On July 14, 1868, a girl was born to a Progressive family of successful ironmasters in County Durham in the North of England. Throughout her life, this girl, Gertrude Bell, would break through many barriers that restricted women in Victorian Era Britain. For example, in 1886 she became the first woman to earn a first-class degree in history at Oxford. During the 1890s and early 1900s she spent much of her time climbing mountains in the Alps – a theatre reserved almost entirely for men. In fact, during this time she recorded 10 new paths or first ascents of peaks. Quite an achievement!
During this same period, Bell began to get study Arabic and archaeology, focusing on the Middle East. She was in the Arabian Peninsula when World War I broke out in 1914 and was caught up with T.E. Lawrence and the famous Arab Bureau of spies run out of Cairo. Throughout the war, she sent intelligence on Ottoman movements to the British military leaders and helped to maintain good relationships with Britain’s Arabic nomadic allies such as Prince Faisal. At war’s end, Gertrude Bell was the one woman at a conference held in Cairo to determine what to do with the Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra that were now mandated to Britain by the League of Nations. Bell was among the leaders of a movement to unite the provinces into a new state, Iraq, under Prince Faisal who would rule as king. This is exactly what happened!
True, she firmly believed in colonialism and the superiority of British society, but there is no doubting that Gertrude Bell was an important figure in women asserting their abilities to engage in “men’s” activities.
Featured Image: “Gertrude Bell.” Public Domain.
May 29, 1453 is one of the most significant dates in world history. On this date, 563 years ago, the greatest city of Christendom, Constantinople, fell to Ottoman armies. This event marked the end of the great Byzantine Empire, heir to Rome. To learn more about this momentous event (and its ties to popular culture) check out this episode of the History Buffs Podcast in which I make a guest appearance: King’s Landing & Constantinople.
Featured Image: “Siege of Constantinople.” By Attributed to Philippe de Mazerolles – Bibliothèque nationale de France Manuscript Français 2691 folio CCXLVI v , Public Domain.
“Mehmed the Conqueror.” By Gentile Bellini – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain.
In 1622, the once great Ottoman Empire was clearly in decline, though it would totter on until the early 1900s. The teen-aged Emperor, Osman II, had attempted an invasion of Christian Poland behind his famous Janissary armies. The armies failed to make any progress against the enemy and Osman considered replacing the Janissaries with new recruits from the Anatolian peninsula.
The politically powerful Janissaries did not take kindly to the plan to replace them. Members of the Sultan’s bodyguard rose up and imprisoned the young Osman. They were ready to kill to protect their status and that of their brothers. When the executioner entered the chamber where Osman was being held, he started to fight back. Thinking quickly, one of the Janissaries grabbed the Sultan causing the “compression of the testicles” which led to Osman passing out from pain. The executioner proceeded to strangle Osman with a length of cord so as not to spill the blood of royalty. What a gut-wrenching and cringe-worthy way to go.