Should Henry II of England be called “the Great”?

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The nature of monarchy in England was of deference, but not necessarily reverence so I think you’d have trouble convincing the English to ascribe that particular epithet to any of their rulers.


He was a solid statesman. But the term “the great” is not appropriate for a few reasons. first, the term is typically ascribed during the time of a ruler, or immediately following his/her passing, because it ensures that a ruler is being labeled the superlative not only because of their administrative/political conquests, but for the adoration of their people. This is one of the truly extraordinary achievements of a statesman. Henry II wasn’t really adored in England, and as some have pointed out he wasn’t even really an English ruler anyways. More to the point, though, Henry was an able administrator, but how on earth could you compare him to Alexander, who conquered most of the known world without losing a battle, or Catherine, who overcame gender stereotypes and modernized one of the most backwards and conservative countries in the world at that time.

It’s just not a comparison. Consider some other historical figures who would deserve the accolade before Henry II: Julius Caesar, George Washington, Joan of Arc, or even other English states people like Elizabeth I or even Winston Churchill.

History is filled with laudable characters. But to be truly “Great,” one has to not only be extraordinary today and in retrospect, but have cultivated for themselves that reputation during the time of their ruling, which Henry II did not.


What are the criteria for calling someone “the Great”? Usually it is a pre-modern historian or propagandist who applied the epithet to a figure, and sometimes those historians were writing hundreds of years after the event. For instance, Alfred of Wessex (9th century) was called “the Great” only in the 16th century, a time when the Tudors had dynastic interests in praising their perceived forebears, like King Alfred and the mythical King Arthur. So the label was at least partly propagandistic, and further historiographers in the 19th century ensured that “Alfred the Great” was a label that would continue into today.

It’s hard to show why something doesn’t happen, but in general, Henry II never attracted that kind of attention or that epithet. It would be strange for historians to proclaim him “the Great” today; modern historians aren’t usually about ranking kings and giving them new epithets.


Worth noting that Henry was first and foremost a French feudal lord. England was just one of his territories. He created what’s known as the Angevin Empire not the English Empire.


Why should he be called great? When the only great thing he ever did was marrying Eleanor Of Aquitaine who came with half of France as her dowry.

Let us compare him with other monarchs who have the same epithet to see how he stacks up.

1. Phillip V Of Macedon or Phillip the Great – Father of another who also had the same epithet.
When he became king, a third of his kingdom was run over by Athenian colonists (Chalcidaea), another third by the Illyrian tribes and the remaining part by Thracian savages. There were two other claimants to the throne and both of his elder brothers were killed in their bid to hold onto the Argead throne.

But in his short reign of 20 or so years, he totally changed the hoplite formation used for centuries by the Greeks, introduced the concept of combined arms as well as oblique order. He played each Greek city against the other ’til he was overlord of all. His machinations in the Persian Court ensured civil war therein for years and a depleted treasury which will be helpful to his son later on.

2. Alexander III ‘The Great’… No need to say why

3. Cyrus The Great – You know someone is great when even your enemies sing your praises. Now Cyrus was nor named the Great by any of his people.. But by Herodotus. Now he was called so by Herodotus not for his battle skills like the two above but for his piety, leniency towards his conquered people and humility.

4. Akbar the Great – Third Mughal Emperor. He too was called the Great not for his battle skills though he was no slouch there just like Cyrus but for his religious and political skills. Akbar was perhaps the only fully localised Mughal Emperor, he had the full support of Rajputs the local rulers whose lands his forebears had defeated pr annexed. He was given that name by Arab traders who were impressed by religious tolerance and leniency towards his conquered people. Same like Cyrus.

5. Ashoka the Great – the only person (other than Alauddin Khilji) to have ever ruled the entirety of the Indian subcontinent. Given the epithet for spreading Buddhism towards the East.

6. Alfred the Great – Called Great for seeding the idea of England, successively staving off England from becoming New Daneland.

Now wtf did your Henry II do in comparison to them?


What’s your favorite historical spy story?

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Gotta be the two monks who smuggled silk worms from China into the Byzantine Empire which allowed the Byzantines to gain a monopoly on the production of silk in Europe.


Richard Zorge (or Sorge) who was a Soviet GRU agent and, posing as an ardent Nazi and working as a journalist for the most prestigeous German newspaper, infiltrated German Embassy in Tokyo to the point that he was sleeping with the ambassador’s wife with his knowledge and approval because Zorge was too valuable to him as a pretty much the main source for the east Asian affairs for his reports to Berlin. He famously warned Moscow about the operation Barbarossa, which Stalin ignored, and he was also the source for the information that Japan won’t attack the USSR, which was the reason why the Soviets were able to move significant resources to the front with Germany, eventually leading to successful battle of Moscow and change of war direction. He was captured soon afterwards and executed by the Japanese, Stalin refusing to exchange him.

