your wife, your child and your parents. And yet, redeeming them, those are the same group to put your faith in as well.

Rose concludes his tale with a moment far after the war, a tale of one of those American brigands. I do not feel this is a spoiler. It’s a moment in history. (i.e. Spoiler Alert, the Americans win!) The meat of Rose’s work is the better to spoil. The man, who was one of the few who stopped André with his papers incriminating him and leading on to Arnold, was asking congress for a greater pension for his (their) services. Congress seemed ready to give, but Congressman Tallmadge, the old spymaster now on the cusp of retirement, broke his silence and accused the petitioner, Paulding, of searching André “for plunder” and being one of “that class of people who passed between both armies” and would have arrested Paulding himself. (p. 279) Paulding’s greedy action stirred up the grudge and hatred for that sort of person he was during the war, a fury deep enough to reach Tallmadge’s pride, or his remembrances for André, and break the silence the Culper Ring maintained throughout their lives. He does it, roughly, for them.

Rose both offers us what happened to his major personages after the war, but provides us with a great conclusion. If you were to ask, why revolt? why Washington? why spy? why them? or some such, it would come together in a narrative way. It’s not extracting a moral or something preachy about meaning to it all but something about understanding and appreciation for people who were unsung. He also, I think, does it roughly for them.

Roberts does not provide a conclusion. Her meat is the constitution and her story ends with the “proof” that it works with Adams’ election and subsequent inauguration. It as though at this point, the nation is forged, and the lives and work of these founding men and women are done. The torch passes. Even though, for many, they have political careers still ahead of them, there is no clip or quip about what happens to some to tie the end together. Many mentions of future fates are in situ despite chronologically based chapters. These are usually for smaller bit parts than some of the major players, so the book feels, narratively speaking, strangely unresolved.

I also feel like, ironically, in following the grade school course of events, and spending long passages on the context of the events of the Founding Fathers, Roberts works to emphasize deemphasize the works of her Founding Mothers. Much at the end could be reduced to the nature and language of the time, to helping and supporting men from one’s domestic sphere, and forgetting the women Roberts does write on who either breached that sphere or forged forward, changing perceptions about education and women’s worth. Her focus on talk of parties without the context of what happens at a social event undercuts its value. Her methods actually diminish their greatness.

Founding Mothers, while having inclusions and great portions on women who are clearly great or important, does not carry its vague theme through, failing to tie together the women of a momentous period of history as having a commonality in strength and change. Founding Mothers is thrown together, tossed like an undressed salad with edible  pieces scattered all about with some beautiful toppings, and not a few nuts, and nothing to connect the parts together.

That’s my warning if you read Founding Mothers. I would not feel inclined to teach with it, and I am loathe to look at the teaching guide that apparently exists for it, because of Cokie Robert’s personal injections, lack of historical perspective, and poor analysis skills. The scattered content in addition to her poor analysis makes it not worth recommending. She seems to fail to understand the women of the time and that’s not worth passing on to others if they take her analysis verbatim or without salt. I would find other books on the topic. If this was what was available, I would pull the primary sources when possible for students and not use the book. Washington’s Spies, on the other hand, is a first rate read that I recommend whole heartedly that is quotable, has amazingly detailed information, and has a narrative structure hard to merge with serious historiography. I am intrigued about Turn as a series based on Rose’s scholarship.

Day 7: It’s Only A Model

•August 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Note: Adam wants you to know that all the Douglases are named Archibald. There are quite a lot of them, and you can see this if you go to search for “Archibald Douglas” on, say, Wikipedia. The Douglases particularly like the names Archibald, James, and Margaret, so there was a lot of checking who is who when writing the last post because some of our texts use the number Earl and some use the name and some the epithet. Who was Archibald the Good? The Grim? The Gross? The Loser? (Ouch!)

But then…


Sadly, the next day we had to leave Castle Douglas, but we picked a good road to take us north to Oban: we opted to go through Galloway Forrest Park, the largest protected forrest land in Britain and Britain’s first Dark Sky Park (there are more now). We got another picnic lunch from the sandwich shop and planned to break at Culzean, another Trust property recommended to us by folks in Castle Douglas, and home to the Kennedys… with, apparently, a connection to Eisenhower.

