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Chivalry Was Established to Keep Thuggish, Medieval Knights in Check

January 23, 2019 in History

By Livia Gershon

Knights in the Middle Ages were heavily-armed and prone to violence.

In the 21st century, the word chivalry evokes a kind of old-fashioned male respect for women. But during the Middle Ages, the code was established for much grittier reasons.

At a time of routine military violence with massive civilian casualties, chivalry was an effort to set ground rules for knightly behavior. While these rules sometimes dictated generous treatment of the less-fortunate and less-powerful, they were focused mainly on protecting the interests of elites.

The development of chivalry went hand-in-hand with the rise of knights—heavily armored, mounted warriors from elite backgrounds—starting around the time of the Norman conquest of England in 1066. The world chivalry itself comes from the Medieval Latin caballarius, meaning horseman.

In the middle of the 11th century, the knight was not a particularly honorable figure.

“He’s a hired thug,” says Jennifer Goodman Wollock, a professor of medieval studies at Texas A&M University who has written two books about chivalry. “He’s got horses. He’s got armor. He’s like a heavy tank.”

READ MORE: Weapons of the Middle Ages

Watch a preview of the new series Knight Fight, premiering Wednesday, January 23 at 10/9c.

Knights Were Heavily Armed and Prone to Violence

These warriors were commanded by warlords and rewarded with land, or with license to plunder the villages where they did battle, looting, raping and burning as they went.

“In the early Middle Ages, church councils were praying to be delivered from knights,” Wollock says. “What develops as you get into the late 11th, 12th century is a sense that knights have to have a professional code if they’re going to be respected and respectable.”

There was never a firm consensus on what it meant to be a good knight. The most common values found in rules that commanders created for knights revolved around the practical needs of a military force: bravery in battle and loyalty to one’s lord and companions.

“You’ve got all these people who are very prone to violence, heavily armed,” says Kelly Gibson, a medieval historian at the University of Dallas and editor of Vengeance in Medieval Europe. “You’ve got to find some way to get them to get along.”

A maiden leads a knight in a suit of armor to a castle.

The Chivalrous Knight Appears in Romantic Fiction

Still, Wollock argues that chivalry did go well beyond the simple need for a disciplined military. Particularly in romantic …read more


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When the Supreme Court Had to Read an 18th-Century Erotic Novel

January 23, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

by D.H. Lawrence and Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller—and getting those bans overturned. Eager to fight a similar public battle, G.P. Putnam’s Sons started selling Fanny Hill in 1963.

As expected, the publisher was charged with obscenity, and it took its case to the highest court in the land. In early 1966, the Supreme Court ruled six to three that Fanny Hill was not obscene and therefore protected by the First Amendment. Previously, the court had ruled that obscene works had to be “utterly without redeeming social value.” Justice William Brennan argued in his majority opinion that Fanny Hill’s historical and literary importance gave it social value. (The dissenting Justice Tom Clark, meanwhile, complained in his opinion that the underage Fanny was “nothing but a harlot.”)

G.P. Putnam’s Sons wasn’t the only publisher with this idea. In the mid-1960s, the British publisher Mayflower Books Ltd. also started printing Fanny Hill in the U.K. The government seized tens of thousands of these books until 1970, when the country lifted its centuries-long ban on the novel. Decades later, the novel still draws prurient interest. In January 2019, a Victorian-era copy of Fanny Hill sold for £360 (or $409), nine times the price that Hansons Auctioneers in Derbyshire estimated it was worth.

…read more


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How Gen. Eisenhower Spun a Humiliating WWII Defeat into Winning Military Strategy

January 23, 2019 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

After his first battle in North Africa exposed U.S. weaknesses, Eisenhower regrouped to lead major military victories.

As the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the European theater, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower is remembered as one of the most masterful military figures in history, the man behind the bold and superbly-executed Normandy invasion in June 1944 that led to Nazi Germany’s defeat less than a year later.

