Books I have loved

I have loved books all my life. They have made me laugh and cry. They have had me screaming in anger and frustration and one – I may name it later- got chucked out the window. A friend recently challenged me to name my favourite three books. I failed the challenge, miserably, as I could only cut the list down to ten after several days of deliberation, aided by a couple of glasses of wine. So for those that are interested, here are the final ten, in no particular order.

 

 

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1 The thirty years war: C.V. Wedgewood

The most brilliant narrative story telling of the history of the thirty years war. Every detail is there, every motive examined. History as it should be written.

2 Hotel Savoy: Joseph Roth

A searing view of Europe in 1932. The Hotel Savoy is full of drifters, penniless aristocrats and intriguing revolutionaries all waiting for something to happen.

3 The Tortoises: Veza Canetti

The Nazis have marched into Austria and into the life and home, literally, of  writer Andreas Kain. He has to flee but how and where?

4 The Discovery of Heaven: Harry Mulisch

Religion, friendship, the meaning of life, this books contains it all. And it starts with a conversation between two angels!

5 The Transylvanian Trilogy: Miklós Bánffy

The fall of the idyllic pre-industrial world of Hungarian Transylvania into the Nazis and then the Communists. The crumbling of certainty into self destruction.

(And yes I know I’ve sneaked three books in under the guise of one – I did say I’d failed the challenge.)

6 The Diary of a young girl: Anne Frank

The young woman who inspires me to write every day.

7 Dreamers: Elaine Feinstein

Imperial decline and societal change in 1848 Vienna. Dreamers follows the lives of women and Jews as they negotiate a changing world.

8 The Wide Sargasso Sea: Jean Rhys

The lush heavy atmosphere of Jamaica explores the early life of Antoinette Cosway before she ever saw the England of Jane Eyre.

9 Summer before the Dark: Volker Weidermann

Set in Ostend in 1936 a mix of artists and intellectuals spend the summer dreaming and discussing themselves, their beliefs and the looming spectre of fascism.

10 Peacemakers: Margaret MacMillian

An unflinching look at the Paris Peace conference of 1919. If you want to understand European and Middle Eastern politics today this is the book for you.

 

And the one that got chucked out the window? The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I gave up half way through the first chapter and tried to throw it onto my desk but it slid off out the open window and landed in the garden.

 

——-oOo——–

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How Belgium ‘lost’ the Great War.

In August 1914 German troops crossed the Belgian border and the Great War started. In 1919 Peace Conference in Paris decided on the German reparations, the borders between Romania and Hungary. The worked on the issues of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Austria, Poland and Italy. In April 1919, the Belgian delegates arrived and asked why they had been forgotten.

Almost all of Belgium had been occupied in the war. They had suffered all the usual depredations of war but in addition the German war machine had stripped the country of anything useful including; machinery, factories, transport and livestock. By the winter of 1918/1919 the country was starving and had to rely on food aid from the Allies. By April 1919 demonstrators were on the streets of Brussels with placards that read ‘Has England forgotten August 1914?’

The Council of Four: President Woodrow Wilson; Prime Minister Lloyd George; Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau and Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando had indeed forgotten Belgium. When reminded, their response was less than gracious. Wilson ignored them and concentrated on ‘bigger issues’. This had been his response to many of the smaller countries in Europe and underlined his lack of understanding of European history, politics and geography. Lloyd George thought the Belgians were being greedy in their requests for extending their territory on the German border and was reported to have said ‘Belgium lost comparatively few man in the war… they had not made a greater sacrifice than Great Britain.’ It was a crass remark and did little to enhance his reputation in Europe. Clemenceau supported Lloyd George’s position and suspected that the Belgians were using the peace negotiations to annexe Luxembourg. In one bitter exchange between Clemenceau and Paul Hymans the Belgian foreign minister, Clemenceau told Hymans ‘the best thing you can do for Belgium is die or resign’.