Duško Popov – a famous Serbian double agent who worked for Abwehr but also without their knowledge for the MI6 who used him to feed the Germans what they wanted them to think, and who was instrumental in persuading the Germans that the Allied D-day invasion will not go through Normandy, but around Calais, and therefore diverted a large amount of resources, greatly increasing the chance for success of the operation, thus influencing the direction of the war and the future of Europe. There are some, more or less substantiated reports, that he warned the US of the imminent Pearl Harbour attack, but that Hoover, based on personal dislike he took on him, declined to act on it. Lived through the war and died of old age many years later somewhere in France. Ian Fleming was one of junior members of his organization and Popov is considered as one of possible models for his James Bond.

And perhaps not a spy strictly speaking, but an inteligence agent among other things – Mustafa Golubić. Probably the most interesting person of XX century to me, pretty much the walking history of its first half. Joined Serbian irregulars in the Balkan Wars, member of Young Bosnia and participated in planning to assassinate Austrian military commander Oscar Potiorek which was apparently the plan before the assassination on Franz Ferdinand; Joined Serbian army in WWI and Black Hand; apparently attempted to assassinate German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm as a part of war effort, and as approved by the leader of the Black Hand, Apis, but failed and was arrested in process. Then when the regent Aleksandar decided to eradicate Black Hand and staged Thessaloniki process, in which Apis was executed, Golubic swore revenge and soon turned to newly established Soviet Union, in time becoming one of the main henchmen of Stalin. He was feared throughout the Europe, eliminating unknown number of Stalin’s enemies, and most likely he was the agent who organized the assassination of Trotsky in Mexico in 1940. Captured, tortured and killed by Nazis during the occupation in Serbia in 1941 where he was on probably another mission from Stalin. You can’t even make a movie like that to make any sense.


Alcibiades! The Greek triple agent. Persuading and changing allegiances between Athens, Sparta, and Persia during and after the Peloponnesian war. Very cool story.


There was a catcher in the American League in the late 1920’s and early 30’s, playing against the Murderers Row lineup of the Yankees and amusing reporters by speaking in seven different languages, answering trivia questions, or signing autographs with both hands.

Fast forward to December 1944, he’s in Switzerland listening to a lecture by a top German physicist and is under orders from the OSS to assassinate the physicist if he hears anything in the lecture that makes him think the Germans are close to making an atomic bomb.

His name was Moe Berg and his baseball card is in the CIA museum.


Harold Nicholson isn’t the coolest or anything, but the story makes me laugh. The balls on that guy…. He’s the highest ranking CIA agent to be convicted of espionage for Russia. After he’s sentenced, he decides he’s owed a “pension” from Russia for his work, so he sends his son with more classified info to go collect it. The son ultimately testified against him so Harold was convicted again, and now he’s hanging out at ADX Florence.


Birthing Laws/Requirements Throughout History?

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Russia and Kazakhstan( the ones I know, probably other countries with low population density) today have policies supporting families with many kids.


Nazi Germany had several policies in place to simultaneously increase and reduce birthrates, depending on who the parents were. Unsurprisingly, if you were “Aryan” you were expected to have as many children as possible, and the state helped with both financial and creche-type support available if you were the right kind of person to have lots of kids.

Of course, if you WEREN’T desirable (Jewish, Romani, Slavic heritage, etc) you were expected to provide EVERYTHING, with no social support structures. This included being excluded from social medicine for prenatal and birthing care, complete lack of access to neonatal support and care without personal expenditure, no access to the creche and financial support, etc.


In Rome it was customary to free a slave after they had five children.

Also in Rome, but Augustus encouraged Roman women to have many children.

In Sparta women would receive a gravestone only if they died giving birth, men would receive one only if they died in battle.


Not a requirement perse but the USSR had an “Order of Maternal Glory” which was a medal given to mothers who had sired a substantial number of children (3rd class was 7, 2nd class was 8 and 1st class was 9 or more)


In Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, I believe it was called “The Battle of Births”. It took place during the Inter-War years of 1925 to 1938. It was mostly directed towards the working class, achieved through increasing welfare benefits, legislating tax breaks, making better health care available, and by awarding highly public medals and recognition to the women who produced more than the state’s target of five children per family.

The Fascist Regime associated motherhood, children, family, and virility with maintaining national greatness. In spite of all the mass propaganda, mobilization, and state incentives to increase the birthrate, “The Battle For Births” had already failed by 1938.