But before Eisenhower’s great military successes, there was a great failure. When he first faced the Germans in Tunisia in February 1943, his forces took a brutal beating in the battle of the Kasserine Pass. The battle is regarded by some as the most humiliating U.S. combat setback in World War II, with American forces suffering more than 6,000 casualties.

The loss was so devastating that British allies began to question Americans’ ability to fight. But after figuring out what had gone wrong, Eisenhower made sweeping corrections. He reorganized his forces to work together in a more cohesive fashion, shook up his intelligence operation and brought in the brash, aggressive Gen. George S. Patton to shape up the U.S. Army’s ground combat force in Tunisia.

Just as important, Eisenhower didn’t lose faith in his men. Instead, he was able to see what they did right in the battle, and to build upon those strengths.

“The U.S. Army, the entire Allied force, was restructured from top to bottom after Kasserine,” Robert Citino, the Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, explains. “If Eisenhower wasn’t ready for Kasserine, he also showed that he knew how to jump start things.”

Rommel’s German Troops Launch Counterattack

As the National World War II Museum’s website details, in November 1942 Eisenhower led the American and British forces in Operation Torch, an invasion of Axis-held North Africa. The Allied forces moved eastward, with the British forces under Gen. Bernard Montgomery taking Tripoli in late January. Then the Allies crossed the Atlas mountains, with a plan to head toward the Mediterranean and split the German forces to the north and south.

German military commander Erwin Rommel discussing plans with General Nehring in Tunisia in December 1942.

In response, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel used two of his tank divisions to push back the Allied line. Then, he saw an opportunity. He decided to launch a direct counterattack against the Allies through the …read more


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Are Scientists on the Verge of Resurrecting the Woolly Mammoth?

January 22, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Every summer, groups of hunters head to the remote, uninhabited New Siberian islands in search of the elusive “white gold”—a perfectly formed tusk of a woolly mammoth—hidden in the thawing Arctic permafrost.

They are not only exploring the furthest reaches of the Arctic Ocean, but traveling back in time, carrying out a primordial quest for the tusks of the massive beasts that roamed the forbidding landscape in droves before going extinct 10,000 years ago.

Of course, there’s always the chance the hunters may stumble not just on a tusk or two, but on an entire set of mammoth remains, including fur, flesh and even oozing blood.

An illustration of a family of Woolly Mammoths.

That’s what happened in 2013, when a team from Yakutsk, Russia, uncovered the almost-complete carcass of a young female mammoth buried in the permafrost on the New Siberian Islands. Not only were three legs, a majority of the body, part of the head and the trunk still relatively well preserved, but when the researchers began efforts to dislodge the animal’s remains, they noticed dark, sticky blood oozing from the carcass.

Carbon dating revealed that Buttercup, as she was dubbed, lived some 40,000 years ago. From her remains, including a vial of blood drained from her carcass, scientists hoped to extract living mammoth cells that will yield intact DNA—the missing link in modern scientists’ long-running quest to bring this ancient behemoth back from the dead.

In the new documentary film Genesis 2.0, Swiss documentarian Christian Frei and his co-director, Siberian filmmaker Maxim Arbugaev, follow the intrepid mammoth tusk hunters in the New Siberian Islands, as well as various scientists in the United States, Russia, South Korea and China who are working to bring the mammoth back to life in one form or another.

Traditional Chinese carvers make elaborate sculptures out of mammoth ivory, and first-class mammoth tusks can net the hunters tens of thousands of dollars on the international market, especially since China banned the import and sale of elephant ivory in 2016. Russia exported 72 metric tons of mammoth ivory in 2017, with more than 80 percent of it going to China.

For the Siberian mammoth hunters, finding a top-notch tusk to sell is the goal, of course—a lot of what they find is in poor condition—but it’s also a mixed blessing. In local culture, which has long considered …read more


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Medieval Weapons That Maimed and Killed

January 22, 2019 in History

By Andrew Knighton

Swords and lances weren’t the only weapons of choice during bloody battles of the Middle Ages.

