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Miscellanies

Miscellanies is History Today's free weekly long read. Every Wednesday, we publish a specially commissioned essay or long read from our archive. The subject? History. As the name suggests, we can’t be more specific…

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A pagan queen, an unruly woman and a valiant warrior: Boudica has lived a varied afterlife in British history. Why is the ancient queen of the Iceni such an enduring figure?

In late 1945, a small self-styled fascist church established itself in southern England, where its members worshipped Adolf Hitler. For the war-weary locals, it was too much: vigilante action was required.

The slave-warriors of medieval Islam overthrew their masters, defeated the Mongols and the Crusaders and established a dynasty that lasted 300 years.

Despite the modern obsession with a good night’s rest, more of us are sleeping less. Perhaps we should pay attention to the advice of early modern doctors.

Said to have ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’, Helen of Troy has been remembered, judged – and hated – by every age since she entered the written record 2,700 years ago. With great beauty comes great resentment. 

Marching through the Atacama during the War of the Pacific, one Chilean general opined that his troops had fought ‘more against the desert than against men’. For those soldiers, the desert became a hell on earth.

In Nazi Germany, a number of female doctors and nurses worked at Ravensbrück concentration camp, where medical treatment was replaced by negligence, experimentation and violence. What led these women to take jobs there?

In the 19th century, American theatres provided the stage for a war between high and low culture, the elite and ‘Know-Nothings’ – and Britain and the US. In 1849, events turned bloody.

A woman swimming in the sea in Margate, Kent, Thomas Rowlandson, c.1800.

For 1,500 years, Western Europe ‘forgot’ how to swim, retreating from the water in terror. The return to swimming is a lesser-known triumph of the Enlightenment.

Like a herald of lost Atlantis, Gregor MacGregor arrived in 19th-century London with news of a Central American utopia. Unfortunately, Poyais didn’t exist and its would-be emigrants found only a ‘sinister coast of disillusion’.