War history centers on some of human history’s most renowned and respected generals, those who commanded domineering and revolutionary armies: Alexander the Great, George S. Patton, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, and George Washington to name a few. Legendary generals are marked by their extraordinary military strategy, ferocity, bravery, and of course, commanding presence. However, a trait in one commanding general stands out and separates him from others.

Casey Titus explains.

George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette at Valley Forge. By John Ward Dunsmore, 1907.

George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette at Valley Forge. By John Ward Dunsmore, 1907.

Continental Army Commander

Historians have frequently observed Washington’s dedication to American Independence which Washington admirably referred to as “our glorious cause.” He accepted the title as commander of the Continental Army without pay. Washington was one of the richest men in Virginia, if not the colonies. Had he wanted to, Washington would certainly have had the means to remain in the comfort and security at his home of Mount Vernon or toured the country Washington fought for during his service in the French and Indian War – Great Britain.

His leadership proved brilliant, especially in 1777-78 at Valley Forge during a bitterly cold winter. Of the 11,000 soldiers stationed at Valley Forge, hundreds would perish from disease. General Washington endured alongside his men. American military historian Edward G. Lengel describes his leadership during this “sacrificial” as he took “great care in seeing that his soldiers were well housed.”

While his leadership skills were exceptional, his military strategy was not. Alexander the Great is famous worldwide for his monumental empire, as he was never defeated in battle, and as he overpowered King Darius of Persia through deception. The Continental Army suffered more losses than victories under General Washington. However, the source of his triumph was his ability to rally supporters around “our glorious cause” through reminding them of their patriotic contributions. Washington understood the need to explain the “why” aspect of the fight for independence before addressing the “what” or “how” aspect. Washington was convinced, but not boastful.

David McCullough, author of John Adams, wrote that General Washington listened to the advice of his war council and messengers that reported to him which he used to avoid more catastrophic mistakes, proving that Washington continued to look after the lives and wellbeing of his men.
As a leader, Washington accomplished one of the most tremendous feats an under-trained and under-resourced ragtag militia could muster against a worldwide empire.


Political Office

On September 3, 1783, Great Britain formally acknowledged the independence of the United States with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, bringing the prolonged eight years of war to an end. At the moment of this monumental victory, Washington was at the peak of his power, a time at which most conquering generals in past human history would have appointed themselves as dictators. For example, not too many years after 1783, Napoleon Bonaparte led successful campaigns during France’s revolutionary wars and rendered himself emperor after the French monarchy was overthrown.

When the war ended, King George III asked his envoys about Washington’s activities. He was told Washington retired from public life, back at his home of Mount Vernon. George III couldn’t believe it; he leaned back in his chair and said, “If this be true, then George Washington must be the greatest Man in the world.”

After five years of comfort as a Virginian farmer, Washington once again recognized the need of the people for a leader to guide the nation in its infancy. The veteran general would serve his country as the first president of the United States from 1789-1797. He dressed in civilian clothes despite being encouraged to wear his military uniform as he felt it would resemble a military dictatorship – at the time much of Europe was, or was soon to be, under such rulers. He rebuked the title of “His Majesty,” simply preferring to be called “Mr. President.” Only serving two terms in office, Washington recognized that position was more impactful than his name and he would set an example for future presidents. In his farewell address, Washington utilized his language to humanize himself as a reminder that he is flawed and vulnerable like everyone else, yet devoted to building a nation future generations could thrive in.

At the end of his presidency, Washington told his friends and colleagues, “Gentlemen, if you wish to speak to me again, it will be under my own Fig and Vine.”


What do you think of George Washington? Let us know below.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

The Jacobite Risings were a stormy period from the late 17th century to the first half of the 18th century in Britain. They involved many plots and battles between those who wanted Britain to remain ruled by Protestants and those who wanted the Stuart Catholics to return to the British throne. Here, Jamil Bakhtawar explains the origins of the risings.

Government forces at the 1689 Battle of Dunkeld.

Government forces at the 1689 Battle of Dunkeld.

The word ‘Jacobite’ stems from Jacobus, the Latin version of James. The Jacobites were a group in the late 17th and 18th centuries, who believed that the Catholic James VII of Scotland (James II of England) and his Stuart descendants should be restored to the throne of Scotland and England. The political importance of the Jacobite movement extended from 1688 until at least the 1750s.


The internal strife

The mid seventeenth century had seen the British Isles engulfed in a series of internal conflicts called the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Religion was a significant factor with both Scottish and English factions’ strong resistance towards Catholicism. The wars ended with Oliver Cromwell taking charge, but Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660. When he died without a legitimate heir, he was followed by his Catholic brother James II.

The king’s initial promises to defend the existing government in church and state reassured many of those worried by his personal faith. James was well off financially, with significant tax revenue. The manipulation of borough charters in the last years of Charles II’s reign ensured that James’ first parliament was dominated by loyal Tories. Initial support for the king ebbed away as it became clear that he wished to secure not only freedom of worship for Catholics, but also the removal of the Test Acts so that Catholics could occupy public office. James also started to establish some laws and regulations that were lenient towards Catholicism. The test case of Godden vs. Hales (1686) established James’ right to suspend the provisions of the Test Acts, thereby allowing the king to appoint a number of Catholic peers to his Privy Council. In April 1687, James issued a declaration of indulgence that suspended penal laws against Catholics and granted toleration to some Protestant dissenters.

These measures were met with immense opposition. The Protestants began questioning James’ legitimacy to hold the Crown and feared a Catholic takeover.


Rebellion and revolution

Two factors moved James II’s opponents to urge William, the Prince of Orange (the Stadtholder in the Dutch Republic), to intervene militarily. Firstly, after years of trying, James’ Catholic second wife finally became pregnant. The birth of a healthy male heir, James Edward Stuart (the Old Pretender), on 10 June 1688, dashed hopes that the Crown would soon pass to James’ protestant daughter Mary. Secondly, William’s co-conspirators believed that the parliament James planned to summon in the autumn would repeal the Test Acts.

Faced with a potential enduring Catholic dynasty, in 1688 many senior English magnates invited William of Orange to invade and overthrow the Catholic King. William landed with his army on November 5, 1688 at Brixham, southwest England which started a popular uprising against the king. The widely unpopular James was then deposed by the Protestant-leaning parliament in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and forced into exile. William and his wife Mary (the Protestant daughter of James II) jointly assumed the throne and put Britain back into Protestant rule.

Whilst Protestant England embraced the new monarchy, the reaction in Scotland was mixed. Although Scotland supported King William, amongst both Protestant and Catholic circles there was reluctance to displace the Stuart dynasty which had ruled Scotland for over 300 years.


The Jacobites and their rebellions

John Graham, the Viscount of Dundee, was a strong supporter of James II. In 1689 he defied Parliament, marched out of Edinburgh with his followers, and began gathering Jacobites to rebel against the Protestant Crown. From mid-April 1689 until the summer, Graham was gathering clansmen. By summer James was in Ireland, promising reinforcements to John Graham; but all that arrived was a troop of three hundred poorly armed and badly disciplined Irish men. Graham felt that if his Highlanders were to be kept together at all, a blow must be struck. He found his opportunity at the pass of Killiecrankie on July 27, 1689. The Highlanders burst upon the regular soldiers with one irresistible charge and scattered them in a total rout; but a bullet killed the Viscount as he was dashing forward at the head of the small troop of the Jacobite cavalry. The victory itself was complete, but the Viscount’s fall made it entirely useless. At the Battle of Dunkeld in August 1689, the Jacobites were defeated by government forces and the military danger in Scotland was effectively at an end. Even if Graham hadn’t been slain, he couldn’t have done anything more than maintaining a state of alarm and unrest, unless he had received stronger reinforcements.

