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Page 1

May 2015
Vol 65 Issue 5



The Struggle for the Holy City
CRUSADES

Plus Germany’s Other Führer / Killers at the Kremlin /
Oxford, the Great War and the Rise of Female Students

Page 2

���������������� �MAY 2015

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I AM NOT NORMALLY a joiner, though I make an exception for the Cromwell
Association. That is not because I am an unquestioning admirer of the Lord
Protector, who remains an almost uniquely ambivalent figure: a fine general, though
perhaps not as good as John Lambert, his political rival; an inspiring yet verbose
speech-maker; a man of considerable personal tolerance but with an authoritarian
streak made worse by an unquestioning belief in providence; and an unswerving
commitment to government for the people – administered by his circle of the godly
elect – rather than by the people. And then there is Ireland.

No, the attraction of the Cromwell Association is that, while being broadly
sympathetic to the achievements of the Protector, it rarely delivers panegyrics;
indeed, at one recent symposium, one of its more prominent members, a leading
scholar of the 17th century, lamented the fact that most recent biographies of
Cromwell had been too positive; it was time for someone to call him to account, to
present a more critical view of his rule.

This makes the Cromwell Association a somewhat di�erent kettle of fish from
the Richard III Society, though in fairness the Cromwellians have rather richer
fare to digest. Whatever one thinks of Cromwell, his achievements su�ce to make
him great, which is more than can ever be claimed for the last Plantagenet king.
Compare and contrast, for example, the literature produced by the Cromwell
Association with that of the Richard III Society. Cromwelliana, the association’s
quarterly journal, is one of the more valuable forums for discussion of the crisis of
the 17th century, which a�ected all corners of Britain and Ireland and, in the light
of present politics in Scotland, has an especial resonance today. It is a sad fact, for
example, that few people realise that what was once called the English Civil War and
is now more accurately called the Civil Wars or the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, was
actually sparked by events in Scotland. Which makes it all the more shameful that
broadcasters such as Channel Four, with a public service remit, could devote hours
of their March schedule to embarrassing live broadcasts of the pseudo-medieval
shenanigans surrounding the reburial of Richard III – kitsch fit for a king – yet fail to
shed any historical light on the current political struggle in Scotland or, say, Britain’s
relationship with Europe. Public history? Yes please, but not at any price.

Paul Lay

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��������� University of Strathclyde
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� University of York
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�������� University of Exeter
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of the Open University
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� University of Aberdeen
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������� University of Sussex
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Historian and author
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University of London
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Ohio State University
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London School of Economics
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The Australian National University
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University of London
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Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
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King in all but
name: The
Pourtraiture
of His Royal
Highness, Oliver,
1659.

Page 36

� SLEEP

36 HISTORY TODAY MAY 2015

Sleep, sweet deceiving
Despite the modern obsession with a good night’s rest, more of us are sleeping less. Perhaps we
should pay attention to the advice of early modern doctors, says Katharine A. Craik.

SLEEP IS AN URGENT TOPIC for neuroscientists and now
more than ever is known about its crucial importance for
concentration and memory formation. Despite all this, the
western world spends fewer and fewer hours asleep. With
human interaction increasingly taking place in timeless
virtual spaces, our time spent asleep is shortening and our
working days are lengthening, with profound implications
for the quality of the lives we lead. In particular, the impact
of light-emitting screens upon the circadian rhythms, so
essential to well-being, are only just becoming apparent. A
similar debate took place during the Enlightenment when
artificial lighting o�ered many people the novel opportuni-

ty to manipulate their hours of wakeful productivity.
But the origins of sleep science lie centuries earlier, in
Renaissance theories about the body’s sensitivity to light
and darkness.

The science of sleep was developing rapidly in the 17th
century, when rest was regarded as one of the core factors
for maintaining good health, along with other essential
‘non-naturals’ such as air, food and drink. Most writers
agreed that the optimum quantity of sleep lay somewhere
between seven and nine hours and that its health-giving
benefits were many and varied. The medical literature of
the time however suggests that people – then as now – were

Detail of St John
from The Last
Supper by Andrea
del Castagno,
1447.

Page 37

MAY 2015 HISTORY TODAY� 37

Katharine A. Craik is reader in English Literature (1550-1700) at Oxford
Brookes University. Her Watching project is at www.watching.eca.ed.ac.uk

often plagued by slumber’s elusiveness. Since the way to
achieve a good night’s sleep was by no means self-evident,
a flourishing market developed in handbooks o�ering hints
and advice to insomniacs. In 1637 the physician Tobias
Venner suggested a range of therapies to those confronting
the unhappiness of night-time ‘watching’, including ‘a good
draught of soporiferous Almond milke’ blended with barley,
the flowers of borage and violets and rosewater sweetened
with sugar. Less conventional remedies included attaching
small bags of aniseed to the nostrils or tying slices of bread
steeped in vinegar to the soles of the feet.