But first, the forrest park:

Galloway Forrest Park Creek


The plan was to drive through the park, but to do that we had to swing around it. There was a road that went north though, but it wasn’t the major tourist road with the big sights; it was a cycling route. Scotland loves it’s outdoor activities, and Britain in general believes in right of way for citizens to be able to pass on open land. Parks for the people, national parks of open land like Galloway (or some not so open land like along Hadrian’s wall with livestock gates and barriers), have no fees, but have pay-and-display parking and rely on charity for protection. Unless a trail falls out of use for an entire year, it must be maintained. There’s a British walker’s society that has a walk-a-thin to make sure no trail falls unused. But those trails have to be paid for by someone. Galloway is managed by the Forestry Commission. The John Muir Trust, a charity or non profit ngo, works to protect some open wild space in Scotland.

Much land in Scotland is plagued with a history of usage for the cash crops of either timber or sheep grazing, particularly after the collapse of the clan system. In several places we have seen, the management have been replacing the old agriculture with the original forrest. An article from the Galloway park paper explained their process of replacing lucrative pine by careful thinning (logging) to plant in the thinned area, or cultivate, the seeds of trees native to the area in the seed bank in the soil when you dig down far enough. When those trees grow and need more room, the remaining timber will be logged out to let the ancient tree species take over. In this way, the root systems should still keep the soil, and there is little disruption to wildlife who rely on the trees.

Galloway is also proud of their “wee trees.” Much as our joshuas and bristlecones get all gnarly and stumpy the older they seem to be, apparently so are junipers. Galloway has wee junipers. Like our eldest trees (barring the coastal redwood), they also seem to be in their sub-alpine zone.

Wee trees


And so we had a pleasant drive along the 7 Stanes Cycle route through Galloway Forrest Park. Here are two rather typical views, showing why it is such an awesome route on a bicycle (if you can make it over the epic mountain pass):

Our Typical road through Galloway Forrest Park, on the 7 Stanes Cycle Route Photos 1 and 2

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We kept on, going a bit north to Culzean, which lies right on the cliff of it’s rather vast park estate. Parking is close but it’s an uphill walk, and there is a golf cart “BUS” to take you from the visitor center if you need it. It really is labeled bus. But don’t look for a bus. Or a mini-bus. Or a van. The visitor center is in a farm complex, so the first view of the castle is through the trees:


Apparently there was once a history of smuggling and other things in the caves below the cliff. The castle and estate has it’s own source of oil and a pump house, and a dramatic gate with the Kennedy coat of arms on the inside (so you would see it when you leave). We caught one dad taking a pick of it, last minute – “Three more milliseconds!” – while his family got onto the “BUS.” He was a Kennedy, and awfully proud of being a clansman. He joked, like ya do, about moving into their castle. Perfect for his little girl.

If you were on the water, you’d see lots of the castle, but not so by land. After the gates you get the only real “view” of the castle by land, but it’s a doozy:

Culzean Castle (It’s Only A Model)


The castle, like most residence castles, did actually start out as a tower… once… and was remodeled heavily or expanded to the nth degree. To the side are stables that were converted for carriages and autos and now a gift shop. These are stables for posh ponies.

Stables for Posh Ponies


Eisenhower is an interesting question. The top floor of the castle is known as the Eisenhower apartments, because the family, as a thank you for the war and all that, gave him permission to stay there for eternity. Ike enjoyed coming over for golf. Of course, now the house is managed by the Trust, and Eisenhower is long passed, so the apartments are available for let.

But that won’t stop Adam from finding another canon.

Adam finds another cannon


But it’s apparently a slow watch day at Culzean. They do have many fairs and special event days, smuggler days, pirate days, etc.

Slow watch Day


In the stables for posh ponies we found the boat carriage. It doesn’t require a hitch, but I’m not sure how easy it is to get in and out off the boat ramp, especially with a horse involved.

