March 23 – Remembering Margaret of Anjou

Posted on March 23, 2018

Margaret was well educated,
for her time (especially for a
woman of her time!).

She became patron of the founding
of Queen's College in Cambridge.
When you are born a woman in 1400s Europe, you probably don't imagine that you'll get to wield political power. Nor that you will appear as a character in four - count 'em! four! - plays by a master playwright.

Margaret of Anjou was born on this date in 1430 in a region that was then the Duchy of Lorraine but is now the nation of France.

Her dad was René, King of Naples, and her mom was the Duchess of Lorraine. So she was born into royalty.

But royalty does not guarantee power, nor wealth.

Margaret's father was also Duke of Anjou, and his titles included King of Sicily and King of Jerusalem!?? He was sometimes described as a "man of many crowns but no kingdoms." 

Margaret married King Henry VI of England. The marriage was part of a peace negotiation between England and France, who were constantly fighting in what is now known as the Hundred Years' War. The truce created by the negotiation - which also involved some territory trading hands - was just temporary, unfortunately.

Margaret and Henry VI had a son, Edward, who was heir to the throne. Henry VI suffered from illnesses that are generally described as insanity, so Margaret had a chance to step in and provide some leadership that would usually have been done by a man. 

Except, of course, there was an ambitious man who wanted to be doing that leading, himself. Richard of York, the 3rd Duke of York, had been appointed regent (sort of a substitute king) when Henry had a bout with insanity. Margaret decided that Richard was a threat to both Henry and to her son - and because of that she called for a Great Council that excluded people from the House of York.

And she supported the people from the House of Lancaster.

And these actions and other people's reactions caused a civil war that lasted more than 30 years! - the famous Wars of the Roses.

The results: 

The old nobility of England was devastated.

Thousands of men died in battle...including the Duke of York.

During the last battle, the leader of the Lancastrian side was killed and Margaret had to lead her own army into battle.

The House of Lancaster lost; even though the Duke of York died in battle, and he thus never became king, he DID become the ancestor of all the Kings and Queens of England since then, so far.

Margaret's own son, 17-year-old Edward, died (probably in battle).

Her husband, Henry, also died (probably murdered).

Margaret was imprisoned for five years.

Finally, the French king ransomed Margaret out of prison; she lived in poverty in France for the rest of her life.

All of that drama caught the interest of William Shakespeare, who lived about a century later. His dramas include Henry VI, Parts 1 to 3, and Richard III. Margaret is the only character that appears alive in all four plays. How does she come out, as a fictional character?

She doesn't look aggressive
and ruthless, does she?

The truth is, we cannot trust artists
not authors to be accurate when it
comes to depicting royals!
Shakespeare's Margaret is intelligent but ruthless. In the plays, she is aggressive and power-hungry. She personally attacks the Duke of York in battle, taunts him and humiliates him, and then kills him. She becomes suicidal after her son and husband die. She later comes back to England in order to dramatically curse each and every noble who backed the House of York. (Much of this stuff really is fiction, remember!)

This picture is from the 1800s.

The picture above and the two pictures below show the 
character of Margaret as she appeared in various
various versions of Shakespeare's plays.

Also on this date:

March 22 – Tuskegee Airmen Day

Posted on March 22, 2018

Today is the anniversary of the 1941 activation of the Tuskegee Airmen - the African American military pilots.

Sad to say that at that point, before the U.S. had actively entered World War II, the armed forces were still racially segregated.

But look what this squadron managed to do:

They flew P-39, P-40, P-47, and P-51 type aircraft.

They flew more than 15 THOUSAND sorties.

They completed more than 1,500 combat missions during the war. 

During the war, they destroyed more than 100 enemy aircraft in the air, destroyed 150 enemy aircraft on the ground, and damaged another 150 enemy aircraft. They destroyed almost 1,000 rail cars, trucks, and other vehicles. They destroyed a destroyer ship and 40 boats and barges.

They completed more than 170 escort sessions and ended up with a much better record of protection than other Air Force groups. (They lost a total of only 27 bombers, compared to an average of 46 lost bombers by other groups.)

They returned home with  more than 850 medals. 

This includes 3 Distinguished Unit Citations, 1 Silver Star, 1 Legion of Merit, 2 Soldier Medals, 8 Purple Hearts, 14 Bronze Stars, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 744 Air Medals.


In 2007 the Tuskegee Airmen were collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.

The Tuskegee Airmen did an amazing job of serving - and 84 made the "ultimate sacrifice," dying in accidents or combat. But they faced discrimination before that service and, even more tragically, during and after their service.

By the way, black people had to pressure on the military and on government leaders to allow the Tuskegee Airmen program to begin, and then more pressure to actually deploy the trained airmen. One ally was the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who - also in March of 1941 - inspected the squadron and airfield, asked for a flight with a black pilot, and insisted on photographs being taken so that she could publicize the group and push for their deployment.

March 21 – Independence Day in Namibia

Posted on March 21, 2018

The African nation of Namibia is small and dry - although it's got a chunk of Atlantic Ocean coast! - and it's famous for these sorts of vistas:

The complex history of Namibia since the late 1800s include it being part of the German Empire and then South Africa. In 1948 the government of South Africa installed its awful segregation- and discrimination-by-law apartheid system in the region (which was then called South West Africa), and of course the people there resisted. After several uprisings and demands for political representation, the UN said it would take responsibility for the territory, although in fact South Africa still ruled the region. In 1973, the UN recognized the South West Africa People's Organization as the official representative of the Namibian people - but still South Africa maintained the actual power. Finally, in 1985, South Africa installed an interim government in Namibia, and on this date in 1990 the country FINALLY became fully independent.

There is some good news to report:

Namibia made a successful transition from white minority apartheid rule to a parliamentary democracy!

Even though SWAPO has won every election, there are several political parties.

The nation has held local, regional, and national elections on a regular basis.

A policy of "national reconciliation" has helped the nation transition from guerrilla war against the powers-that-be to rule of law, with the government granting amnesty to anyone who fought on the losing side.