Thursday, February 23, 2017

The 17th-Century Adventures Of The Outlaw, Henry Pitman

A doctor who was a rebel, a forced laborer, and an acquaintance of pirates

  (James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch by Jan van Wyck, by Jan Wyck (1644–1702), [Public Doman] via Creative Commons)

Rebel Doctor
The Catholic King James II of England ascended to power in 1685 after the death of his brother, King Charles II. In June of that same year, however, the late King Charles’ illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, arrived on the coast of Dorset with a rebel army. Monmouth planned his rebellion to coincide with another revolt in Scotland, and he hoped to draw the majority of his manpower from the English Protestants who did not want to be ruled by a Catholic king.

For the rest of June, and into early July, Monmouth marched around the English countryside, recruiting a mass of unorganized, untrained and angry Englishmen. Around this time a doctor named Henry Pitman returned to see his family in Somersetshire after having been away in Italy. Pitman came from a relatively astute Quaker family that could be classified as belonging to the lower tier of the English gentry. The doctor heard of Monmouth’s Rebellion while he was visiting his family, and he began to feel that risky emotion that can bring either great reward or tremendous danger—curiosity.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Robert Guiscard and Emperor Alexios In The Chaotic Battle of Dyrrakhion (1081 CE)

A Bloody Fight On Land And Sea Between An Emperor And An Adventurer

The Norman Invasion
Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Constantinople(r. 1081-1118 CE from his seat of power in modern-day Istanbul) had the misfortune of his country being invaded by one of the Medieval Age’s greatest opportunists—Robert Guiscard. Norman warriors and mercenaries, like Guiscard, had found that there were plentiful lucrative opportunities among the warring counts and dukes of Italy. Guiscard became the Duke of Apulia (the heel of Itay) in 1059, and from there he expanded his influence into Calabria, Naples and Sicily. While he increased his own power, Guiscard was also undermining the authority of the emperors of Constantinople in southern Italy.

(Medieval illustration of Emperor Alexios Komnenos (r. 1081-1118), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

When Robert Guiscard took the region of Bari in 1071, he had expelled the imperial ambitions of Constantinople from its last foothold in Italy. As soon as Emperor Alexios Komnenos came to power in 1081, the Norman conqueror took advantage of the instability caused by the regime change to invade the Byzantine Empire. Guiscard claimed he invaded the empire to reinstate the deposed emperor, Michael VII (r. 1071-1078), whose son, Constantine, had married Robert’s daughter, Helen. Few inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire, however, actually believed that the Norman warlord would relinquish control of the empire if it fell into his hands.