’Tis the season of reflection: this year, readers of History Today learnt (among other things) of the existence of a British church dedicated to the worship of Adolf Hitler, that the Soviet Union began to crumble in Kazakhstan, how a shipwreck opened Japan to the world and the grisly details of Ottoman succession. We’ve compiled a far-from-definitive selection of our favourite articles published this year and, as usual, they’re free to read for a festively limited time. What generosity! Don’t miss out in 2019.
Mermaids and Mermen
Some of the most intelligent people in early modern Europe were convinced of the existence of merpeople.
Heads Will Roll
Getting and keeping the throne in the Ottoman Empire was no easy task. For a new sultan, the most foolproof method of securing power was to kill all other claimants.
‘More than a third of the city’s population now immigrants.’ Today that reads like a shock tabloid headline, but 450 years ago in Norwich, refugees were welcomed.
To outsiders, this was astonishing. The contemporary writer and historian Alexander Neville noted that Norwich was ‘a city seated daintily, most fair built she is knowne, pleasing and kind to Strangers all, Delightful to her own’. The poet Michael Drayton described Norwich as ‘That hospitable place to the industrious Dutch’.
A pamphlet circulated in 1696 that told the story of a 19-year-old domestic servant, Ann Jeffries, who, while knitting in the garden, encountered ‘six Persons of a small Stature, all clothed in green, which she call’d Fairies’. The story was written and published by Moses Pitt, a London-based printer and bookseller. Jeffries had been employed by Pitt’s family at the time of the event, which was dated to ‘the Year 1645’. The publication was in parts a personal reflection of a mysterious event that had occurred during Jeffries’ childhood. However, it is also indicative of the complex and capricious nature of fairy belief in the late 17th century, at a time when political opinion was divided between strict Christian orthodoxy and the increasing scepticism of the natural world.