Notable Historical Trials IV – Parnell and the O’Shea Divorce Case

English: This picture is from the biography 'C...

English: This picture is from the biography ‘Charles Stewart Parnell: His Love Story and Political Life’ that she (Katharine O’Shea) authored (1914) under the name ‘Katharine O’Shea (Mrs Charles Stewart Parnell).’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charles Stewart Parnell, the "uncrowned K...

Charles Stewart Parnell, the “uncrowned King of Ireland” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another chapter in the collection of Historical Trials by the Folio Society is down.  This one is about Charles Stuart Parnell, an Irish politician working towards home rule.  Apparently this was not all he was working on, as apparently he was conducting an affair with the wife of Captain O’Shea for a number of years.  By some reports several of the younger children were Parnell’s.

Some reports say that O’Shea knew about this for some time, and got Parnell’s support for an election to Parliament as a consequence.  Also Mrs O’Shea was up for an inheritance that might be lost due to a divorce.  But when the inheritance came in and O’Shea couldn’t get at it, he sued for divorce to encourage Parnell and O’Shea to buy him off.  This fell through and the damaging facts came out in the trial.

William O'Shea (1840-1904)

William O’Shea (1840-1904) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tales of the clandestine meetings, the times Parnell had to escape out a window made for great newspaper stories but were fatal to his political career.  Everyone knew this kind of thing went on, but on the quiet.  After his death Parnell was rehabilitated as a  virtual saint of Home Rule, which might have been some consolation if he had been alive.

I suppose the lesson is that if you play these cozy games, make sure and pay off the husband enough that he doesn’t blab.

Notable Historical Trials IV – The Assassination of Lincoln

This chapter in the Folio’s book on historical trials is a bit of a departure, as it really doesn’t concentrate nearly as much on the trial itself.

It does follow the conspiracy as it shifts from a kidnapping to murder in the last days of the Civil War, the partial breakup and execution of the plan.  It follows the escape of Booth and the chase and final killing in Virginia.  It is a nice overview.

But then the trial itself is dispatched in just a few pages that really don’t seem to delve very deeply.  Kind of disappointing.

Notable Historical Trials – John Brown

Salt print, three quarter length portrait of J...

Salt print, three quarter length portrait of John Brown. Reproduction of daguerreotype attributed to Martin M. Lawrence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another chapter down in the Folio Society‘s book on Historical Trials.  This time we are back in the USA in 1859. for the John Brown raid on Harper’s Ferry.I’ve never been a fan of John Brown, or comfortable with this adulation.  I tend to take the North’s view of matters of the time, but Brown isn’t ‘on my side’.  The Pottawatomie massacre, where he killed 5 settlers in reprisal for the pro-Slavery Border Ruffian‘s attack and sack of Lawrence, Kansas puts him outside the pale.  I won’t say he wasn’t provoked, as the other side’s crimes were severe, but that doesn’t excuse him.

At Harper’s, Brown wanted to raise a slave insurrection and have the slaves defend an area in the South.  While this was ‘better’ than the violence at Pottawatomie, it still was violence if more of a paramilitary than criminal kind.  And of course, it was also wildly irrational.  Most slaves were not willing to erupt into violence, and even those that might have been couldn’t see that fighting the forces that the Southern states and the US could have brought to bear made a lot of sense.

English: 'The Last Moments of John Brown', oil...

After a short siege and assault, Brown was wounded and captured, and after a short trial where most of Brown’s requests for delays because of his lack of counsel and his wounds were refused, sentenced to death. I understand the need for Virginia to get this over with to avoid any trouble with the slaves, but given their unresponsiveness to the original assault a delay of a few days could not hurt.  Look what Boston did for the perpetrators of the Boston Massacre.

Brown’s bearing at the trial and execution impressed many, and not only those in the North or abolitionists. The real effects of the raid were not on the slaves, but the masters.  Even the isolated and marginalized support for Brown in the north infuriated the slaveholders and boosted the political power of the secessionists.  In about a year, they would make their own move, which was only a bit more rational than Brown’s and precipitate the Civil War.

John Brown got his way in the end.

The Lombard Kingdom – Thomas Hodgkin

This is Volume 6 in the Folio Society‘s edition of Hodgkin’s “Barbarian Invasions of the Roman Empire”. It covers the years 600-744.  In the previous book, the Lombards had swept in and taken a large part of Italy, leaving only small enclaves to the Byzantine Empire along the coastline, centered primarily around Ravenna, Rome, and the southern tip of Italy.  The Lombards took the northern Po Valley as the center of their kingdom – still called Lombardy to this day.

The position of the Empire in Italy continued to erode as the Lombard Kingdom chipped away at their territory, especially around Ravenna.  This tended to reduce the power of the Exarch of Italy, nominally supreme, and the political power of the Popes in Rome grew to compensate.  In earlier times a Pope could be called to Constantinople to account to the Emperor in a dispute. That time came to an end now, as exarchs no longer dared try to extract a Pope from Rome.  The Pope soon became the de facto ruler of the enclave about Rome.

The influence of the Pope also grew when the Lombard Kingdom converted from Arianism to Catholicism. The Pope could always try to use religion to mitigate the attacks of the Lombards or reduce their effects.  This was aided by the fact that the southern part of Italy was ruled by independent dukes around Spoleto and Benevento.

So there is a balance in this period between the Exarch, the Pope, and the Lombards.  But the incursions of the Muslims into the East weakened the Exarch, and yet another religious controversy split Italy from the rest of the Empire – Iconoclasm.

This mystical idea, from the mideast, that images of Saints and other figures are sinful.faced great resistance in Italy, and not just because it was yet another crazy idea coming unbidden from the east.  It was hard everywhere for common people and priests to see why venerable objects of religious art had to be broken up.  So now a rift between the secular powers and the religious arm and the people grew, just as the Exarch was unable to provide any security against the Lombards.

This will culminate in two acts in the next book – the Pope assuming secular power in Italy for his own after the fall of Ravenna, and then looking for aid elsewhere, from the Franks, to provide a counterpoise to the Lombards.