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The great House of Savoy

The luxurious Savoy Hotel on the Embankment in London was constructed in the 19th century more or less where another famous house had stood until it was burnt down by a furious London mob. That house was called the Savoy too, and it was built by a man important in British history called John of Gaunt (q.v.), a son of Edward III who became Duke of Lancaster and the richest man in England. The hoi polloi burnt the Savoy to the ground because they had been told John of Gaunt was planning to take the throne from Richard II, a grandson of Edward III.

The name Savoy is ancient, and comes from an alpine area in what is now Switzerland and France. It existed from the middle part of the 11th until the 19th century under that name. (more…)

The Visconti

One of the historic Italian families, lords of Milan and Lombardy from the second half of the thirteenth century. The Visconti family was without any doubt the most powerful in northern Italy.

Very early names in the family were Ottone, who was Archbishop of Milan, and Giovanni (died 1354) who was also Archbishop and brought Genoa and Bologna within his jurisdiction. From 1395 they were hereditary Dukes of Milan, and one of the clan – Gian Galeazzo – was at one stage able to threaten the whole of the Italian peninsula. He succeeded his father, another Galeazzo, along with his uncle Bernabó, whom he killed in 1385 in order to rule alone. (more…)

By | 2014-04-01T13:36:06+00:00 September 20th, 2013|British History, History of the Cinema, Italian History|0 Comments


A bit of a dirty word since 1938 but it shouldn’t be. There is enough appeasement going on now over the disgusting situation in Syria to fill the Golden Bowl with appeasers eager to keep Assad Junior happy. It is all rather puzzling. With one Bush, America went with its cautious allies to war against Iraq because Saddam invaded Kuwait. Firepower won, of course, but Saddam’s government remained! Then Bush Jr. went to war with Iraq with equally cautious allies, beat him up, and permitted the locals to lynch Saddam in a particularly horrible way. Now in Syria the Assad boy kills hundreds of fellow citizens every day, even using poison gas to do it, and the world’s committees sit expensively around asking themselves what to do. (more…)

Medieval and pre-medieval Ireland

The English Pope Hadrian started the troubles in Ireland with his bull Laudabiliter /

The English Pope Hadrian started the troubles in Ireland with his bull Laudabiliter /

Before the 5th century, Ireland was virtually unknown, except as a wilderness island too far away and consequently a dangerous target for ambitious figures during the last years of Roman Europe. But it was a fine refuge for storm-bound refugees, and the Norsemen could build a secure base here from which to sally in search of a bloody encounter with the Saxons of England. Both Dublin and Limerick were founded by the Vikings. (more…)

1936: The Remilitarization of the Rhineland

Triumphant remilitarization, the Rhioneland 1936 /

Triumphant remilitarization, the Rhineland 1936 /

The ill-prepared and unfortunate Treaty of Versailles (q.v.) had left the left bank of the Rhine plus an area 50 kilometres deep on its right bank permanently demilitarized by order. This order was made again at the signing of the Treaties at Locarno in 1925. Britain and Italy (!) were to be the guarantors.

German governments since 1918/19 had wished to terminate the demilitarization, for the natural reason that it decreased German authority and, worse, exposed the very centre of German industry (the Ruhr) to a possible French attack. (more…)

The International Brigade(s)

A Brigade section training; note the extreme youth of many of the volunteers /

A Brigade section training; note the extreme youth of many of the volunteers /

Volunteers from countries foreign to Spain rushed from around the world to aid the republican cause during the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1938). Contrary to popular literature’s view, the Brigades were not packed full of European and American playwrights, intellectuals and novelists. Most volunteers came from the working classes. Ernest Hemingway came, but as a war correspondent. Stephen Spender and George Orwell came, but were kept as far away from the front as possible, because the propaganda value of their possible capture to the Nationalist forces would have been great. Poets W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood watched from a safe distance, as indeed they did again, this time from California, during the Second World War. (more…)

Pope Pius the Twelfth



Eugenio Pacelli was born in 1876, and was elected Pope in 1939. He came from a familyprominent for its loyal service to the Vatican. He was ordained priest in 1899 at twenty-three. By 1901 he was already entrenched in the Vatican administration. (more…)

Prime Minister Lord Salisbury

Lord Salisbury /

Lord Salisbury /

Kind Hearts and Coronets is probably the best and blackest of the British 1950s comedies written for the screen. The film tells the story of an illegitimate boy who grows up determined to become a Duke, because his biological father is an aristocrat who refuses to help or even recognise the boy’s poor mother. And become a Duke Dennis Price does, by killing off eight members of a ducal family (all played by a spectacular Alec Guinness) who must be dispatched for him to acquire the title. Each of his victims is called ‘Gascoyne’. It is very likely that the film’s screenwriter was thinking of a certain marquesate when he wrote this name, precisely the Gascoigne-Cecils, one of whom was called Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoigne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury. (more…)

Count Cavour

Count Camilo Cavour /

Count Camilo Cavour /

Camilo Benso Cavour was born in 1810, a Piedmontese aristocrat whose name and mother language were French. It is interesting to note that both Cavour and Garibaldi (q.v.) spoke incorrect Italian. Trained in journalism, Cavour was editor of the newspaper Il Risorgimento by the time he was thirty-seven. (more…)

Curious Anglo-German Agreements

What Grand Fleets used to look like /

What Grand Fleets used to look like /

Why ‘curious’? Because the first was agreed between Britain and Germany only fourteen years before the outbreak of a world war, the first of its kind.  And the second was signed only four years before the next one. (more…)

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