In 1696 the revival of Jacobite hopes was signaled by an assassination plot. The French, who were at war with Britain, suddenly saw an advantage to be gained from an alliance with the Jacobites. They would land the new Jacobite heir, James III 'The Old Pretender', in his ancestral kingdom and start a rebellion. For the French it was an excellent opportunity to invade Protestant England and as for the Jacobites, they could put Britain back under Stuart rule and defeat all opposition.  A legitimate Jacobite design was formed for an invasion of England by French troops. The young Duke of Berwick, an illegitimate son of James, was sent over secretly to agree measures with the English Jacobites. The plot fell through because the French required an English Jacobite rising as a preliminary step to the actual invasion. However, it then emerges that there was an unauthorized plan for the assassination of King William when hunting at Richmond. This was the plan of one of the Jacobite agents, Sir George Barclay. Some of the conspirators were arrested while William carefully abstained from pushing inquiries. Only those who were palpably connected with the plan of assassination were punished; the mere fact that many suspected persons were allowed to go free caused them to be viewed with suspicion by their fellow conspirators. After the detection of the plot, neither a rising nor an invasion was possible.

It is evident that ever since the removal of King James in the Glorious Revolution, there were various devious plots and plans devised by the former King and his supporters in order to restore Catholicism back to the British thrown. However, those plans, and battles became tiring and it seemed as if the supporters of Protestantism were on the winning side.


The Jacobite recognition

On William of Orange’s death in 1702, Anne succeeded him. The passing of the Acts of Union by both the English and Scottish Parliaments led to the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain on May 1, 1707. The Parliament of the United Kingdom met for the first time in October 1707.

Tensions were high in places following the 1707 Union, which was not fully supported across the country. To make matters worse, George I became King of Britain in 1714. He was a German from Hanover who could not speak English and managed to alienate many people, hence making some people more willing to try to return a Stuart to the throne.

The Earl of Mar had initially been an enthusiastic supporter of George I, but after being publicly snubbed by the new King, Mar decided to back a different horse. In March of 1715 James III ‘the Old Pretender’ petitioned the Pope for money and military aid for a Jacobite uprising to capitalize on this tension. The plan was for two Jacobite uprisings to happen in England. Once the British Army had rushed north to deal with a diversionary uprising, the main uprising in the south of England would start. However, matters soon got complicated. In August, the Earl of Mar returned to his estate in Scotland after failing to convince King George that he was not a Jacobite sympathizer. There he held a council of war with leading Jacobites apparently unaware of James’ plans. On September 6, Mar and other local Jacobites raised the standard at Braemar and caught everyone by surprise. The timing of Mars’ rising was fatal to James’ plans. It pulled parts of the British Army north before the planned diversionary rising. Mars’ Jacobites took Inverness, attempted to take Edinburgh and then headed south to catch up with English Jacobites in northern England. All the action had led to the Jacobites in southwest England being arrested by the government which effectively halted the plans for a main rising in the south.

The Jacobite cause was down but certainly wasn’t eliminated. By 1715, Jacobite actions were steadily becoming stronger, but it would be many decades until they reached their peak. 


Part 2 is coming soon. Now, let us know what you think below.

The Georgian era stretched over a century (1714-1830) of Britain’s history, and as such, it has left behind reminders of the time in the shape of buildings, artwork, and literature that are still popular today. The literary works of this era were often a commentary on Georgian society; however, they could not show all aspects of life in this period, and the same can be said for popular television adaptations today. This article looks at Jane Austen’s television conversions and gives some context to the plot lines, especially the plot lines regarding women. Kate Wainwright explains.

Lady Catherine and Elizabeth from the novel Pride & Prejudice. Image from the 1895 edition of the novel.

Lady Catherine and Elizabeth from the novel Pride & Prejudice. Image from the 1895 edition of the novel.

Part 1: Context

When thinking of the Georgian era, it is hard not to think of the architecture that still stands throughout Britain today – its neoclassical elements and sash windows. This period introduced the iconic townhouses, as well as a variety of civic buildings such as town and concert halls. The four Georges that reigned throughout this period, ruled over Jacobite rebellions intent on restoring the Stuart monarchy, the decline of autocracy which resulted in the Napoleonic wars and the loss of the American colonies, and the dissatisfied working class that was suffering from increasingly low-waged, manufacturing jobs and the fear of being replaced by machinery.

The Luddites were formed in response to the Industrial Revolution, the development of the manufacturing process changing from predominantly handmade, to machine produced. The revolution separated the social classes further, as it allowed the middle and upper classes to enjoy success due to the advancements in manufacturing, but those that were in the working class and below suffered greatly. Many found that their jobs had become more dangerous because of the new machinery - wages generally remained low. Those workers that had been replaced by machines moved to more urban areas to find work resulting in congested and unhygienic living conditions that were prone to disease – specifically cholera epidemics which would rampage through London’s ‘slums’ with abandon, before John Snow’s work in the 1850s. The Industrial Revolution meant that more factory-produced goods were being distributed which, unlike the lower classes, resulted in the middle and upper classes relishing in improved living standards and consumerism for a lower price. 

This period also boasted other advances in technology, such as the development of the steam engine and the introduction of the canal system to transport materials and goods to and from factories. The eighteenth century also excelled in and is famed for, its social activities, such as the theatre and ballet which was accompanied by purpose-built structures. The founding of the Royal Academy in 1768 encouraged artistry to develop and come to be admired. The art of writing also flourished during this time, allowing poets to explore Romanticism: this movement also spread to novelists that were now able to work with more exciting and mysterious storylines. The Georgian era was a time of great change and upheaval with wars and uprisings, and a revolution that changed the way Britain produced goods, affecting the entire population. This period was a perfect climate for the growth of art and creativity which can be seen in the enormous outpouring of paintings, literature and era-defining architecture that gives an insight into the people and issues of this era. Writer Jane Austen’s works were part of this defining movement. Born in 1775, Austen’s life mirrored that of the heroines in her novels. She was part of a close-knit family and had a romance with a man, Tom Lefroy, thought to be too wealthy and high up for someone of Jane’s social standing, being the daughter of a clergyman. Taking inspiration from her own life, Austen wrote and published her first four works anonymously, and her last two, Mansfield Park and Persuasion under her own name after she had died.


Part 2: Marriage

As her narratives revolve largely around the middle class and single young women, marriage plays a huge role in all of Austen’s novels. In Georgian Britain, as in the TV adaptations, a woman of a certain class remaining single for too long was seen as unfortunate and would affect her chances of marrying the longer it took. We can clearly see this reflected in the 1996 adaptation of Emma in the character of Miss Bates – kind but often silly, and viewed by the other characters with a kind of mocking pity. But there was also the matter of finance to consider, which the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (1995) portrayed well with the emphatic and easily panicked Mrs. Bennett. She constantly reminds her daughters that if they did not marry, they could be left penniless as their welfare would be left entirely up to their father’s nearest male relative, Mr. Collins. This storyline highlights perfectly the male-dominated society that Georgian women had to negotiate within. Although there were cases in which women could have their own fortune and property, this was only attainable if they were or had been married. Both adaptations for Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility portray this through Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mrs. Ferris, both grand and well-off widowed women. During this period, upon marriage husbands could arrange a settlement for their wives to live off. However, if a wife became a widow, quite often she would be reduced to poverty had a second allowance not been arranged at the husband’s discretion before his death or at the discretion of his male heir. The Dashwood family in the 1995 Sense and Sensibility illustrated this aspect of Georgian law: they had to rely on the kindness of their half-brother, John Dashwood, which did not amount to very much money in their case.

