Caravaggio: The Artist as a Doomed Man

Caravaggio was a commissioned artist who depicted the standard religious iconography of his day yet he was to turn that standard on its head for his subject matter was always secondary to the emotional outpourings of a man beset by demons; and painting with a passion that tore at the very fabric of the material of his imaginings he committed self-mortification as exoneration from a life set upon the path of self-destruction the sins of which he could not confess with any sincerity.

Michelangelo Merisi was born in Milan on 29 September 1571, but raised in the town of Caravaggio in Lombardy from which he derived his name. His family were prosperous and well-connected and were to remain so despite the death of both his mother and father before he reached the age of 14, by which time he was already serving a four year apprenticeship in the studio of the artist Simone Peterzano in Milan.

Working to strict guidelines and copying the work of other artists was something that bored him but regardless of his frustrations he was delighted to be in Milan away from siblings he disliked intensely and the anger he felt toward his dead parents for abandoning him.

In Milan he became fascinated by street life particularly it’s darker, seamier side and often intoxicated would indulge his passions both physical and emotional with a violence that would inevitably lead to trouble and when in the summer of 1592, an altercation led to him being arrested for injuring a Law Officer he fled Milan for Rome rather than remain and face justice.

Rome with its great wealth sitting uncomfortably alongside grinding poverty, its many taverns and brothels, its pickpockets and charlatans, its splendour and no little piety provided opportunities much more to the liking of a struggling but ambitious artist. It was said that Caravaggio arrived in Rome “naked and needy” but he soon found employment as a studio hack turning out works of dull orthodoxy barely worthy of his talents – a view he wasn’t shy in expressing.

His barber provides us with an early sense of the swaggering, self-confident Caravaggio:

“This painter is a stocky young man with a sparse black beard, bushy eyebrows, and dark eyes. He wears black clothes which are a bit shabby and wears his hair loose and long at the front.”

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But it wasn’t long before he was discovered by Cardinal Francisco Maria Del Monte, a close friend of Pope Clement and an enthusiastic patron of the arts who had been impressed by a number of Caravaggio’s early works such as The Fortune Teller and The Card Sharps which had proved hugely popular.

The religious art of the Catholic Church which had long been used not only to beautify the faith but overwhelm the people with its majesty and had since become the front-line in the propaganda war against the Protestant Reformation, and Caravaggio was to become its greatest exponent for no one could provide the dirt under the fingernails, make the blood so real, or martyrdom and redemption so pained and yearned for, as the man who sought sin for its own sake.

Discarding convention he painted with the power of the eye refusing to distort the truth to create idealised images to placate the desire of his patrons, an approach that was to see many of his commissions unpaid or returned for re-touching. For example, The Groom’s Madonna commissioned to hang in St Peter’s was removed after just two days following complaints with a Vatican secretary writing:

“In this painting there is but vulgarity, sacrilege, impiety, and disgust. One would say it is the work of a painter who could paint well but is of a dark spirit who has been for a long time far from God.”

But his paintings spoke a truth, the truth as he knew and experienced it, and his methods were as unconventional as his lifestyle. He rarely took time to prepare, he did no preliminary drawings, and his models were the street waifs, the whores, the crooks and the gamblers that infested the alleyways and taverns he knew so well.

Paintings such as The Martyrdom of St Matthew and The Crucifixion of St Peter brought the brutal reality of the gutter to the artist garret even if some thought them vulgar and irreligious to the point of blasphemy. Regardless of the criticism Caravaggio was fast becoming the most famous painter in Rome – and he revelled in it.

Floris Claes van Dijk, a contemporary of Caravaggio’s described him at the time:

“After a fortnights work he will swagger about for a month or two with a sword at his side and a servant following him , from one ball-court to the next, ever ready for a fight or an argument, so it is most awkward to get along with him.”

Being the friend of Cardinals and men of influence had done little to moderate his behaviour in fact it made it worse believing he now had a status worthy of respect and could act with impunity.

Along with his gang of thugs he would roam the streets of the city at night intimidating others and engaging in fights, a traditional rite of passage for the young bloods of Rome.

When a waiter at the Taverna del Moro who brought him a dozen artichokes, half soaked in butter and half in olive oil answered his question which was which with the dismissive, “Why don’t you smell them and find out,” he exploded in anger throwing the plate at the him, overturning the table, and drawing his sword threatening to cut him.

In 1605, sued by his landlady for six months unpaid rent he responded by throwing stones at her window and calling her out as a whore.

When one of his competitors, the artist Giovanni Baglione (who Caravaggio contemptuously referred to as Johnny Baggage) was commissioned to paint the altarpiece, the Resurrection of Jesus, for the II Gesu, or Church of the Jesuits in Rome a jealous Caravaggio launched a vitriolic campaign of disparagement him mocking his work in public, bad-mouthing him in taverns, and posting scurrilous verses around the city. Baglione sued him for libel and despite Caravaggio refusing to apologise saying “I don’t know anyone who thinks Baglione is a good artist” he was found guilty, fined, and imprisoned for six weeks.

Released from confinement on the promise of good behaviour he carried on much as before and strings continued to be pulled to extricate him from one difficulty or another but he overstepped the mark when on 29 May 1606, in a fight over a woman he killed a local street thug, Ranuccio Tomassoni.

Now wanted for murder and with a warrant issued for his arrest he became subject to a Banda Capitale which permitted any citizen of the Papal States to kill him and deliver his head to receive the reward that had been posted.

But it wasn’t just the law he now had to fear but the Tomassoni Clan who sought a death for a death.

There was now little his friends could do for him and he fled Rome for Naples where his connection to the powerful Colonna family (his father had previously worked for them) he would at least be safe from prosecution but little protection could be provided from those who sought to do him harm in a city crawling with assassins and cutthroats for hire.

Naples was delighted to have procured Rome’s most celebrated artist and the commissions rolled in but despite producing some of his best work Caravaggio was scared and feared for his life, and with good reason. He chose not to remain long and after six months in Naples he left for Malta perhaps believing that the sea would provide greater security.

Still the famous artist he was once again feted even being initiated into the Knights of Malta but his newly elevated status did little to improve his character and arrested for assaulting another knight he was briefly imprisoned before engineering his own escape he took ship for Sicily.

His reputation as both a celebrated artist and a madman went before him but the Sicilians were willing to embrace the former while turning a blind eye to the latter and for a time he was free to work and did so furiously his paintings becoming ever darker in both theme and brushstroke, as if he were a man on borrowed time – he slept fully clothed, his sword at his side or beneath his pillow, for in offending the Knights of Malta and evading justice he had made another dangerous enemy.

In October 1609, he returned to Naples but not long after his return just as he had feared he was attacked by a gang of assassins in the notorious Cerriglio Tavern and so badly beaten that he was not only facially disfigured but was reported to have been killed.

Now desperate to return to Rome he contacted influential friends to beg Pope Paul V on his behalf to exonerate him of his crimes. He would even be willing to pay recompense to the family of his victim.

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In the meantime, in acts of apparent contrition he painted Salome, with the Head of John the Baptist and David, with the Head of Goliath – with the severed head in both cases drawn in his own image.

By the summer of 1610, believing a pardon imminent he set-off for Rome with paintings he intended to distribute as gifts – but it wasn’t to be.

On the journey north the ship taking him to Rome stopped off at the port of Palo where going ashore Caravaggio was arrested in a case of mistaken identity. Unable to await release he bribed his way out of prison only to discover the ship had gone on without him. In some distress he set off in pursuit.

On 18 July, suffering from a fever Caravaggio was found slumped on the beach at Porto Ercole in Tuscany. Taken to a nearby hospice he died soon after, aged 38.

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The Agincourt Carol

An English folk song written soon after the Battle of Agincourt to commemorate Henry V’s famous victory over the forces of the French King Charles VI:

Owre Kynge went forth to Normandy
With grace and myght of chyvalry
Ther God for hym wrought mervelusly;
Wherefore Englonde may call and cry

Deo gratias!
Deo gratias Anglia redde pro victoria!

