Saturday, July 21, 2012

Some Bad Reputations: Saturday Links

There are some characters in history at whom everyone loves to throw mud, and there are some characters who come out smelling far sweeter than they deserve. This week's Saturday links finds novelists trying to get to the truth of the matter as Elizabeth Chadwick sets out to clear Eleanor of Aquitaine's reputation, and M.m. Bennetts sets out to sully Napoleon's. One of the things I appreciate about both these authors is their dedication to historical research and their detailed use of primary sources.

Chadwick's post examines the charge of incest against Queen Eleanor.
One of the notorious players in Eleanor of Aquitaine's life story  is her paternal uncle Raymond of Poitiers, Prince of Antioch.  His notoriety is caused not least by the rumours of an affair between him and his niece when she visited him in his city during the second crusade....
Instead of gleefully accepting whatever scandals could be attached to Eleanor, Chadwick tries to get to the bottom of the matter and find out what really happened. She notes that the chroniclers commend Raymond of Antioch for "purity of conduct" and wonders if a man of such approved character could be guilty of incest. She examines John of Salisbury's account and offers an alternative explanation for what his ambiguous words could have referred to.

M.m. Bennetts' post examines the reputation of Napoleon and finds it far more whitewashed than it ought to be. It's a must read for those interested in the Napoleonic era and demonstrates how, with enough propaganda, even the blackest of crimes can be forgotten.
Time has a funny habit of softening the memory of things.  Of dulling the edges of pain, blurring the focus, and letting the unspeakable fall away, unmentioned and unlamented, to be replaced by a kinder, gentler, more palatable version of events and people past. 
Unless, of course, those events are constantly kept alive, in their full horror, and mankind is kept from relegating them to a place behind the forgetful cushion of time.  Like with the Holocaust or the Killing Fields of Rwanda or Cambodia… 
Two hundred years ago, Napoleon led his country and all of Europe to the verge of utter ruin and desolation.... (read more)

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