Old-style church reminiscent of English country parish chapel

The Episcopal Church of the Nativity, located in small-town Union, SC, reminds one of a rural English parish church.

Built in Gothic Revival style, its cornerstone was laid in 1855 but construction was halted during the War Between the States. Featuring rusticated granite, the church was completed shortly after the war and features diagonal buttresses, steep gabled roofs and a Louis Tiffany stained glass chancel triplet window.

There is even a good-sized bell in its tower that can be rung from the ground by pulling on the old-fashioned rope that extends to the ground.

The church’s characteristics – its small size and “intimate relationship between the building and surrounding landscape, in particular – are said to derive from English parish-church architecture of the 1300s, which was a model for small churches built in the US in 1840s and 1850s, according to National Register records.

Stained glass window, Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Union, SC.

The English influence isn’t surprising given that two of the key individuals behind the construction of the Church of the Nativity were sisters Charlotte Poulton and Mary Poulton Dawkins, recently arrived in antebellum South Carolina from England.

The Tiffany triple window is behind the altar and features shades of green, gold, crimson, blue and purple. In the central bay of the window is the Good Shepherd, while Sts. John and Peter are shown in the right and left windows.

The church’s white Carrara marble font was carved by noted sculptor Hiram Powers and ordered by Mary Cantey Hampton, the wife of Revolutionary War hero Wade Hampton I, for Columbia’s Trinity Church. It proved too small and was given to the Church of the Nativity, according to National Register records.

Powers divided the font into three design units – the base, column shaft and font itself. All are octagonal and each is filled with carved sacred motifs.

The church cemetery contains the graves of many veterans, including one from the War of 1812, several Confederate soldiers, and some from World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

Among Confederates in the graveyard is William Munro, an infantry and artillery officer who was wounded at least four times but survived to go on to serve as a bank president and several terms in the state legislature following Reconstruction.

Also buried at the church is Pvt. Alpheus Cushman, a New Yorker who served with Co. B of the 7th US Cavalry Regiment. The 7th US Cavalry was among military units sent to Upstate South Carolina during Reconstruction following the declaration of martial law in response to Ku Klux Klan violence in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

Cushman, a farrier, was said to have fallen in love with a Union County girl, but grew ill, and his illness prevented him from marrying her, though it could also have been possible that the girl’s parents weren’t keen on their daughter being betrothed to a Yankee so soon after the war.

Whatever the case, Cushman is said to have taken his own life out of despair, on May 20, 1871.

After his death, the members of his company asked that they be allowed to give their compatriot a Christian burial. Locals agreed, but stipulated that they would choose the plot.

Cushman was not only buried in the far corner of the cemetery, but his grave was placed north-south, unlike typical Christian burials, and every other one at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, which is east-west.

Of course, the 7th US Cavalry would gain notoriety a little more than five years later, when more than 260 members of the unit were wiped out at Little Bighorn.

Agincourt’s intangible impact continues to make itself felt

battle of agincourt

Sunday marked the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt in which a badly outnumbered English army overcame and routed French forces, ensuring their place in history, thanks in no small part to later generations of (English-speaking) writers and actors.

Shakespeare’s Henry V, with the namesake’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, which includes the famous line “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” alone guaranteed collective immortality for those English and Welsh who, outnumbered by an estimated six-to-one, cut down the flower of French nobility in one of the great battles of the Hundred Years’ War.

But, as famed author Bernard Cornwell, who has himself written a thing or two about late medieval warfare, opined in The Telegraph, there was little glorious about what happened on the battlefield in northwestern France on Oct. 25, 1415:

Legend says Agincourt was won by arrows. It was not. It was won by men using lead-weighted hammers, poleaxes, mauls and falcon-beaks, the ghastly paraphernalia of medieval hand-to-hand fighting. It was fought on a field knee-deep in mud, and it was more of a massacre than a battle. Olivier’s famous film shows French knights charging on horseback, but very few men were mounted.

The French came on foot, and the battle was reduced to men battering other armoured men with hammers, maces and axes. A sword would not penetrate armour and did not have the weight to knock a man off his feet, but a poleaxe would fell him fast and then it was a simple enough job to raise the victim’s visor and slide a knife through an eye.

That was how hundreds of men died; their last sight on earth a dagger’s point. It is not a tale of chivalry, but rather of armoured men hacking at each other to break limbs and crush skulls. At the battle’s height, when Henry V expected an attack on his rear that never materialised, he ordered the newly captured prisoners killed. They were murdered. Agincourt was filthy, horrible and merciless, and it is still celebrated as a golden moment in England’s history.