Nazi-Germany tried something similiar, with the reasoning behind it also being national greatness, and the good ol’ “aryan race” replacing the other, “impure and lesser” viewed humans. This included the invasion of the Soviet Union in the east, to obtain lebensraum or “living space” for these new aryan settlers which would populate the regions, after those pesky slavic “non-humans” were worked to death or genocided off through other means of inhuman terror.

Edit: Now that I think about it, the USSR also implemented some kind of birthrate increase programs following WW2, since the population in the western regions had been devasted by the War, and by genocides committed by both the Nazies and the Soviet Regime.

Edit2: One of the best examples of Soviet genocides being the Terror Famine of Holodomor in Ukraine, before WW2, following the new Soviet policies. In a nutshell, most of the people with know-how of agriculture were sent to the Gulag work/concentration camps, new collectivized farms didn’t work, leading to a massive lack of food. Ironically enough, those pesky “anti-revolutionaries” aka. mostly innocent civilians in Gulags had generally better food situation than those back Home. Although better than cannibalism doesn’t really need much.
The food situation was made worse by the Soviet government’s decision to continue the exportation of food outside of the USSR. Since money, and cutting the exports would have implied something was wrong. And since the Soviet Union was hardworking at propagandasizing itself as the workers heaven on Earth, public admitting or even the implication that something was wrong was unacceptable. And if the Ukrainians had any smart ideas of independence or secession from the USSR, that famine also conveniently helped in crushing those out.


Bookclub Wednesday, June 09, 2021

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Recommending **Basilica** by R.A. Scotti. Many thanks to u/rootbeerninja for recommending it a few weeks ago in this thread. The book narrates 16th and 17th century Italian/Papal politics set alongside the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica. Scotti was originally a fiction writer, so her ability to flesh out characters and set scenes is displayed front and center (though perhaps at the expense of absolute historical accuracy). Any fans of Tom Holland’s books/style would find much to enjoy in this one.


Finished and recommend **Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People** (review is a copy and paste I put on Goodreads)


Really liked and recommend if interested in Nazi Germany.

About post-WWI Germany from the point of view of foreigners like tourists, officials and their families, students, academics, artists etc. First 100 pages about Weimar Germany. Most of the book about pre-WWII Nazi Germany with last 50 pages or so about WWII. Covers a wide range of views. Some pro-Nazi as they saw them as a shield against communists or saw National Socialism as the future. Some anti-Nazi. The main feeling throughout the book is ambivalence. People who could recognise that the Nazis were bad but were willing to overlook it because they respected perceived traditional German culture too much or just liked to holiday in Germany too much. ‘The landscape’s nice, the beers cheap, the exchange rate is good, why ruin a good holiday worrying about Jews?’ basically. There are even well off leftwing/liberal parents who despise Hitler but still send their children to study in Nazi Germany for a few years. Tourism to Nazi Germany only drops off after Kristalnacht in late 1938. The book also covers a handful of black people (sportsmen for olympics and 2 academics) who go to Nazi Germany and a Chinese student who spends the late 30s and all of WWII in Germany.

Currently reading **A Brief History of Life in the Middle Ages: Scenes from the Town and Countryside of Medieval England by Martyn Whittock**. 50 pages in and I can’t say I’m liking it. A bit too dry and academic in tone. Feels like it jumps around a lot. Not enthusiastic to keep reading. It was very cheap so I’ll give myself another 50 pages to see if it is worth finishing.


For anyone looking for a good book on Carthaginian history, I can’t recommend enough Richard Miles’ *Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization*.

The book is very well written and takes the reader through the origins of Carthage’s founding to the peak of it’s mercantile empire, and ultimately the Punic wars and the city’s destruction. I found it refreshing to read about Carthage from a non-Roman perspective. Definitely check it out!


If you like YouTube videos I think The Origin of Everything is a good starting point, also Not Your Mama’s History


Southeast Asian folklore books? Mainly Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, but open to others.
Also, anything on the history of Bhutan?


Many people are aware that the vast majority of works of ancient Greek drama have all been lost, but here’s a brief look at the works that have survived—and how they’ve made it.

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Its honestly kind of funny reading Plato because of that, they will sometimes make a reference to a poem and they will say that every educated greek man knows of it, then at the annotations at the bottom of the page the translator will say that we have no record of that poem besides this singular sentence. Its amazing how much was lost and how random the selection process for survival was.


Just think, in 2000 years time maybe all they will have of our current time is a small subset of our media, and it’s all youtube fail videos or something. What a tragedy 🙂


If you’re wondering what “intercrural” means, it’s sex between the thighs.


I have zero doubt that all the gist of the Greek stories have survived but morphed into other tales that we attribute to other, later writers. There’s very little new in the arc of good stories.


Read the whole thing but definitely could have used a bit more flair in the writing mate. Good effort.