When picturing medieval European warfare, we usually focus on the knights—glamorous aristocratic warriors fighting with sword and lance. But while these weapons were important, medieval warriors thrashed their opponents with an array of brutal instruments.

A weapon’s popularity depended on multiple factors, including its effectiveness, status and cost. But, in the midst of fighting, it was a weapon’s impact on the opponent that ultimately proved its value.

Kelly DeVries, a medieval warfare expert at Loyola University, says medieval weapons seldom broke through metal armor. “But blunt force trauma, the smashing of the bones, that’s going to incapacitate somebody.” A weapon didn’t have to kill to be important, it just had to take an opponent out.

Watch a preview of the new series Knight Fight, premiering Wednesday, January 23 at 10/9c.

Swords and Lances

According to DeVries, “The single most important weapon in the Middle Ages was the sword.”

A fast-moving weapon that could stab as well as slice, the sword delivered the most damage for least effort. It allowed the development of a sophisticated form of martial art, granting fame to expert swordsmen and inspiring fighting manuals such as Fiore dei Liberi’s Flos Duellatorum (1410). As military historian Mike Loades says, the sword “gives hope that skill can triumph over brute force.”

There were other reasons for the sword’s popularity. The limits of metalworking meant that swords were initially expensive, conferring status on their owners. Because the sword was a weapon suitable for wearing, that status could be displayed both on—and off the battlefield.

Thirteenth-century French knight

The other high-status weapon was the lance, used in attacks by mounted men-at-arms. The force of a galloping horseman, concentrated through the point of a lance, gave it incredible power. But it was a one-shot weapon, often shattering on impact and was no use up close. It was individually deadly but not a war-winner.

READ MORE: 9 Blades That Forged History

Spears, Axes, Mace

Though swords became widespread, polearm weapons were, at one point, more prevalent for ordinary infantry.

Cheap and easy to manufacture, spears equipped the increasingly large armies of medieval rulers. Used in large defensive blocks, they provided an antidote to cavalry charges, as shown by the successes of the Scots against the English at Bannockburn (1314).

While the spear was most common, other polearms were deadlier. Equipped with axes, blades, …read more


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The Scathing Reaction to the Last Oscars With No Host

January 22, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

“And now ladies and gentlemen, here’s one of the great legends of Hollywood. She’s back with us tonight—Miss .

But the “camp” style of humor that permeated Beach Blanket Babylon wasn’t yet a part of mainstream media. Hofler thinks the negative response to the Oscars number “was this real reaction against this gay humor in a period in which people were no longer really tolerant of gay people.” He contrasts this to the years before AIDS when Hollywood establishment types had had no problem partying at Carr’s house.

“Believe me, because Allan Carr was the producer, everyone involved identified that opening number as this kind of gay humor run amok,” Hoffler continues (Eileen Bowman, who played Snow White, later wrote the Oscars show “looked like a gay bar mitzvah,” whatever that means). Were the opening number to air today, the reaction might be different. “I interviewed [former Paramount Pictures CEO Sherry Lansing] about it and I remember her saying, I bet if they showed that today people wouldn’t object to it.”

Allan Carr, center, meeting with composer Marvin Hamlisch (left) and director Kenny Ortega (right) during the 61st Annual Academy Awards Rehearsals on March 20, 1989 at ABC Studios in Los Angeles, California.

Dennis Bingham, director of the Film Studies Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, thinks Carr’s opening number “may have worked just great on a stage in a nightclub some place, but it wasn’t good television.” Yet he also thinks that, 30 years later, it’s hardly the most embarrassing thing that’s happened at the Oscars.

“The year that Seth MacFarlane hosted, when people turned on the show a little late to see him leading a chorus line singing ‘We Saw Your Boobs’—that was much more embarrassing and uncalled for,” he says of the 2013 Oscars. In addition, Bingham says the 2017 Best Picture mix-up, where La La Land received an award intended for Moonlight, “is the worst thing I’ve ever seen happen at the Oscars.”

