Ding Dong the Witch is Dead


Something for a Halloween weekend.  A rousing rendition of Ding Dong the Witch is Dead recorded by Ella Fitzgerald in 1961.

Composed by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, it was one of several memorable songs written for The Wizard of Oz (1939).  Here is the movie version with My Little Pony clips:


Published in: on October 31, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ding Dong the Witch is Dead  
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Death of Henry V


Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
Comets, importing change of times and states,
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky,
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars
That have consented unto Henry’s death!
King Henry the Fifth, too famous to live long!
England ne’er lost a king of so much worth.

John Lancaster, Duke of Bedford, Henry VI, Act 1, Scene 1

Henry was too famous to live long?  In any event, he did not.  At the age of 35, during his siege of Meaux, he contracted dysentery, always the greatest killer of soldiers before the last century.  He lingered for three weeks before dying in the small hours before dawn of September 1, 1422.  By the standards of his devout age he was judged quite pious in his observation of the Faith.  He was liberal in his alms to the poor and ever gave an attentive ear to the cries for justice of the weak.

He had suppressed Lollardy, his age doubtless viewing the concept of freedom of religion as strange as we would someone asserting a freedom to sell tainted milk or moldy bread.  The overwhelming majority of people in Western Europe were Catholic, which they were certain was the True Faith.  Anyone trying to promulgate another version of Christianity was regarded by those same people as a dangerous purveyor of false and dangerous beliefs that would lead people to Hell.

On his deathbed he expressed only one regret, that he had not achieved his life’s goal of leading a Crusade to redeem Jerusalem. (more…)

Published in: on October 30, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Death of Henry V  
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The Girl Who Reversed Agincourt


Joan was a being so uplifted from the ordinary run of mankind that she finds no equal in a thousand years. She embodied the natural goodness and valour of the human race in unexampled perfection. Unconquerable courage, infinite compassion, the virtue of the simple, the wisdom of the just, shone forth in her. She glorifies as she freed the soil from which she sprang.

Sir Winston Churchill

By the death of King Henry V in 1422 it seemed as if the English had succeeded in conquering France.  Then God chose otherwise.  Three years old at the time of Agincourt, by the time of the end of her short life on May 30, 1431, Joan of Arc had set in motion forces that would result in the utter defeat of the English.  She transformed a squalid dynastic squabble into a crusade for the French.  One of the examples of the direct intervention of God in human affairs, the brief history altering life of Saint Joan of Arc has attracted the admiration of the most unlikely of men, including the Protestant Sir Winston Churchill, and the agnostic Mark Twain who called his book on Joan of Arc the finest thing he ever wrote.  She was not canonized until 1920, but almost all of her contemporaries who met her had no doubt that she was a saint sent by God.  Some of the English who were present as she was burned at the stake cried out that they were all damned because she was a saint.   Jean Tressard, the Treasurer of Henry VI, King of England, wrote the following soon after the execution of Joan:   ”We are all lost for it is a good and holy woman that has been burned. I believe her soul is in the hands of God, and I believe damned all who joined in her condemnation”.  With Saint Joan humanity came into contact with a messenger from God, and the result to her was as predictable as it was lamentable.  However, the outcome of her mission was exactly as she had predicted.  The weak Dauphin that she had crowned would reign as Charles VII and end the Hundred Years War in victory for France, something that none of his contemporaries thought remotely possible before Joan embarked on her mission.  With courage and faith she altered the course of the history of France and of all the world.

On January 26, 2011 Pope Benedict spoke of Saint Joan: (more…)

Published in: on October 29, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Girl Who Reversed Agincourt  
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God for Harry, England and Saint George


The Saint Crispin’s speech gets most of the attention in Henry V, but I have also always admired the “unto the breach” speech.  The performance of it by Jamie Parker, love his interaction with the audience, is the way the speech should be delivered:  a full throated rallying cry:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man,
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger:
Stiffen the sinews, conjure up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage:
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let it pry through the portage of the head,
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide;
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English,
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought,
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument.
Dishonour not your mothers: now attest,
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture: let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit; and upon this charge,
Cry ‘God for Harry! England! and Saint George!’