Often, married couples of this period were brought together because of a variety of scandals, for example, an accidental pregnancy. During this time, local parishes were charged with financially supporting single mothers, but with the passing of the 1733 Bastardy Act, single women were persuaded to declare the father of the baby. The two would then be pressured into marriage; in some cases, the parish would pay the man to go through with it. This particular topic was not touched upon in Austen’s converted works, but the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice did show an aspect of this when George Wickham sullied Lydia Bennett’s name and would only marry her after assuring he received a significant amount of money for doing so. This story line also highlights the 1753 Marriage Act that was intended to stop couples marrying without parental consent, therefore making inter-class marriage harder. However, some couples ran away to another country or to Gretna Green just over the border in Scotland, where parental consent wasn’t needed over the age of twelve years old for girls and fourteen years old for boys. It was the promise of an elopement that Wickham used to get Lydia to go with him, knowing all the while that he would not go through with it without the money. The 1995 version depicted their wedding in a more realistic way than it did her sisters’ wedding, as during this period wedding ceremonies were small and private, usually only including family and a few close friends and nearly always in the morning followed by a wedding breakfast. Thus, Jane and Lizzie Bennett’s double wedding portrayed in this adaptation was quite overcrowded compared to weddings of the time. The same can be said for the 1996 version of Emma.


Part 3: Class

Understanding the class system in Georgian Britain from watching television adaptations of Austen’s works is quite difficult, as the adaptations really concentrate on the middle class and above, which of course could be due to Austen’s target audience being these classes. That being said, the adaptations do highlight the inherent snobbery of Georgian society very well. Take for example the ITV adaptation of Persuasion (2007) in which Anne Elliot was pressured against marrying Fredrick Wentworth, a sailor in the British navy who was considered an unsuitable match for Anne given her father’s distaste for the navy, due to its tendency to raise men from lower classes to distinction through naval victories. This idea that there were disreputable men in the navy underlines the fact that men were often handed over to the navy by the public authorities instead of a jail sentence. Due to its massive size at this point, it was even common for men to be plied with alcohol and tricked into joining the navy; colloquially this was known as the ‘press-gang’. Furthermore, although the Georgian British Navy was incredibly strong, boasting naval victories over the French, a man was more respected among the landed gentry if he was born into his money and status, rather than working his way up. With the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, members of the middle class were rising and gaining prominence without inheriting their land and money. Thus, the snobbery shown by Sir Walter Elliot was not uncommon among members of the elite. This is shown again in Emma and her character’s thin tolerance of Miss Bates, being a poor spinster who lives with her mother. Emma is often praised for her charity towards the Bates family when she bestows her company upon them, often bringing food. This aligns with the growth of charity and philanthropy in the Georgian period. With the development of workhouses – ostensibly an institution designed to care for the poor – and encouragement from the Church, generosity towards the poor was quite common but could be proven to be superficial. Mansfield Park (2007) displays this attitude of tolerance and charity, with the wealthy Bertram family taking in their poor relative, Fanny Price. Her mother could no longer afford to keep her as she had married a poor sailor – yet another reference to the dim view that the upper classes held on those who crewed the navy. Although this act was charitable, Fanny was always reminded that she was from a poor family and should be grateful that the Bertrams had allowed her to live with them. In a way, the charity they gave only confirmed the class difference, a charity kept the classes in their respective spheres. It highlighted the fact that the upper class was providing, out of the goodness of their hearts, and the lower classes were dependent on and should be thankful for them.


Part 4: Skimming the Surface

Period dramas are an enjoyable way to get a feel for a time but understandably they only skim the facts and don’t delve into specific details. Jane Austen’s televised works wonderfully portray the novels they are based on but only show a light, audience-friendly version of the era in which they are set. The adaptations show a wishful idea of marriage as all the main characters manage to marry for love; however, due to certain laws and financial situations, many women were faced with loveless marriages, something which is explored in secondary plots within the narratives. Equally, although the Dashwood family survived virtually unscathed after their father died and they had to rely on his heir for money, many women were ruined and had to resort to other means, including the workhouse, to survive. The class division was a lot larger than represented in these adaptations, and unfortunately, it was a lot harder to marry across classes than is suggested in the television versions. So, although television adaptations do well in representing the Georgian wardrobe, research is advised for a more thorough knowledge of the time.


What do you think of television adaptions based on Georgian Era books? Let us know below.


Nicholas Rodgers, The Press Gang: Naval Impressment and its opponents in Georgian Britain (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2008)






Whether Sweden was truly neutral in World War Two has been the subject of much debate over the years. Following past articles on the role of Spain (here) and Switzerland (here) in World War Two, Kaiya Rai presents the arguments for both sides – how Sweden assisted both Nazi Germany and the Allied Powers.

A Swedish soldier during World War Two.

A Swedish soldier during World War Two.

Sweden, during the Second World War, declared an official policy of ‘non-belligerency,’ meaning that the nation itself was unattached to either the Allied Powers or the Axis Powers. Since the Napoleonic Wars, Sweden had attempted to maintain this policy of neutrality. In those wars, over a third of Sweden’s land was lost, including new Russian control of Finland, and these losses, alongside a coup d’état against Gustav IV, former King of Sweden, meant a new foreign policy of non-belligerency was formed, namely the Policy of 1812. Whether the Swedes, and even the government themselves, steadfastly adhered to this policy is questionable, however, especially in the years 1939 to 1945.

One key feature of Sweden’s lack of neutrality in the Second World War is closely linked with its long history with Finland. Finland was a ‘co-belligerent’ with Germany, meaning that it engaged in the war as support for Germany, due to its nations’ alliance. Evidence points to Finland under Swedish rule from the late thirteenth century, starting with Swedish crusades to Western Finland, securing Swedish rule over the nation and creating a Swedish province. Their rule collapsed on September 17, 1809 as a result of the Finnish War, where, under the conditions of the Treaty of Fredrikshavn, Finland became a semi-independent Grand Duchy under Russian rule with the Tsar as Grand Duke. But, even with the lack of rule over Finland, Sweden still supported the nation, and managed to indirectly help its cause a number of times during the course of the Second World War, undeniably leading to support for Nazi Germany and its allies in the process.


Support for Axis Powers

As opposed to its official government policy, when called to fight in Finland, as many as 8,000 Swedes volunteered, and in response to German pleas for volunteers against the Soviet Union, around 180 Swedes joined the German Waffen-SS. It was always the individuals’ choice to enlist; however, the government also helped in ways such as sending food, ammunition, weapons and medicine to Finland during conflict. While the number of Swedish volunteers was comparatively small compared to some other nations, the country’s willingness to help in the war effort surely points to its obvious lack of neutrality. Even if official government policy stated the country was in a non-belligerent position, the actions of people in a nation are what ultimately reveal the true nature of the attitudes, and these undeniably show Swedish refusal to sit on the sidelines and do nothing.

Another concern for Sweden during the war was trade. At the beginning of WW2, an agreement had been signed by Sweden, the United Kingdom and Germany, in order to sustain vital trade, but Swedish shipping began to be attacked. As a result, trade with Britain reduced by about 70%, and it increased with Germany, culminating in 37% of Swedish exports being to Germany alone. The battle of the Atlantic was what caused Swedish trade to be blocked, but a few vessels, known as ‘lejdtrafiken’ or ‘the safe conduct traffic,’ were allowed through to the United States (until their entrance into the war), and some neutral nations in Latin America.

This leads onto arguably the biggest point concerning Swedish support for the Axis Powers, and why historians are still debating Swedish neutrality during WW2: the iron ore trade. Germany used this ore in its weapon production, and trade form Sweden to Germany eventually became so large that ten million tons of iron ore per year was shipped to the Third Reich. The government did not interfere with the trade because of its official policy of neutrality. British intelligence had identified German dependency on this production of ore, and estimated that Germany’s preparations for war could end in disaster if there were to be a delay in exports. Therefore, the Allies planned to seize the iron ore deposits by using the Soviet attack on Finland in November 1939 as a cover. They planned to gain Norwegian (the ore was shipped through harbors in Norway to reach Germany) and Swedish permission to send expeditionary forces to Finland, under the pretense of helping the Finnish, and once there, they would take control of the northern cities to gain access to the ore and deny German access to it. However, the Norwegians and Swedes realized the danger of allowing an expeditionary force to be sent across their nations and so refused to allow it. Sir Ralph Glyn had even claimed that if iron ore exports were stopped, an end to the war would have been imminent, showing the Allies’ belief in the importance of Swedish trade to Germany, and so eluding to the lack of neutrality of Sweden during the Second World War.

