Closing Time

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 3:34 pm, 16 October 2013]

[Edit May 2016: After I stopped blogging I deleted a huge number of old posts that I wasn’t satisfied with, sometimes for very trivial reasons. Now I’ve brought most of them back and added some new notes (like this one) at the top to explain what was wrong with them or how things have changed. This is because M.H. Beals has called on historians to wear our purple socks proudly. The note on this post is the last one I’ve written but is likely to be the first one that you’ll read. In the last week I’ve relived 7 years. Some old posts have made me cringe but I’m relieved to find that some aren’t as bad as I thought. I think the quality of my posts improved a lot through staying closer to my own patch and doing more research for them, but this made it harder to keep up posting. By late 2012 I’d run out of things that I could say without lapsing back into vague speculation about anything and everything, and once I’d got the cavalry operations posts done in the autumn of 2013 it was a relief to move on to something else. The new writing project I mentioned below was Time Girls, a sort of postmodern feminist hauntological metafictional closet drama in which two actresses comment on a rubbish science fiction series they used to be in and gradually reveal how patriarchy has derailed their careers. It wasn’t very popular but I enjoyed doing it. Now I’ve got that out of the way I probably won’t want to write any more fiction. My blogging, and my history writing in general, made progress with a small p, but only through effort and experience. I’ve kept on failing better.]

Seven years ago, I started this blog. Now I’m stopping it. I wanted to go out on a high, and I think last week’s series of posts on cavalry operations is the best thing I’ve ever published anywhere. From now on, I’ll be putting most of my time into my transcription business. In my spare time, I’m tentatively working on a new writing project. It’s about the past and it’s quite feminist, but apart from that it’s nothing like anything I’ve published here or anywhere else. The blog archives will be staying here indefinitely, and comments on recent posts will be open for a few months. And I’ll still be on Twitter.

Cavalry Operations: Why horse supply matters

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 13 October 2013]

[Edit May 2016: Peter Gaunt cited this blog post in his review of my book in War in History to show how my thinking had changed, which was nice.]

Over the last three posts, I’ve shown that early modern armies couldn’t move without an adequate cavalry screen, that what was adequate depended on objectives and balance of forces, and that the balance between cavalry in field armies could be affected by small-scale raids. Now I’ll bring it all together, in a post that could be titled ‘how horses won the English Civil War’. (more…)

Cavalry Operations: It’s a raid!

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 11 October 2013]

[Edit May 2016: The map has gone because I deleted my old Google account and I don’t have time to recreate it.]

One of the many problems with concentrating only on big battles is that it distracts attention from small-scale operations that were more common and can tell us interesting things about how war worked in practice. But studying small wars for their own sake can also obscure links with bigger issues. This post will try to explain why small cavalry raids happened and how they could affect operational decisions. (more…)

Cavalry Operations: A question of balance

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 9 October 2013]

In the previous post, we saw that having enough cavalry was vital for an army to be able to move safely. But how many is enough? (more…)

Cavalry Operations: Moving an army is difficult and dangerous

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 7 October 2013]

[Edit May 2016: I no longer think these cavalry operations posts are the best thing I’ve written anywhere, but they are the best blog posts I’ve ever written. I was just sketching out a hypothesis here which still needs throroughly testing against evidence (which I’m going to do in my next project, especially if my current funding application is successful).]

At last I’ve written the series of posts on cavalry operations that I’ve been promising for a long time. There are lots of details I haven’t gone into, especially to do with geography and fodder, but the main point I’ll be trying to make is that the number of cavalry available has a big influence on where, how and whether armies can move. This series will be four posts, all about the First Civil War in England, mostly in the South. I’ll be concentrating on the Earl of Essex’s army because that’s the one I know best, it’s been under researched and often misunderstood, and its campaigns give some great examples of how important cavalry were. Along the way, I’ll keep challenging the myth that Essex’s cavalry were useless ‘decayed serving men and tapsters’. The basic facts of the movements of armies in the civil war aren’t disputed much, or at least I won’t be disputing them the way I have with the received wisdom about tactics. I’m mostly relying on Wanklyn and Jones for these facts, and a few other secondary works for more details of certain campaigns. These posts will try to explain why armies moved the way that they did, and how cavalry or lack of it could limit their options. A lot of this is hypothetical and can’t be strongly proved using the traditional method of picking anecdotes from narrative sources (but what can?), but it works for me. (more…)

The King of Free Speech

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 1:29 pm, 7 September 2013]

[Edit May 2016: I’m much less impressed with Caroline Criado-Perez now I know she’s in with the TERFs and SWERFs. In fact even when I wrote this I wasn’t as impressed with her as I might have appeared. I was really taking issue with some sneering comments she made about ‘liberals’ and I wanted to set things straight without looking like a mansplaining sealion. Jennie Rigg said she approved of this post, so I think I succeeded.]

I’ve been thinking about writing something on liberalism, but I was going to wait until Andrew Hickey had finished his series on it. Now I’ve read Caroline Criado-Perez’s speech, and I know I’d deserve to be cursed if I came not to help the feminists against the mighty. I’m very suspicious of sentimentality (which I might explain in a future post if I have time), so I’m trying very hard not to be angry or heartbroken about what so many men have done to Caroline and other women. Instead, I’ll rigorously apply logical principles to prove why what these men have done is immoral and illiberal (and why these two words mean pretty much the same thing to me).

Liberalism begins with two questions:

  1. Do you want to be free?
  2. Do you want to harm other people?

If you answer Yes to 2, you’re probably a psychopath. Whether you end up in Broadmoor or 10 Downing Street, don’t expect me to come and visit you.

