The siege of Kaffa
The siege of Kaffa

It is recorded that by 1331 The Black Death was ravaging its way through central Asia. It was for a long time a mystery as to how exactly this plague managed to make its way to the shores of Europe but by reading ancient texts historians and biologists think they have traced its advancement to the city of Kaffa in Crimea and the first ever recorded use of biological warfare.

As the plague killed half the population of China and made its way through India and Persia somehow trade managed to continue. It’s of no surprise then that plague infested rats climbed aboard trading vessels and found their way into Southern Russia around 1345.

This was land known as the ‘Golden Horde’ and it was Mongol ruled territory. The plague spread rapidly through this area and made its way to Crimea.

In the city of Kaffa a group of merchants from Genoa were allowed by the Mongols to control the seaport on the Crimean peninsula. The Mongols allowed this as it was highly advantageous to them but tensions often ran high between the Catholic Italians and the Muslim Mongols. As things often do, violence eventually broke out, in a small town called Tana, between the Genoans and the local people, subsequently a Muslim man was found dead.

Although not a picture of The siege of Kaffa, this is a Mongol style siege.
Although not a picture of The siege of Kaffa, this is a Mongol style siege.

Fearing execution by the Mongols the Genoans fled for their lives back to the main city of Kaffa. They were given sanctuary and the pursuing Mongols were refused entry. Incensed by this action the Mongols laid siege to the city but it wasn’t long before in turn The Black Death caught up with them. It is here we have a first-hand account of events by Gabriele de’ Mussi; “whereupon the Tartars (Mongols) worn out by this pestilential disease and falling on all sides as thunderstruck, and seeing that they were perishing slowly, ordered the corpses to be thrown upon their engines and thrown into the city of Kaffa. Accordingly were the bodies of the dead hurled over the walls, so that the Christians were unable to hide or protect themselves from this danger, although they carried away as many as possible and threw them into the sea”

A map showing the progression of the plague from 1346 to 1350
A map showing the progression of the plague from 1346 to 1350

Of course it cannot be proven as to whether it was the bodies that then infected those within the walls of the city or that the rats carrying the disease made their way inside. Either way it was the death knell for many of those holed up inside. In 1347 the Italians finally fled Kaffa and headed for their ships. On their way back to Italy they stopped at Constantinople and infected the city. Thousands upon thousands were killed as it spread its way through Asia Minor and eventually on to infect the Genoans homeland of Italy and the rest of Western Europe.


Baynard’s Castle

Many years ago on the North Bank of the Thames opposite the place that is now occupied by Tate Modern there once stood a Norman structure named Baynard’s Castle. It was named after Ralph Baynard who came to England in the company of William the Conqueror. In 1213 the castle was demolished by King John, it was rebuilt but around about 1276 was demolished again in order to make room for the extension of The Blackfriars Monastery. A fortified mansion was built on reclaimed land so […]

5419127Many years ago on the North Bank of the Thames opposite the place that is now occupied by Tate Modern there once stood a Norman structure named Baynard’s Castle. It was named after Ralph Baynard who came to England in the company of William the Conqueror. In 1213 the castle was demolished by King John, it was rebuilt but around about 1276 was demolished again in order to make room for the extension of The Blackfriars Monastery. A fortified mansion was built on reclaimed land southeast of the first castle and is first referenced in 1338 as ‘Chastle Baynard’ the tower on the Thames but after a serious fire in 1428 raised it to the ground it was rebuilt again.

The new owner of the castle and land was Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, the youngest child of Henry IV and brother of Henry V. When Henry V died in 1447 it was passed to Henry VI who in turn granted it to Richard Duke of York. This important building soon became the London HQ of ‘The House of York’ and was pivotal in the ‘Wars of the Roses’, indeed in 1452 Richard was placed here under house arrest after being disarmed and swearing allegiance to the King. It was at this point it was historically named Baynard’s castle after its original predecessor.