A final point regarding support for the Axis Powers in WW2 concerns Operation Barbarossa, the German plan to invade the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. The Germans asked the Swedes to allow German armed forces to be transported by train through Swedish land, from Norway to Finland. There was huge controversy surrounding what the government should do, and the political debates around the issue became known as the ‘Midsummer Crisis.’ This was the first point in the war where the Swedish government itself, as opposed to simply the people, was asked to reject its foreign policy of six hundred years. The four party coalition that ruled Sweden was in disagreement, with the Conservative and Agrarian parties, the Swedish Foreign Office and Gustaf V all wanting to grant Germany permission. In opposition, the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party wanted to adhere to their foreign policy. In the end, permission was granted to Germany, and thus, the Swedish government showed opposition to its country’s long-held foreign policy.


Support for the Allies and opponents of Germany

Firstly, intelligence played a huge part in Swedish support for the Allies, as military intelligence was shared between them. Due to its ‘neutral’ stance, Sweden was able to gain physical access to Germany, which was useful for both Swedish and Allied intelligence, and the Polish resistance was assisted as employees at factories acted as couriers for messages. Moreover, German telegrams passed through Swedish-leased cables, allowing the Swedes to intercept them, and due to Arne Beurling breaking the cypher code in summer 1940, the messages were understood and the Polish resistance movement conveyed these to the Allies. Another example is when the German battleship Bismarck set off to attack the Atlantic convoys, Swedish intelligence informed the British. In addition, Swedish businessmen, diplomats and emissaries actively spied for the Allies in cities such as Berlin.

Secondly, militarily, Sweden assisted the Allies. They helped to train soldiers, originally refugees from other European nations, and allowed Swedish airbases to be used in the last two years of the war. On June 13, 1944, a V2 rocket being tested by the Germans crashed in Sweden and they exchanged its wreckage with Britain for Supermarine Spitfires. In another instance, the Swedish merchant navy, totaling around 8,000 seamen, found itself outside the Baltic and from May 1940, was loaned to Britain. The Allies began preparing to liberate Denmark and Norway in 1945, and they wanted Sweden involved and so the nation began preparing for ‘Operation Save Denmark,’ where they were to invade Zealand from Scania. Sweden then planned to assist the Allies in the invasion of Norway, and whilst this was not necessary in the end, US planes used Swedish military bases during the eventual liberation.

Finally, an integral part of what creates doubt around Sweden’s policy of ‘non-belligerency,’ was its part in hosting and assisting refugees and Jews who were being persecuted by Hitler and the policy of the Final Solution. Sweden became a place of refuge for these people, and nearly all of Denmark’s 8,000 Jews were brought to Sweden after the order to deport all Danish Jews in 1943. Norwegian and Finnish Jews also fled to Sweden and many stayed there after the war, too. While this shows a lack of neutrality, with its open defiance to Germany’s cause, ironically, it was Sweden’s policy of neutrality that allowed Jews to seek refuge there, as Germany wouldn’t invade the country. Alongside this, many were working to try and persuade German leaders to treat the Jews more humanely, such as King Gustav V of Sweden. Moreover, diplomats such as Count Folke Bernadotte, who contributed to saving over 15,000 prisoners from concentration camps, Raoul Wallenberg, who saved up to 100,000 Hungarian Jews, and Werner Dankwort, who secretly helped Jewish children to escape to Sweden inside wooden crates, were able to use their statuses to communicate with the German government and pass information back to Sweden.



In conclusion, I think it is safe to state that Sweden was only in name, a neutral country during the course of the Second World War. It did aide both sides, however, which is perhaps what has led to the debate surrounding the reality of its neutrality. Arne Ruth argues that “Sweden was not neutral, Sweden was weak,” and Winston Churchill believed that Sweden “ignored the greater moral issues of the war and played both sides for profit,” although this could perhaps be discredited due to the evidence that points to the country’s immense help in saving so many victims of the Nazi regime. We must also consider that WW2 was indeed a ‘Total War,’ and so was there ever any real possibility of any nation within Europe being completely neutral during the period?


Do you think Sweden was neutral in World War 2? Let us know below…

We were recently contacted by an organization seeking funds for a film to tell the story of a World War II veteran, No Roses on a Sailor’s Grave. We thought we would publish their press release in case any of our readers want to support the project (link here).

Image courtesy of Go Button Media, available here.

Image courtesy of Go Button Media, available here.

TORONTO, ONTARIO – Filming has begun, time is running out and help is needed to find a vanished piece of history and fulfill 93-year-old WWII British Navy veteran Patrick Thomas’ dream to finally honor his drowned shipmates.

Conflict archaeologist, historian and former rock star John Henry Phillips, in an impulsive moment fuelled by an unexpected bond, promised Patrick he would find his ship and plant the memorial with Patrick by his side.

If you could help change the life of a WWII Veteran, solve a nautical mystery and honor the memories of a drowned fleet, would you?

To learn more about this incredible story and to help us raise the funds to finish the documentary and transform history, please visit our Indiegogo page here (https://igg.me/at/roses-sailors-grave).

“You don’t get that many chances to change someone’s life and to make sure that they will never be forgotten,” says John Henry Phillips, “If I can find the ship then I can change history and I can change Patrick’s life and his story will be there forever.”

Like many veterans, Patrick came home from the war and got on with his life. He never spoke of the sinking or his later exploits in the Far East until his twilight years. “Very soon this history will be beyond living memory and Veterans will no longer be around,” adds Stuart Robertson, WWII author, historian and battlefield guide.

Patrick assumed his story and the story of his ship would die with him, but meeting John changed everything.

Henry Phillips, 26, is not the usual WWII aficionado. Two years ago, he arrived at a WWII celebration event and found his accommodation double booked. He had nowhere to stay until a complete stranger, Patrick Thomas, offered John his spare room.

A wonderful and unique friendship began. One day, John said to Patrick: “You know, your ship really deserves a memorial.” He then went further; “Patrick, someone should find your ship.” Needless to say, Patrick agreed. John did not know this was just the beginning of an adventure that would take over his entire life.

“When I said to Patrick I’d find your ship it seemed like a pretty simple task: go to France, find where the ship went down, put a plaque up.”

The problems started immediately, John has no idea where to begin building a permanent memorial, where the ship is and he can’t scuba dive. Undeterred and realizing the gravity of his promise and his friend’s age, John’s search for the missing ship has begun and already inspired help from many.


For more information about “No Roses on a Sailor’s Grave” or Go Button Media, please contact: Daniel Oron, daniel@gobuttonmedia.com

Article supplied by Go Button Media, originally here.


Please leave any comments below.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

History from early 19th century America... Vice President Aaron Burr killed a Founding Father in a duel in a state where duels were illegal. The Vice President was not convicted. Then, he was accused of plotting a scheme to create a new territory on the American continent, resulting in a treason trial. Casey Titus explains.

An illustration of the duel between American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and then US Vice President Aaron Burr in July 1804.

An illustration of the duel between American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and then US Vice President Aaron Burr in July 1804.

US Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. Following that, Burr’s reputation was tarnished permanently. He had lost his chance of becoming president. Dueling was outlawed in the state of New York, the sentence for the conviction being execution. New Jersey had laws against dueling but with less severe consequences. Following Hamilton’s death from Burr’s bullet, Burr was charged with multiple crimes, including murder in both the states of New York and New Jersey - but was never tried.