Culzean Boat Carriage


After our lunch it was on back through Glasgow, trying to avoid traffic as much as possible. We had our first experience driving on a proper Motorway, the M8, and had only a brief amount of traffic in Glasgow before the bridge across the Clyde to Dumbarton (but not the Dumbarton bridge – it’s almost just like the Bay Area!), enough to find this sign combo. Adam found it highly entertaining, and made Lisa take a picture:

Glasgow Sign Humor


Then we skipped on up to the Highlands. The terrain changes rapidly, and it’s like there’s a border with Loch Lomond as a long portal between two different sort of worlds. By the time you get to one end, you’ve left one and found yourself in another.

Since we have friends from Ben Lomond, CA, and there is a lovely little Loch Lomond too, and so a shout out to graduates of Ben Lomond High School, and those that loved and miss the White Cockade Scottish Pub in the hills there (tha’s a Jacobite reference, ye ken?), we include a view of the Bonnie, Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. Sing the song now, aye?

Ben and Loch Lomond


But me and my true love were on, so no dinner cruise on the Loch for us. We stopped for refreshment at the Green Welly stop. Okay, it was mostly for the loo and to prove that the American odd roadside attraction market is going to have competition:

(The Green Welly Stop did feature a big Green Welly, but no pic, sorry.)


We were running late by now, and the reason we were late was because Adam made an appointment at the Oban distillery for a tour. Rick Steves said, in his little book and in his video, to call them, so he did. This was smart, but we got there exactly 17 minutes before our tour… and thus two minutes before the meter ticked over to free hours.


Adam was quite proud of the timing and laid in wait strategically by the pay station while I was at the car in the smallest parking lot ever… the courtyard of the distillery itself.



Oban marks itself as being a seaside, salt-flavored, whisky, and it plays up it’s maritime origins. It also can’t expand. The town really grew around the distillery to support it, and they never moved out of the dead center of the little port. The nautical theme predominates:


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They don’t, and can’t, bottle on site because of this. The key to the distilleries, we larded, is that the water and the distillation (which is under lock and key) is carried out there. The sourcing of barley or other grains and the storage of barrels for aging could take place elsewhere,  but in similar places ideally. Whiskey is uisce, or water, and that is key. Oban’s production is limited by their size rather than their water source because they can’t expand. Thus, they can actually “close down” for tours while other distilleries have more equipment outside to handle round the clock distillation, even when fairly small in size inside.


The visit and the whisky was enjoyable, and we picked up lovely free passports from Friends of Single Malts, a visiting scheme that gets you in for free to a nice handful of distilleries that would normally cost for a tour and dram. This was a bit of a surprise, so we were reevaluating our plans to include a bit more whisky. It did nicely also have a flavor “map” to a bunch of popular whiskies to act as a guide for tasting. It lays whiskies on an x/y coordinate plane with the x being delicate (negative) to rich (positive)  y being smoky (positive) to light (negative). Points plotted are whiskies, iconed by common types, like peaty or floral. Handy! Since it is a passport, the distilleries do actually stamp the little books. Fun!


And at last, Oban at Sunset.

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Captain’s Log Day 6: Jamais Arrierre

•July 31, 2014 • Leave a Comment


Threave Castle

Get ready, we’re going to visit a few things in Castle Douglas.

Castle Douglas has a fabulous park with a loch with islands in the center. We read about it in “Foot Forward in Castle Douglas,” a guide book from Diane, so we checked it out. It was very pretty in the gloaming.



The clock tower, also in the evening:


Our B&B, Douglas House, has a precious art nouveau fireplace:



We also recommend Niko’s, a Greek restaurant, that is sort of a Castle Douglas institution. He has mezze nights with musicians and a pretty hefty prix fixe that happened to be slated for our night two, so we took the opportunity to eat there on night one. We had a good view of the street which was plenty entertainment watching people participating in a city wide window display scavenger hunt competition, looking for things that don’t belong in specially done up window displays along King Street. Many stores also entered in a competition for best Glasgow 2014 themed display. But our food was quite engaging when it came too:


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We had planned to hire cycles for our outing today, but the weather was just so… so… so un-Scottish. If it were threatening rain, we’d be fine. We lived that in Santa Cruz. If it had been a pleasant forecast, we might have had to fight for the cycle hire. As it was, it was bloody hot.