As maligned as Carr’s Academy Awards show was, it did have some influential moments. His was the first Oscars with extended coverage of stars arriving on the red carpet, an event that has since become its own pre-awards show. Carr coined an iconic award show phrase by telling presenters that instead of announcing the “winner,” they should say, “The Oscar goes to…” Billy Crystal also delivered a well-received monologue at the ‘89 Oscars. …read more


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Nixon’s Personal Lawyer Paid Hush Money to Watergate Burglars

January 18, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

Gerald Ford’s presidential pardon of Richard Nixon ensured that the disgraced president never faced legal consequences for his involvement in the Watergate cover-up. But a lot of people in Nixon’s orbit did go to prison—including Herbert Kalmbach, Nixon’s personal lawyer, who raised a slush fund to finance campaign sabotage and helped pay hush money to the Watergate burglars.

Kalmbach was a figure most voters would not have known about if not for his involvement in a presidential scandal. In Kalmbach’s case, it was the Watergate scandal, which began when five men were arrested on June 17, 1972 for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex.

The Watergate scandal wasn’t just about the burglars’ attempt to bug the DNC during President Nixon’s reelection campaign. It was also about the illegal cover-up to hide any connection between the break-in and Nixon’s team, as well as the revelation that the Watergate break-in was just one in a series of “dirty tricks” the president’s men carried out to sabotage perceived enemies.

Watergate Scandal (TV-14; 2:33)

Kalmbach wasn’t involved in the break-in itself, but he did play a role in the cover-up and the dirty tricks.

“He was basically Nixon’s bagman,” says Ken Hughes, a research specialist at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. “He got money where Nixon wanted money spent. He was the source of the money for the slush fund that paid for sabotage and spying activities on the Democratic presidential candidates in 1972.”

This spying and sabotage involved planting spies in other presidential campaigns, following candidates’ families, forging fake documents on a candidate’s letterhead and leaking false information to the press, among other tactics. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein reported in All the President’s Men that Nixon’s agents called this practice “ratf***ing.” It was meant to confuse and disorient a campaign so that the campaign staff had a difficult time telling where the sabotage was even coming from.

Take Senator Edward Muskie’s campaign to be the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate. In April of that year, one of his fundraising dinners was besieged by cash-on-delivery liquor, flowers, pizzas, cakes and entertainers that his campaign hadn’t ordered. During his New Hampshire primary campaign, people who claimed they were with the “Harlem for Muskie Committee” called voters in the middle of the night and …read more


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Why Reagan's 'Star Wars' Defense Plan Remained Science Fiction

January 18, 2019 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

SDI sought to block incoming nuclear missiles with futuristic, space-based technology, but critics said the plan was always too far-fetched.

It was a plan that read like science fiction: A system armed with an array of space-based X-ray lasers would detect and deflect any nukes headed toward the United States.

President Ronald Reagan saw the proposed Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) as a safeguard against the most terrifying Cold War outcome—nuclear annihilation. When Reagan first announced SDI on March 23, 1983, he called upon the U.S. scientists who “gave us nuclear weapons to turn their great talents to the cause of mankind and world peace: to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”

From the start, politicians and scientists argued that SDI was overambitious. The technical hurdles required to achieve SDI (which included a number of proposed designs and weapons—not just space-based lasers) seemed so incredible at the time that Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy referred to it as ”reckless ‘Star Wars’ schemes.” The ‘Star Wars’ moniker stuck. Over the course of 10 years, the government spent up to $30 billion on developing the concept, but the futuristic program remained just that—futuristic. It was formally scrapped by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

Despite criticisms from politicians, many scientists and others that the SDI was impractical, expensive and dangerous, the concept was developed during a frightening era.

A Defense Against the Soviets

“The Soviets had literally hundreds of ballistic missiles aimed at the U.S., and the idea was that SDI would render all of them obsolete,” says Matt C. Pinsker, adjunct professor of Homeland Security & Criminal Justice at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“The practical objection to SDI was that it was too expensive and not technologically feasible. The theoretical opposition to it was that it might ignite an arms race, though this does not make sense because there already was one.”