Published in: on October 28, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on God for Harry, England and Saint George  
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Jane Austen on Henry V


When she was fifteen Jane Austen wrote a satirical history of England.  Here is her passage on Henry V and his son:

Henry the 5th 

This Prince after he succeeded to the throne grew quite reformed and amiable, forsaking all his dissipated Companions, & never thrashing Sir William again. During his reign, Lord Cobham was burnt alive, but I forget what for. His Majesty then turned his thoughts to France, where he went & fought the famous Battle of Agincourt. He afterwards married the King’s daughter Catherine, a very agreeable Woman by Shakespear’s account. Inspite of all this however, he died, and was succeeded by his son Henry.

Henry the 6th

I cannot say much for this Monarch’s sense. Nor would I if I could, for he was a Lancastrian. I suppose you know all about the Wars between him & the Duke of York who was of the right side; if you do not, you had better read some other History, for I shall not be very diffuse in this, meaning by it only to vent my Spleen against, & shew my Hatred to all those people whose parties or principles do not suit with mine, & not to give information. This King married Margaret of Anjou, a Woman whose distresses & misfortunes were so great as almost to make me who hate her, pity her. It was in this reign that Joan of Arc lived & made such a row among the English. They should not have burnt her – but they did.  (more…)

Published in: on October 27, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Jane Austen on Henry V  
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Henry V, Shakespeare and Just War


Five hundred years ago Henry V and his army won an amazing victory over a French army that heavily outnumbered his.  Shakespeare in deathless language has ensured that this victory will be indeed remembered until the ending of the world.  It was a brilliant victory, but was it won in a just cause?

In answering the question we must first examine how the formulation of the Just War doctrine has changed from the time of Henry V to our time.

Over the centuries the precise content of the just war doctrine has varied.  The classic definition of it by Saint Thomas Aquinas is set forth in Part II, Question 40 of his Summa Theologica:

“I answer that, In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Rm. 13:4): “He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil”; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Ps. 81:4): “Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner”; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 75): “The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.”

Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. [*The words quoted are to be found not in St. Augustine’s works, but Can. Apud. Caus. xxiii, qu. 1]): “True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good.” For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 74): “The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.” (more…)

Published in: on October 26, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Henry V, Shakespeare and Just War  
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Agincourt Carol


Something for the weekend.  Agincourt Carol.  Tomorrow is the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt.  You can always tell what is important to the population of a pre-literate society such as England in the 15th century by their songs.  Henry V and his underdog victory against the French were immensely popular with the balladeers of the day and they were instrumental in keeping that victory as a valued part of English history as the years rolled by. (more…)

Published in: on October 24, 2015 at 3:30 am  Comments Off on Agincourt Carol  

Shelby Foote on the Confederate Flag

Published in: on October 22, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Shelby Foote on the Confederate Flag  
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When People Were Property


My friend Dale Price has a blog, Dyspeptic Mutterings.  He sometimes deals with historical topics, and I was struck by this post about a large collection of interviews with former slaves:


Between 1936 and 1938, the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration interviewed over 2000 people who had been born into slavery. The result was dubbed the Slave Narratives Collection. While the interviews are not without their flaws, they are an essential primary source regarding human chattel slavery in the United States. 

Indeed, the Narratives are the largest such collection of slave interviews from any slaveholding society.

The very worthwhile introduction to the Narratives can be read here.

They are organized by the interviewee’s state of residence and can be read at this link. (more…)

Published in: on October 20, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on When People Were Property  
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Star Trek and the Civil War


Long time readers of this blog know that I am a fan of Star Trek and that I have a passionate interest in the Civil War.  Imagine my joy when the fifth episode of Star Trek Continues, fan movies producing new episodes of the original Trek, is set at the battle of Antietam, at least what Kirk and McCoy think is the battle of Antietam.  Enjoy!

Published in: on October 18, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Star Trek and the Civil War  
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