Hardly a suitable subject for the festive season, but I have not announced a new publication for 18 months, and it is time to launch a new book. Just in time for Christmas, it is good to remember that some people, sometime, are not as fortunate.
Popularly associated with droughts in sub-Saharan Africa, and charitable ventures to alleviate the suffering, a detailed study of famine shows that famine is mainly the result of government policy and the most effective measure for mitigation once it starts is low-paid work on infrastructure.
Far from being the product of despotic governments, civil wars or natural disasters, famines have most recently occurred under British rule or administration, in countries lavishly supplied by Mother Nature with food.
This book focuses on the famines in Ireland, India and China at times when Britain controlled their tax administration. These three countries provided almost all the profit of the British empire in the 19th Century, yet little has been done to study the impact on those who contributed the most, those most vulnerable to nutritional stress. Apologists for the Empire, even at the time, obfuscated the causes and distributed blame.
To some extent, blaming the natives for their own predicament is reasonable; ascribing responsibility to the individual is the first step towards granting freedom. Britain today, and Europe more generally, is in a situation similar to that of India in 1700 and China in 1500. Once the most powerful, technologically advanced nations in the world, these great empires succumbed to a wave of foreign invasion, conquest and exploitation that resulted in the worst series of natural disasters ever seen.
This book, then, not only presents a historical perspective on one of humanity’s worst self-inflicted disasters, but also provides a warning to complacent citizens and profligate politicians.
Available in hardcover, paperback and ebook, on Amazon and all good bookshops.
Many thanks to Janet Backhouse, editor of the Winchester Archaeology and Local History society (WARG) newsletter, for an illuminating review of my book, Myth of England. WARG was set up to protect the ancient artefacts of Winchester’s long history from damage by developers, but has since evolved to become the local amateur history society. Much of the important action of English history took place around Winchester. The capital of the Wessex earls, who came to rule England, it was also the first capital for the Norman kings, who took over the private lands of the Wessex earls as their personal fief. William II Rufus set out from Winchester on his final journey to meet the sharp end of an arrow in the New Forest. King John also set out from Winchester to go to Runymede to sign the Magna Carta. Henry V collected his treasure here before setting out for France on his fateful attempt to marry a French girl. The bishop of Winchester was traditionally the second richest man in England, with a diocese that stretched from the Channel port at Southampton to Southwark on the South Bank of the Thames. Janet’s own vast knowledge of Winchester history added a curious rhyme about King John, which given that it was written by my namesake, A. A. Milne, I should have known, but didn’t.
Whilst history has always been written by the victors, this is the story of a period of 500 years when Monarchs, mainly not English, inflicted swingeing taxation on the populace. At school, I was taught a great deal about the glories of Monarchs and battles won, but never about the infrastructure which supported these – often tyrants – and how they demanded money to fund their exploits, subsequently, often deliberately ruining their creditors to avoid honouring repayment agreements. With the Domesday Book auditing taxation and the Bayeux Tapestry (actually an embroidery probably worked in Canterbury) showing justification for taxation, the lower classes were in for a rough time. William saw himself as the First King of England, Rex dei gratia, not by election.
We know of William ‘The Conqueror’ defeating King Harold but, not of the apparent enigma. Did you know he never insulted Harold’s memory, hailing him for his bravery? He also banned slavery and capital punishment in England, although castration was permitted, and slaves did not pay taxes anyway!! All this whilst taking from the poor English and giving to the rich Normans, creating an organized system of taxation.
William must also have seen the many advantages of keeping Winchester as the seat of government, building a Castle and Cathedral church. Meanwhile, the Bishop of Winchester levied taxation on merchants by locking the city gates, where he stationed his tax collectors during the sixteen days of St. Giles Fair, and also legislating that no private sales of goods were to be made within seven leagues of the city during that time.
Henry II decided the amount of an amercement (fine) not on the merit of the ‘crime’ but dependent on how much money he needed at the time. A.A. Milne tells us that ‘King John was not a good man – he had his little ways’, and his brother, Richard (The Lionheart) was not the movie hero depicted, but so aggressive and disliked, to the extent his brother offered a ransom, not to have him released from captivity, but to keep him there!
It was not until 1362, when the Statute of Pleading made English the official language for Parliament, that all nobles and the king were required to speak English well enough to conduct official business. It is thought that Henry IV (1367-1413) reigning from 1399, 333 years after the battle of Hastings, was the first English king to speak English as his first language.
Had I more space I would happily continue to add snippets of little known information, such as the precipitation of a supply chain crisis by Edward III, in requisitioning all ships, but I recommend you read it for yourselves.
Here is the latest video to promote Gifts from the Gods. It’s now available on YouTube; do watch it, and if you like it, like and comment, and if you don’t, let me know why. All reviews and comments welcome.
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The current coronavirus panic is a good moment to remember that the human population has surpassed 7 Billion, and it keeps on rising. Whatever the personal tragedies, the lockdown will probably increase the population further and faster. While we cannot colonise the Moon or another planet, our twin hopes lie in global warming and improvements in trade.
Transport, trade and taxation are the themes of the book I am currently promoting, The River of Gold. We can be sure of one thing, taxes will keep rising.
Available on Amazon worldwide, The River of Gold hit the top 20 historical-geography books on Amazon.com this week (No 17). Do visit and share your reviews if you have any comment to make.
It also has its own video – check it out on YouTube and leave your comments and likes.
With everyone at home and restricted to online shopping for non-essentials, my books are selling better than ever. Tax Man is in the top 30 books on evolution, although perhaps Gifts from the Gods might also be appropriate in the circumstances. Kindle sales arer best, but Amazon’s ability to deliver paperbacks should not be forgotten. My kettle broke and I had to buy a new one. No shop is open for such essentials, but Amazon delivered within 24 hours. It’s not surprising that they survive when many commercial dinosaurs are extinct, but then, if you read Tax Man, nothing will ever be a surprise again.
Brexit means Brexit, and it also means a fully up-to-date new edition of Myth of England, full of Boris’ buccaneering Britons and Anglian alliterative allusions. Read in detail how the wicked Normans, French and the brussely Belgians colonised the brave Anglo-Saxons, only to find that they preferred living in England and stayed here. Learn how later Englishmen remembered fondly their ancestors’ stories of women, food and warm weather, and decided to visit once again. Seethe, as the evil Europeans banned our armies from entering without a Visa, and rejoice, when we knocked down their border barriers and hit the bars, the beaches and the bistros. It’s all in here, the finest book to hit the bookshops this morning, in black and white, the way books used to be before MTV.
If you were expecting the Tax Man on April 5th, then this is a different one. The Tax Manis the book you have been waiting for, if only to finally shut me up going on about taxation all the time. It’s a big book. It covers our development from our first evolution to the complex societies we take for granted. Available on Amazon, many other online and all fine book stores.
Many thanks to all who helped me prepare for my poster presentation at the Social History Society Annual Conference, as well as to all who saw, read and commented on it. I received useful insights on the message, its communication (in French and Spanish as well as in English) and academic presentations. As a result, I will spend more time tightening the communication part, before starting to write more works (The Great British Bible that I have already promised).