If you answer No to 1, you might still find that liberalism is the only way to get the freedom to be unfree in the way that suits you. If you want to submit to your god, you need freedom of religion so that you don’t have to submit to someone else’s. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that people who are openly into BDSM seem more likely to be in the Lib Dems than any other party.

If you answer Yes to 1 and No to 2, don’t get complacent. ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’ is only a truism because it’s true.

Each of these two questions is actually reciprocal, and could be asked either or both ways. If you take away someone else’s freedom, why shouldn’t someone take away yours? If you harm someone else, why shouldn’t someone harm you? It turns out that if you want freedom for yourself, you have to allow the same freedom to everyone else. This leads to the most basic principle of liberalism:

Everyone should be free to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t harm others.

This principle is known for short as the harm principle. It can easily be applied to lots of things to see who is right. Threatening violence against women obviously breaks the principle and is NOT liberal or moral. Nobody can ever claim freedom of speech as a justification for harming people or threatening harm. Anyone who thinks they can is either a woolly thinker who hasn’t realised the contradiction in their own views, or a psychopath who really does want to hurt people.

That bit was nice and simple, but I can already imagine the whataboutists lining up. ‘Does the harm principle justify telling racist or sexist jokes that don’t threaten a specific individual with harm?’ No it doesn’t. ‘But isn’t it illiberal to take away a comedian’s freedom of speech? Aren’t liberals being woolly-minded and hypocritical when they complain about right-wing jokes?’ Again, no.

I insist that any apparent contradictions or failures of liberal principles are really caused by illiberal social structures that are not as natural or inevitable as they might seem. Racial and gender inequality are not natural. They are arbitrary social structures that privilege some people over others. Women and racial minorities are denied opportunities and access to resources, threatened with violence, and actually subjected to violence. People are really harmed by inequality. This is not liberal, and it has to stop before we can call Britain a liberal country. Racist and sexist language feeds into existing inequality, making it seem normal or inconsequential to privileged people, and threatening disadvantaged people with further harm. It’s really the inequality that is already built into society that makes racist and sexist words harmful, not the words themselves or the intentions or emotions of the people using them. If you want the freedom to tell racist or sexist jokes, you must realise that it’s racial and gender inequality that are taking away your freedom of speech, not liberals or feminists. Anyone who wants complete freedom of speech must first work to get rid of all inequality.

‘But if we do that, won’t you still be saying that we can’t say this or that in case it offends someone?’ No I won’t. Now that I’ve qualified it carefully by showing how speech can, and often does, break the harm principle, I can say something that is often misapplied to justify harmful speech: no-one can have the right to not be offended. Simply feeling offended by something that someone has said or done cannot logically count as harm. If it could, no-one would ever have any freedom because someone else could always say ‘please stop’. Allie Brosh has a real example of this: her school’s anti-harassment policy failed because it was founded on a contradiction, not on coherent principles (trying to solve problems by compromise is actually just as futile, but that’s for another time). Right-wingers appear to feel offended by immigration, same-sex marriage, and feminism. Clearly their dislike of something is not a good reason to stop other people from doing it, and this principle must be consistently applied to everyone or it’s no principle at all.

In a truly liberal society, which is only hypothetical because such a thing has never existed, it would be true that ‘words will never hurt me’. I believe we can achieve this if we all try hard enough. People who use ‘freedom of speech’ to justify harming others are not trying at all. Acting as if we already live in a liberal society when we don’t is actually very illiberal. Freedom has to be for everyone or no-one.

(And I really mean everyone, even though I’ve simplified this argument to the extent that it arbitrarily excludes bi, trans and disabled people, and probably lots of other people I haven’t even thought of. But the great thing about principles is that you can apply them to anything as long as you think carefully enough.)

Henry Marten’s horse regiment part 3: the end

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:42 am, 24 July 2013]

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, Henry Marten caused conflicts between the two houses of Parliament by requisitioning horses for the regiment he was supposed to be raising by the Earl of Essex’s commission. This suddenly came to an end on 16 August 1643, when Marten was expelled from the Commons and sent to the Tower of London. But why?


Henry Marten’s horse regiment part 2: more trouble

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:32 am, 17 July 2013]

Last week (well, actually in 1643), Henry Marten started raising a cavalry regiment and caused some trouble by taking the King’s horses from the royal mews. This week, he takes more horses from some other people, with controversial consequences. This might get a bit repetitive as I’ve tried to include every example I know of. In academic publications I usually pick a few examples and don’t lay out all the evidence in detail, but with a blog post I can do it differently.


Henry Marten’s horse regiment

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:37 am, 10 July 2013]

I’ve previously shown that radical MP Henry Marten caused some trouble by criticising Parliament’s Lord General, the Earl of Essex, in December 1642 (see Winter in Windsor series). Marten went on to cause even more trouble in 1643 by requisitioning horses from various influential people, ostensibly to help him raise a cavalry regiment. I looked at some of these incidents in my book and my War in History article, but this post is the start of a more detailed catalogue of all the evidence I’ve found so far. (more…)

Winter in Windsor part 4: Hot and Cold

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 12:44 pm, 1 July 2013]

I thought I’d finished this series (part 1, part 2, part 3), but there’s one more thing to say that I’m now not saving for anything else. It all started on 5 December 1642 with radical MP Henry Marten complaining about the Earl of Essex keeping his army in winter quarters at Windsor when parliamentary forces in Devon and Yorkshire were being defeated. The diary of Sir Simonds D’Ewes (British Library, Harleian MS 164, f. 243) reported Marten saying ‘that all these miseries proceeded from his slownes, that wee saw it was summer in Devonshire, summer in yorkeshire & onlie winter at Windsor; & therefore desired that wee might speedelie send to the Lord General to move forward’. The main point of this was to blame Essex for things that weren’t directly his fault, but there was also a gendered subtext that may have made the criticism more powerful. (more…)