He sette sege, forsothe to say,
To Harflu towne with ryal aray;
That toune he wan and made afray
That Fraunce shal rewe tyl domesday.
Then went hym forth, owre king comely,
In Agincourt feld he faught manly;
Throw grace of God most marvelsuly,
He had both feld and victory.
Ther lordys, erles and barone
Were slayne and taken and that full soon,
Ans summe were broght into Lundone
With joye and blisse and gret renone.
Almighty God he keep owre kynge,
His peple, and alle his well-wyllynge,
And give them grace wythoute endyng;
Then may we call and savely syng:

Deo Gratias Anglia redde pro victoria!
England, give thanks to God for Victory!

Christina Rossetti: Remember

Christina Rossetti was a great Victorian poet of love and loss who lived her life in the shadow of her more illustrious father, Gabriele Rossetti.

Her mother, Frances, was the sister of Dr John Polidori, the friend of Lord Byron who was present at the Villa Diodati on the night that Mary Shelley first conceived the idea of Frankenstein.

Christina Rossetti is best known now for composing the words to what would later become the Christmas Carol ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ and for the short poem that follows:

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that we planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that I once had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than you should remember and be sad.

Ante Pavelic: The Butcher of the Balkans

Of all ‘Hitler’s Quislings’ none was more fanatical or brutal than Ante Pavelic, the Croat nationalist whose policy of ethnic cleansing was so severe that even the Nazi Government in Germany felt obliged to intervene in an effort to moderate his behaviour. During his four years in power more than a million Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies were murdered, some 11% of the population whilst hundreds of thousands more were herded into Concentration Camps or forced to flee. It was with good reason he became known as the – Butcher of the Balkans.

Ante Pavelic was born on 14 July 1889, in the town of Bradina some 30 miles south-west of Sarajevo, where despite himself being an ethnic Croat most of his neighbours were Muslim. Indeed, he claimed to have been greatly influenced by Islamic culture and ideas.

Educated in the Jesuit Seminary at Senj, in 1905 he travelled to Zagreb to read law but health problems frequently interrupted his studies, the same ill-health that would prevent his participation in World War One.

Whilst in Zagreb he joined the Hrvatzka Stranka Prava, or Croat Party of Rights, a political entity to the extreme right of the political spectrum which advocated Croat separatism at a time when Croatia, like much of the Balkans, formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire where following the end of the First World War and its subsequent disintegration a new political formula had to be found.

Much to the ire of the Croat Nationalists on 1 December 1919, the territories of Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, parts of Macedonia, and Croatia were merged with Serbia to form the South Slav State of Yugoslavia.

The most powerful element in the new Yugoslav State was to remain Serbia, however – it had a Serb King, Aleksander Karadjordjevic, a Serb dominated parliament, and Serbs held most of the important government posts.

From the outset Pavelic was opposed to the new regime, he sought an independent Croatia, nothing else would do, and certainly not being governed by an ethnic grouping he considered inferior to his own.

In 1927, he was elected to Zagreb City Council and later in the same year to the National Assembly in Belgrade where he spoke loudly and often in favour of greater autonomy for Croatia but found the Serb dominated Government unwilling to consider any relaxation of its grip on power.

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In February 1929, he travelled to Italy where he was introduced to prominent figures within the Vatican and had a personal meeting with Benito Mussolini. He was greatly impressed with the Italian Dictator and when it was suggested by Mussolini that he should form his own fascist party in Croatia with his tacit support he did not hesitate.

Upon his return, and modelling it on the Italian Blackshirts, he transformed the Croatian Youth Movement he had already founded into the paramilitary Ustase, or Insurrection. The time for talking had come to an end, action was required.

On 14 October 1934, King Aleksander was assassinated in Marseilles whilst on a State visit to France by an Ustase agent. Pavelic was immediately suspected of involvement, and he had indeed bribed an official in the French Police to relax the security around the King, a warrant was issued for his arrest and in Italy at the time he was briefly detained but the Authorities refused to extradite him and he was later released.

With war looming and faced by ethnic tensions at home on 26 August 1939, the Yugoslav Government at last yielded and granted limited autonomy to Croatia but it was to prove too little too late.

Despite its attempts to remain neutral during the war the Yugoslavs finally succumbed to German threats and signed the Tripartite Pact on 24 March 1941, aligning itself with the Axis Powers but a great deal of anti-German sentient remained from the previous war so it came as little surprise that supported by riots on the streets of Belgrade and other major towns two days later the Serb dominated Army overthrew the Government.

The Germans who had already drawn up plans for an invasion of Yugoslavia now implemented them.

On 6 April the Luftwaffe bombed Belgrade killing 12,000 civilians, that same day German, Italian, and Hungarian forces invaded the country. The Yugoslav Army ill-prepared, ill-equipped, and forced to fight on three fronts were soon in disarray and Ante Pavelic was quick to exploit the chaos.

In an address broadcast on Italian Radio he called upon those Croat soldiers in the Yugoslav Army to mutiny:

“You must support your German and Italian allies – turn your guns not against the invaders but those Serbian soldiers and your Serbian Officers.”

On 10 April, German troops occupied Belgrade and no sooner had they done so than in his absence Pavelic’s deputy Slavko Kvaternic declared Croatian independence. Henceforth, Croatia was to be the Sovereign State of Nezavisna Drzava Huratska and on 15 April, Ante Pavelic arrived to take control, the following day the Yugoslav Army surrendered.

It was not Pavelic’s decision however, and who would govern the nominally independent Croatia would remain the determination of Adolf Hitler in Germany and he was not the Fuhrer’s first choice and it was only Mussolini’s intercession on his behalf that saw him appointed Poglovnik, or leader.

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From the beginning Pavelic’s priority was his programme of national purification, to make Croatia fascist, catholic, and ethnically homogenous, and for this he required little encouragement from the Nazis. All alien elements within the Sovereign Territory of Croatia were to be eradicated. This meant primarily Serbs and Jews but also Gypsies, opponents of the regime, and undesirables. This process of ethnic cleansing would be the responsibility of the Ustase and they embarked upon it keen to live up to their motto – kill a third, convert a third, expel a third. This did not necessarily apply to ethnic Serbs for whom they said they had both a bullet and a grave.

Both Serbs and Jews were forced to wear distinguishing arm bands, Gypsies were simply killed out of hand.

People were rounded up often with the cooperation of the Catholic Church with priests not only preaching sermons in support of the National Purification Programme but often indicating to the Ustase where the undesirables resided or might be hiding, and in the first few months alone tens of thousands of people were slaughtered often in the most brutal way bayoneted or bludgeoned to death.

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There were times when the new Croatia resembled an abattoir, so much so that the German Commander in Croatia Edmund Glaise von Horstenau reported to Berlin that the Ustase had gone raving mad.

At the Jasenovac Concentration Camp alone, more than 80,000 prisoners were beaten, starved, and worked to death.

Believing that the behaviour of the Ustase would engender resistance to the regime that could otherwise be avoided the German Government suggested to Pavelic that he curb their activities and slow the progress of his National Purification Programme.

The resistance they feared had already materialised however, in the form of the Chetniks under the command of the Royalist General Dragoljub Mihailovic and the Communist Partisans led by Josip Broz Tito.

A greater fear of communism than fascism was to see the Chetniks begin to collaborate with more than resist the Ustase but even so the opposition to N.D.H rule was to prove so effective that Pavelic was never fully in control of the country.

Under pressure he was forced to impose a scorched earth policy on his own land and thousands of Croat farms were destroyed and their livestock slaughtered in an attempt to starve the Communists into submission, but even with the support of tens of thousands of German and Italian troops he was unable to crush the resistance of Tito, a fellow Croat.

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As the war on the Eastern Front turned against the Germans Pavelic became increasingly marginalised and the rapid advance of the Red Army saw him flee Belgrade on 15 April, 1945.

Seeking refuge once more in Rome he was provided with protection by his contacts in the Vatican and despite his whereabouts being known to the Allies no attempt was made to apprehend him.

