The rise and fall of the Romanovs

100 years ago this month, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated. In July of the following year, he and his immediate family were bayoneted, shot and mutilated

The rise and fall of the RomanovsThe First World War was a disaster, not just for the millions of battlefield casualties but also for three of the hitherto dominant imperial dynasties. Two of the families, the Hohenzollerns of Germany and the Habsburgs of Austria-Hungary, were deposed and exiled. The third, Russia's Romanovs, experienced a grislier fate. In March 1917 – 100 years…

Death of a tyrant

The best assessment of Castro came from his daughter Alina who, when told he was a dictator, replied: “Strictly speaking, Fidel is a tyrant”

Death of a tyrantI never liked Fidel Castro. Not even a little bit. Part of my aversion had to do with a general antipathy towards 20th century dictators, especially charismatic ones. They were, after all, the most dangerous. Intelligent people who waxed apoplectic over the alleged authoritarian tendencies of Stephen Harper and wet the bed over the prospect…

October 1066 changed England forever

The Norman Conquest annihilated England’s ruling class, physically and genetically

October 1066 changed England foreverEnglish history was fundamentally changed within a period of three weeks in the autumn of 1066. Two battles – Stamford Bridge on September 25 and Hastings on October 14 – swept away the English ruling class while simultaneously shifting the country’s external orientation from Scandinavia to France. In retrospect, it was a development waiting to…

‘Radical Joe’ Chamberlain inspires new British PM

The new British prime minister is apparently an admirer of the Victorian-era urban reforming Radical Joe

‘Radical Joe’ Chamberlain inspires new British PMThink of the name Chamberlain and the person who springs to mind is the hapless Neville Chamberlain, the man who is – perhaps unfairly – remembered as the appeaser of Adolf Hitler. But he wasn’t the first Chamberlain to make his mark on British politics. A generation earlier, Neville’s father cast a long shadow. Joseph…

Divvying up the Middle East after First World War

Beating-up on Britain’s Sir Mark Sykes and France’s Francois Georges-Picot for today's mess in the Middle East is just plain silly

Divvying up the Middle East after First World WarIt was 100 years ago this May that two diplomats – Britain’s Sir Mark Sykes and France’s Francois Georges-Picot – concluded a secret agreement dividing the (prospective) post-war Middle East into British and French spheres of influence. And by virtue of ignoring local demographic realities, their agreement has been blamed for many of the region’s…

Putting to rest a Fenian rebellion fantasy

Folklore and reality clash when it comes to examining North America's role in quelling an Irish rebellion

Putting to rest a Fenian rebellion fantasyWhen I was a child in Dublin, a popular patriotic ballad began with the line “Deep in Canadian woods we’ve met, from one bright island flown.” No, it wasn’t about the joys of being a lumberjack – it was a celebration of the failed 1866 Fenian invasion of Canada. The Fenians, you see, were folk…

When Khrushchev spilled the beans

60 years this month Nikita Khrushchev blew the whistle on (the safely deceased) Josef Stalin’s crimes

When Khrushchev spilled the beansIt’ll be 60 years this month since Nikita Khrushchev blew the whistle on (the safely deceased) Josef Stalin’s crimes. And while the revelations were no surprise to savvy observers, it was a punch in the gut for many true believers and fellow travellers, particularly in the West. What they’d fondly imagined as a Marxist utopia…

Eisenhower’s heart attack and the state of presidential medicine

Even the most powerful man on earth doesn't always get the best medical care

Eisenhower’s heart attack and the state of presidential medicineMost of us probably hew to the assumption that the occupant of the White House gets only the very best medical care. After all, the president is ostensibly the most powerful person on earth. But if you’re up to a spot of disillusionment, take a dip into the details of Dwight Eisenhower’s heart attack 60…

Robert Conquest, the man who was right

Apologists for the Soviet Union and Stalin in particular, according to Conquest, suffered a form of “mental aberration”

Robert Conquest, the man who was rightRobert Conquest, who died on August 3 at the age of 98, was an interesting guy. He was also a man ahead of his time, someone who was prepared to row against the current when necessary. With books like The Great Terror (1968) and Harvest of Sorrow (1986), he told the truth about Stalinism, and…

Eamon de Valera Ireland’s most controversial politician

Militant revolutionary, prime player in the Civil War and prime minister for 21 years

Eamon de Valera Ireland’s most controversial politicianThe dominant Irish political figure of the 20th century died just 40 years ago. Born in New York but raised in Ireland by his maternal family, Eamon de Valera served as the equivalent of prime minister for 21 years between 1932 and 1959. Before that, he was a militant revolutionary during the Irish War of…