Cycling, while going downhill with the wind in your face, can be a great cooler, not so much if you have to park it because of nesting osprey’s either. NESTING OSPREYS! Unfortunately, no photos of osprey chicks for you, but there are two reasons why we did not rent bicycles and go slugging and sweating and then zooming through Douglas territories in Dumfries and Galloway, which is pretty much bicycle heaven.

The Castle Douglas Cycles does hire though. One can do this.

We found a nice sandwich shop on King Street and made a picnic lunch up and headed to Threave Gardens.

We drove, and so we encountered a bit of Scottish humor from the person or persons who subtly defaced this sign into Threave. You might need to click on it to make it bigger.


There are two organizations that manage historic properties in Scotland: Historic Scotland, and the National Trust for Scotland. Both have year memberships and Historic has an “Explorer Pass” for 3 or 7 day adventurers to primarily Stirling and Edinburgh. The Historic one, because of Edinburgh Castle’s sky-high fee, is worth looking into if you do a trip and visit anything else. Both orgs offer passes for couples/families, and the National Trust pass is a saver for us. We picked it up at Threave, unfortunately too late to discover it was reciprocal with Trusts in England, Wales, Australia… etc. So we could have used it at Hadrian’s Wall, National Trust for England Properties. They did not explain this well at Housesteads, nor did I see it prior to travel. Oops. Know before you go!


Anyways, the Trust operates both garden, a baronial style house, and castle, as they were all the same property at one point. A merchant, William Gordon (Ha! Another Gordon!), bought the land after he went to Liverpool to make his money trading wares from all across the Atlantic. He was originally from Angus, and was endeared to Fyvie Castle, so when he had the money he wanted to live in a place like that. It has a round entrance and a pretty facade that is very reminiscent of Fyvie from much farther north. Fyvie had been owned by several different noble families, including the Gordons, in it’s time. William must’ve felt some inspiration or connection there.


He really designed the house at Threave tot suit his tastes, but it was given a thorough remodeling in the Victorian era by one of the wives, replacing dark woods with bright white paint and cheery colors, turning a vacation hunting lodge man-cave into a family home.


A family home that happens to have the folly of a lovely ruined castle just across the river. The boys can still go birding or for rabbits. What fun!


The last Gordon couple to live there were childless but devoted horticulturalists, so they donated/founded a gardening school there, with the house as dorms and classrooms, and the surrounding grounds as canvas and laboratory. All the furniture and valuables were stored (including a massive billiards table) and the students moved in. Lots of them. There were fifty or so students at it’s height, but now there are more like five who live on the premises, and the furniture moved back in. (The Trust and Tourism!)

Meanwhile, the folly of the ruined castle is pushed: Be sure to go and see it! Have you gone to see it yet? It’s fun! You can take a wee boat! The admission is the same ticket! (People do get confused.) But since there is so much to see, there were far more people meandering the gardens,


…checking out the fruit and veg in the walled garden…


…or the sculptures…


…or the house…


…or other parts known better to the red squirrels or all the birds:


But for children… the castle was on everyone’s stopping list for a Grand Day Oot. So Grand today it looked like the old Microsoft desktop wallpaper (which coincidentally I learned recently is land belonging to Domaine Carneros – it is now covered with vines and is delicious).


The castle is highly entertaining to get to. There’s a little info spot at a parking lot off the road, which leads to a lovely walk through the countryside on a corralled and fenced trail with gates every so often  for when one pasture bleeds over into the next on the other side. The path is for bird watchers as much as it is for castle access and a birder can follow it to blinds or benches.


The path then gets shady by the river where there is a small mound or slopping hillock, though you cannot see the river just yet.