Early modern doctors knew how profoundly sleep
(and lack of it) could a�ect not only the mind but physical
well-being more generally. The body naturally purged itself
of ‘foul humours’ during the hours of darkness and patients
were therefore advised to unblock their own internal chim-
neys by sleeping with their mouths open. The physician
William Vaughan wrote in 1612 that the downward passage
of the body’s ‘hurtfull vapours’ could
be impeded by thick leather shoe-soles,
causing them to rise painfully upwards
instead towards the eyes. Sleeping
barefoot was therefore recommended.
The urge to urinate and empty the
bowels upon waking, together with a
feeling of ‘sensible lightnesse of all the
body’, was confirmation that the night had completed its
purgative work. A sense of sluggishness, on the other hand,
accompanied by the taste of last night’s dinner, suggested
that the business of digestion remained incomplete.

Doctors always emphasised that sleep should follow
the natural rhythms of night and day: ‘We must follow the
course of Nature, that is, to wake in the day, and sleep in the
night.’ Sunrise was thought to trigger a chain of irresistible
events in the sleeper’s body, opening the pores and causing
spirits to spring outwards from the inward organs. Con-
versely the setting sun heralded the body’s own descent, as
heat and blood retreated to ‘the inmost parts of the body’.
Night-time therefore seemed to take place both inside and
outside the sleeper, the body’s own ‘rising’ and ‘setting’
echoing events in the cosmos. To confound this natural
rhythm by over- or under-sleeping was to resist the natural
order of things, ‘so that there is made as it were a fight and
combat with Nature to the ruine of the body’.

'Untimely watchings'
We tend to think of the early modern world as shrouded in
darkness, but sleep scientists were in fact already surpris-
ingly concerned with what we now call light pollution.
Moonlight was a problem in the absence of e�ective
curtains, as it could mimic the stirring e�ects of bright sun-
shine. Staying up late by candlelight, as students often did
with ‘untimely watchings’ at their studies, was particularly
hazardous. Deprived of the refreshing properties of dark-
ness, the student’s energies were instead pulled constantly
outwards to sustain movement and active thought. The
exhausted body, full now of ‘putrid and vaporous humors’,
was thought itself to resemble an artificially extended day
whose life-force shone ever more weakly outwards. Doctors
often described the youthful body as a natural rebel against
rest, perpetually drawn towards even the weakest sources
of light. Achieving rest involved wresting control from the

body’s light-seeking spirits and preserving against the odds
the body’s own peaceful night-time.

If bodies could rebel against the rhythms of nature,
the opposite was also true. Early modern physicians were
already debating the problems posed by what we call
Seasonal A�ective Disorder (SAD). What happens when
the morning arrives shrouded in mist and gloom, more
an extension of the night than a glorious new day? To the
aforementioned William Vaughan, dull weather seemed
as dangerous as the corrupted atmosphere of plague time.
The best treatment was to expose oneself to the light: ‘It is
better to abide either in bed with some light, or to sit in the
chamber by some sweet fire.’ Here is the Renaissance equiv-
alent of the UV lamp to fend o� the winter blues.

Scientists also began tracing connections between the
sleep cycles of plants and people. Our current understand-
ing of the human sleep cycle originates in the observations
of those who noticed that the lives of plants are governed

by circadian rhythms, which determine the
movements of leaves and flowers in accord-
ance with light sources in the environment.
The human body-clock works along similar
principles, as it is designed to be active during
daylight and to rest during hours of darkness.
Physicians accordingly drew intuitive connec-
tions between plants with unusual sleep cycles

and people with disturbed sleep, recommending treatments
based on ‘sleepy’ plants for insomniacs and ‘wakeful’ plants
for sleepyheads.

'Segmented sleep'
Perhaps the most surprising feature of early modern sleep,
however, is that it was seldom taken in one long stretch.
The forgotten practice of ‘segmented sleep’, memorably
described by the historian A. Roger Ekirch in At Day’s Close:
A History of Night-time (2005), meant that people generally
slept at night in two equal intervals, spending up to two
hours awake between their first and second slumber. In
the long, dark winter months, when the labouring classes
may have spent as many as 14 hours in bed, broken sleep
was regarded as routine and natural and only disappeared
in Europe with the advent of artificial lighting. The first
sleep, regarded as the most indispensable and restorative,
was followed by a period of ‘watching’, a state of quiet, dark
and often prayerful meditation, before the second sleep led
towards dawn. In the middle of the night people made love,
stoked the fire or even caught up on household chores. This
period of mindful night-time wakefulness was quite di�er-
ent from the hazardous practice of extending the evening
by working into the small hours. Perhaps because it took
place largely in the dark, it was associated instead with rest,
recuperation and reflection.

