How the world made America – History Channel


This two-part series about immigration into (what became) the United States focused on major waves of immigration, which sometimes made it seem a bit stereotypical and generalistic, but there’s no way that they could have made a coherent programme otherwise and it really was very interesting. They did it in a docu-drama way, and focused on individuals as representatives of each group, showing interviews with descendants of each individual, which I thought was rather nice, and also mentioned well-known historical figures whose ancestors came over in that particular wave of immigration.  Some of the groups they mentioned were very much minority groups, and others – Huguenots and Greeks, for example – weren’t mentioned at all, but, OK, you can only fit so much into two episodes.

They started off with Dutch immigrants, mainly young men after beaver fur, and how they founded New Amsterdam, which, as we all know, is now New York. Then on to the English.  They focused on Philadelphia Quakers, who can only have formed a very small proportion of all the English immigrants into the colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it was rather nice to hear about how their belief in freedom and equality influenced America, rather than all the usual stuff about Puritans in New England!   They also made the point that ships had improved by this time, despite the horrendous conditions on board, and that the English, unlike the Dutch, tended to come over in family groups.

Then on to Texas – part of Spanish-ruled Mexico at this point, but the programme talked about how it was the Spanish who brought cattle to what’s now the United States, and (this did seem a bit contrived!) claimed that this played a big part in the colonies winning their independence. The next part, after covering how citizenship was restricted as early as 1790, claimed that people of French descent living in New Orleans and other areas included within the Louisiana Purchase were responsible for developments in medicine, which seemed even more contrived!   I know they were trying to make out that each group made some sort of major contribution to American culture, but I’m not sure that you necessarily associate New Orleans with medicine.  Oh well!

Then over to internal migration, with the sad story of Native Americans being forced west. At this stage, they also talked about slavery and the large number of people brought to America from Africa as slaves.  I’m not sure why they didn’t mention that earlier, because the 18th century rather than the early 19th century would seem a more appropriate time to focus on the slave trade, but the chronology got a bit muddled generally at this point.  They went on to the Civil War before mentioning all the people who moved to America as a result of the “Hungry Forties” and the 1848 revolutions, which annoyed me because I thought they were missing the 1848 stuff out, but then they went back to it afterwards!

Anyway, back to the 1840s (the aspects of it mentioned in the right order), and the development of steamships. And then one of the best-known waves of immigration to the US – from Ireland, as a result of the Potato Famine, with a lot of talk about the contribution of Irish immigrants to railroad building.  And the effect of the California Gold Rush in encouraging people to Go West.

The reason that they mentioned the Civil War before mentioning immigration from the German states, in particular, from the 1840s, was so that they could go on about immigrants joining the Union Army, and show someone going on about how immigrants loved the United States and made the ultimate sacrifice for it. The bounties given to immigrants joining the US Army, and the fact that the Confederacy was not threatening the rump United States at all, weren’t mentioned at all.  There are plenty of other aspects of German immigration which could have been focused on instead.

Then they started talking about Scottish immigrants and the role of Scotland in social and industrial change … some of which would have worked a lot better in the context of the late 18th rather than the late 19th century, but it worked with the railroad building of the 1870s and 1880s as well.  And it was nice to see a positive focus, rather than talking about the Clearances.  Shame they weren’t talking about Canada, or they could have shown someone yelling “Craigellachie” J. They didn’t mention Andrew Carnegie, which was a bit odd, come to think about it.  Oh well.

The “coolie” labourers from China were also discussed at this point. This is an area that I’ve been reading up on recently: it’s appalling how these people were excluded from citizenship, purely on racial grounds – it was a time when many immigrants from many countries were pouring into the United States, and the Chinese, settling mainly in California and Hawaii, were the only ones legally discriminated against in this way.

A lesser-known group are the Mennonites of the Russian Empire. I knew that quite a lot of them had moved to Canada, but I honestly hadn’t been aware of what a major contribution they made in Kansas, where Mennonites from Ukraine, the “bread basket” of the Russian Empire, played a big role in developing wheat-growing there.

I’m not sure how much the people who made the programme actually know about the Russian Empire, but they then proceeded a) to talk about Finland as being part of Scandinavia and b) to ignore the fact that Finland was under Russian rule at this point!   They were talking about Scandinavians, mostly from Norway and Sweden, moving to Oregon, and the crucial role that they played in developing the logging industry there.   I’d have associated Scandinavian immigration more with Minnesota and other parts of the mid-West than with Oregon, but, again, they couldn’t talk about everything.  Something like a third of the population of Norway emigrated to the United States.  Asked which country lost the highest proportion of its population to emigration to the US in the 19th century and I think most people would, correctly, say Ireland, but how many people would know that Norway came in second place?   Interesting.

And, asked about major “push” factors involved in 19th century emigration, and I think the two that most people would come up with would be the Potato Famine and the pogroms.  At this stage, the programme moved on to Eastern European Jews fleeing the pogroms in the Russian Empire, and discrimination elsewhere in the Russian Empire and also in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  This is probably the period that you really think of when you think of immigration into the US – huge ships, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and huge numbers of people settling in Manhattan.  It’s inspiring, but it’s also sad, because, for so many years, there were always opportunities for people fleeing bad conditions, and that seems to have changed now.  Or has it?  There’ve been articles about some parts of Western Europe – I think Portugal’s been mentioned – and maybe parts of South America as well, which are actually looking for immigrants, to fill gaps in the labour market, but those aren’t the countries which people are heading for.  Everything’s such a mess now.

