02 November, 2012

The All Saints Flood of 1570

 Drawing: Hans Moser, Scheldt Flood, 1570(wiki)
As we look at the images of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast USA his week, here's a reminder of a devastating 16thC flood in Holland which took place this week in 1570.  This was the All Saints' Flood (Allerheiligenvloed) which may have killed 20,000 in Holland and neighbouring countries, leaving many more thousands homeless.
In fact there are a series of All Saints' (Aller Heiligen) floods along the North Sea coasts of Holland, Belgium, and Germany,  all taking place on or around 1st November, All Saints Day. Others took place in 1170, 1532, 1675 and most recently in 2006.

 The 1570 flood took place at a critical point in the history of the Netherlands. Tax reforms had led to increasing dissatisfaction with the rule of the Spanish king Philip II and his governor, and the flood only compounded the general feelings of unrest.

By 1581 the Dutch Republic had been formed and the foundations were being laid for the Dutch golden age of exploration and influence. Although Elizabeth I of the England sent troops under Robert Dudey to assist the Dutch against the Spanish, England and Holland would end up in conflict as Dutch naval power grew in the 17thC.


23 March, 2011

How Greece lost her Marbles

photo: a decent view of the Parthenon without too much scaffolding (copyright the author)

On a recent trip to Athens, the cultural hot potato that is the Elgin Marbles was very much in play. Piles of leaflets at the entrance to the Acropolis make the case for the return of these treasures of the Parthenon (or stolen booty depending on your stance) from the British Museum to Athens.

A brief summary of the story:

From 1799 the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople was Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin. At this time the Ottomans were in charge of Athens, and in 1801 Elgin obtained permission (or so he claimed) to remove around half the existing sculptures from the Parthenon and other structures on the Acropolis. This his agents duly did and in by 1812 they had been shipped back to Blighty.

Although Elgin's motives were based on a love of antiquity (he had heard that some sculptures had previously been burnt to extract lime), a row broke out almost immediately, and has been running off and on for the 200 years since.

Arguments for keeping the marbles in the BM:

1. They are closer to my house (and for Londoners generally). OK, this might have held water when it took a week by sea to get to Athens, but that was before Easyjet & co.

2. The Greeks won't look after them. Pollution in Athens is less of an issue since the Olympics clean-up, and the fab new Acropolis Museum makes the BM look very last year. They even have a space ready.

3. It will set a precedent for returning stuff which will empty our museums. Well, you shouldn't have nicked it in the first place. See this site for more hot potatoes.

4. We built a nice gallery for them. Just move with the times and use it for a permanent exhibition of our best graffiti artists. The Athens galleries are full of light and a much better setting for the marbles.

That's my balanced opinion anyway.

01 December, 2010

West Wycombe Park

An autumn view of West Wycombe Park, an early 18th century English Palladian mansion in the Chiltern Hills, north-west of London. The house was built by Sir Francis Dashwood, sometime Chancellor of the Exchequer and founder of the Dilettante Society and slightly more notorious Hellfire Club. The caves where the latter Club held meetings are nearby and make an interesting visit.

The house is still in the family:the 12th Baronet Edward Dashwood currently enjoys the modest 5000-acre estate, albeit shared with visitors as the property is run by the National Trust.

Nearly West Wycombe village dates from the 16th century and is also looked after by the National Trust. The pubs and jettied shops on the old coaching road feel in a different age to dreary High Wycombe up the road.

The peace of this area of the Chilterns is now threatened by the High Speed 2 train project.

Photo: the author.