The main demand from the Belgians was to receive war reparations, including a priority payment to get the country on its feet. In Belgium’s case the costs of war included all the borrowing their government had been forced to take on as well as the destroyed industry, agriculture and infrastructure. While Wilson was sympathetic and put forward a figure of $500 million. Lloyd George and Clemenceau disagreed and spent the following years whittling the figure down as much as they could. Germany delayed payment as long as possible and Lloyd George and Clemenceau both refused to put pressure on the Germans to pay. Belgium did not receive its priority payment until 1925 and never received its full payment from Germany.

 

YpresOnFire

The cloth hall in Ypres.

It has never been satisfactorily explained why Belgium was treated so shabbily at the Peace Conference. The Council of Four were tired; they were dealing with several contentious issues; Wilson and Lloyd George had domestic politics that were demanding their attention. This was all true but had been true throughout the conference and Belgium was an ally that had been lauded as ‘plucky little Belgium’ in 1914. The diaries of Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau and Orlando remain frustratingly blank on this issue.

  

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European women’s suffrage

Rumours abound in Britain that a general election is just round the corner. The reaction of many people is: ‘not another election!’ While our politicians may irritate and annoy we should remember just how recent the right to vote is, especially for women. Here is a list of when women were granted the vote in the various European countries.

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1689

 Friesland: Female landowners are allowed to vote in elections to the States of Friesland in rural districts.

1718

 Sweden: Female taxpaying members of city guilds are allowed to vote in local city elections (rescinded in 1758) and national elections (rescinded in 1772):

1734

 Sweden: Female taxpaying property owners of legal majority are allowed to vote in local countryside elections (never rescinded).

1862

 Sweden: limited to local elections with votes graded after taxation; universal franchise achieved in 1919, which went into effect at the 1921 elections.

1863

 The Grand Duchy of Finland ( Russian Empire): limited to taxpaying women in the countryside for municipal elections; and in 1872, extended to the cities.

1864

 Kingdom of Bohemia (Austrian Empire): limited to taxpaying women and women in “learned professions” who were allowed to vote by proxy and made eligible for election to the legislative body in 1864.

1869

 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland: limited to single women ratepayers for local elections under the Municipal Franchise Act. (Partial female suffrage in national elections in 1918; universal franchise in 1928.)

1894

 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland: Local Government Act confirms single women’s right to vote in local elections and extends this franchise to some married women.

1898

 Denmark: Danske Kvindeforeningers Valgretsforbund (Danish Women’s Society’s Suffrage Union) founded in Copenhagen

 Latvia (Russian Empire)

1906

 Grand Duchy of Finland (Russian Empire) (first in Europe to give women the right to vote and stand for parliament as the result of 1905 Russian Revolution).

1908

 Denmark (limited to local elections)

1911

 Portugal: the law was shortly thereafter altered to specify only literate male citizens over the age of 21 had the right to vote.

1913

 Norway

1915

 Denmark (including Iceland) (full voting rights)

1917

 Belarusian People’s Republic

 Estonia

 Latvia 

 Lithuania

1918

 Austria

 Germany

 Hungary Limited to women over the age of 24 who were literate. (full suffrage granted in 1945)

 Poland

 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (limited to women over 30, compared to 21 for men and 19 for those who had fought in World War One; various property qualifications remained/

1919

 Belgium (limited to voting at municipal level)

 Hungarian Soviet Republic universal suffrage to trade union members only

 Isle of Man – all adults could vote or be elected – Widows and single women who owned property could vote from 1881.

 Luxembourg

 Netherlands (right to stand in election protected in 1917)

 Sweden (legalised, first election 1921)

1920

 Albania

 Czechoslovakia

1922

 Irish Free State (equal parliamentary suffrage upon independence from UK. Partial suffrage granted as part of UK in 1918.)

1924

 Spain (limited to single women and widows in local elections.)