Why is East Asia so much more developed than the rest of Asia?

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Do you mean recently – or historically? Remember – more than the last few centuries, East Asia was arguably the most advanced civilization in the world.


The Asian Tiger are known for their rapid and successful industrialization during the 20th century. By committing their economies to certain policies of specialization these economies made the most of their opportunities by focusing on producing electronics, cars, advanced technology like computer chips etc. Also, they enjoyed support from the US in this process of industrialization.


Singapore is in Southeast Asia, not East Asia. Our population is majority ethnic Chinese, but we’re in Southeast Asia. Deeeeeeep in, too, not at the edge.


Interesting that some people credit colonialism with enriching the currently successful Asian countries and other people blame colonialism for holding the not so successful countries back. It’s obviously much more complicated than either one of those options. It’s the same deal in the the Americas. North America was colonized and got rich. South America and the Caribbean was colonized and (mostly) got poor.


I’m not knowledgable enough about many of these places to give you answers on all of them.. obviously the ‘industrialization’ of Japan is a well understood topic which has lots written about it, but many of the other areas others will have to answer, i’d say that there are lots of different reasons, South Korea obviously benefitted massively from the Post-War US investment.

But in terms of Hong Kong and Singapore, you shouldn’t forget that they were two of the most important colonies in the British Empire and at the time Britain took over Singapore (1819ish) and Hong Kong (1842) they weren’t particularly important locations, they were built almost from the ground up by Britain. Singapore had been a fairly prosperous trading post in pre-colonial times, and the Portuguese and Dutch had settlements there before Britain, but it was under Britain it became a major hub for that area, Hong Kong was basically a collection of fishing villages built pretty much from scratch by the British and by British trade following the Opium War.

So basically what i’m getting at, is that Singapore and Hong Kong benefitted from substantially investment and trade from the British Empire and they were also released from the British Empire fairly late (1963 for Singapore and 1997 for Hong Kong). So its hardly a surprise that they are similar to the West in terms of development since they were two of the most developed colonies and were handed over so late in the day.


Something sweet: the first doughnut machine was made in 1920 to meet the demand for doughnuts as a breakfast food item following WW 1. Adolph Levitt, a Jewish refugee who came to America fleeing czarist Russia, designed the machine and began selling fried doughnuts from his Harlem bakery in NYC.

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My college cafeteria has a donut machine and you could get them fresh out of the oils.

Those things were heaven in donut form.


Perhaps this is why Adolf Hitler gained popularity…


shame they cant get the history right. They were publicised by Baroness Elizabeth Dimsdale who got the recipe from a local cook known as Mrs Fordham who may have worked in her house in Hertford, England somewhen between 1800-1810.

Her ingredients included sugar, eggs, nutmeg, butter and yeast, which are made into a dough which is rolled out and cut into ‘nuts’.

The nuts are then deep-fried in ‘hogs-lard’ before being covered in sugar and left by the fire to rise.


Simple/Short/Silly Questions Saturday, June 05, 2021

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When trains were first becoming mainstream in America, was there an “anti-train” group that denounced the technology as evil?


What’s a current widely accepted historical fact that you feel will be proven to be false in the near future?

And coveresely, what was a wild historical claim that you used to find hard to believe but do so now due more evidence?


Why are so many things named after the French? French vanilla, French lavender, French toast, French fries, French kissing…


During the Ice Age a lot more land was exposed, for example Beringia, the land bridge that connected North America and Asia. So during that time were there civilizations that existed that are forever lost because they are now underwater? Not just underwater, but under the sea, the Bering Strait is notoriously difficult to navigate.


What’s the earliest time we for sure knew people wore nail polish (or something similar in nature) and how do we know when they started doing it?


Bookclub Wednesday, June 02, 2021

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Good book recommendations on Korean history? From the ancient world to modern times, as long as it’s good, I don’t care.


Any favorite architectural history books? Can be specific movements/buildings/architects/places, or more general surveys—all are appreciated!


Came here with a few recommendations on books I just finished. Highly recommend:

Marc Morris’ *The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England*;

Pierre Berton’s *War of 1812*;

Marie Arana’s *Bolivar: American Liberator*; and

David Van Reybrouk’s *Congo: The Epic History of a People*


I finished **Nicholas And Alexandra: The Last Tsar and His Family by Robert Massie** which I started last week. Really liked it. Lots on haemophilia (as the author’s son had it) and also quit a bit on Rasputin. Highly recommend if into royals or Russian history. That leaves Massie’s book on Catherine the Great to get round to at some point and I’ve read everything major by him.

Haven’t decided what read next. Quick edit – It will be **Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People by Julia Boyd**


Max hastings makes some great books on recent wars and unknown operations and stories