". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, September 23, 2011

*Steel Bonnets*

The quoted material below is copied from George MacDonald Fraser (yes, he who created Flashman, etc.), his history of the Borderlanders, Steel Bonnets (1971). This follows a chapter that lists the great Borderlander families with graphs of their internicine feuds, intermarriages, alliances and conflicts, whether on the English side or the Scots side of the border, centered on the 16th century. His arc argument is these families were more in tune with each other and more allied with each other despite the ferocity of their crimes against each other than with those who claimed administrative and legal sovereignty over the regions in question. He describes the history and reasons for this; these lands are where the English and the Scots literally battled each other for defense or sovereignty, thus this was a region that was always suffering the conditions of war. That said, however, it's clear: their criminality could not be put in the shade even by the mafia and their families' activities on Sicily, in Italy, or in the U.S. The difference was that the scope of their activities was confined to the borderlands. 

The following comes from the opening chapter titled, "The Game and the Song," beginning on page 77.

[ "Like so many warlike people, the Borderers were sports enthusiasts, and still are. The little Scottish towns, with their small catchment areas, produce Rugby teams that compare with the biggest club sides anywhere; within living memory th wrestlers of Cumberland, farm boys and Saturday afternoon amateurs, could send out a team to meet the best in the world and beat them. 
There was no Rugby in the sixteenth century, but there was "football," the father of Rugby, Soccer, and the American game.

In its primitive form it lingers today in places like Jedburgh and Workington, where most of the young male population is supposed to take part and the playing area covers the whole town. The old Borderers loved their football, and on the Scottish side even the nobility joined in, despite the laws against "fitbawis, gouff, or uthir sic unproffitable sportis". [One of the joys of this book is that MacDonald quotes so much from the texts of the period without changing the spelling for our contemporary eyes.] Mary Queen of Scots once watched a two-hour match on the meadow beneath Carlisle Castle, and Francis, Earl Bothwell, the notorious "King Devil", played the game on the Esk with other "declarit traitours to his Majesty" in 1592. He occasionally played dirty too, if we can accept Robert Bowes' accont of an earlier match in which "some quarrel happened betwixt Bothwell and the Master of Marishal upon a stroke given at football on Bothwell's leg by the Master, after that the Master had received a sore fall by B thwell." Every football fan will recognize this squence of events; obviously some things about the game have not changed. Following the incident Bothwell and the Master agreed to meet secretly next day to fight the matter out, and the king had to intervene.

Football incidents were not always so trivial, however. One match, the fore-runner of the Scotland v. England internationsl, perhaps, resulted in slaughter. It happened in 1599, when six Armstrongs came to Bewcastle to play a match against six of the local English boys, and after the game there was "drynkyng hard at Bewcastle house". However, it happened that a Mr William Ridley, an Englishman, "knowing the continual haunt and receipt the great thieves and arch murderers of Scotland had with the captain of Bewcastle", determined to capture the Armstrong footballers while they were on English ground. No sportman, he assembled his friends and lay in wait, but somehow the Armstrongs had been tipped off, and Mr Ridley's ambush party found themselves suddenly set on by more than 200 riders. Ridley and two of his friends were killed, thirty taken prisoner, "and many sore hurt, expecially John Whytfeild whose bowells came out, but are sowed up again."

The result of the game is not recorded.

Even more popular was horse-racing ...." ]

Why am I reading this book, other than it is an interesting read? The dates of this era's timeline take in those of Jamestown and the first settlements in the Caribbean and North America by the English. The names -- these names are on the roll call of the Confederacy, for another, with, of course, many others. I've read accounts of sporting events in the south in the late 17th century and 18th century that were no different in event than these. Albion's Seed's four British folkways in action! This book was written and published long before David Hackett-Fischer published this seminal study -- for which even today the Scots Irish among others revile him. In response I say to that -- read the biography of Andrew Jackson.
Another reason I bring up this book is football and how ancient is the passionate adoration of the sport lodged in the breasts of those who invented it.


K. said...

This must be the only Fraser book that I haven't read. Quartered Safe Out Here, his memoir of serving in Burma during WW2 is worth checking out.

During my school hiatus, I'm working on A Dance With Dragons and Frankly, My Dear (Molly Haskell), a feminist assessment of the lasting appeal of GWTW (book and movie). Personally, I think the book sucks artistically, but Haskell's argument that the confluence of the personalities David O. Selznick, Margaret Mitchell, and Vivien Leigh elevated the film is fascinating.

Incidentally, she doesn't ignore the movie's racism as much as focus on the character of Scarlett.

Foxessa said...

There's a great deal to say about Gone With the Wind, and I am drafting some of it, even now for the book. One of the most interesting things about it is that young Peggy Mitchel, neo journalist in Atlanta, went to the Bulloch Hall, Roswell Georgia Plantation to interview the last living pre-Civil War era residents there -- this is the home place of Theodore Roosevelt's mother.

This, among many other things, makes even more telling his observation of the joys of being a rancher, a stockman, rather than the cowboy labor, in his book on ranching in the Badlands, "That it was like the old plantation life in the South."

Love, C.