1925

 Italy (limited to local elections)

1928

 United Kingdom (franchise made equal to that for men by the Representation of the People Act 1928)

1929

 Romania (limited to local elections only, with restrictions)

1931

 Portugal (with restrictions following level of education)

 Spain (universal suffrage)

1934

 Portugal (suffrage is expanded)

1935

 Irish Free State (equal suffrage at local elections, partial suffrage as part of the UK from 1869, extended in 1918)

1937

 Bulgaria (limited to mothers with legitimate children voting in local elections)

1939

 Romania (women are granted suffrage on equal terms with men with restrictions on both men and women; in practice the restrictions affected women more than men)

1944

 Bulgaria (full rights)

1945

 France

 Italy

 Yugoslavia

1946

 Portugal (expands suffrage)

 Romania (extended to full rights)

1947

 Malta

1948

 United Nations adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 21

 Belgium

1952

 Greece

1959

 Vaud (Swiss canton)

1960s

 Geneva (Swiss canton)

1966

 Basel-Stadt (Swiss canton)

1968

 Basel-Landschaft (Swiss canton)

 Portugal (a select few electoral rights were reserved for men)

1970s

 Andorra

1971

  Switzerland (federal level)

1976

 Portugal (full suffrage)

1984

 Liechtenstein

1991

 Appenzell Innerrhoden (Swiss canton) was forced to accept women’s suffrage by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland

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The Great Polar Explorers

Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen, the great Polar explorers, have left stories of adventure and heroism that have, arguably, never been surpassed. But what drove these three men and why did Amundsen succeed while Scott failed and why did Shackleton survive while Scott did not?

Robert Falcon Scott was an Establishment man through and through. This gave him all the advantages of the British class system at the turn of the century but also laid a heavy burden on him. A Royal Navy officer tasked with maintaining the Empire’s prestige in exploration, Scott seldom spoke of why he wanted to go to Antarctica. Like many men of his class Scott had a peculiar attitude towards some animals. Those that are considered companions animals such as dogs were pets, not beasts of burden. Horses were close to every Englishman’s heart: they could be trained for any task. So Scott decided to use sturdy little Siberian ponies for his polar trip. For some reason he decided there was no need to send Captain Laurence Oates, the horse expert, to buy them. As a result when the ponies arrived Oates said they were as good as useless. What was also an obvious fact, but one that Scott dismissed, was that ponies are herbivores. Vast quantities of hay would have to be transported to the Antarctic to feed them.

When Scott started his polar expeditions neither he nor any of the men on his team knew how to ski. A Royal Navy officer he had few qualifications for polar exploration. With the breezy attitude of his class he felt that they could easily learn to ski when they arrived in Antarctica. Which they did. In contrast Amundsen’s team were all able to ski before they left Norway: they had all been skiing since childhood. In addition, Amundsen’s team had, due to the weather in Scandinavia, vastly more experience in severe cold and blizzard conditions. Once again, Scott felt that his team would acclimatise quickly once they arrived in the Antarctic.

When Scott’s team were approaching the south pole in 1911, they could see something dark up ahead. Were their eyes paying tricks on them? Was it some bare rock? As they got closer they could see it was the remains of a tent with a tattered Norwegian flag. They had reached the south pole, the pinnacle of polar expeditions, only to find out they had been beaten by Amundsen by about 32 days. The photograph taken at the pole shows the emotion on the men’s faces. They were in desperate straits. Five men with no ponies, they had all died, barely enough food to last them to the next food cache and only a four man tent. Emotionally and physically they were exhausted and Captain Oates was already injured. The trek back would see all five of the team die in the icy wastes.

 

Scott's_party_at_the_South_Pole

Ernest Shackleton wrote of the Antartica as the enemy, the great white beast. He said he was drawn to explore the area after a vivid dream. He was not part of the British Establishment having been born and raised in Ireland before the family moved to England. With a background in the merchant navy, he remained something of an outsider. Being outside the British class system gave him a freedom that was not open to Scott. This freedom would play a crucial role in Shackleton’s attitude in his later polar expeditions.

Shackleton’s first expedition had been as an officer on Scott’s trip of 1901-4 from which he was sent home early on health grounds. In 1907-9 during the Nimrod expedition, Shackleton and his team established a new record Farthest South latitude at 88°S, only 180 kilometres from the South Pole. After the race to the South Pole ended in December 1911, with Roald Amundsen’s conquest, Shackleton attempted to cross the Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole in 1914. The expedition’s ship, the Endurance, became trapped and crushed in the pack ice. The crew escaped by camping on the sea ice and then launched the lifeboats to reach South Georgia Island, an ocean voyage of 1,330 km. Led by Shackleton everyone survived. In contrast to Scott, Shackleton readily adopted many of the methods being developed by the Norwegian team, especially the use of dogs, in his later exploration work.