3538120In 1483 it is mentioned as the place that Richard Duke of Gloucester was presented with a petition for him to become King. According to Shakespeare it was Buckingham who proclaimed him King with the words ‘I salute you with this royal title; Long live King Richard, England’s worthy King’.
After the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 it was passed to Henry VII who then transformed it into a royal palace. It was gifted to Catherine of Aragon on the eve of her wedding to Henry VIII. Sadly it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London although some parts still remained up till the 19th century.

In 1972 the site was excavated before a new dual carriageway was built. When the archaeologists left, works continued and it is now, sadly, completely covered from view.




It is the 15th March 44 BCE and Julius Caesar has declared himself dictator for life. There are many who are unhappy with this move and are seeking to end his leadership and his life.
Caesar had led his army across the Rubicon River into northern Italy plunging the Roman Republic into a civil war. Caesars army defeated the army of his rival but not before Pompey managed to escape to Greece. Caesar chased his man down defeating his armies as he went before finally catching up with him in Egypt, well, not the man himself but his severed head, which was delivered to Caesar, instead of an extended hand of friendship, by his new ally Cleopatra. After polishing off all other rivals in North Africa Caesar returned home in a victorious mood. With all this power going to his head it is at this point he decided to announce his ruling for the entirety of his life.
All this is not going down well with no less than 60 members of the senate who decide the only way to deal with a problem like Caesar was to finish him off once and for all. At first they meet in secret. They kept it to small groups so that suspicions were not aroused.
They tossed a few ideas around between them as to what would be the best way to do it, maybe as he walked along his favorite walk? No. How about during elections when he would have to cross a narrow bridge by himself? No. Maybe during game season while a couple of Gladiators cut themselves to pieces? No. Eventually they settled on an idea, they would do it during a session of the senate. He would be vulnerable there with none of his friends to help him.
Finally it came to the big day, the Ides of March. As Caesar was getting ready for a special meeting of the senate, that he himself had called, his wife Calpurnia begs him not to leave the house. She tells Caesar she has had bad dreams and that they are omens. It falls to his protégé Brutus to convince him to leave the house. Unbeknown to Caesar, Brutus is one of the conspirators. According to Nicolaus of Damascus Brutus says to Caesar ‘what is this Caesar, are you a man to pay attention to a woman’s dreams and the idle gossip of men? The session has been waiting for you since early this morning.’
Caesar is convinced by his ‘friend’ and heads for the senate. Before he is to go in his priests bring him his sacrifices to make. The offerings do not go well and portent bad omens. They hurriedly do more sacrifices but again they do not bode well.
Caesars friends, clearly worried, beg Caesar to put the senate off to another day but again Brutus steps forward;
‘Come good sir, pay no attention to the babblings of these men and do not postpone what Caesar and his mighty powers have seen fit to arrange. Make your own courage your favourable omen’
With these words Brutus took Caesar by the right hand and Caesar followed him silently into the senate.
The senate rose to honour his position when he entered and those who were to partake in his murder stood closest to him. Tillius Cimber whose brother had been banished stood next to him.
Then it began, suddenly the protagonists drew their daggers and rushed Caesar. He received 23 stab wounds in total. Marcus Brutus was wounded in the hand during the melee. An autopsy was performed and it was discovered that only the wound to his chest would have been fatal. In fact he may have lain on the floor, at the foot of Pompeys statue, for a long time before death finally took him. If it did, in fact, take him a while to die then that would make Caesars last words according to Shakespeare ‘Et Tu Brut?’ null and void. In fact many contemporary writers did believe his dying words as ‘you too child?’ but many more including Suetonius and Plutarch wrote that he said nothing at all. After Caesars murder most of the conspirators had to flee Rome on account of public outrage. Caesar had chosen his great nephew, Octavius, to succeed him despite having a legitimate son by Cleopatra. Octavius became The Emperor Augustus.



Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus

We have all heard of Oedipus, either as the ‘tragedy’ or the ‘complex’. Oedipus has been around in some form or another for well over 1000 years now. His beginnings are with ancient Greek poet Homer in fragments, then with Hesiod, Pindar, Aeschylus and Euripides. It is, however, with Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the King) that the name became legendary.
The play begins in the court of Laius and Jocasta, the King and queen of Thebes, who are having trouble conceiving. Troubled by this Laius goes to see the oracle of Apollo at Delphi.

The oracle prophesises that any son born to the couple would kill his father and marry his mother. Terrified and appalled by the prophesy when a son is born Laius pins the babies ankles together and sends it with a servant to be left in the desert. This he hopes will prevent what has been foretold.
The servant, however, cannot dispose of the child and instead hands him to a shepherd. The child ends up in the court of Polybus and Merope, king and queen of Corinth and as they are childless they adopt him as their own.
Many years later as Oedipus becomes a man he is told by a drunk that he is a bastard. He asks his parents but they deny this to be true. Oedipus is not sure so he visits the Oracle of Apollo, the same oracle visited by his real father years before. The Oracle reveals the same Prophesy to Oedipus. Fearing he will kill his father and marry his mother he leaves Corinth immediately.

He heads toward Thebes but on his way he comes to a road with three paths. Once he decides on his path he sees Laius travelling in the same direction. Oedipus and his real father begin to quarrel and after a fight Oedipus kills Laius, thus fulfilling the first part of the prophesy.
As Oedipus nears Thebes he comes upon a sphinx that is plaguing the city. The sphinx has vowed to leave if someone will solve her riddle.
What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night?

Oedipus answers correctly, it is man; Man crawls on all four as a baby, two feet as an adult and three (with a walking stick) in old age.
The sphynx allows him to pass and leaves the city in peace. As Jocasta’s brother Creon had promised the throne of Thebes and his sister’s hand in marriage to anyone who could rid the city of the sphinx, the second part of the prophesy comes to pass. Oedipus has now murdered his father and married his mother. The couple have four children together and after many years a plague of infertility befalls Thebes.

Oedipus sends his uncle to the Oracle of Delphi who warns him that the murderer of the former King Laius must be brought to justice and exiled. The blind prophet, Tiresias, is sent for and after many heated exchanges the truth is revealed. At first it is Jocasta who upon realising she has married her son, leaves and hangs herself. Next Oedipus finally realises who he is and what he has done. Taking the pin from Jocasta’s gown he gouges out his own eyes and leaves the city.

In other versions of Oedipus the ending differs greatly typically in Homers version where Oedipus continues to rule Thebes after Jocasta’s death. However in Sophocles’ version he roams the land with his daughter as a guide until he eventually dies at Colonus, where he is swallowed into the ground. Oedipus then becomes hero and guardian of Athens. Essentially a good luck charm. Finally we have to mention good old Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and his Oedipus complex.

The term is used to describe his theory on psychosexual stages of development. His theory endeavours to explain a boys feelings of desire towards his mother and anger towards his father. Essentially a boy feels he is in direct competition with his father for possession of his mother. His father is a rival for her emotion and attention. It even goes as far as to theorise a boy’s desire for sexual involvement with his mother and his erotic fantasies about her. We have to profess here that these were not ever Oedipus Rex’s emotions or intentions that motivated him towards the path he took in any version of the ancient play.



Illustration of the Pendle trials
Illustration of the Pendle trials

James I believed in witches and the dark arts. In 1603 he wrote a book ‘Daemononlogie’ in it he instructs the reader to condemn, inform on and prosecute all supporters and practitioners of witchcraft. When James came to the throne, this fear became personified in the common people and a law was passed in 1612 that each Justice of the Peace in Lancashire should write up a list of all those who refused to attend church or take Holy Communion. That was a criminal offense. So when we look at the Pendle ‘witches’ we have to look at them at the point in time in which they were accused.