He was to remain in Italy until 1948 when provided with a false passport by the Catholic Ratline for refugee Nazis he was smuggled out of the country to Argentine where he settled in Buenos Aires. There working as a security adviser for the Government of Juan Peron it seemed that he had escaped justice but in 1957 he was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt by agents of the Yugoslav Government.

Fearing for his life he now fled to Franco’s Spain where in hiding on 28 December 1958, the Butcher of the Balkans died of complications resulting from his wounds.

War in the Vendee

At the height of the Revolution conflict erupted in the Vendee, an isolated rural region on the West Coast of France.

It was a Civil War, a war within a war, and one that would experience the full savagery and horror of the Terror.

A s with any Civil War no one issue defines it but in the Vendee religion was more important than politics or any residual loyalty to the Crown and the Ancien Regime, though the latter would come to represent the former.

As early as 27 November 1790, the imposition of the Oath of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy which subordinated the Roman Catholic Church in France to the Revolutionary Government had split society and despite widespread violence and intimidation just 54% of the priesthood had taken the Oath and only 7 of 160 Bishops.

In the countryside opposition to the Oath was even greater with 25% of priests taking it whilst in the Vendee it was just 10%.

As far as the Government was concerned this widespread rejection of the new Ecclesiastical Order could not and would not be tolerated but already in conflict with external enemies the Revolutionary Government had no desire to wage war on its own people and so negotiations were under way with the Vatican in Rome to try and find a solution to the impasse.

Pope Pius VI was no friend of Revolution however, and rather than intervene he informed the French representatives, and indeed Louis XVI with whom he was in direct communication, that despite being the successor to St Peter he had no authority over the independent Gallican Church other than moral.

He would not seek to intervene, he would not publicly endorse the Civil Constitution, and he would not even suggest that the Catholic Church in France should do so. Instead, it would be left to the individual priest to look to his conscience.

He would later denounce the Revolution in its entirety, however.

The reaction of the Revolutionary Government and its supporters in France, in particular its more radical elements amongst the working class Sans-Culottes and Bras Nus of Paris and other cities was to increase the persecution of refractory and non-juring priests and many hundreds were to be attacked and killed over the next few months.

Royalist agents were to use these persecutions to prey upon the fears and anxieties of a deeply conservative peasantry.

But it was not to be the persecution of the clergy, the virulent de-Christianisation campaigns, or even the execution in January 1793 of Louis XVI that was to drive the Vendee into open revolt but the implementation of the levee en masse.

The introduction of the levee en masse on 24 February 1793, was an emergency measure designed to conscript 300,000 men to oppose the Austrian and Prussian that had invaded France and were threatening the very survival of the Revolution itself.

The Vendean peasantry deeply resented their young men being forcibly dragged off to fight an enemy they had no quarrel with and for a cause they didn’t support.

For many months they had seen their women attacked for attending Mass, their Churches closed, and their priests arrested or forced to go into hiding.

All this they believed was being imposed on them by the bourgeoisie of the towns – the tax collector, the land speculator, the blood-sucking merchant whose own sons weren’t being conscripted.

Rumours soon began to spread that the agents of Government were not Catholics at all but Protestants, Jews, and Freemasons.

Threatened by enemies from without the people of the Bocage sought solidarity with one another and the ‘Protestant Plot’ as it became known was ably exploited by Royalist spies based at Avignon, Comtat Venaisson and various other places who provoked the resistance and provided arms.

Although religion had not been the cause of the war it soon became the focus of the resistance and its influence cannot be underestimated.

For the devout Catholics of the Vendee not being able to fulfil their religious duties was a serious matter but the degree to which the ensuing conflict also reflected genuine support for the Royalist cause is less difficult to ascertain.

After all, the Revolution and many of the changes it brought had actually benefited the peasantry. It had seen the abolition of the tithe, the 10% tax levied on the land, the ending of feudal dues and of the hated Gabelle or Salt Tax. All of which they had earlier complained about in their Cahiers de Doleances, or letters of protest to the King.

But the geographical isolation of the Vendee, the peculiarity of the weather, and the unusual relationship between peasant and landlord in that particular part of the country had negated much of the impact of the agricultural reforms.

Attempts to impose the levee en masse were to prove the final straw.

On 11 March 1793, Republican troops billeted in the town of Machecoul were attacked and massacred.

It was the beginning of the War in the Vendee.

Calling for ‘Good priests, no militia, and the drawing of lots’, in their initial demands there was no mention of the Royalist cause and it was only after they had requested their help that the battle cry changed to – For Our Priests, Our King, and the Old Regime.

Essentially a peasant insurrection the rebels had widespread support and by the late March numbered as many as 10,000 but they were disparate, separated into four armies, and with no central command.

They were also poorly armed reliant upon knives, pitchforks and captured Republican muskets and cannon, and though they were to be joined by 300 Emigre Royalist Cavalry the arms they had been promised never arrived in sufficient quantities to make a difference.

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With no uniforms they wore either the sacred heart on their lapels or the white cockade of Royalism in their hats to distinguish themselves from the – hated ‘Blues.’

Religion was to dominate throughout the rebellion and many of its leaders were referred to by religious titles. For example, the Marquis de Lescure became the Saint of Poitou whilst Jacques Cathelineau was the Saint of Anjou.

The war was come to be seen in terms of a religious Crusade, as indeed was all opposition to the Revolution, and when a similar revolt broke out in the South-East of France under the leadership of General Charrier his army became known as the ‘Christian Army of the Midi.’

The Republican Government in Paris was quick to respond to the threat posed by the rebellion in the Vendee and determined to stop it spreading had by the second week of March already despatched 45,000 men to the West.

But this was a barely trained, hastily cobbled together gathering of raw recruits, more a mob than an army, and so they were to prove.

More interested in banditry than fighting they soon dispersed all over the Vendee raiding farms, burning homes, and sowing discontent in regions of the West that might previously have been considered loyal.

When they did encounter the rebels near Nantes on 19 March they were routed.

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The following day the different rebel factions operating in the Vendee merged to become the Grand Army of the Vendee under the command of Jacques Cathelineau.

The 34 year old Cathelineau, a man of dubious reputation having in the past been a smuggle and trader in contraband goods living beyond the law was however a charismatic figure and a devout Catholic, so much so that he was known to his friends as – The Missionary.

Outraged by the execution of Louis XVI and the treatment of priests in the Vendee many of whom he knew personally he raised his own army and joined the rebellion with great early success taking the towns of Chemille, Cholet, and Vihiers.

Both dashing and courageous he seemed the obvious choice to lead the new Grand Army soon to change its name to the Catholic and Royal Army of the Vendee, though it never had a formal command structure and many of his rivals disagreed.

With a landscape of often impassable narrow lanes, high hedgerows, and waterlogged and muddied fields the Vendee, also known as Bas-Poitou, was a difficult place to fight and Cathelineau who knew it well exploited to its utmost as Republican forces stumbling around in ignorance of the terrain became isolated, were ambushed and cut to pieces.

When they did face the Vendee Army in battle they were more inclined to flee than fight and went down to heavy defeats at Thouars and Saumer.

In the wake of these defeats the towns of Angers, Niort, and Fontenay soon fell and for more than six months almost the entire Vendee was in rebel hands.

They stumbled however when in June they attacked the city of Nantes, a bloody affair that was to cost them dear when Cathineau believing he was surveying a captured landscape was shot dead by a sharpshooter to be replaced by the more cautious and less effective, Maurice d’Elbe.

Reports of their success not only inspired similar if less widespread rebellions elsewhere but the Royalist Turin Committee led by the Comte d’Artois, the executed Louis XVI’s brother, who had so miserably failed to support earlier insurrections in Lyon and Rouen now desperately sought to co-opt the Vendee Rebellion in the cause of the Bourbon Restoration sending Royalist Agents with messages of encouragement and support but neither the arms nor the troops they had requested.

Empty words mean nothing and their always lukewarm embrace of the Royalist cause simply cooled further. They were not fighting for any King past or present but for their religion and Bons Pretres, or Good Priests, so much so that often after a victory they would disperse and return home to their villages to say prayers and sing te deums.