 

Discoveryboat

Shackleton was determined to defeat the Antarctic but when he and his team ran into difficulties he turned back. He wasn’t an Establishment man and thus free from the weight of expectation, he had the freedom to turn back. He was not willing to sacrifice his men to the white beast.

What is most notable about the work of the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen is the preparation, which took over two years. Every part of their kit was tested and re-tested before they set off. Their clothing was made from sealskin designed to mmimic the clothing of Greenland Inuits. Their sledges and skies were made from Norwegian ash and American hickory. The combination of these two woods giving the greatest amount of movement without slippage. They developed tents with built-in floors that required only a single pole, vastly superior to the tents used by Scott. And for cooking on the move, they used the Swedish Primus stove which took up less pace on the sleds. Most notably Amundsen used dogs instead of ponies. As carnivores the dogs and could be fed on seals, fish and penguins. Once in the interior of Antarctica, when the dogs were worn out and no longer able to pull their sleds they were slaughtered and feed to the other dogs. A rationale solution to feeding them. For the trip to the south pole Amundsen’s team used one hundred North Greenland trained sled dogs.

Amundsen_in_fur_skins.jpg

Roald Amundsen was a skilled explorer, a good leader and had spent years preparing for the south pole expedition. His success in reaching the pole was one that unfortunately was eclipsed at the time by the tragic death of Scott. It has now, quite rightly,   been recognised for the remarkable achievement it was.

Should Scott be blamed for the actions that cost him and his team their lives? Or was he a victim of his time and class that coloured his decisions regarding sled animals, early preparation and stopped him from learning from the previous Norwegian expeditions? Did Scott care more concerned for success than the lives of his men? In contrast, was Shackleton too concerned with safety rather than pushing on his exploration? Amundsen achieved what neither Scott nor Shackleton could. Was that down to leadership, luck or superior equipment? The final word rests with Shackleton who called Amundsen ‘perhaps the greatest polar explorer of today’.

—oOo—

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The Putten Raid

On the night of 30 September 1944, the Dutch resistance ambushed a car carrying two officers and two corporals of the German Wehrmacht near the Oldenallerbrug bridge between the village of Putten and Nijkerk. One of the officers, Leutenant Otto Sommer was injured in the ambush but escaped and made his way to a nearby farmhouse where he raised the alarm. Although not thought to be seriously injured he died on the 1st October. The second German officer. Oberleutenant Eggart was taken prisoner by the resistance fighters. He had also been injured. On the 1st of October he was left at the roadside relatively near to a checkpoint. He was subsequently found by the Germans and recovered from his injuries. The two corporals fled during the ambush. One of the resistance fighters, Frans Slotboom, was wounded during the attack and later died.

On the afternoon of the 1st October a German reprisal raid was conducted.  General Friedrich Christiansen ordered his troops to surround the Putten. All of the inhabitants of the village were rounded up and marched into the village square. Six men and a woman were shot dead during the raid. Over one hundred houses in the village were set alight. The women and men were then separated. The women were held at the church until 9pm, while the men and boys were detained separately nearby at the village school. The following day, 661 men between the ages of 18 and 50 were taken to Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Amersfoort camp. On the 4th October  59 of the older unfit men were released. The remaining 602 men left Amersfoort on the 11 October and were taken by train to Neuengamme concentration camp as forced labour. During the transportation, 13 men escaped by jumping off the train. From Neuengamme, some were moved to other camps or sub-camps, including LadelundBergen-BelsenMeppenVersenBeendorfWöbbelin and Malchow. Although none of the men were known to be in the resistance the Germans treated them as if they were and the men were subsequently used for slave labour as well as being deliberately tortured.  Several of the men were kept in small cages at the camps which prevented them from standing and kept them in stress position for prolonged periods in some cases months.  A total of 552 men and 1 woman died, mostly victims of torture, malnutrition, slave labour and infectious diseases. Only 48 men  returned after the end of the war, but another 5 died due to their mistreatment after they arrived home. Of those who had been kept in the cages, all were crippled for the rest of their lives.