You round the corner so see Threave Castle through the trees, framed just so


But there is the much decisive split in the road: left, to the stepping stones, or right, to the castle. Well, we know (and every shop lady and guide impressed upon us “It’s fun, You can take a wee boat!” ) you take a boat, so we turned right. If you keep going, you can look back and see the stepping stones, which seem to go to some other island in the River Dee, and not the island the castle is on. Entertaining, though. It leads to a bird blind, which could be better than the river crossing.


The path is short and affords some good views, though partial, of the castle. Then quick as that, we were at the dock. The boatman was offloading another couple, so we had excellent timing. He had a good, but old looking fiberglass motorboat, and was one of the few people wearing a hat. Or sunglasses. He’s also good at chatting with everyone and giving advice in the minute or two you’re on the boat. He could be a wake side confessional,  a Tourist Information, or a phone a friend for trivia. His demeanor would make the River Styx seem inviting. Just ring the bell for the ferryman.

Our ferryman ferried us over the Dee (and back later, fortunately, when we learned he has uncanny knack for the time of day by the angle of the sun) and we paid our dues (showed our Trust thingy) to the docent in her six by six shack of mementos, snacks, and plastic swords. The last seem to be the most popular, as when arrived, we discovered that the Douglas holdings were besieged (he has a wee plastic sword):


The enemy had even set up their own fortifications:


Naturally, we had to inspect castle and the defenses. The Castle was built by Archibald, the 3rd Earl of Douglas. The walls on the outside were a late and hastily built addition against cannon and were ordered by James, the 9th Earl, but there are still wide angled windows for multiple archers in the medieval style. The Douglases cleared multiple outbuildings from the island (which was it’s own classic castle), razing them for the building materials for these walls.

James was ahead of his time; this is one of the earliest anti-canon defense structures in Britain. When William, the 8th Earl, was killed and promptly defenestrated by King James IV of Scotland, II of England, at Stirling, James knew he was a marked man by against King James, who wanted to put an end to the Black Douglases. He’s the same one who brought in the “giant bombard,” which we like to think was Mons Meg (but probably wasn’t forged locally). Also, haven’t we learned anything about accepting invitations from kings to go chill with them at their castles yet?

Threave is an island, and would have had buildings, the castle community, around it, but by the time of the siege, it was an island fort with a cannon wall and earthen mounds to resist an infantry attack. Lovely signage sketches demonstrate this for some visual aids:


The tower was ringed with firing platforms for archery or firearms, and room for artillery on the roof. This isgn doesn’t dhow the artillery well, but you could safely put two pieces.


The rounded keyhole shaped windows in the defensive wall are also for cannon or aquebus (smaller size, angled like an archery window) at close, or far ranges. The Dee would also have been deeper then, and come up to the castle at it’s rear, with the little harbor a clearer point as shallows.


Aquebus window:


Adam with it, for size perspective:


Adam was not much taken by some of the damage to the walls. But where he is standing, it would have been water.


As the privy sluice demonstrates:


The interior is amazingly preserved. You enter in on the kitchen level with cellars and a pit prison below. Since this roof is damaged but present, the walls and floor are not as exposed to the elements. Entry, such a cool fire place:


Uh oh, someone in the pit!


You can then go up the stairs to the main hall:


The windows are very large, as our resident Douglas demonstrates:


And the view is superb:


Though, Most of this to the right would have been water, and there would have been less lilies with a stronger River Dee. Some of the pasture would have been marsh. This is why there was no need for rear defenses along the Dee side of the castle; no one could set up artillery there if they tried!

James Douglas even got England to help fund his defense, but, in going back to England for help, he missed the siege at Threave. His men were offered land and titles for their surrender and his wife, James ends up working various intrigues for Edward the 4th of England, joining his court, and marries Anne Holland, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Exeter and becomes a Knight of the Garter. Way to turn your life around.

Margaret, who was rumored to be there, survives and marries John Stuart, Earl of Atholl. She had no Douglas children, so James II didn’t have to worry there. One of her daughters marries Alexander Gordon, the 3rd Earl of Huntly though, so there’s a small world connection. But the Earldom of Douglas is no more.