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On 19 August 1793, the Committee of Public Safety in Paris responding forcefully to the setbacks in the West charged Jean-Baptiste Carrier with the pacification of the Vendee by any means necessary including its complete destruction.

When he asked for clarification he was told in no uncertain terms – the orders mean what they say.

Carrier invaded the Vendee with 150,000 troops who were not the disorganised rabble of before but well trained and committed revolutionists who would carry out their instructions to the letter, and those instructions were unremittingly harsh: the land was to be laid waste and the enemies of the people put to death – men, women, and children.

Farms were raised to the ground, crops destroyed, livestock stolen or slaughtered, and the people massacred in their tens of thousands – shot, bayoneted, guillotined, or torn apart by artillery.

On 17 October the Vendee Army was badly defeated at the Battle of Cholet and what remained of it joined by thousands of refugees fled further west now under the command of the 21 year old Henri de la Rochejaqueline when d’Elbe, seriously wounded, was left behind to be executed by the pursuing Republicans.

Some 25,000 men, women, and children now made for the port of Granville where they had been told by Royalist Agents that a British Fleet lay offshore and an Emigre Army was waiting to assist them; neither materialised and after unsuccessfully besieging the port for a time they were eventually cornered by the Republican Army and forced to fight.

On 23 December, at Savenay they went down to a catastrophic defeat and the mopping up operation that followed was to be far more brutal and bloody than the battle had ever been with any priests or those recognised as combatants executed out of hand.
When the Republican General Tureau asked Carrier what was to be done with the women and children he was told:

“Eliminate the brigands once and for all. That is your duty. None can be spared.”

And none were.

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But the executions were taking too long and musket ball was expensive so he had had thousands of prisoners lashed to barges that were towed into the River Loire and sunk where they drowned.

In January 1794, the Officer commanding in the Vendee General Westermann reported to the Committee of Public Safety:

“I have crushed the children and massacred the women. They will not give birth to any more brigands. I no longer have prisoners to reproof me. I have exterminated all. The roads are sown with corpses. Mercy is not a revolutionary sentiment.”

Despite the destruction of their army the Vendeans continued to resist fighting a very effective guerrilla war led by an ex-Officer of the Swiss Guard, Jean-Nicholas Stofflet but even working in unison with the Chouannerie of Brittany who had risen as a result of events in the Vendee but lacking popular support more in the style of a classic Royalist inspired insurgency they never again posed a serious threat to the status-quo.

Surprisingly given the brutality of the struggle, and perhaps a reflection of the seriousness of the threat it had posed, the National Convention in Paris issued a series of conciliatory proclamations promising freedom of worship in the Vendee and the return of sequestered property and livestock.

A treaty was signed on 15 February 1795, bringing the conflict effectively to a close and was largely adhered to on both sides with the man charged administering it, General Hoche, remarking – Let the priests have a few crowns.

Still there were those who refused to lay down their arms amongst them Stofflet but no longer able to depend on the support of the people even he in the end had to accept the inevitable and on 2 May signed the Treaty of La Jaunie, when he tried to renew the conflict in early 1796 he was quickly captured and put to death.

The War in the Vendee had been an internecine struggle mercilessly pursued that had witnessed bloody atrocities committed by both sides and during its short duration it has been estimated that besides the 40,000 Republican troops killed as many as 200,000 Vendean’s died, or 25% of the population.

Following the end of the war the Vendee descended into occasional periods of lawlessness as armed bands often claiming to be the Royal Army of the Vendee renewed the conflict but more often for reasons of plunder rather than any cause, and it wasn’t fully pacified until 1801 when Napoleon Bonaparte despatched an army to enforce compliance.

Huey Long: The Kingfish

It is not difficult in the State of Louisiana to find reference to Huey Long, one of the most significant politicians ever to emerge from the American Deep South and who, it could be argued, did more than anyone else to propel a southern backwater into the modern world. But he remains a controversial figure.

Was he a man of the people who had a vision for a new America, or a self-serving political thug of unlimited ambition? It seemed for a time that he might become President until his life was tragically cut short.

Huey Pierce Long was born in the small town of Winnfield, Louisiana, on 30 August 1893, one of 9 children in a family that struggled merely to get by and put food on the table; but the young Huey never saw this as a handicap to his ambitions, and as he told his sister he intended to get to the top in politics first locally and then nationally.

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He certainly worked hard, first at school and then from the age of sixteen as a travelling salesman where assiduously saving his money by 1913 he was able to enrol at the University of New Orleans to study law.

Still a young man in a hurry he was to complete a three year course to become a lawyer in only a third of the time required and from the outset of his legal career he prided himself on championing the rights of the common people and defending those who could not defend themselves. He also became heavily involved in local politics and soon to become a fixture in the State’s Democratic Party Machine.

In 1918, he was elected the State Railroad Commissioner the first step on a rapid rise through the Offices of local Government and by 1921, he was Chairman of the Public Services Commission where he continued to champion the cause of the people by lowering telephone, gas, and electricity prices and reducing streetcar and railroad fares.

His star was rising all the time and the popularity he established during these early years was to hold him in good stead throughout the rest of his political career.

In 1928, he decided to run for the Office of State Governor and utilising those skills he had learned as a salesman, Long proved to be an excellent orator and a man able to communicate his ideas in an easy to understand way without ever appearing condescending or patronising.

He also possessed that indefinable quality – charisma.

He campaigned on the issue of education with illiteracy rates in Louisiana at 22% the highest in the country. He also took every opportunity to rage against those rich parasites not only exploiting the poor but determined to marginalise them politically – Don’t let it happen! Fight back! He would tell them as he traipsed across the State taking his message directly to the people holding impromptu rallies and addressing town hall meetings.

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He swept all before him triumphing at the polls with 92,000 more votes than his nearest rival and securing a landslide victory, the largest in the State’s history.

Soon his slogan – Every Man is a King but no one Wears a Crown – would become famous throughout the nation and earn him the name – The Kingfish.

From the moment of his triumph Long let it be known that now he had power he was determined to hold onto it dismissing hundreds of State Officials who were known to have opposed him. He also filled the State Municipal Boards with placemen grateful for the opportunity but expected in turn to donate generously to his personal political war chest. He also ensured that his own newspaper the Louisiana Progress was available for purchase in all Civic Offices, and he began a struggle to wrest control of the State Democratic Party Machine into his hands.

Aside from his obsession with cementing his own power he also continued to transform Louisiana embarking upon a series of capital projects which employed thousands of workers in the building of roads, bridges, and aqueducts effectively transforming the State’s infrastructure.

He also increased the number of schools and began free classes to eradicate illiteracy, though only for white children.

To pay for these projects he taxed local corporations but when he tried to levy a tax upon the powerful oil industry it proved a step too far and his opponents in the State Legislature determined to block it were able to bring impeachment procedures against him based on accusations of misappropriation of State funds.

It was a tough battle and a close run thing but through a combination of intimidation and bribery he was able to derail the process but only by 2 votes.

In 1930, he ran for and secured a seat in the United States Senate but being a politician on the national stage in no way diminished his determination to retain his hold on Louisiana.

In October 1931, the Lieutenant-Governor Paul Cyr, a long-time opponent of Long’s whose enmity was personal as well as political, announced that as Senator he had ceased to govern Louisiana and that pending an election he was assuming his duties.

In response to Cyr’s attempted coup Long mobilised the National Guard and surrounded the Capitol Building forcing him to stand down and replacing him as Interim Governor with Alvin King, an old and trusted political ally.

Having resolved a little local difficulty he now plunged into national politics with gusto.

A severe critic of the hapless President Hoover who had shown himself to be impotent in the face of the Great Depression he campaigned vigorously for the Democratic candidate Franklin D Roosevelt in the 1932 election.

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Roosevelt won comfortably but his New Deal for the American People disappointed Huey Long, who did not think it went far enough. He declared in the Senate:

“It has every fault of Socialism with none of its virtues.”

Disillusioned by the New Deal’s failure to address the issue of redistribution he was to devise a scheme of his own the – Share Our Wealth Society.

