Was Richard the Lionheart gay?

The debate is perhaps just a reflection of our modern obsessions and fails to put events in their proper historic perspective

Was Richard the Lionheart gay?England’s most famous medieval monarch, Richard the Lionheart, died 820 years ago this April. Wounded while besieging a castle in western France, he succumbed to gangrene. Strangely, though, despite his being the most famous European warrior of his time, one of the major modern talking points about him pertains to his sexuality. Specifically, was he…

Ireland’s greatest mythical hero

The story of Cuchulainn is one of heroism. But it has also become a cultural touchstone and a political rallying cry

Ireland’s greatest mythical heroWith St. Patrick’s Day almost upon us, it’s appropriate to write something with an Irish theme. And what better subject than the greatest hero of Ireland’s mythical past – Cuchulainn. As the word is derived from old Irish, a bit of phonetic assistance would help. The variation familiar from my childhood is “Coo Cullen.” It…

Queen Victoria’s foreign policy man was larger than life

Were Lord Palmerston alive today, he’d most certainly be a Brexiteer

Queen Victoria’s foreign policy man was larger than lifeFor devotees of the TV series Victoria, the introduction of foreign secretary Lord Palmerston was a season three highlight. And given Palmerston’s dominant role in British foreign policy between 1830 and 1865, his introduction was historically apt as well as dramatically interesting. Purists, though, might take issue with the casting. Although Laurence Fox’s performance is…

The rise and fall of a legendary Hollywood duo

Comedy masters Laurel and Hardy are the subject of a new biopic that tells a story of triumph and despair

The rise and fall of a legendary Hollywood duoLaurel and Hardy’s Hollywood heyday was before my time. I started going to the movies in the early 1950s, by which point their cinematic status had been eclipsed by other comedy duos like Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis. Still, the new biopic Stan & Ollie strikes nostalgically resonant notes. One of the more…

The rise and fall of a Native American empire

The Comanches were very adaptable and formidable. But nature, politics, economics and immigration eventually undid them

The rise and fall of a Native American empireIt’s easy to think of the European arrival in North America as an unremitting story of Native American retreat. But as Finnish historian Pekka Hamalainen explains in The Comanche Empire, reality was more complicated. Empowered by the European introduction of the horse and the gun, the Comanches did very well for a long time. In…

The Avro Arrow’s demise was a high-tech tragedy

The made-in-Canada jet interceptor certainly had its problems. But the manner in which it was killed raised serious questions

The Avro Arrow’s demise was a high-tech tragedyOn Feb. 20, 1959, the Canadian government cancelled the Avro Arrow. Some people still refer to the day as Black Friday. Growing up in Ireland, my teenage awareness of Canada was limited. Other than occasional news snippets in my father’s weekly edition of Time magazine, Canada meant snow, the RCMP, Paul Anka and Yvon Durelle,…

The day the music died?

Buddy Holly died 60 years ago, but his music has not faded away – even if the nature of rock tours has changed dramatically

The day the music died?To quote Don McLean’s song American Pie, Feb. 3 marks the 60th anniversary of the day the music died. The reference, of course, is to the 1959 plane crash that killed rock ’n’ roller Buddy Holly, two other performers and the pilot of the four-seater plane in which they were travelling. I remember the event…

The nationalist revival versus the globalist perspective

The ties that bind aren’t what they used to be – at least for some of us. For others, they are increasingly intense

The nationalist revival versus the globalist perspectiveI’m old enough to remember when nationalism was viewed as a good thing. And I’m not just referring to my Irish childhood. In the Canada of 40 to 50 years ago, many high-profile progressives self-described as nationalists. People like former finance minister Walter Gordon, journalist Peter C. Newman and the luminaries gathered around the Committee…

The failure of an American president to compromise

Woodrow Wilson failed to accept the limitations and checks explicit in the American democratic system

The failure of an American president to compromiseWhen the Paris Peace Conference opened on Jan. 18, 1919, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson seemed to be at the top of his game. America’s entry had played a critical role in ending the First World War and Wilson’s famous Fourteen Points were acclaimed as the blueprint for a just settlement and a future world where…

Alexander the Great, son of a god or mentally ill?

With ambitions far beyond what you’d expect from a rip-and-run raider, he apparently believed he was more than a mere mortal

Alexander the Great, son of a god or mentally ill?In the summer of 1956, my father took myself and my younger brother to see Richard Burton play the title role of Alexander the Great. It wasn’t my father’s idea. Alerted by a Dell Comics adaptation, I’d made a pitch for educational value. The movie was, in retrospect, something of a clunker. Replete with blonde…

Will Trudeau 2019 follow in the footsteps of Trudeau 1972?

Pierre Trudeau lost favour with voters and ended up with a minority government. A similar fate may await his son

Will Trudeau 2019 follow in the footsteps of Trudeau 1972?There are obvious similarities between the political situation of Justin Trudeau in 2019 and that of his father in 1972. In 1972, Pierre Trudeau’s personal magic wasn’t as alluring as during the heady days of 1968’s Trudeaumania. The same can be said for today’s prime minister vis-à-vis 2015. The 1972 election caught people by surprise.…

The first rock ’n’ roll Christmas

That a guy nicknamed Elvis the Pelvis had tackled sacred songs was offensive and sacrilegious to many. But it was perfect marketing

The first rock ’n’ roll ChristmasTeenagers in the 1950s couldn’t escape the music of their parents. Despite radio’s new-fangled Top 40 and the attendant infiltration of rock ’n’ roll, the sounds of the past were all around. This was particularly the case for Christmas songs. But things began to change in late October 1957, thanks to Elvis Presley announcing the…

Brexit drama has historical echoes

The battle over Brexit isn’t the equivalent of the Second World War, but the outcome is shaping up to be a disaster on its own terms

Brexit drama has historical echoesFor sheer drama – or maybe that should be melodrama – Brexit’s unfolding twists and turns are hard to beat. If you’d scripted a fictional narrative along these lines, you’d be liable to criticism for one flight of fancy too many. British Prime Minister Theresa May’s last-minute decision to postpone a parliamentary vote on her…

Christmas songs and the power of nostalgia

Bing Crosby's version of White Christmas is recognized as the best-selling single record ever

Christmas songs and the power of nostalgiaIt’s surely a personal quirk, but I must confess that the relatively modern Christmas songs, like All I Want for Christmas Is You and Fairytale of New York leave me cold. Yes, I know they’re critically acclaimed and immensely popular, not to mention enormous money-spinners. However, they don’t tickle my fancy at all. Perhaps it’s a…

The political fragility of George H.W. Bush

The late U.S. president had an authenticity problem that would never quite go away

The political fragility of George H.W. BushMy first awareness of George H.W. Bush dates to the 1970 U.S. midterm elections. He was running for a Senate seat in Texas but – in an era when memories of the Civil War still made statewide office a steep climb for Republicans – he was decisively beaten by Democrat Lloyd Bentsen. Bush died on…
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