Reputation ruined and guilt-ridden, Burr fled to South Carolina before returning to Philadelphia and then to Washington to complete his term as Vice President. After completing his term in 1805, Burr was drowning heavily in debt and with no future on the east coast due to his destroyed political career, Burr ventured to what was known at the time as the Western Frontier, the regions west of the Alleghany Mountains and along the Ohio River Valley that eventually reached the acquired lands in the Louisiana Purchase. He contacted the British diplomat Anthony Merry, who was living in Philadelphia at the time, and offered him his services in any efforts by Great Britain to take control over the western regions of the United States. Merry, out of his resentment for the United States, told his Foreign Ministry that while Burr was disreputably reckless, his ambition and spirit of vengeance would prove useful to the British government. Therefore, Merry became an avid advocate of Burr’s schemes.


Burr’s schemes in the west

Today, historians debate about what Burr’s exact aims in this expedition were due to the obvious secrecy on Burr’s part and lack of firm evidence against him. One of Burr’s suspected schemes was to organize a revolution in the West, obtain the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys, and structure them into a separate republic. Another scheme was to establish a republic bordering the United States by seizing Spanish possessions in the Southwest or persuade secession of western states from the Union. Perhaps both were true. Burr viewed war with Spain as inevitable and conspired with General James Wilkinson to establish an independent “Empire of the West” on a Napoleonic model by invading and annexing Mexico to add to their empire with New Orleans as the capital.

To gain further support for his schemes, Burr contacted two people. The first was a lifelong friend, General James Wilkinson, who served as aide to then Colonel Benedict Arnold during the Quebec expedition. Wilkinson was the governor of the Louisiana Territory and had already established a history of shady scheming himself such as being involved in a plot to replace George Washington as Commander-in-Chief with General Horatio Gates. The other co-schemer was Harman Blennerhasset, an Irish immigrant who lived luxuriously on an island in the Ohio River near Parkersburg, West Virginia.


An independent Louisiana?

Burr contacted Merry once again and informed him that Louisiana was ready to secede from the United States followed by the rest of the western frontier. For this to happen, Burr requested that Britain provide a $500,000 loan, assure his protection, and dispatch a British naval squadron to the mouth of the Mississippi River. In exchange, Great Britain would receive Louisiana, a former territory of Britain’s enemy, France. Merry gave Burr $1,500, but no response was received from London. The possibility of Burr’s scheme succeeding reduced when Minister Pitt died and was succeeded by Charles James Fox, a lifelong friend of the United States. Fox described the Merry-Burr discussions as “indiscreet, dangerous, and damnable,” before ordering Merry to England on June 1, 1806.

In 1806, Blennerhasset provided Burr funding for the outfitting of a small fleet while Burr’s personal vessel consisted of necessary commodities. Burr’s expedition down the Ohio River Valley consisted of eighty men made up of frontiersmen, filibusters, adventurers, and planters (among others) carrying basic firearms for hunting.

Upon his arrival in New Orleans, Burr was zealously welcomed by the city because his plan to colonize or conquer Spanish territory appealed to many people.


When Washington heard…

Burr’s collusion with Wilkinson turned out to be a poor and catastrophic choice on his part. As rumors of Burr’s plans reached Washington, the political establishment suspected treason in Burr’s plans. Wilkinson was stationed on the Sabine River on the Spanish border with the United States when he caught word of Washington’s suspicions and decided to turn on Burr to avoid being charged with treason himself.

On November 25, 1806, President Thomas Jefferson received a dispatch from Wilkinson that warned of Burr’s threatening plans. Jefferson ordered not only Burr’s arrest and apprehension near Nachez, Mississippi while Burr was attempting to flee into Spanish territory, but anyone who conspired to attack Spanish territory. After charges were brought against Burr in the Mississippi Territory, Burr escaped into the wilderness but was recaptured on February 19, 1807 and taken back to Virginia to stand trial.

Burr’s trial could very well be considered the “Trial of the Century” in the United States as it contained a notable set of key participants:

Aaron Burr (Founding Father, Vice President, Alexander Hamilton’s murderer) – the defendant

John Marshall (Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, the most significant justice in U.S. History) – the trial judge

Thomas Jefferson (Founding Father, author of the Declaration of Independence, President of the United States) – force behind the prosecution

Edmund Randolph and Luther Martin (both delegates to the Constitutional Convention, among the most prominent men of the day) – defense attorney

Charles Lee (former Attorney General) – prosecutor

William Wirt (future presidential candidate) – prosecutor


The trial

On March 26, 1807, Burr arrived in Richmond, Virginia at the Eagle Hotel, lodging with a guard. Two months later, Burr was tried for treason in front of U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall. Jefferson prepared an account of Burr’s criminal activities for Congress and wanted to present it to the court. However, Marshall requested that the President instead make an appearance. Interestingly, the President refused which consequently established a precedent for future presidents. Marshall was not on good terms with President Jefferson and thus, found Burr not guilty, citing that Burr committed no overt act of treason. Although free of the charges brought against him, what little was left of Burr’s political career and reputation was permanently destroyed. He died in New York City in 1836. Wilkinson was successful in averting indictment by the Richmond, Virginia grand jury that investigated Burr. Two years before the trial, Wilkinson was appointed governor of the Louisiana Territory by Jefferson. Despite Wilkinson walking free, the governor neglected his duties which resulted in an angry populace rioting against his mismanagement to the extent that troops were deployed to calm the situation.

Though reappointed by Jefferson, Wilkinson’s administration was openly corrupt to the point of President Monroe ordering him court-martialed in 1811. Once again, he was found not guilty and he returned to his career of scheming, once again attempting to swindle the Spanish by traveling to Mexico City to seek a Texas land grant. While the grant was secured, he died in 1825 before the grant’s provisions were fulfilled. Thomas Jefferson died a year later on Independence Day. The sitting president, John Adams’ son, John Quincy, called it “visible and palpable remarks of Divine Favor.”


What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

While examining the past will not allow us to exactly predict the future, we can identify patterns whose parts could prove useful in understanding contemporary affairs. By considering a key cause of World War I, the War of 1866/Austro-Prussian War, we may be able to see similar patterns in present events and forecast how they could shape the future.

Here, Lieutenant Colonel Sean H. Kuester tells us about Germany and the War of 1866, and contrasts this with Russian actions over the last decade.

The Battle of Koniggratz in the War of 1866/Austro-Prussian War.

The Battle of Koniggratz in the War of 1866/Austro-Prussian War.

"We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let's face it, is mostly the history of stupidity." 

-Stephen Hawking


Stephen Hawking may be right.  Nevertheless, in an effort to change the would be historical trajectory he describes, let’s take a stab at the past to craft a better future.  For the next year, we will remain in the centennial window of World War I (WWI); one of the greatest man-made catastrophes in history.  As such, it’s appropriate to refresh ourselves on how this momentous upheaval came to pass with a view toward understanding goings on in our own time.

There is quite a bit more to WWI’s causes than the standard fare of rigid mobilization schedules and Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination.  While these explanations capture immediate catalytic events, they neglect less visible yet more significant (in their predictive value) underlying causes.  It is in these underlying causes where the true extrapolative lessons lie and where modern strategists may seek insights for contemporary happenings.  One of the underlying causes occurred 71 years prior; the second war of German unification, also known as the War of 1866.  This seven week clash was in its own time, and remains today, replete with both strategic and tactical portents.

However, rather than being viewed as a singular incident it is better regarded as one of several successive gales in a gathering storm of national intent.  This interconnectedness of events as indicators is a salient lesson.  Given the conflict’s brevity and the fact that it occurred in the wake of the political upheavals of the 1848 European liberalist revolutions, most leaders failed to see the more profound implications of this war.  As a result, one of the foundations for WWI was quietly laid.