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In February 1934, he launched his Share Our Wealth Campaign with a radio address telling the American people:

“Unless we provide for the redistribution of wealth we are doomed.” He then offered an invitation – come to my feast!

Long’s plan was to levy a tax on top of already existing State and Federal taxes on all incomes over a $1 million that would rise incrementally until it reached 100% on those earning $8 million or over. All inheritances over a $1 million would be confiscated and this money along with the revenue raised from taxes would be used to provide for old-age pensions, free education for the poorest, and to fund work programmes for the unemployed.

Huey Long now took his programme on the road.

A populist politician, his detractors would say a demagogue he was never happier than when addressing a crowd and his audience in turn responded enthusiastically to his message and by 1935 there were 27,000 Share Our Wealth Clubs the length and breadth of the country boasting 4,684,000 members.

Despite his popularity with the people, or perhaps because of it, he was attacked from cross the political divide. He was accused of being both a fascist and a communist, a dangerous and reckless rabble-rouser, a utopian dreamer peddling un-Godly nightmares that were essentially un-American.

But he also had prominent supporters who believed his Share Our Wealth Programme offered a means by which to overcome the effects of the Great Depression and persuaded him to run for the Presidency in 1936, not that he needed much persuasion. But his opponents were quick to go on the offensive accusing him of being a drunk, a philanderer, and even impugning his sexuality.

President Roosevelt described him as being one of the two most dangerous men in America, the other being General Douglas MacArthur, and ordered the Internal Revenue Service to investigate his tax affairs. Likewise, Louisiana’s State finances were audited for fraudulent and corrupt practices.

Wrongdoing was discovered within the State Legislature and some of Long’s closest political associates were arrested and charged but no evidence against their primary target could be found.

In the summer of 1935, the Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered a plot to assassinate the Senator for Louisiana and obliged by law to inform him a nervous Long now surrounded himself with bodyguards.

In the meantime, he continued to run Louisiana as his personal fiefdom outlawing interference in State politics by the Courts, creating his own private police force, and taking control of the State Militia.

But his enemies had not gone away.

Louisiana State Justice Benjamin Pavey had long been a thorn in his side and Long, frustrated at not being able to remove him from Office, instead, and vindictively, had his two daughters dismissed from their teaching posts. He then cautioned Pavey that if he did not cease his constant criticism and obstruction of his office then he would let it be known that his family had ‘coffee blood,’ that they were the descendants of white and black sexual mingling.

This was no small accusation in the still strictly segregated Deep South of the 1930’s.

When Pavey refused to remain silent the rumour was spread that his father-in-law had sired children by his black mistress.

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Meanwhile, Pavey’s son-in-law Carl Weiss was enraged at the suggestion that his wife might be the granddaughter of a black woman and a slave.

Sweating profusely and appearing nervous and agitated Weiss waited outside the Capitol building in Baton Rouge for Long to emerge from the Governor’s Office where he had been in intense talks all day to secure the passage of the bill that would see Judge Pavey removed from Office.

When Long finally emerged at 9.20 pm surrounded by six bodyguards Weiss rushed forward and pulling out a .32 automatic shot him in the abdomen. In the shootout that followed Weiss was killed but a bullet fired by one of his bodyguards had also ricocheted and lodged in Long’s spine.

At first it was thought that his injuries were not life threatening but the surgeons who had carried out the initial operation had failed to notice the bullet that had lodged in his spine and punctured his kidneys until it was too late. Huey Long passed away on 19 September 1935, his last recorded words being:

“God, please don’t let me die, I have so much to do.”

Huey Long was a populist politician with many admirers but also powerful detractors especially on Wall Street and amongst the political establishment who greatly feared that he might one day become President. The fact that he died when he did, a serious candidate for the Presidency with an alternative vision for America, has led many to doubt the official version that he was yet another victim of a lone gunman.

Upton Sinclair: A Socialist Governor for California

Upton Beal Sinclair was born in Baltimore on 20 September, 1878. His father was an alcoholic who could not hold down a job and the family were often so poor that the young Upton was in large part raised by his wealthier grandparents, and he was later to say that his was this early experience of the extremes of wealth and poverty that first made him a socialist.

From an early age he displayed a precocious talent as a writer and was already having his articles published in magazines and journals while still in college. Indeed, he was so successful that he was able to purchase an apartment, pay his was through University, and help out his family financially.

Following a series of meetings in the autumn of 1902 with prominent left-wing intellectuals and an extensive reading of the works of Karl Marx the always politically engaged Sinclair decided to devote himself to the cause of Socialism.

As much an investigative journalist as he was an author in 1906 his novel The Jungle in which he exposed the dire conditions prevailing in the Meat Packing Industry and its exploitation of immigrant workers caused such an outcry that later the same year Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug and Meat Inspection Act.

Despite the book being a best seller he was disappointed that the controversy it had caused was not about the low pay, long hours and general abuse of the workers but the shock at the filth and lack of hygiene in the preparation of the meat. He somewhat despairingly remarked:

“I wished to appeal to their consciences but instead won over their bellies.”

Nonetheless, it was his big breakthrough.

Sinclair was eager to become politically active but was soon to find that success in one sphere of public life did not always transfer to another. In 1922, persuaded to stand as the Socialist Party candidate for Congress in industrialised New Jersey he polled just 750 votes.

He was not discouraged however and four years later ran for Governor of California. Again he was to find that a high-profile did not necessarily harvest many votes at election time and he received just 45,872 out of a total of 1,143,238 ballots cast, or a mere 4.2%.

His experiences in New Jersey and California convinced him that no one who professed himself to be a socialist could hope to be elected to a position of power and authority in America. He would run for Governor of California again but this time it would be on the Democratic Party ticket.

The idea of California as the Land of Milk and Honey was already well-established by the 1930’s, a view only reinforced by the glamour and glitz of Hollywood but it was to prove no more immune to the degradations of the Great Depression than anywhere else. But it should be declared Upton Sinclair: there was no excuse for poverty in California, not in a State where surplus food stocks could regularly be seen piled up and burned or dumped in San Francisco Bay.

Despite his poor performance in the Election of 1926, California was in fact a State where socialism in the form of co-operatives and collective communities where people bartered goods and services, and production was based on need not profit had already taken root. By 1934, there were 176 such co-operatives in Southern California where the poor and unemployed worked together to create sustainable communities.

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Upton Sinclair now looked to take this movement State-wide in his End Poverty in California (EPIC) programme, and to promote it he wrote the pamphlet ‘I, Governor’ in which he detailed his plans for the State and outlined what California would look like under an Upton Sinclair Administration. For example, abandoned farms and idle factories would be appropriated and given over to the unemployed to work as not-for-profit co-operatives.

It was an idea that at a time of great distress in large parts of the State caught the imagination of many and ‘I, Governor’ quickly became a bestseller. It also appeared to chime with the collaborative ethos of President Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal for the American People.

Sinclair’s programme had struck a chord and his campaign for the Democratic Party nomination took off as he became known as the – Man with the Plan.

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Taking the industrious Bumble Bee as its symbol EPIC clubs now began to spring up the length and breadth of the State and its newspaper EPIC News was soon selling 500,000 copies a week.

President Roosevelt had recently passed legislation removing the restrictions placed on the formation of trade unions and a wave of strikes had followed as workers asserted their new-found industrial muscle and one of those cities in turmoil as a result was San Francisco where the Longshoremen had been on strike for two months.

On 5 July 1934, the police tried to break the picket-line that had effectively closed the port and in the ensuing violence two men were killed and 73 injured. In response, the Republican Governor Frank Merriam called out the National Guard, he said to restore law and order and maintain the peace, but many saw it as a deliberate attempt on his part to break the strike.

In sympathy with the Longshoremen workers downed tools, shops closed their doors, the transport system ceased to run, and the city was effectively closed down for the best part of a week.

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Merriam, who had not been elected Governor but had succeeded to the post in his role as Lieutenant-Governor when his predecessor James Rolph died in Office the previous month, was not a popular man.