A monument commemorating the victims of the raid was unveiled by Queen Juliana on 1 October 1949. The monument includes a memorial park designed by Jan Bijhouwer. The garden includes 660 symbolic graves and a sandstone statue the ‘treurende weduwe’ (mourning widow) by Mari Andriessen, better known as ‘het Vrouwtje van Putten’ (The little Lady of Putten). The statue looks toward the Oude Kerk (Old Church) in Putten, from where the men were deported.

VrouwtjevanPuttenVrouwtje_van_Putten_Herdenkingshof_Dorpsstraat_OudeRijksweg_Putten2

—oOo—

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Rewriting

Well I’ve finally finished the rewriting of my witchcraft book, which is now sitting on my publishers desk,  so no longer have an excuse for not blogging. The rewriting had been a very interesting process looking at my previous work and seeing how it could be changed and improved in light of new information that I have discovered and also new perspectives I have gained since I originally wrote the book some ten years ago.

Writing is a real craft and I strive to work on and improve with each new piece of work I  produce. I have been very lucky. I have friends  who have given me honest advice and feedback on what I have written. I also read and absorb  the comments I receive from strangers even if I don’t always agree.

So I will be back blogging soon on various topics and look forward to getting back to reading some of the amazing content on the blogs I follow.

 

 

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Writing pressures

Well I haven’t posted for quite some time. Does this mean I’m a very busy writer or just a disorganised one?

While I’ve been away I’ve completed two articles for the Saunière Society’s Journal . One about the mystery teenager Kaspat Hauser from 19th century Nuremberg and the other about Ecsedi Báthory Erzsébet from Transylvania.

I’ve also been writing about the history of weaving in Scotland for an exhibition on woollen mills.

I’m in the midst of rewriting my book on the Scottish witchcraft trials of the 17th century, The Borders Burnings.

I’m planning out a future book inspired by a friend who has been researching his family tree.

And finally I’ve just received confirmation of my book commission on the history of Stow of Wedale; a rural parish in the lovely Scottish Borders.

So maybe I can safely claim to be a busy writer after all, even if I am also a disorganised one!

UnderwoodKeyboard

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The right to self-determination

The phrase ‘all nations have the right to self-determination’ has been around for one hundred years since it was first coined by American president Woodrow Wilson as he prepared to sail to Europe for the Paris Peace conference of 1919. But what did Wilson mean by this phrase and is it any clearer today?

 

Woodrow_Wilson,_New_Jersey_Governor_-_1911 (2)

In 1919, Europe was reeling from the horrors of the Great War; the Tsarist regime in Russia had collapsed into revolution; the Austro-Hungarian Dual monarchy had dissolved into its constituent parts; new countries had emerged in central and eastern Europe; national borders had shifted and the victorious powers were keen to punish the Germans and to grab whatever spoils they could especially in the Middle-East. Into this cauldron of confusion Wilson’s grand statement rang out but what did it mean? What defined a nation? The people that lived in a geographical area? People that share a language, or an ethnicity or a religion? And what did self-determination mean? Your own government in an independent country? Your own government within a larger political structure, as Bohemia had been in the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy? And how is that self-determination achieved? In Wilson’s day it was predominantly men but how would they vote? First past the post can deliver results that favour a minority position. In multi-ethnic states, e.g. Serbia, proportional representation could effectively disenfranchise certain minorities. And then of course there were those messy complicated  human beings who could define themselves in three different ways, live in a country but speak a different language or didn’t agree with the boundaries as they were drawn by far away civil servants.