The questions currently debated by sleep scientists,
especially regarding the impact of light and darkness upon
our well-being, do not begin with the advent of artificial
lighting in the industrial age but rather in the more distant
early modern period. Venner’s advice still rings true today:
‘If therefore ye desire peaceable and comfortable rest, live
soberly, eschew crudity, and embrace tranquillity of minde.’

Early modern doctors
knew how profoundly
sleep could affect physical
well-being

Page 72

72 HISTORY TODAY MAY 2015

FromtheArchive
Steven Runciman’s profile of Richard the Lionheart, written at a time of impending crisis in
Anglo-Cypriot relations, offers a nuanced and sensitive portrait, writes Minoo Dinshaw.

RICHARD I of England, called the
Lionheart, seized the island of Cyprus
in the summer of 1191. Almost 700
years later, in 1878, Cyprus came
under English, or British, rule once
more. Between 1951 and 1954 the
great Byzantinist Steven Runciman
published his three-volume narrative,
A History of the Crusades, achieving
both scholarly acclaim and enormous
sales. Following this, Runciman’s old
friend, Peter Quennell, a founding
editor of History Today, commissioned
him to write a profile of
Richard for the magazine,
then in its fifth year.

Runciman, who had
passed a convalescent VE Day
on Cyprus relaxing beneath
the castle of Kyrenia, had re-
mained well informed about
Cypriot affairs because of his
friendship with the Greek poet and
diplomat George Seferiades, or Seferis,
who was torn between admiration
for British culture and unwavering
support for Cypriot independence.
From Seferis, Runciman would be
one of the first Britons to hear of the
foundation of the Cypriot terrorist
organisation, EOKA, with its solemn
oath ‘to free Cyprus from the British
yoke’, in the same month that his
article appeared in History Today.

Runciman’s profile of Richard is
to some degree extracted from The
Kingdom of Acre (1954), the third
volume of A History of the Crusades,
and condenses what was the most
familiar and dramatic part of the story
to an English audience: the heroic
confrontation between Richard the
Lionheart and Saladin. Yet it also
contains fresh elements, several of
which relate to Cyprus.

Runciman emphasises the haphaz-
ard nature of Richard’s invasion: ‘ap-
parently almost without reflection, he
set about the conquest of the island’,

contrasting the accident of the king’s
attack, ascribed in part to bad temper
and sea-sickness, with the long-term
strategic and cultural repercussions
of Cyprus’ capture. ‘The Cypriots’, he
observes, ‘were never to be ruled by
fellow-Greeks again.’ But this melan-
choly observation had only five years
of life left in it.

Runciman is vigilant in identifying
the ongoing and unexpected consequ-
ences for Richard of his victory in
Cyprus, some of them disadvant-

in the direction of marriage’. John
Harvey, in The Plantagenets (1948),
had criticised the ‘conspiracy of
silence’ surrounding the idea of ‘the
hero Richard’ being what he quaintly
termed ‘a victim of homosexuality’.
Whether or not in response to this
emergent line of argument, Runciman
in this later article relaxes his earlier
discretion:

[Richard’s] private life gave rise to
scandal. He had never lived with his wife
since his return from captivity; and the
presence of too many gay and vicious
young men about his court provoked
reproachful comments from the Church
authorities.

Runciman resists the Lionheart’s
glamour with greater success than
many of Richard’s biographers. While
admitting the king’s charm and mili-
tary ‘genius’, Runciman also describes
Richard’s ‘sinister heredity’ and, with
characteristically visual precision,
‘his hard, ungenerous mouth’. In the
matter of Cyprus, especially, Richard
had set a precedent which Runciman
had increasing reason to see as regret-
table and misguided.

Runciman resists the
Lionheart’s glamour with
greater success than many
of Richard’s biographers

ageous. Fear of Byzantine vengeance
led Richard to attempt a crossing from
Corfu incognito, thereby causing
his humiliating, financially ruinous
capture by Leopold of Austria, whose
Greek mother had been a cousin of
Isaac Comnenus, the Cypriot ruler
Richard had deposed.

The many bons mots in The Kingdom
of Acre (the most famous of which is
the final verdict on Richard as ‘a bad
son, a bad husband and a bad king, but
a gallant and splendid soldier’) are re-
phrased and sometimes rethought. His
conclusion to the profile is portentous
but charitable:

Though [Richard’s] faults loom larger
now in the harsh light of history, we
cannot deny him some elements of
greatness.

One interesting change of tack is
Runciman’s much more overt
position on Richard’s sexuality. In
The Kingdom of Acre he contents
himself with the decorous assertion
that Richard’s ‘own tastes did not lie

RICHARD I

The Familiar and the Fresh

VOLUME 5 ISSUE 4 APRIL 1955
Read the original piece
at historytoday.com/fta

Minoo Dinshaw is writing a biography of Steven
Runciman to be published by Allen Lane in 2016.

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