1797: The Spithead and Nore Mutinies

Resetting E.P. Thompson’s Clock:

The Spithead and Nore Mutinies


Shall France alone a despot spurn?

She alone, O Freedom, boast thy care?

~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Destruction of the Bastille” (1789).


In 1797, common sailors in two “channel fleets” of the British Royal Navy mutinied in protest over low pay, conditions of service, and mistreatment by aristocratic officers. In the first mutiny at the Spithead anchorage, a series of tense exchanges over many weeks resulted in a peaceful resolution which met many of the sailor‘s unprecedented demands. In contrast, the Nore mutiny which immediately followed increased these demands to a point beyond which British authorities could concede. The sailors threatened the lives of their officers and blockaded key ports – all at a time when Britain was at war with revolutionary France. The British Admiralty put down the Nore mutiny harshly and hung several of the sailor’s representatives. Read more

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: The Competition for Causes

“This Revolution was fought for precisely the same reasons that the revolution of 1776 was fought – to regain freedom from tyranny, persecution and unjust taxation…”

~Alfonso Ortiz, Indian Uprising of the Rio Grande (Folsom 1973)


In August 1680, Pueblo Indians across New Spain rose and expelled their Spanish masters with great bloodshed. Spanish authority would not return for a decade, and when it did, a new balance would characterize relations between the two groups. Historians generally agree on the facts of the Revolt, but they continue to debate the relative influence of many factors, especially the motivations of the participants and the roles they played.[1] Most appear to search for a monocausal explanation of the Revolt. A review of the historiography on this event reveals no dominant critical trends other than increasing analytical sophistication and the inclusion of new sources. Instead of proposing new theses, historians constantly revisit certain thematic choices of causality. Strangely, few scholars favor a balanced interpretation of the Revolt.  Instead, the historiography suggests that in analyzing a conflict where only one side has a clear voice, interpretations often reflect more of the historian’s time and ideology rather than the incident itself. Read more

Graves and Juenger – Seeds of the Next War

Graves and Juenger – Seeds the Next War

Robert Graves and Ernst Juenger, two young men from what would be named “the lost generation”, went to war in 1914 and were irreparably changed. Careful reading of their memoirs tells us much about the nature of trench warfare in World War I. More importantly, it provides insights into how the war altered their respective societies and laid the foundation for the world war that would follow in 1939. Read more

Simon IV de Montfort: A Brief Biography

Simon IV de Montfort: A Brief Biography


Simon IV de Montfort (1160 – 1218 CE) played a key role in the Albigensian Crusade, the effort of Catholic popes to eradicate a dangerous Cathar dualist heresy in the Languedoc region of southern France. De Montfort’s prosecution of the Crusade against the Cathars was brutal and uncompromising by modern standards. Nevertheless, his conduct provides valuable insight into the chivalric conventions and ambiguities of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Thus we can study de Montfort both as an important historical figure and as a lens for comprehending how knights functioned during this period. Read more

Yoji Yamada’s “The Twilight Samurai” – Brief Analysis

Twilight of the Samurai

            Yoji Yamada’s 2002 film “The Twilight Samurai” describes a set of dramatic events in the life of a low-class samurai in 1860s Japan, shortly before the Meiji Restoration seals the fate of the order. The film is based on a short story by Shugei Fujisawa.[1] It offers numerous insights into the changing nature of samurai life in the late Tokugawa Shogunate period. It is no longer a time when one can say that “honor to name and family counted for more than life.”[2] As events unfold, we see the film as an allegory for the demise of the Shogunate and the apparent end of warrior rule in Japan. Read more

Profile of Raphael Semmes, Confederate Pirate

Raphael Semmes – “Last Knight of the Sea”

Between 1862 and 1865, Raphael Semmes and the Confederate cruiser Alabama roamed the world’s oceans, destroying or capturing 66 Union vessels. Students who limit their romantic heroes of the South to Lee, Jackson and Stuart must take a deeper look at this extraordinary individual. The North considered him nothing more than a pirate, but Semmes gained a reputation as a gallant leader and his exploits electrified a beleaguered Confederacy. The two-year unbroken success of the Alabama was “a masterpiece of skilled seamanship and strategy,” and one of few bright spots in the South’s military campaigns.[i] If character is revealed in word and action, then reports from Semmes, his crew, and his victims, should provide us with insights into the nature of a man known as “the last knight of the sea.” Read more

Collapse of the Minoan Civilization

Minos Triumphant:

