Month: March 2013

Party Patches

The present epoch’s battle-lines between press and state are drawn up against a backdrop of long lenses, social media, silicon enhancement, laser correction and crystal adornment of every area known to man.

Yet brandishing our allegiances, prejudices and peccadilloes upon our skins while seeking to smooth the frayed edges of our jaded complexions is nothing new – from moleskin eyebrows, periwigs and white lead to a drop of belladonna in the eyeball, dissemblance is never far from our dressers.

Perhaps in these torrid times we may count ourselves fortunate, however, that the need to conceal facial blemishes are infinitely more likely to stem from the scourge of teenage acne as opposed to the vestiges of smallpox or the ravages of syphilis, and that the methods employed generally lean towards the subtle rather than the ostentatious. Our own skins, at least, should not misinform the populace as to our political leanings as they risked doing for the fashionably patched ladies of Joseph Addison’s 18th century London …

“About the middle of last winter, I went to see an Opera at the Theatre in the Hay-market, where I could not but take notice of two parties of very fine women, that had placed themselves in the opposite side-boxes, and seemed drawn up in a kind of battle array one against another. After a short survey of them I found they were patched differently; the faces on one hand being spotted on the right side of the forehead, and those upon the other on the left. I quickly perceived that they cast hostile glances upon one another; and that their patches were placed in those different situations, as party-signals to distinguish friends from foes. In the middle-boxes between these two opposite bodies, were several ladies who patched indifferently on both sides of their faces, and seemed to sit there with no other intention but to see the Opera. Upon inquiry, I found that the body of Amazons on my right hand were Whigs, and those on my left, Tories, and that those who had placed themselves in the middle-boxes were a neutral party, whose faces had not yet declared themselves. These last, however, as I afterwards found, diminished daily […] Nay, I am informed that some of them adhere so steadfastly to their party, and are so far from sacrificing their zeal for the public to their passion for any particular person, than in a late draught of marriage-articles a lady has stipulated with her husband, that whatever his opinions are, she shall be at liberty to patch on which side she pleases.


I must here take notice, that Rosalinda, a famous Whig partisan, has most unfortunately a very beautiful mole on the Tory part of her forehead; which being very conspicuous, has occasioned many mistakes, and given a handle to her enemies to misrepresent her face, as though it had revolted from Whig interest … This unlucky mole has misled several coxcombs, and, like the hanging out of false colours, made some of them converse with Rosalinda in what they thought the spirit of her party, when on a sudden she has given them an unexpected fire, that has sunk them all at once. If Rosalinda is unfortunate in her mole, Nigranilla is as unhappy in a pimple, which forces her, against her inclinations, to patch on the Whig side…

See Joseph Addison, Essays, Moral and Humorous, Also Essays on Imagination and Taste. Edinburgh: William & Robert Chambers, 1839: 40.


A Morbid Taste for Forensics

There has been a deal written recently in all kinds of communications regarding forensics and dead men: Richard III has been the prime subject of all types of discussion. His DNA has been laid bare, the manner of the wounds that his skeleton bears witness to have been discussed – although those which have no testimony in bone were ever so delicately tip-toed around by the  television documentary. We are about to have more  secrets of the Ice Man laid  open for all to discuss– his last moments so many millennia ago  a matter of modern conversation.

These teams, as they laboured, must have wished that a contemporary record existed. But there were no war correspondents on Bosworth Field, and no freelance photographer at the last moments of the Ice Man. However, detailed forensic reports are nothing new. Cast your eye, dear reader, upon the autopsy report of Archbishop Sharp, killed by a group of Covenanters. Avoid any further reading, if your constitution tends to towards the delicate and infirm.

Sharp’s death caused outrage among the opposing party, the manner of his death moreso. Yet, despite the heroic images from men such as John Opie, his death is more clearly accounted by those surgeons who examined the body after death:

We Undersubscribers, being called to visit the Corps of the late Lord Archbishop of St. Andrews, do find that he had received a wound by a sword over the left eye, extending two inches above and one below, making a great suffusion of blood upon the cheek, and upper and lower eyelid. Next, we found many wounds upon the posterior part of his head, insomuch that the whole occipital bone was shatter’d all in pieces, and a part of the brain lost thereby upon the place, which certainly being so great, could not but occasion his present death. There were only two wounds to be seen upon the body; the first, two or three inches below the right clavicle, betwixt the second and third rib, which was given by a shot not reaching the capacity of the breast. The next was a small wound upon the region of the kidneys, given by a small sword. Likewise we found three wounds upon his left hand, which might have proved mortal tho he had escaped the former. Also another upon the right hand, as dangerous as the former. As witness our hands at St. Andrews, the 5th day of May 1679.

George Pitillo, M.D.
William Borthwick, Chir.
Henry Spence, Chir.
James Pringle, Chir.

Outmanoeuvring the enemy

“The Raid of the Reidswire” is an often overlooked ballad, which Scott included in The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. It recounts the events of the 7th July 1575 at the Redeswire, where a run-of-the-mill Warden’s meeting degenerated into a battle. It is more frequently referred to as a skirmish, as the two sides did not meet with the intention of engaging in pitched battle. The Scots won the day, but the weapons each side had brought to the meeting were telling in terms of effectiveness: the English had their feared bows, but the Scots are armed with guns – “but we had pisolets enough” remarks the ballad. All of this set the thought processes on a slightly different trajectory. Even with the relatively low level of casualties at the Redeswire,  the flash and fire of the pistols must have come as a dreadful shock to the English opponents. The English archers, of course, had their glory at Crecy, with the lightly equipped and often low-born archers decimating the flower of French knights. I considered, then, what I would consider the most impressive and terrifying force, before the era of long-range missiles and modern warfare. There are many, of course, to consider. polish winged hussar

Those Crecy archers, Rome’s legions (or perhaps those guerilla troops who tracked and slaughtered Varus’s legions in the dark forest of Germany) are certainly more than worthy of consideration ,  but for my part, those elite winged hussars of Poland strike me as being some of the most impressive of the last 1000 years. There is much speculation regarding those fine wings  and effectiveness in warfare, but goodness, to be faced by an onslaught of galloping horses, lowered lances, thrumming banners, and mounted men, it seems, with wings rising from their backs – I cannot recall another charge – not even that of the Scots Greys – which may have surpassed it in visual and auditory impact.