If all of this seems like an exercise in historical navel gazing then consider some of the questions around in Europe today. For those in the UK who voted to leave the EU, take back control and regain their sovereignty we know there is no consensus on what those phrases  means. For some in Scotland self-determination has been achieved by the return of the Scottish parliament to Edinburgh. For others, the Holyrood parliament is merely a stepping stone along the way. For some of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland self-determination will only be achieved when they join a completely different country. How can the issues of self-determination be finally settled  in Catalonia? The response of the Spanish Government to the 2017 referendum exposes the difficulties when self-determination comes up against an established larger ethnic group. And when we look at the Middle-East, one of the great victims of imperial greed, we see the tragedy that is Israel where the right to self-determination of the Palestinian and Jewish people are in direct opposition to each other.

History has a long reach and the past one hundred years in Europe has seen the consequences, some good and some bad, of the decisions taken at the Paris Peace Conference. Great phrases such as ‘the right to self-determination’, ‘take back control’ and ‘Brexit means Brexit’ have their place as political slogans and in rousing speeches but when the applause dies down it is time for some quiet reflection, some measured discussion and some clear explanations.

We live in a crowded Europe and the right to self-determination, no matter how strongly held, needs to be pursued with at least one eye on the consequences for our neighbours. Self-determination cannot be used as an excuse for, at best, the toleration of ‘others’ and, at worst, their exclusion and expulsion. At the end of 1919, Wilson, never a man to admit his own faults, told the US Congress that he had not considered the practical consequences of his famous phrase or that so many ‘nations’ would appear demanding their right to self-determination. Perhaps it might be an idea if some of our politicians learned a little of his humility.

——-oOo——-

For a more detailed look at Wilson’s attitudes to self-determination see Peacemakers by Margaret Macmillan, (John Murray publishers, 2002).

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Maria Theresa: the benevolent despot

Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina was the only female ruler in the House of Habsburg. An absolutist monarch, she nevertheless introduced a series of reforms across the Habsburg dominions that saw the lives of the peasants improved to a degree not seen across most of the rest of Europe.

Kaiserin_Maria_Theresia_(HRR)

Within months of her succession to the throne, Maria Theresa faced two major economic problems; the loss of the highly productive territory of Silesia and the  widespread abuse of manorial rights by the nobility. To tackle the first issue she introduced a series subsidies to entice the textile trade to move from Silesia to Bohemia. Guild privileges were restricted allowing non-Guild workers the opportunity to

enter the textile trade. The opening up of this trade then allowing landless peasants greater job opportunities as they filled the unskilled vacancies left by the semi-skilled who moved into the textile trade. This increase in work and opportunities for greater diversity in work stimulated more growth encouraged and financed by Jewish entrepreneurs. The second big initiative was the regulation of noble privileges vis-à-vis peasant well-being. This was a highly contentious issue and one that Maria Theresa was initially reluctant to address but several instances of peasant unrest convinced her to act. Peasants were forced to work for their lords for a set number of days a week ‘Robot work’. In some instances this could amount to three or four days a week leaving the peasant unable to cultivate their own land and subsequently earn enough to pay their taxes.  In 1771-78, a series of ‘Robot Patents’ were issued by Maria Theresa these patents regulated and restricted the amount of peasant labour the nobles could demand in the German and Bohemian parts of the realm. (The issue remained contentious in Hungary.)

More reforms followed. If peasants were to be more productive they needed to be educated and a series of educational reforms were introduced.  Previously, the existing, non-compulsory, primary schools had been run by the Catholic Church. Maria Theresa established compulsory and secular primary schools. Education became compulsory for children of both genders from the ages of six to twelve. However, this particular reform was not universally liked. Many peasants wanted their children to work in the fields instead. While those not sending their children to school could be arrested, in many rural areas this was ignored.

Maria Theresa also introduced many health improvements. After the smallpox epidemic of 1767 she had her own children inoculated, changing the opinion of many. Mass inoculation was introduced, often overseen by the army as many peasants remained fearful. However, by the end of her reign the mortality rates from communicable diseases amongst the poor of the cities was lower than in many comparable states in western Europe. Another major health benefit was the prohibition of the use of lead in any eating or drinking vessel. A measure that was again introduced earlier than in many other states.