Firstly Lancashire, at the time, was infamous as a lawless society. This was probably more to do with its loyalty to Catholicism than anything else. It was at Pendle Hill, during the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, that resistance to the closure of the local Cistercian Monastery was most highly contested. They also reverted straight back to Catholicism once Mary took to the throne.
Secondly it was a very common thing in that age to have a village ‘healer’. There was no chemist you could just pop down to for some paracetamol or antiseptic, you would have gone to the local wise woman who, through her extensive knowledge of herbs and plants, would have given you the best hope of a painless recovery.
With this background in mind we can now look at the individuals involved. Most of the accused came from two rival families, the Demdikes and the Chattox family.
Both families were headed by old women, Elizabeth Southerns aka ‘old Demdike’ and Anne Whittle aka ‘Mother Chattox’. Both families were living in poverty.
The story began with a lady called Alizon Device who was travelling or begging at the side of the road going towards Trawden forest when she came upon a peddler called John Law. At this point she asked him for some pins and he refused, it’s not clear whether she begged for them or offered to pay but upon his rejection she cursed him. Sometime after their meeting John suffered a stroke which he blamed on Alizon. Due to the seriousness of the accusation Alizon was bought before the local justice, a man called Nowell and she confessed immediately. She told Justice Nowell that she had asked the devil to lame John Law. I think Alizon truly believed that she had powers.

It wasn’t long before she accused her grandmother ‘old Demdike’ of being a witch and members of the Chattox family. Alizon’s mother told how her mother ‘old Demdike’ had a mark on her body where the devil had sucked her blood. Then John Device (Alizon’s father) accused ‘Old Chattox’ of causing him illness. In truth the two families had been feuding for years after the chattoxs had broken into Malkin tower, home of the Demdikes, and stolen money. John also accused her of threatening to curse him if he didn’t pay her money for protection.

The deaths of four villagers many years before were also bought up and blamed on ‘Old Chattox’. Upon questioning both old ladies confessed to selling their souls to the devil. Chattoxs daughter Anne was also accused of making clay dolls. When Nowell had heard all of the evidence he detained Old Demdike, Old Chattox, Anne and Alizon to wait for a trial. During the wait for trial Elizabeth Device called a meeting at Malkin Tower on Good Friday when all good citizens should have been at church. Many who were sympathetic to the family attended and James Device stole a neighbour’s sheep to feed them. Sadly this gathering was reported to Nowell who felt he needed to investigate further. In all a further eight people were arrested, questioned and put to trial.

Execution of the Pendle witches
Execution of the Pendle witches

The trials were held on the 17th, 18th and 19th August 1612. Poor Old Demdike never made it to trial after succumbing to the conditions of the prison in which she was being kept. Normally in this period children were exempt from giving evidence but with a ‘witch’ trial all normal rules went out of the window. Most of the trial hinged on the evidence of 9 year old Jennet Device. She testified against many who had attended the meeting at Malkin tower and against her own mother, brother and sister. The crowd were enthralled by her every sentence and as her mother, Elizabeth, listened she eventually had to be dragged from the room screaming and cursing when she heard her daughter giving evidence against her.

When John Law, the peddler, was bought before Alizon she fell to her knees confessing her guilt in tears.
Of the eighteen sent for trial eight were acquitted and ten were executed. These were;
Anne Whittle alias Chattox
Anne Redferne daughter of Chattox
Elizabeth Device daughter of Demdike
James Device son of Elizabeth Device
Alizon Device daughter of Elizabeth Device
Alice Nutter
Jane Bulcock
John Bulcock son of Jane Bulcock
Katherine Hewitt alias mould-heels
Isabel Robey

Illustration of Old Chattox and her daughter Anne.
Illustration of Old Chattox and her daughter Anne.

It is worth noting that most of these unfortunate people continued to protest their innocence until the end.
All were sentenced on flimsy circumstantial evidence but in the treacherous climate of the reign of james I and for a long time after they wouldn’t be the last ‘witches’ to be tried just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The ten condemned were hung on the now infamous Gallows Hill. It is not known what happened to their bodies thereafter.