He was an old style conservative in a State which despite having voted Republican for the previous 35 years had always considered itself an innovative and progressive State. Many doubted that he was up to the job and his clumsy handling of the strike that saw troops and tanks on the street of San Francisco only seemed to confirm his detractors in their view.

There was no doubt that in any election he would be vulnerable and his behaviour had given a boost to the EPIC campaign which had previously been seen as a largely rural phenomenon by providing it with traction in the industrialised regions of the State that it had previously lacked.

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In the meantime, Upton Sinclair’s campaign to be the Democratic nominee was sweeping the State and by August more than 1,000 EPIC clubs had been established and EPIC campaign volunteers had registered so many new voters that for the first time in California’s history there were more registered Democrats than there were Republicans.

It was becoming increasingly likely that Sinclair would win the nomination but he still had to win over moderate Democrats if he wished to capture the State Party Machine. So he chose as his running-mate the mainstream Democrat Sheridan Downey earning the ticket the nickname ‘Uppey and Downey’ but his selection of Downey did not as he had hoped placate the Democratic Establishment in California who remained wary of his recent socialist past, something he had done little to disavow.

They were disinclined to lend their support and National Committee Chairman James Farley wrote to President Roosevelt on their behalf requesting that he publicly declare against Sinclair, but he chose instead to keep his own counsel.

On 28 August, Upton Sinclair won the Democratic nomination in a landslide with 436,000 votes more than twice as many as all his opponents put together. But he knew that to maintain unity within the party he would have to compromise on some of his more radical proposals and many of his more fervent supporters were to experience early feelings of disenchantment as a result.

Returning from the Convention a clearly exhausted Sinclair was asked by a waiting reporter if he believed the unemployed and dispossessed of America would flock to California were the EPIC Programme to be implemented? Sinclair replied:

“I told Harry Hopkins in Washington that if I’m elected half the unemployed would come to California he would have to make plans to take care of them.”

It was intended as a joke but it was one that amused few and would come back to haunt him time and time again.

By the 1930’s the United States was the only major power in the Western Hemisphere that had no system of social security. There was no help for the old, the sick, the unemployed other than that provided by charitable organisations. These may have proved adequate at times of prosperity but during the worst economic slump then known to history they were simply overwhelmed.

In the wake of the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, soup kitchens became a common sight in most towns and cities across America and were the only source of sustenance for millions of men, women, and children. If for no other reason the sight of long lines of idle men with pinched unshaven faces in filthy clothes begging for a handout was an embarrassment for the richest and most powerful country on earth.

President Roosevelt wished to eradicate this stigma of shame and determined to pass the first Social Security Act in American history but the New Deal platform on which he had been elected two years earlier had been opposed at almost every turn and his proposal of a system of social security had already come in for intense and sustained criticism. He was accused in both Houses of Congress of seeking to implement socialism by the back door.

It was felt by many within the Roosevelt Administration and the National Democratic Party that Upton Sinclair’s campaign in California was jeopardising not only any future social security legislation but the entire New Deal Programme. There was a genuine fear within the Democratic Party that they would lose the mid-term elections leading to a Republican majority in both Houses and thereby leaving the New Deal dead in the water.

The Democratic Party wanted to distance itself from Upton Sinclair whilst he believing he needed the Presidents endorsement to secure victory in California was insisting upon an audience.

It was granted, but reluctantly and only if he agreed to keep the details of the meeting confidential.

They met in private, not at the White House but Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, and it was a meeting Sinclair was to describe as the most fascinating two hours of his life but no endorsement was forthcoming just vague promises from Roosevelt that he would do so in one of his future fireside chats.

The continuing unpopularity of Governor Merriam, the success of the EPIC campaign in setting the political agenda, and opinion polls suggesting a comfortable Sinclair victory alarmed the rich and powerful of California of who were at last induced to act, and none were more powerful than the Movie Moguls of Hollywood.

Sinclair had suggested that redundant movies sets should be used by unemployed actors and technicians to make not-for-profit movies which posed a direct threat to the major Hollywood Studios.

He had also vowed to raise State taxes for the rich.

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In September, the owner of MGM Studios Louis B Mayer, and Los Angeles Times owner Harry Chandler along with leading industrialists met with prominent Republicans in Los Angeles to devise a strategy to stop Sinclair. Funds were raised and for the first time in American political history an Advertising Agency was hired to run the campaign.

Day after day negative advertising appeared on billboards, in newspapers, and cinemas denouncing the EPIC programme.

Sinclair had proposed that a paper currency known as ‘scrip’ should be used in the co-operatives and his opponents were quick to pounce pronouncing that he intended to abolish money in California replacing it with a barter system, that wages would no longer be paid in dollars but with notes of exchange, and that a person’s savings would become worthless overnight.

If Sinclair wanted to abolish money they said, then he must also wish to see the abolition of private property.

They even produced their own version of Scrip in the form of a dollar bill called the ‘Sincliar’ with the liar underlined and carrying the motto ‘Endure Poverty in California.’

Sinclair, they said, wanted to return California to the Stone Age.

Every day in a box on the front page of the Los Angeles Times would appear a quotation supposedly by Upton Sinclair attacking America’s most cherished institutions – marriage, religion, private property, law and order.

They were in fact mostly comments made by fictional characters in his novels but were portrayed as being direct quotations from the author himself.

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Cartoons not just mocking the EPIC programme but warning of its threat appeared in magazines and journals and were freely distributed across the State.

In cinemas before the main feature a newsreel was shown pertaining to be impartial but in fact sponsored by Louis B Mayer that interviewed ordinary Californians to elicit their views on the forthcoming election? Those spoken to by the so-called Inquiring Cameraman who advocated support for Sinclair were often from outside the State, incoherent in their speech, or declared themselves to be Communists or atheists.

Despite not having the resources to effectively fight back the EPIC campaign continued to grow.

Their newspaper was by now selling 2 million copies a week, the national press was never as hostile to Sinclair as that in California, and he even appeared on the front page of Time Magazine.

His supporters also remained confident believing that President Roosevelt would endorse Sinclair by saying something positive about their programme of production for use not profit.

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They gathered expectantly around their radio sets to listen to his final fireside chat before the election but no endorsement came. Instead, unknown to them, the leading Californian Democrat J.F.T O’Connor had approached Sinclair and asked him to step aside in favour of the third party candidate, Raymond Haight.

Despite the polls that now showed him trailing Merriam by a significant margin, he refused.

The following day O’Connor had a meeting with Merriam and told him that if he would declare a by-partisan victory and publicly endorse the Presidents New Deal, then the Democratic Party in California would endorse his campaign and advise its members to vote Republican. Merriam, agreed.

Ignored by the President and abandoned by the Democratic Party, Sinclair nonetheless fought on campaigning tirelessly and refusing to countenance defeat declaring that the support of the ordinary people of California would propel them to victory. But with Sinclair in abeyance, his opponents now began to turn the screw.

The fear of many Californians already enduring hardships was that their State would become a magnet for the dispossessed of America. After all, hadn’t Upton Sinclair suggested as much?

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The Inquiring Cameraman now turned his attention on the hobos riding the trains into California – that surge of wretched humanity trailing poverty in their wake determined to cast the dark shadow of deprivation upon the Land of Sunshine and Opportunity.

Those interviewed made it plain their intention was to remain and then send for their relatives should Sinclair win the election and the EPIC programme be implemented.

Despite the unrelenting hostility he encountered in interviews, the sustained negativity of the media, and the increasingly gloomy poll forecasts Sinclair remained cheerful and upbeat and continued to fight back as much as his limited resources allowed.

On 2 November, the eve of the election he broadcast an appeal over the radio directly to the voters of California:

“The issue of the campaign is can they fool you with their lies and get you to vote in their interests instead of your own. It’s up to you.”

The following day as the election results rolled in the pollsters predictions were confirmed:

Frank Merriam retained the Governorship of California winning a clear majority – 1,138, 629 or 48.87% of the vote to Upton Sinclair’s 879,537 or 37.75% of the vote.