For all its fame, Agincourt’s effect was short-lived. Seven years after the battle, Henry V was dead. Seven years after his death, the French, inspired in part by Joan of Arc, broke the siege of Orleans, which began to turn the tide against the English.

The final battle of the war, a French victory, took place in 1453, and left the English with little in the way of Continental possessions beyond the port city of Calais.

When it was all said and done, France was in the process of being transformed from a feudal monarchy to a centralized state, while England found its coffers depleted, the war having forced the crown to tax its citizens obscenely to fund the conflict, begun in the 1330s, and thousands of Englishmen were dead.

Yet, Agincourt has remained a rallying cry for English leaders, soldiers and citizens for six centuries and will likely remain so for at least as long, if not much longer.

Such are the whims of history.

(HT: To the Sound of the Guns.)

The brutal reality of Medieval warfare


Anyone who questions the brutal nature of medieval warfare need only read The Economist’s description of the fate of a Lancastrian soldier killed at the Battle of Towton during England’s bloody War of the Roses:

The soldier now known as Towton 25 had survived battle before. A healed skull fracture points to previous engagements. He was old enough – somewhere between 36 and 45 when he died – to have gained plenty of experience of fighting. But on March 29th 1461, his luck ran out.

Towton 25 suffered eight wounds to his head that day. The precise order can be worked out from the direction of fractures on his skull: when bone breaks, the cracks veer towards existing areas of weakness. The first five blows were delivered by a bladed weapon to the left-hand side of his head, presumably by a right-handed opponent standing in front of him. None is likely to have been lethal.

The next one almost certainly was. From behind him someone swung a blade towards his skull, carving a down-to-up trajectory through the air. The blow opened a huge horizontal gash into the back of his head – picture a slit you could post an envelope through. Fractures raced down to the base of his skull and around the sides of his head. Fragments of bone were forced in to Towton 25’s brain, felling him.

His enemies were not done yet. Another small blow to the right and back of the head may have been enough to turn him over onto his back. Finally another blade arced towards him. This one bisected his face, opening a crevice that ran from his left eye to his right jaw. It cut deep: the edge of the blade reached to the back of his throat.

Though relatively unknown today, the Battle of Towton has been described as “probably the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil.”

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Stolen Stradivarius recovered in England

Min-Jin Kym

Nearly three years after a Stradivarius was stolen while its owner dined on a $4.50 sandwich in a London train station, the $1.9 million violin has been recovered.

The instrument belonged to internationally acclaimed violinist Min-Jin Kym.

The violin was recovered with minor damage from a property in Central England late last month after British Transport Police “acted on a line of enquiry.” Further details about the investigation were not disclosed.

Kym was eating at a train station with her boyfriend on Nov. 29, 2010, and had placed the black case holding the Stradivarius and two bows valued at more than $100,000 on the floor next to her. A couple of minutes later, it was gone.

A 32-year-old man and two teens were arrested in 2011 in connection with the theft, but the Stradivarius was not recovered at that time.

However, English officials believed that it had not been taken from the country and focused their search within the UK, according to a press release issued by British Transport Police.

“Kym bought the violin in 2000 for $1.14 million, her life savings,” according to The History Blog. “She had been playing the Stradivarius since it was first loaned to her when she was a teenager (her international debut was with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra when she was just 13 years old).

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UK official warns Scots against leaving Union

scotland money

British finance minister George Osborne wielded the cudgel of fiscal insecurity to warn Scots against voting for independence.

Scotland runs the risk of ceding control of much of its economy if it chooses sovereignty during a referendum next year and remains in a “currency zone” using the British pound – the preferred option of the pro-independence Scottish government.

Osborne also warned there was no guarantee that the rest of the United Kingdom would accept such an arrangement.

Speaking in Glasgow, Osborne said choosing such a path could result in Scotland ending up like Panama and Montenegro, which use the US dollar and the euro, respectively, but neither has control over policy, according to Agence France-Presse.

In case anyone in attendance was unclear where Osborne, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, stood regarding Scotland’s 300-year-old union with England, the British Conservative politician made it crystal clear.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t break it,” he said.

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Notre Dame de Paris begins jubilee year

notre dame de paris

Despite not looking a day over 700, the famed French cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris Wednesday began a year of celebrations to mark the 850th anniversary of its founding.