Then it is one last look at the castle before heading back to town.


Captain’s Log Day 5: When in Rome

•July 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment


(The wall, thistles, and England beyond.)


Okay, actually, we did pay a short visit to the Wall before our night at the Inn. But it was a short hike, because we were damn tired. 

A short jump from Twice brewed was a trailhead leading over a ridge line, really a series of hills with large sloping gaps in them. The most famous of these gaps has a big old oak tree in it.


This was used in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I don’t, however, remember when in the movie it appears. We are accumulating a list of movies to rematch because we’ve now seen things in them. This is one of those. Adam probably could have kept going all the way to the Prince of Thieves Tree, but Lisa had a sore back, so we stopped. Still, it was a pretty amazing jaunt that told us quite a bit about the construction of the Wall, and tactical advantage, before hitting any museum or guide.


From the first hill, we had both a returning appreciation for the Roman soldier, who had to learn new skills on arrival, use the local materials, and build fortifications to specifications up those steep sides. We had an appreciation for the design, too, because looking back we could see that the wall curved forward to the north on each hill and receded south into each gap, with a tower in the gaps.


The towers were placed at the weakest points, but the walls drove those points like funnels. In an attack, they would be death traps, giving the Romans a tactical advantage with a fishbowl or flanking affect, turning their weakness into their strength.


The other recourse would be to attack up the hill, which would put you vulnerable to the Roman high ground. One of the hills was a cliff that we observed technical climbing on. Attacking the wall at Twice brewed would not have been easy.


But they did. A lot.

Going to both Housesteads Roman Fort and Roman Vindolanda (Fort, Town, and Archaeological Dig In Process Extravaganza!) we learned that there were (as borders sometimes have) great stretches of stability but also periods of intense turmoil.


(And intense turmoil years later: I’m tiptoing on the rock solid and wide ruin, but the top half has little or weak mortar, likely reconstructed against border reivers or as boundaries. The solid ruin is several feet wider in most places. )


The fortune in finding all of the letters at Vindolanda, some written on wood like post cards, give us great snapshots into the life of the fort and town that sprang up around it. Vindolanda was not a garrison on the wall like Hosesteads, but just off of it, existing before the wall, and later able to resupply or reinforce or patrol a wider area. At times they are planning parties and inviting compatriots. At others it got so bad, that the folks at Housesteads built a bath inside their fort for security reasons because it was too unsafe to venture into their own camp town.


So here you will find a few more interesting glimpses into the frontier life. One amazing find was that at Vindolanda, they recovered pottery matching an unopened shipment of pottery found in Pompeii – same make and signature, from Southern Gaul. This is a great physical reference to prove the widespread trade and production levels that we have to take their word for. Housesteads preserved the ruins, but Vindolanda preserved material culture not found elsewhere because of the anerobic processes in the soil: shoes of all sorts and styles, horse tack, clothing, wigs, paper goods; all these were preserved in the ground. You aren’t limited to pottery and glass at Vindolanda.


(Granary, Housesteads)

Also, a small note: breakfast at the Twice Brewed Inn is particularly hearty and the rooster is a late riser, but tried to make up for it in persistence.

They know there was a mile marker to the next fort but the inscription was long gone, so they put one for the “what life was like” category. It’s all abbreviations, which is common in Latin inscriptions. The inscription is a fairly easy one in Latin since it’s mostly things about Hadrian, and then notes the mileage (20). 


IMG_1096 This was likely a house built for Hadrian’s stay at Vindolanda:IMG_1090 A row of barracks at Housesteads:IMG_1080 A single barrack apartment was two rooms. The army figured that ideally the kit and gear and cooking would be stored and kept and done in one room (the front room) while the men from the slept in the bunks in the second room. This wasn’t always the case. You have just enough room for that, so, imagine.IMG_1078

After Rome, it was on our way again, North and East, back to Scotland!


Next: to Dumfries and Galloway and Castle Douglas.