The third party candidate Raymond Haight polled 302,519 or 12.99% of the vote. When he ran again four years later his vote fell by more than 250,000. His increased share of the vote in 1934 is now believed to have been the result of mainstream Democrats advised not to vote for Sinclair and being unable to bring themselves to support Merriam.

Had they voted for Sinclair, the official Democratic Party candidate then the election result would have been on a razors edge.

As it transpired, the Roosevelt Administration need not have been concerned with the outcome of the mid-term elections as the Democrats won 70% of the seats in both Houses of Congress.

The New Deal was secure for now.

Although, 27 EPIC candidates won election to the California State Legislature the great social experiment of production for use not profit would never be implemented and ceased to dominate the political agenda.

Upton Sinclair would never run for public office again but his writing career continued to flourish and in 1943 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Dragon’s Teeth.

He died on 25 November 1968, aged 90.

On 14 August 1935, President Franklin D Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act which for the first time provided 46 million Americans with access to old-age pensions, disability benefits, and unemployment cover.

Life of a Roman Slave

Slavery was a fact of life in the Ancient World it was neither peculiar to Rome, nor an indication of any particular brutality on its part but as Rome became an Empire and accumulated lands and peoples it embraced slavery on an almost industrial scale. Indeed, it has been estimated that the peak of its Imperial Grandeur as many as 25% of the population of Rome would have been slaves and that the percentage in Italy as a whole would have been even higher, and that like all Slave States before and since Rome lived in fear of its enemy within, and with good cause.

Between 135 and 71 BC there were three major servile revolts the most serious of which led by the Thracian Gladiator Spartacus shook Rome to its very foundations.

Rome was an aggressive Imperial power that was constantly at war and with its well-trained, highly disciplined army invariably successful taking a great many captives in the process, this despite the fact that any General seeking his due reward for victory, a Triumph through the streets of the city, needed to provide a body count of at least 5,000 enemy slain.

So many captives were expected to be taken in any confrontation between Rome and its enemies that slave traders often accompanied the army on their campaigns. It was after all a lucrative business even if like any other commodity slaves were prey to market fluctuations and a particularly successful battle could often cause a glut on the market and see prices slump accordingly.

It is said that following his conquest of Gaul, Julius Caesar sold more than 50,000 slaves to the many traders who flocked to his camp.

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Slaves were sold in the open market place according to the highest bidder with those possessed of an education or a specific skill being particularly sought after and correspondingly expensive.

Captured warriors were considered dangerous and unsuitable for domestic service and would be sold instead to labour in the salt mines and the stone quarries where conditions were unremittingly harsh with beatings and executions commonplace and as such, despite life expectancy being short, Gladiatorial School offered an escape from such purgatory for the stronger and more aggressive among them.

The life of a domestic slave was no less hard, if perhaps less obviously brutal, and varied little in intensity whether they had a lenient master or not.

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They were at the beck and call of their master and mistress every hour of every day and were expected to do everything for them – they bathed them, dressed them, cut their hair, prepared their food, nursed and educated their children.

Slaves were not permitted to refer to their master or mistress by name, at least not in public, instead referring to them as Domina. Similarly, they could not speak in their presence unless requested to do so and would often be forced to go barefoot as a sign of their subjection.

They would be housed in dormitories either situated on the upper floor of their master’s residence or in an attached building. If they worked in agriculture they would live in separate barracks but male and female slaves were not kept apart and it was common for them to marry and have families of their own, though slave marriage had no status in law. Thus, a family could be broken up at any time if a master chose to sell a mother, father, or child.

They would be expected to eat when they could and their diet would be that of the poorest Roman – bread, water, pulses, olives, and salted fish. On occasion they might be permitted sour wine, but it was rare.

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Those who worked in the kitchens invariably ate better than the other household slaves benefiting as they did from scraps from the table. Pilfering food from the kitchen however would not be tolerated and if caught the punishment was harsh often to be stripped naked and flogged in front of the rest of the slaves.

Even at a time when a surplus of slaves made them relatively cheap to purchase they nonetheless remained expensive to maintain needing to be clothed, housed, fed, and trained so it made little sense for a master to be cruel to or abuse his slaves, even if many continued to do so. In fact, slave abuse had become so commonplace that the philosopher and future adviser to the Emperor Nero, Seneca complained:

“Slaves, who cannot talk before his master’s face, talk about him behind his back. It is this sort of treatment which makes people say – ‘you have as many enemies as you have slaves’. They are not our enemies when we get them; we make them so.”

Such was the brutality of many masters that there were times when the number of runaway slaves reached almost epidemic proportions and the rewards on offer for their capture and return became a lucrative business in its own right.

The punished meted out to a returned slave would inevitably confirm them in their reasons for absconding in the first place – a public whipping, the letter ‘F’ for Fugitive branded on their forehead, forced to carry out their duties in chains and so brutal could the treatment be that it was not unknown for women in captivity to murder their own babies rather than subject them to a live of servitude, and the many dumps for dead unwanted children that littered Rome were rarely empty.

Infanticide was also a means by which they could avenge themselves on their master for a child born to a slave was a precious commodity that required no training and would naturally acclimatise to a life of hard work and blind obedience.

The fear of being murdered in their beds by those who served them cast a dark and threatening shadow over the slave owner, and so to possess a slave as a child who could be moulded and would never know better was greatly cherished.

Attractive female slaves and pretty young boys would be expected to satisfy the sexual needs of their master and mistress. It is true that such relationships should they be made public were frowned upon and could often become the source for much mockery but were tolerated as long as the master or mistress remained the dominant partner. This was particularly the case in regards to homosexual encounters where it was not considered right or proper for a Roman to be penetrated by a non-Roman, though the likelihood is that it was commonplace.

Slaves had no rights, they could not own property, and they had no recourse to the law. Even so, it was technically illegal for a master to kill his slave but denied representation in the Courts there was in truth nothing to prevent it. However, being a slave was not necessarily a life sentence and a master could free a slave, which he might do for reasons of gratitude for a deed committed on his behalf, or for years of loyal and devoted service, but it was never done out of any sense that slavery might be wrong.

It was also possible for a slave to buy their freedom if their master permitted them to earn the money to do so and the price for freedom would usually be set at the slave’s current market value or their original price of purchase.

Once freed it was difficult but not impossible for an ex-slave to obtain full Roman citizenship.

Elderly slaves no longer able to perform their duties would often be cast onto the streets to beg or die, a freedom of sorts but one neither sought after or desired.

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It has been argued that the preponderance of slaves within the Roman Empire was pivotal to its ultimate decline and fall and that the virtues of hard work, frugality and discipline that had done so much to make Rome great were lost in a haze of indolent self-indulgence as even the poorest citizen struggled to find employment in a labour market that no longer required them; and that the staging of ever more spectacular Games in the purpose built Colosseum in Rome and elsewhere in the Empire was evidence of the requirement upon its rulers to placate an increasingly restless population with simply too much time on its hands, and that fear of the mob had long replaced fear of the enemy within.

Roman Diet

The Rocky spine that runs the length of Italy and the hard ground and kind of soil it produces ensured that as much as two- thirds of the land was uncultivable and as a result Rome was reliant upon overseas imports to sustain itself.

Yet there lack of food never impinged upon their love of it.

For many centuries the breadbasket of the Empire was Egypt upon whom it was dependant for its grain supply.

If grain supplies from Egypt reduced then food would become scarce and the people frantic, if the grain supply ceased altogether then Rome would starve.

Securing Egypt for Rome was the priority of the Republic and Empire alike, if the people starved then they fell, and so it could be said that food really did permeate every aspect of Roman life.

Grain, or corn, was the staple diet of the common people which made into a porridge called Pulsa and flavoured with a variety of vegetables such as cabbage, parsnip, asparagus, peas, and of course garlic could be served either hot or cold.

Indeed, garlic was used to flavour most things in Ancient Rome giving the common people a distinctive and much remarked upon odour.

Pulsa eaten with a thick-bread sweetened with honey and often accompanied with a side dish of cheese was eaten most days.

Eggs, fish, and particularly shellfish, were readily available in the local markets but there were no tomatoes, a product now so closely associated with Italy. It wasn’t an indigenous fruit and only became available as an import following Spain’s conquest of Mexico in the sixteenth century.