Vince Houghton, historian/curator at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., says he believes Reagan “truly despised nuclear weapons, and especially despised the threat they posed to the security of the United States. As much as people love to give him grief for what would end up being a trillion-dollar quagmire, or accuse him of wanting Star Wars so that the United States could have a legitimate advantage over the Soviets in a …read more


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An Intimate View of MLK Through the Lens of a Friend

January 18, 2019 in History

By Madison Horne

“Outside of my immediate family, his was the greatest friendship I have ever known or experienced.”

One evening in 1958, photographer.

Flip Schulke, born Graeme Phillips Schulke, in Miami, 1976.

Schulke’s archive contains an inside look at many of Dr. King’s biggest moments, such as the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March. He was invited into Dr. King’s home many times, including after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and captured intimate moments between him and his children. Schulke was also on the scene for other pivotal moments, such as James Meredith attending the University of Mississippi in 1962 and the funeral of Medgar Evers in 1963.

As a photographer on the front lines of many tense confrontations, Schulke endured some of the same dangers as the protestors. He was threatened by white mobs protesting against integration, tear gassed, and locked in police cars to keep him from documenting important moments in black history.

After King’s shocking assassination, Coretta Scott King personally invited Schulke to bring his camera to the funeral. There, through the sensitive lens of a man who had just lost a great friend, he captured one of the most well-known images from the memorial. His portrait of Coretta sitting in the pews veiled in black at her husband’s funeral made the cover of Life Magazine on April 19, 1968, becoming one of its most famous covers.

Although many of Schulke’s images were published in magazines, he never tied himself to any publication. “When I was photographing Civil Rights I knew that was history,” Schulke told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in 1995. “I was aware enough not to sign any contracts giving up the copyright of my pictures.”

For Schulke, staying up all night locked in deep conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that day in 1958 changed the course of his life. He later edited and published three books of his photographs of the Civil Rights Movement.

In all, Flip Schulke created nearly half a million photographs during his career as a photojournalist, including striking images of Muhammad Ali, Fidel Castro, and JFK; he was one of the first photographers inside the Texas Book Depository in Dallas after Kennedy’s assassination. He died at the age of 77 in May 2008.

Want more HISTORY? Check out these stories:

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The President’s Annual State of the Union Address, Explained

January 18, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

As President Donald Trump prepares to address Congress for his 2018 State of the Union address, take a look back at the history of this high-profile tradition.

These days, the State of the Union—the yearly speech by the U.S. president in front of the two houses of Congress, giving his view on the state of the nation and his legislative goals for the year—is as familiar a late January tradition as failing New Year’s resolutions and playoff football. But though its roots go all the way back to the nation’s founding, the State of the Union as we know it is a thoroughly modern tradition.

As President Donald Trump prepares to address Congress for his 2019 State of the Union address, take a look back at the history of this high-profile presidential tradition.


Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

According to the National Archives, George Washington first fulfilled this particular presidential duty on January 8, 1790, when he addressed the new Congress in the Senate Chamber of Federal Hall in New York City (then the U.S. capital). But Thomas Jefferson, the third president, chose to give his annual message to Congress in writing rather than make the trek to the Capitol—kicking off a tradition that would last nearly a century.

In 1913, Woodrow Wilson decided to buck that tradition. Shortly after his inauguration, Wilson went to Capitol Hill to make a speech about tariffs, becoming the first president since John Adams to presume to address Congress directly, on its own turf. That December, Wilson returned before Congress to give the first modern State of the Union address (though it wouldn’t officially be called that until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency).

President Franklin Delano delivers his 1941 State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. (Credit: Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)


The Constitution put into place a deliberate separation of powers between the three branches of the federal government, tasking the legislative branch with making the nation’s laws, the executive branch with enforcing them and the judicial branch with interpreting and applying them.

But Wilson, a Progressive Democrat, believed …read more