Waged between Prussia and Austria over the territory of Schleswig-Holstein, which Prussia and Austria won from Denmark in 1864, this short decisive war resulted in the Prussian state securing hegemony over the German speaking peoples of Europe.  Perhaps more importantly, however, the struggle dampened liberalizing effects born out of the revolutions of 1848, namely broad popular support for more representative style governments.  This dampening effect was combined with Prussian influence gained through battlefield preeminence and breathed fresh life into autocratic rule which would manifest itself ultimately in the visage of Germany’s powerful Kaiser.  The temporal extension of this autocratic system allowed an inordinate amount of power to be placed in the hands of a very aggressive and ambitious few.  While the Prussian victory in 1866 did not represent a tectonic shift in the continental balance of power it did indicate one of the first strategic tremors in the second half of the 19th century in Europe.

Prussia would further unify the German peoples by defeating France in 1870-1871, placing itself at increased variance with the great European powers.  Through degrees, which Europe saw but did not directly contest, Prussia consolidated the myriad German speaking states, subdued its weaker neighbors, appeased larger states and in time carved out an empire that challenged the continental order. Viewed in this light, the War of 1866 was the first major point of departure from German disunity to unity. 


Lessons for today?

Are we witnessing manifestations akin to the above scenario today?  The case of a resurgent Russia is instructive.  In 2008 Russia tested the world’s tolerance for her application of force to protect her so called privileged zone of influence when she invaded Georgia.  The world complained, even elevating their outrage to “serious concern,” but did little else. Perhaps the world was not prepared to imagine that only 16 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia could pull this off.    

Western democracies bogged down in Afghanistan seemed disinclined to affix themselves to another conflict and confirmed their assumed passivity regarding a major force on force challenge on the continent; especially one so far East.  Like the War of 1866, the Russian invasion of Georgia was a whirlwind, lasting only 5 days.  Ending as quickly as it started allowed nations to surreptitiously go back to those affairs occupying them before.  Russia had nimbly reasserted herself on Europe’s political stage.  The aftermath is comparable to the relative calm that enfolded Europe after 1866.  This calm in both cases was, of course, a phony edifice concealing loftier designs.

Six years later Russia annexed Crimea and the world complained again.  NATO complained loudly.  However, three years on Russia still controls the Crimea and has flexed her might in the Middle East as well.  She, like late 19th century Germany, seems single-minded in steadily gathering her strength to become a global force.



What next for Russia?

Just as the War of 1866 was not the first nor last act of national intent to achieve Germanic unity, we must ask ourselves, where will Russia cast her gaze next?  The West seems to remain fixated on the stalemate in the Ukraine and Crimea and equally as frustrated with Russia’s involvement in Syria.  In spite of Russia’s clear successes in these areas will the west clumsily glower in those directions? With so much NATO effort on the Alliance’s eastern periphery, will Russia truly attempt to expand “Gray Zone” warfare into the Baltics or deeper into the Ukraine?  Or, might Russia pursue something less obvious and less interesting for the West? 

Perhaps an attempt to consolidate her authority in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is the next increment of expansion; Putin commemorated the Russian-Georgia War by visiting Abkhazia this year.  This is clear diplomatic signaling that this region is in Russia’s sphere of influence.  Or perhaps Russia will attempt something still less predictable such as working to tilt Moldova in her direction.  Moldova has parliamentary elections in 2018, and has been a traditional geopolitical halfway point between East and West.  Or possibly Russia will be content expanding her influence east into the Central Asian Republics (CAR) where she can both grow her prestige, increase economic opportunity, and avoid substantial NATO interference while simultaneously frustrating NATO efforts in Afghanistan.

The point is this: much like 19th century Germany, 21st century Russia possesses a long range national vision that certainly has stages and designs western strategists can discern.  The Georgian War, the annexation of the Crimea, and Russia’s enthusiasm in Syria are not random acts of opportunity, just as the War of 1866 was not uncalculated opportunism.  Russia’s next move will be no less premeditated.


21st century railways

Inclining back to the War of 1866 with a view toward a phenomenon that resided below the strategic echelon, another observation may serve to reframe current events.  One major feature of the War of 1866 was the growing ability to concentrate troops by rail to achieve mass at a point of one’s own choosing.  In Arden Bucholz’s book, Moltke and the German Wars, 1864-1871, he concludes that rail usage was one component of a technological revolution in military affairs.  What then is the significance of rail today?

The key factor of rail in 1866 was that it provided a means to rapidly concentrate that era’s defeat mechanism (land power) where it needed to be before the adversary could counter it. The object for modern strategists, however, is to uncover the 21st century’s comparable means that can deliver this era’s defeat mechanism. 

One modern equivalent of this ability to concentrate a defeat mechanism may be found by splicing two rapidly evolving concepts: the swarm attack and cyber warfare.  The potency of cyber warfare is self-evident and on the rise; its working definition is now generally well enough understood too.  A useful initial definition of a swarm attack is provided by Sean J. A. Edwards in his 2004 RAND dissertation, Swarming occurs when several units conduct a convergent attack on a target from multiple axes.” Swarm attacks are generally viewed as being physical attacks, but that interpretation is now incomplete, outmoded and likely on the cusp of shifting.

The railway of the 21st century may be the internet with the coin of the realm being digitized information and operations (think banking data and air traffic control systems) and the ability to message or influence (think online news, social media and email servers).  So how do swarm attack and cyber warfare conjoin together as a defeat mechanism?  Imagine a scenario where distributed cyber operatives (hackers) use the internet to deliver malware.  Envision further that instead of attacking one sector such as happened in 2015 against the Ukrainian power grid, cyber operatives simultaneously attack multiple sub-systems of a larger more complex system.

What if operatives, for example, instantaneously targeted the health system, telecom industry, natural gas sector and electrical grid?  In fact, such a scenario already played out – this year.  The attack began in Europe and spread to over 100 countries.  The motive in this ransomware attack appeared to be the accumulation of bitcoin.  Imagine though, if the motive had been more sinister, with broader and a longer duration impact being the objective.

Digitally delivered defeat mechanisms can be designed to achieve something akin to what the US Army’s Doctrine Reference Publication 3-0, Operations, calls disintegration which is “…to disrupt the enemy’s command and control system, degrading its ability to conduct operations while leading to a rapid collapse of the enemy’s capabilities or will to fight…specifically targeting…command structure and communications systems.” While it is difficult to imagine a state being “defeated” in the classical sense by a cyber-attack it is easy to conceive use of the internet “railway” to “collapse” a state or institutions’ critical capabilities or as part of a broader campaign or preliminary strike.


The War of 1866 in retrospective

“Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times.  This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions and thus they necessarily have the same results.”  Machiavelli may have been no less jaded than Stephen Hawking regarding the record of mankind’s past.  He did, however, see merit in studying the past.  This work subscribes to Machiavelli’s outlook that clues to the future can indeed be found in the past if strategists ask the right questions and use their imagination.   Historical patterns often repeat themselves.  World War I was not the result of spontaneous combustion. The fuel for this fire was gathered and plainly stacked for all to see over the course of half a century.

The War of 1866 was a primary underlying cause for WWI even though it occurred seven decades previous.  While it did alter the strategic landscape in its overall result, as a single event it did not make WWI inevitable.  Conversely, if viewed as one rung on a larger German ladder of national purpose and aligned with earlier and subsequent events, the case for a European showdown is strong.   Embedded within the conflicts’ day to day operations innovations such as rail transport gave a marked advantage to the state visionary enough to exploit it.

Comparing and contrasting the War of 1866 and other events that contributed to WWI with the case of today’s resurgent Russia is educational.  Considering how modern technology might be leveraged by a state like Russia is equally educational.  Strategists must constantly engage in these types of academic exercises in the pursuit of “why.”  As Phillip A. Crowl concluded in The Strategist’s Short Catechism: Six Questions Without Answers the future cannot be exactly predicted by studying the past; yet, as Crowl goes on to say, “…the study of history will help us to ask the right questions so that we can define the problem – whatever it is.”