Dignitaries, tourists and Parisians gathered in the thousands Wednesday for a ceremony and Mass to celebrate the history of the Gothic landmark, which was begun in 1163 during the reign of Louis VII. Construction did not finish until the middle of the 14th century.

To mark the jubilee year, the cathedral features new, improved lighting, a viewing platform and a renovated organ. Officials expect an additional five million individuals to visit the church in the coming year, according to Agence France-Presse.

Over the centuries Notre Dame has been witness to much history:

  • In 1185 Heraclius of Caesarea, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, sounded the call for the Third Crusade from the still-incomplete cathedral.
  • In 1431, English monarch Henry VI was crowned King of France. Not only did he not keep his hold on France for long, but he eventually lost his title to England, as well. Continue reading

Interactive map shows scope of London Blitz

London Blitz

Glancing at a recently created interactive map showing the location of bombs dropped on London during The Blitz one wonders how anyone survived the barrage of Luftwaffe ordnance.

“When you look at these maps and see the proliferation of bombs dropped on the capital, it does illustrate the meaning of the word Blitz, which comes from the German meaning lightning,” said Kate Jones, the University of Portsmouth geographer who devised the project.

“It seems astonishing that London survived the onslaught,” she added.

The year-long project, called Bomb Sight and devised using data from the UK’s National Archive, reveals the devastation caused by The Blitz over a little more than eight months, according to the BBC.

More than 20,000 people were killed, more than one million London homes destroyed or damaged and 1.4 million left homeless during Nazi bombings of London, which took place between Sept. 7, 1940, and May 21, 1941.

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British hoard turns up coin from 32 BC

Included in a massive hoard of coins discovered in Bath, England, five years ago is one silver piece that dates back to before the birth of Christ, researchers recently learned.

A Roman coin dating from 32 BC is the oldest found so far from among the approximately 22,000 pieces unearthed in a stone-lined box by archaeologists working in Bath in 2007, according to the BBC.

That makes it more than 200 years older than any of the other coins already examined from among the so-called Beau Street Hoard, according to Stephen Clews, manager of the Roman Baths.

The silver coins are believed to date from 274 AD and have been described as the fifth-largest hoard ever found in the United Kingdom, according to the BBC.

The coins were fused together and sent to the British Museum, according to media outlet. Conservators are expected to take at least a year to work through them.

The coins were discovered about 150 yards from the Roman Baths, the BBC added.

The previous oldest coin found in the hoard was from about 190 AD but that figure has had to be revised considerably with the discovery of the coin dating back to the time of Marc Antony, Clews said.

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Vast store of ancient English works online

The Parker Library holds a collection of priceless manuscripts, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the earliest history written in English, to the St. Augustine Gospels, said to have been brought from Rome to England by the Catholic saint in 597.

In a decidedly modern touch, the library’s entire collection, among the most impressive anywhere in the world, is accessible online.

The library was entrusted to Corpus Christi College in 1574 by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury under Elizabeth I.

It contains more than 600 manuscripts, along with such items as letters from King Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn and Protestant firebrand Martin Luther, and the bill for burning Thomas Cranmer in 1556, according to the University of Cambridge.

The Parker Library put its library online in 2010, becoming the first research library to have every page of its collection captured digitally.

One of the key works in the Parker collection is the ninth-century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, thought to have been commissioned by Alfred the Great as he pushed for greater use of the language through educational reforms.

The Chronicle is considered the single most important historical source of the period in England between the departure of the Romans and the decades following the Norman Conquest.

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UK scientists: Mass grave holds Vikings

The south English county of Dorset is noted for being home to Thomas Hardy, the famed writer who used bucolic descriptions of the region in many of his novels, including Tess of the d’Urbervilles and The Return of the Native.

It’s also the site of a mass burial ground for dozens of Viking mercenaries, decapitated en masse and placed in shallow graves a millennia ago.

The burial site features the bodies of 54 men who were decapitated and their heads piled to one side. It was discovered in 2009.

Carbon dating and isotope tests revealed the bodies were Scandinavian and dated from the 11th century, according to the BBC.

This coincides with the period in which Vikings were constantly attacking Anglo-Saxons on the English south coast. It is believed the men were captured during an attempted raid into the area.

The skeletons are all of males, with almost all aged from their late teens to around 25 years old, with a handful of older individuals.

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