Being able to dine on meat was a rare treat and would invariably have been either pork or chicken, all cooked in olive oil.

Many Romans ate from commercial outlets that sold ready-made cakes and pastries, and these early takeaways common throughout the city.

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Dining out was a popular pastime and Rome was a city of many restaurants though not perhaps as we would recognise them now being places of raucous entertainment with gambling tables, dancing girls, and as much sex on the menu as there was food.

Romans had a great love of wine which the better-off would drink throughout the day, though rarely taken neat but mixed with water. For most Romans wine however remained a luxury and they instead placed great emphasis on the quality of their water which they would flavour with honey and fruits, though a cheap wine made from acetum, similar to vinegar and known as Pasca was available.

Bear and mead were commonly consumed in the northern provinces of the Empire but rarely in Rome, neither did they drink milk believing it unclean deriving as it did from the procreative organs of animals.

The majority of Romans lived in tenement blocks sometimes five storeys high and the cooking arrangements would be communal and often situated in the entrance to the building.

Most food was cooked on an open hearth either by means of cauldrons suspended from chains or cooking vessels set on a gridiron with a circular domed oven used for the cooking of bread and pastries.

That the cooking was done al fresco was also a safety measure with fire being a constant fear of those living cheek-by-jowl in cramped often wooden tenements.

Food preservation especially in the hot summer months was almost impossible, though they tried.

Meat and fish would be subjected to smoking, salting, and pickling but it was a delicate process and food poisoning was commonplace.

Romans whether rich or poor generally ate only one proper meal a day, the Cena, which for the common people would be around midday and for the more affluent in the evening, a time when they could dine at their leisure.

Unlike the poor who would eat sitting down or even on their feet the rich ate lying upon sofas and comfortable cushions, and to be able to do was a sign of their status.

Traditionally there were three courses the first of which would have been of eggs, shellfish, and raw vegetables followed by the main course, the Prima Mensa, of cooked meats and vegetables in particular mushrooms.

The Secunda Mensa would consist of fruits – pears, apples, dates, and sweet pastries.

Oysters were considered a great luxury, and would be served as affirmation of one’s wealth and standing.

Dormice stuffed with herbs were also very popular, though more as a treat than a luxury.

As they had no knives and forks they would eat with their fingers though they had spoons for the eating of soup often with a pointed end to extract shellfish and snails.

In Rome what you ate was indicative of your households status and an always a sociable people the quality of your food and dining arrangements needed to be shared and made known to one’s peers.

But the richer you were the more vulnerable you became and anyone of prominence would out of fear of poisoning, either natural or otherwise, have a slave to taste both their food and their wine.

It is perhaps ironic that a perfunctory act of necessity needing to be shared for reasons of social advancement should have been fraught with such danger.

The Slapton Sands Tragedy

Slapton is a beautiful village on the isolated South Devon Coast of England. Peaceful and tranquil, the perfect place of refuge for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of city and urban life; but in December 1943, at the height of the Second World War it was taken over by the military, its residents forced to leave, and put under the strictest quarantine.

The Western Allies preparing for Operation Overlord, the planned invasion of Nazi Occupied Europe, required nearby Slapton Sands for its similarity to that part of the Normandy coastline designated as Utah Beach for training purposes and by the spring of 1944, it had become a hub of activity as its environs became home for thousands of American GI’s and every available space was utilised for guns, tanks, and all other sorts of war materiel.

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There had already been a series of low-key exercises but the first full-scale mock invasion code named Operation Tiger was planned for 22 April and would involve 30,000 troops embarked upon 9 large LST’s or Tank Landing Ships.

Allied High Command was aware that for all the secrecy involved the convoy would still be vulnerable to attack from German E-Boats that regularly patrolled off the British coastline.

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These fast attack vessels capable of speeds of up to 40 knots and armed with torpedo tubes and cannon could cause a great deal of carnage in a very short time and it was a threat that could not be ignored.

The convoy therefore needed to be escorted and a Royal Navy Destroyer, a Corvette, and three Motor Torpedo Boats were assigned for close proximity protection, two further Gunboats were to patrol the entrance to Lyme Bay whilst another was dispatched to monitor Cherbourg Harbour where the German E.Boat Squadron was based and provide early warning of any activity.

Following some delay the first convoy set sail on the night of 26 April and taking a roundabout route to Lyme Bay so as to mirror the cross-Channel journey to Normandy arrived at its destination at first light.

To simulate as close as possible the conditions that the troops were likely to meet at Utah Beach the Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D Eisenhower had ordered that live ammunition be used.

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The delay in the operation getting under way, a subsequent breakdown in communications, and inadequate marking on the beach itself saw a number of Landing Craft disembark their troops into the zone of conflict and carnage ensued as many American GI’s were killed after coming under shellfire from their own side – the victims of so-called friendly fire. Despite this tragic and unnecessary loss of life the follow-up exercise would go ahead as planned but it did not augur well.

The Destroyer that had been assigned to escort the convoy was damaged in a collision the night before and as no other ship was available to perform the duty the protection of the convoy would become the responsibility of the Corvette H.M.S Azalea. The convoy also declined to zig-zag so as to save time but in doing so made it an easier target for any potential attacker.

Not long after departing port the Captain of H.M.S Azalea was informed that German E-Boats had been observed leaving Cherbourg but he failed to notify the rest of the convoy. It was at first thought that his failure to warn the convoy was because he believed it was the responsibility of General Headquarters to do so but it has since been revealed that the Escort Vessels and the LST’s were unable to communicate because they were on different radio frequencies.

In the early hours of 28 April, 9 German E.Boats travelling their usual Channel route spotted an apparently un-escorted convoy silhouetted on the horizon and manoeuvred to attack. As the convoy neared Lyme Bay and slowed for the approach to the landing area, the E-Boats struck.

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Shortly after 02.00 LST 507 was devastated by a huge explosion and engulfed in flames. There was a power failure, the lights went out, and the crew were unable to prevent the fire from spreading not helped by inadequate and inoperable fire-fighting equipment. Panic stricken men stumbling around in the darkness and barely able to breathe only added to the chaos as the ship slowly began to sink.

Not long after LST 531 was completely shattered by multiple hits, rolled over, and went to the bottom in less than six minutes. Those asleep below decks had no time to escape and went down with the ship.

Around the same time LST 289 was also hit but its quick-thinking Captain was able to beach her saving a great many lives.

Some 45 minutes after the first torpedoes had struck the Captain of LST 507 ordered abandon ship but many of the lifeboats now jammed and could not be released from their davits. The intense heat had already seen many men jump overboard but few had received proper instruction on how to use their lifebelts and mistakenly attached them to their waist rather than beneath their armpits causing them to tip upside down in the water and drown. Even more men were to die from hypothermia in the freezing cold sea.

In just 30 minutes the E-Boats had created havoc but as soon as the Escorts turned up instead of pushing home their attack they scurried away.

The events at Slapton Sands sent shock-waves through Allied High Command for not only had 749 American soldiers lost their lives in the attack, 946 in total including the deaths from the friendly fire incident of the previous day, but many of those Officers reported missing had been carrying the plans for their part in Operation Overlord.

Miraculously perhaps, all the bodies of those Officers were recovered over the following few days.

The bodies of soldiers washed ashore and recovered from the sea were buried in haste in mass graves nearby and amid great secrecy and it wasn’t until after the invasion of Normandy that the bodies were disinterred and returned to the United States for reburial.

The tragic outcome of Operation Tiger had for a short time jeopardised the Normandy landings Overlord and its cancellation was seriously considered. Instead extra precautions were taken to prevent similar happening on the day of the invasion, and the German E-Boat fleet was to have little impact on 6 June. It may have been different had they been aware of what they had stumbled upon that April morning but they thought they had merely intercepted a convoy of merchant ships.

The Slapton Sands Tragedy was to remain an official secret for more than 40 years after the war and even now it remains a cause for obfuscation and partial truths, and some historians still maintain that the true death toll was much higher than the figures officially released.