What did you think of this article? How are events of the last decade comparable to events before World War One?


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Benjamin Franklin remains one of the most known of the United States’ Founding Fathers. But, before he became a key figure in the American Revolution and Revolutionary War, he spent much of his time in London, United Kingdom. And not too many years ago it came to light that there were human remains in the house where he lived - from around the time he lived there. Casey Titus explains.

A portrait of Benjamin Franklin from 1767. Portrait by David Martin.

A portrait of Benjamin Franklin from 1767. Portrait by David Martin.

From 1757 to 1775, Benjamin Franklin often resided in an elegant, four-story house at 36 Craven Street in London, United Kingdom. Fast forward 228 years later to 1998 when construction on the historic home began as part of a remodeling project to transform the building into a museum to honor Franklin’s legacy.

Approximately a month into the remodeling, Jim Field, a construction worker was working in the basement of the Franklin home when he came across a gruesome discovery – a thighbone sticking out from the dirt floor. A coroner was called in and confirmed that the bone was in fact, human. The police were also called and further investigation uncovered 1,200 pieces of human bone along with a turtle and other animals. In total, there were ten bodies. Six of those bodies were children. Forensic investigation dated the bodies to be more than 200 years old, roughly the time renowned Founding Father Benjamin Franklin resided in this London home.

As a renowned revolutionary against one of the world’s greatest empires and a powerful freemason – the Grand Master of Masons of Pennsylvania - dark secrets can easily be attributed to the face of
the United States’ $100 bill.

Further forensic investigation of the human remains revealed that some of the bones had been sawed into – they had scalpel marks, while skulls had been drilled into. However, the bones with these clean-cut marks also disclosed no signs of healing. Therefore, the dismemberment of the bodies had occurred after death.


Just who did it?

The key piece of evidence of who committed the dismemberment was the mercury in the turtle bones. All of the human and animal remains were linked not to Benjamin Franklin, but a close friend of his by the name of William Hewson. Hewson was an anatomist and the father of hematology. One of his most renowned experiments included injecting a deceased turtle with mercury while recording the element’s travel through the lymphatic system. As a result, Hewson was the first to recognize that animals and humans share a similar lymphatic system.

At the time, conducting autopsies on anyone other than an executed criminal was illegal due to religious fears that a body not fully intact would fail to journey into the next chapter after death. The attempts of anatomists and scientists like Hewson to perform this kind of medical practice had to be performed in secret, and they often resorted to buying deceased bodies from body snatchers and grave robbers.

Benjamin Franklin himself was a scientist and interested in human anatomy. As a result, researchers and an organization called the Friends of Benjamin Franklin found some evidence that Franklin allowed his friend Hewson to conduct secret and illegal autopsies in his London home’s basement. Bodies could be smuggled from graveyards. Then, rather than sneaking the bodies out and disposing of the bodies elsewhere, they buried them in the house to avoid the risk of getting caught and prosecuted for dissection and grave robbing.


Franklin & Hewson – What came next?

There is no evidence to suggest that Franklin was involved in the dissections himself though. In 1774, one year before the United States’ most recognized Founding Father left England and returned to the colonies, Hewson’s passionate pursuit of scientific inquiry would cost him his life, accidentally slicing himself while dissecting a corpse and dying of an infection.

Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in the independence and creation of one of the world’s first modern republics, with the help of his inventive writings. He was also a polymath curious about the world around him would go to many lengths for the sake of knowledge, even harboring illegal anatomical experiments in his basement.


What do you think of the article? Did Franklin allow these experiments in his home while in London?

Russia had followed a different path to much of Western Europe for centuries. However, in the 1690s, Tsar Peter I of Russia wanted to learn more about the region and its navies. This led him to mount the Grand Embassy to Western Europe, in particular England. While there he would learn a lot – and one day that learning would help bring him to greatness. Brenden Woldman explains.

Peter the Great in Holland during the Grand Embassy. Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, 1910.

Peter the Great in Holland during the Grand Embassy. Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, 1910.

Like many young Russian students, twenty-five year old Peter Mikhailov left the confines of his homeland in 1697 to “both learn and experience” the culture and technological advances of Western Europe.[1] However, Peter’s joining of “The Grand Embassy” was one of intrigue and mystery for one major reason. “Peter Mikhailov” was nothing more than the alias of Russian Tsar Peter I. Peter, a man who appreciated the European ethos, wanted this incognito trip to bring back not only practical knowledge of Western Europe but also obtain ideas to turn Russia into a modern European nation.

The undercover aspect of his trip was quickly exposed, as the young Tsar was famously one of the tallest men in Europe, standing around six feet, ten inches. The physical reputation of Peter coincided with his social reputation, as Peter, who was known as a rambunctious “merrymaker”, left any place he visited in good spirits through a copious amount of alcohol consumption and partying. Nevertheless, the majority of the European populace did not notice that the leader of the Russian Empire was walking the streets of Europe as a commoner. These adventures led Peter to the Dutch Republic where he learned the art of merchantry and classical ship building while his ventures in Sweden led to the hiring of naval personnel and the sending of ambassadors to Russia.[2] Though the Grand Embassy was considered a success, one of the most important relationships was forged 10 years prior in 1687, when Russian ambassadors were treated coldly by the French government during a treaty signing.[3] After this treatment, Peter had a personal vendetta against the French, which led to an unlikely but resilient bond between Tsar Peter I of Russia and King William III of England.


Peter in England

William of Orange, the King of England since 1688 and the Dutch stadtholder, was a lifelong cynic toward the French. Once hearing of Peter’s hatred of the French (and his want to reopen economic relations with the Russians), the Prince of Orange was overjoyed to allow Peter to sail from the Dutch Republic and across the English Channel. With this most welcome invitation, Peter set sail and landed in England on January 10, 1698.

Peter’s love of Western culture only advanced during his time in England. His admiration of both England and the West was nothing new, as the young Tsar would send the sons of Russian noblemen to acquire a European education.[4] Peter was no different. During his time in England, Peter was given private tours of English historical and economic sites such as the Royal Society and the Tower of London to view the Royal Mint.[5] The young Tsar also viewed the English military Arsenal, as well as learning about English culture through artistic excursions in places such as Oxford, London, and Windsor.[6] In the realm of science, Peter visited the Royal Observatory at Greenwich due to his interest in using the stars for navigation.[7] However, Peter was shocked with the social and economic relations throughout England.

For the Tsar, England was home of a flourishing merchantry, a free press, an open government, and a cosmopolitan ambiance, which were all things Peter wanted to strive for in his own empire.[8] Hearing open debate among the people upon his visit to the English Parliament left the Tsar feeling elated, stating, “It is good to hear subjects speaking truthfully and openly to their King. This is what we must learn from the English”.[9] Yet, with all of the Tsar’s interests in Westernization, it was in fact one particular aspect of English culture that brought Peter there: the Royal Navy.


Learning about the Royal Navy

Peter left Holland having learned much about the art of shipbuilding but believed that the Dutch had no original theories about naval construction, unlike the English.[10] The young Tsar’s obsession with shipbuilding stemmed from the simple fact that Russia established a national navy in 1696, only two years prior. Needless to say, Peter needed advice on how to build a navy. King William III sent and subsequently gave Peter the Royal Transport, a ship used to carry prestigious guests from Holland to England and one of the most modern ships in the world.[11] This gift became a key example for Russian engineers to build up-to-date ships.