While these reforms obviously benefitted the countries finances they also benefitted the individual peasants. Moreover, at their heart, these reforms recognised peasants as autonomous individuals who had the right to work their own land and to chose their own path in life. They saw peasants as people deserving of an education, no matter how basic and of health protection. Maria Theresa was an absolutist monarch and an arch-conservative, but she was also a child of the Enlightenment. The reforms she introduced were based on rational beliefs that recognised the basic humanity of the peasants of her dominions and afforded them a degree of respect and dignity.

——-oOo——-

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Bertha von Suttner

In these troubled times it is sometime good to remember those who work for peace. Bertha von Suttner was a writer, pacifist and the first women to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Bertha Felicitas Sophie Freifrau von Suttner (Baroness Bertha von Suttner),  was born on 9 June 1843 at  Kinský Palace in the Obecní dvůr district of Prague.

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Her parents were the Austrian Lieutenant general Franz de Paula Josef Graf Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau and Sophie Wilhelmine von Körner.
Soon after her birth, Bertha’s mother moved to live in Brno. Due to a series of gambling debts the family were forced to move to Vienna. The family moved to Wiesbaden in 1859 but continued financial hardship caused them to relocate to a small property in Klosterneuburg.
Bertha initially decided upon a career as an opera singer rather than marrying into money and undertook an intensive course of lessons. However, although relatively talented her voice was not good enough for a professional singer.  In 1873, she found employment as a tutor and companion to the four daughters of Karl von Suttner.
Bertha fell in love with the girls’ elder brother, Arthur Gundaccar. They were engaged but unable to marry due to the disapproval of von Suttner. Eager to break the relationship, in 1876 von Suttner encouraged, Bertha to become secretary to Alfred Nobel in Paris.  However, she soon returned to Arthur and married him in secrecy, in the church of St. Aegyd in Gumpendorf.
The newlywed couple settled in Kutaisi, where they found some work teaching languages and music to the children of the local aristocracy. However, their situation was somewhat precarious and worsened in 1877 on the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War. In August 1882, they decided to move to Tbilisi. Here Arthur took whatever work he could, while Bertha concentrated on her writing. Her first significant political work, Inventarium einer Seele (Inventory of the Soul) was published in Leipzig in 1883. The work argues for the inevitability of world peace due to technological advancement; a possibility also considered by her friend Nobel due to the increasingly deterrent effect of more powerful weapons.
After the Bulgarian Crisis began in 1885 the couple felt increasingly unsafe in Georgian society, which was becoming more hostile to Austrians due to Russian influence. They finally reconciled with Arthur’s family and in May 1885 returned to Austria, where the couple lived at Harmannsdorf Castle.
After their return to Austria, Bertha continued her journalism and concentrated on peace and war issues, corresponding with the French philosopher Ernest Renan and influenced by the International Arbitration and Peace Association founded by Hodgson Pratt in 1880.

In 1889 her pacifist novel, Die Waffen nieder! (Down with Weapons!), was published which made Bertha one of the leading figures of the Austrian peace movement. Emboldened by the positive reviews Die Waffen nieder! had received, she called for the establishment of the Austrian Gesellschaft der Friedensfreunde pacifist organization in an 1891 Neue Freie Presse editorial. In 1892, she founded and became chairwoman of the German Peace Society. She also became editor of the international pacifist journal Die Waffen nieder!, named after her book. In 1897 she organised a petition calling for the establishment of an International Court of Justice. She presented Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria with the petition. In 1899, she took part in the First Hague Convention.
In 1902, Arthur died and Bertha moved back to Vienna. In 1904, she addressed the International Congress of Women in Berlin and spent seven months travelled and lecturing across the United States. She gave a speech at the universal peace congress in Boston and had a meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt.
On 18 April 1906 in Kristiania, Bertha was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1907, Bertha attended the Second Hague Peace Conference and in 1911 she became a member of the advisory council of the Carnegie Peace Foundation.  In the last months of her life she helped organise the next Peace Conference, intended to take place in September 1914. The conference never took place.
Bertha von Suttner died of cancer on 21 June 1914. She argued that a right to peace could be demanded under international law. That demand remains unfulfilled today.

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