How World History Might Have Been Different without Thera


Colin Renfrew tells us that the development of the Aegean has “considerable continuity from the early Neolithic period to the full development of civilization.”[i] But since the continuity of a principal Aegean culture was terminated in full flower at the beginning of this process, we must ask what effect its absence had on the rate and level of progress of the societies that survived. Specifically, given the high level of societal and technological development obtained by the Minoan civilization in the second millennium BCE, to what point might human society have progressed had this people not abruptly disappeared? Rodney Castleden asserts that “Minoan Crete may be seen as a cradle of civilization on a level with the Nile, Indus, Tigris and Euphrates valleys”, but highly distinctive in its own development.[ii] Thus the Minoans may appropriately be characterized as the “over-achievers” of the Mediterranean theatre.[iii] Examination of Minoan attainment in social organization, technology, and the arts illustrates that humanity lost centuries of evolution when this unique society vanished. Read more

Cortez, from La Noche Triste to the Fall of Tenochtitlan

A War of Voices:

Cortés’ Long Year from La Noche Triste to the Fall of Tenochtitlan


“Nothing but flowers and songs of sorrow

Are left in Mexico and Tlateloco,

Where once we saw warriors and wise men.”

~ From the Cantares Mexicanos,

16th Century Nahua poem


Hernan Cortés’ conquest of the Mexica Empire narrowly escaped disaster on La Noche Triste, the bloody night of 30 June 1520 when Spanish and allied Indian troops extracted themselves from the slaughterhouse of Tenochtitlan. Through superb leadership and personal courage, the Capitan saved the bulk of his forces, fought a week-long retreat against pursuing Mexica warriors, and took refuge with his Tlaxcalan allies. In succeeding months he subdued pro-Mexica altepetl (city states) in the east while he rebuilt his conquest machine. Eventually, Cortés renewed his investment of Tenochtitlan and took the city on 15 August 1521, destroying the Mexica Empire and creating New Spain in its place. This “Long Year”, the 13-month period between retreat and victory, is therefore vital to our understanding of the conquest.

We have access to a variety of Spanish voices which describe this critical period. Their perspectives vary significantly. The personal letters of Cortés paint him as the daring, chosen instrument of God and King, while those of his lieutenants range from sycophancy to mixed condemnation. Individual Indian communities allied with the Europeans and exploited their strength in arms in an attempt to eliminate the Mexica (Aztec) hegemony. Accordingly, indigenous oral histories tell still another story of events. Read more

Dissent within the Manhattan Project Community

An Atom of Opposition:

Dissent Within the Manhattan Project Scientist Community


“I am become Death, The shatterer of worlds.”

~ J. Robert Oppenheimer at the Trinity Test of the First Atomic Bomb, 16 July 1945


Robert Oppenheimer ominously quoted the Bhagavad-Gita, but he did not oppose the use of the first atomic bomb, developed in the United States’ Manhattan Project and dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Afterward, many people worldwide condemned using a weapon of such tremendous destructive power against civilians. The idea that a single bomb could destroy an entire city seemed to threaten everyone.

Received historical wisdom holds that various Manhattan Project scientists opposed the Bomb’s operational use. Close reading of primary documents reveals that although a few scientists voiced moral concerns, the true nature of their opposition has frequently been overstated and misinterpreted. While some scientists did seek to substitute nonlethal demonstrations for combat deployment, their objectives were varied. Further, their moral concerns about the death and destruction caused by their weapon became more amplified only as public debate over atomic weapons grew in the post-Hiroshima world. Historians have often read into their early apprehensions a unified moral objection, when in fact there were other parallel concerns at work.[i] Read more

Albigensian Crusade

A Matter of Light and Darkness:

Cathar Beliefs and Secular Interests as Justifications for the Albigensian Crusade


During the eleventh century, a dualist heresy arose within the Catholic Church that challenged basic tenets of the religion. The Cathars, as the group was known, developed in Northern Italy and Southern France out of earlier eastern European traditions. They called themselves Christians; their neighbors referred to them as “Good Christians.”[i] Catholics today still refer to the Cathar belief as “the Great Heresy” although the official Church position is that Catharism is not Christian at all.[ii] When the Church’s program of counter-propaganda failed to combat the heresy, Pope Innocent III announced a crusade – the Albigensian Crusade (1209 – 1229 CE) – against unbelievers in the Languedoc region of Southern France. This crusade would last for more than two generations and as a consequence, perhaps a half million people would be massacred.[iii] The Albigensian Crusade would promote the birth of the Inquisition, and it would be prosecuted with fierce brutality. Read more