When Peter arrived in England, he moved into writer John Evelyn’s home in Deptford, south-east of London. The reason for Peter moving to a small house in Deptford was that it was close to the dockyards of King’s Wharf, where Peter regularly visited and studied the ships that were being built.[12] Moreover, the Tsar would repeatedly sketch the ships at the Deptford dockyards whilst also studying the “blueprints” of English naval architecture. However, the Russian Emperor did not spend his entire time studying English ships at King’s Wharf. To hone in on naval tactics for military conflict, Peter traveled to Portsmouth.

At Portsmouth, Peter reviewed the English warships, diligently noting the number and caliber of the guns on the ships while also studying mock naval battles tactics, logistics, and strategies, all of which the English specially arranged for the young Tsar just off the Isle of Wight.[13] With the new information about Western culture, naval architecture, and tactics learned in England, Tsar Peter I would return back to Russia and implement them in an attempt to make Russia a modern, European country.


What did Peter the Great take back to Russia?

Peter’s time in England came to an end on April 22, 1698. The immediate reaction by the English government of Peter after he left was one that supported the Russian stereotypes of the time. For the English, Peter was unintelligent, backwards, and frequently drunk. Even on his travels Peter’s party lifestyle could not subside, as he would regularly write about how he “stayed at home and made merry” to such a magnitude that John Evelyn made the British government pay compensation for three hundred and fifty pounds to cover the damage made by Peter’s “merrymaking”.[14] However, though the English may have thought Peter had learned nothing, the Tsar took his newfound knowledge and advanced Russia in profound ways.

The open policies and social relations between the government and the people in England highly influenced Peter in his later years when he implemented his highly influential Table of Ranks. Furthermore, English and Western culture helped shape the young Russian nobility for generations to come - throughout the eighteenth century and beyond. However, the knowledge of shipbuilding that Peter brought back to Russia helped change the country. When Peter returned to Russia, the Tsar established a large shipbuilding program in the Baltic Sea which, by his death in 1725, had 28,000 men enlisted in a Navy of nearly 50 large ships and over 800 smaller vessels.[15] It is also important to note that in Peter’s greatest fight, the Great Northern War against Sweden, the newly established Russian Navy was a key component to the Russian victory in the war. For Peter, the Grand Embassy and his travels in England were more than a mere adventure for a young ruler. They were instrumental in making Peter I into Peter the Great.


What do you think of the article? How important was Peter the Great’s time in England for his later successes? Let us know below.


[1] V. O. Kli︠u︡chevskiĭ, Peter the Great (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), 24.

[2] Lindsey A. J. Hughes, Russia in the age of Peter the Great (Hew Haven Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000), 23-24.

[3] Hughes, Russia in the age of Peter the Great, 25.

[4] Kli︠u︡chevskiĭ, Peter the Great, 29.

[5] "Peter the Great," Royal Museums Greenwich | UNESCO World Heritage Site In London, July 21, 2016, http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/peter-great.

[6] Hughes, Russia in the age of Peter the Great, 25.

[7] "Peter the Great," Royal Museums Greenwich | UNESCO World Heritage Site In London, July 21, 2016, http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/peter-great.

[8] Hughes, Russia in the age of Peter the Great, 23.

[9] Kli︠u︡chevskiĭ, Peter the Great, 28.

[10] Ibid., 29.

[11] "Peter the Great," Royal Museums Greenwich | UNESCO World Heritage Site In London, July 21, 2016, http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/peter-great.

[12] Ibid.,

[13] Kli︠u︡chevskiĭ, Peter the Great, 28.

[14] Ibid., 29.

[15] "Peter the Great," Royal Museums Greenwich | UNESCO World Heritage Site In London, July 21, 2016, http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/peter-great.


As of November 2017, the United States of America had 45 presidents - well technically 44 people as Grover Cleveland was president twice - but there have been 45 presidencies since 1789. But have you ever thought about who ‘ran’ the United States before George Washington took office in 1789? The US called for Independence from Great Britain in 1776. Doing the math, there were 13 years between the Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s term as president, although the early ‘presidents’ began even earlier… Jennifer Johnson explains.

A portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797.

A portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797.


The Start of a New Nation

For many American colonists, declaring Independence from Great Britain was a surprise. Due to treason laws, the men who became known as the Founding Fathers, met in secret while determining how they would fight for independence from the Mother Country. And they knew that once independence was declared, it would be a fight to the finish. Therefore, there was a lot that transpired after the Declaration of Independence, namely the American Revolutionary War. However, even with the US at war with Great Britain, someone still needed to oversee the newly formed United States. So, who could that be? Step forward, the President of the Continental Congress.

Before we get too far into who the presidents before George Washington were, it is important to note that the Presidents of the Continental Congress and the Presidents of the USA ended up with different responsibilities. One reason for this is America, at war with Britain, was not truly independent until the 1780s. Even during the different presidencies of the Continental Congress, responsibilities changed. And one of the biggest differences was the term in office. There were many presidents for short periods before George Washington. The Continental Presidents could stay in office until they resigned or Congress felt a new president was necessary - at least before the Articles of Confederation were agreed.


The Early Continental Presidents

Peyton Randolph is known as the first President of the Continental Congress, or Continental President.  He was given this title in September 1774 when everyone in Congress voted for him to be so. However, in October 1774, Henry Middleton became the second Continental President for about a week, after which Peyton Randolph took over again, this time for a little under a month due to poor health.  Once Randolph resigned a second-time due to his health and headed back to Virginia to be with his family, one of the most famous Founding Fathers took over, John Hancock. Hancock stayed on as president until October 1777. John Hancock did not even step down as Continental President when Peyton Randolph came back for a period of time, though many felt Hancock should have in order to let Randolph assume his responsibilities. Unfortunately, all this debate ended when Peyton Randolph passed away suddenly of a stroke in October 1775. This means that John Hancock was the first President of the Continental Congress to preside under the US after the Revolutionary War broke out and after independence was declared. Henry Laurens was the fifth Continental President and served from the time Hancock stepped down until December 1778. Laurens was succeeded by John Jay, who served until September 28, 1779.  The seventh Continental Congress President was Samuel Huntington, who served from the date John Jay stepped down until a couple months after the Articles of Confederation were ratified in 1781. 


Continental Presidents Under the Articles of Confederation

Once the Articles of Confederation were ratified by all of America’s 13 states, the responsibilities of the Presidents of the Continental Congress began to extend. Thomas McKean was the first Continental President to hold his full term under the Articles of Confederation, lasting from July 1781 to November of that year. John Hanson was the ninth and lasted a year in office, from November 5, 1781 to November 4, 1782.  Then it was the turn of Elias Boudinot from New Jersey, who was in place until November 3, 1783. The eleventh Continental President was Thomas Mifflin, who served as president until June 1784. Unfortunately for Mifflin, he had a tough short term as Continental President as General George Washington resigned in December 1783 and then Mifflin had the challenge of trying to get enough delegates from the states so Congress could ratify the Treaty of Paris. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia was the twelfth and resided in office from November 30, 1784 to November 4, 1785.  The thirteenth was once again John Hancock, who filled the position from November 1785 to June 1786. After Hancock’s second term as Continental President, Nathaniel Gorham took over from June 6, 1786 until November of that same year. The last two Continental Presidents were Arthur St. Clair, who was in office from February to November 1787, and Cyrus Griffin who was president until November 1788.


George Washington becomes President

The famous first President, and truly first president with the title and responsibilities of the President of the USA, took office in 1789 and served two terms as president, until 1797. As the majority of Americans know, George Washington is one of the most famous and heavily researched of all the United States’ presidents. However, Washington was in many ways not truly the first president of United States of America as an independent country. 


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History.com Staff. "John Hancock." History.com. 2009. Accessed October 8, 2017. http://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/john-hancock.

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"President of the Continental Congress." Wikipedia. October 07, 2017. Accessed October 14, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_of_the_Continental_Congress.

"Thomas Mifflin." Wikipedia. October 06, 2017. Accessed October 14, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mifflin.