Then back to the issue of Chinese immigration, and the very unpleasant attempts to use the 1906 San Francisco earthquake as an excuse to push the Chinese community outside the city. And more and more immigrants flooding in from Europe – from Poland to Chicago and other growing industrial cities, and from Southern Italy into New York and elsewhere.  They were generally trying not to be negative about anyone, but they did mention some of the issues with Mafia gangs, and the attempts to deal with those.

And, at this stage, in 1924, in came the quota system – which lasted until 1965. I remember first coming across this when I was a university student, and being quite shocked by it.  There have to be controls on immigration, but controls based on skills and economics are one thing and this very unpleasant “quota” system is quite another.  It was put in place purely because of concerns that most immigrants were now coming from Southern and Eastern Europe, and from outside Europe.  Immigration from Asia, including the Middle East, was pretty much banned, immigration from Africa severely restricted, and immigration from elsewhere limited to a percentage of the number of people from that country already in the US – that being aimed at keeping down numbers from Southern and Eastern Europe.  And this went on until the 1960s.

They then talked about Mexicans being invited to work in the US during the Second World War, mainly to take the places of men who’d gone into the Armed Forces, and how many of them remained. Then, rather bizarrely, they talked about Japanese-Americans in the context of GI brides moving to America.  Surely only a very small percentage of GI brides were Japanese, and only a very small percentage of Japanese-Americans are descended from GI brides!   Maybe they didn’t want to talk about Japanese immigration before the war to avoid talking about internment.  Anyway.  Then Cubans, many of them children, moving to Miami, and then the sad story of the Vietnamese boat people.

It was all quite simplistic, as I said, but it was very interesting as well. Take a minute to imagine what would have happened if the “New World” hadn’t been “discovered”, and the surplus populations of so many countries hadn’t moved there.  Strange idea, isn’t it?  Very interesting series.





The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory


The Grey sisters, granddaughters of Henry VIII’s sister Mary, have attracted quite a lot of attention since the publication of Leanda de Lisle’s Sisters who would be Queen in 2008, and they’re the subjects of Philippa Gregory’s latest book.  The title, “The Last Tudor”, refers to Mary Grey, the youngest of the three: I don’t really get why Philippa Gregory would describe her as “The Last Tudor”, but maybe she just thought the title sounded good!  The book focuses on each of the three sisters in turn – first Jane, then Katherine, then Mary.  It’s told in the first person and the present tense, which I always find a rather infantilising way of presenting a historical novel but is the method that Philippa Gregory seems to prefer.

Whilst Katherine isn’t that well-known and Mary is very little-known, the story of Lady Jane Grey is pretty familiar to most people. There are several plays about her, and there’s also the 1986 film in which she’s played by Helena Bonham Carter, and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, is played by Cary Elwes (who later appeared in Days of Thunder) and depicted as a romantic hero.  We were all so obsessed with that film at school that one girl in my class named a teddy bear “Guildford”!   Unfortunately, Guildford was not a romantic hero: he was a brat, and that’s how he comes across in this book.  And Jane was rather annoyingly priggish, and that’s how she comes across in this book.  But they were both just pawns.  Jane never wanted the throne.  Both of them were just caught up in their families’ ambitions, and they were both executed as a result of a situation over which neither of them had any control.

Talk about the vultures gathering. It happened when Henry VIII died – the codicils to his will, awarding titles all over the show, were almost certainly forged – and it happened again when Edward VI died.  With the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, in the following century, you do get the impression that most people were genuinely doing what they thought was right, but, when Edward VI died, the people at the top just seem to have been out for power.  OK, there probably were some genuine concerns over Mary’s Catholicism, but it was basically a case of the Greys and the Dudleys wanting control.  More the Dudleys than the Greys, you have to think, especially as the claims of Jane’s mother, Frances, were passed over.  And Jane and Guildford went to the scaffold as a result.


Philippa Gregory doesn’t actually go with the traditional image of Jane as a tragic, romantic martyr to the Protestant faith. Well, she does show that Jane herself saw it like that, but we see Jane’s death largely from the viewpoint of Katherine, showing annoyance that Jane couldn’t have, as she herself and Elizabeth did, paid lip service to Catholicism, which might have persuaded Mary to spare her life.  Interesting way of doing it.

So. Mary became queen.  By the will of the people, which proved stronger than the desires of what we’d now call “the Westminster bubble”.   Jane was executed.  Mary had no children.  Elizabeth succeeded her.  By the will of Henry VIII, the next heir was Katherine Grey.  Katherine secretly married Edward Seymour, and Elizabeth declared their marriage invalid and threw them both into the Tower of London.  They had two children, both born there.  Eventually they were released, but were put under what would now be called house arrest, and were separated.  Their eldest child was separated from both of them.  And Katherine died at the age of only 27.

It’s an incredibly sad story. Katherine didn’t claim the throne.  People demanded that she be named as Elizabeth’s successor, but she herself never made that demand.  She just wanted to marry the man she loved, and bring up their children. She does seem to have been rather silly and giddy, and that’s how she’s shown in the book, but she wasn’t hurting anyone.  She just had the misfortune to be born with royal blood, at a time when that was a very dangerous inheritance.

The focus switches away from Katherine well before her death, and over to Mary. She’s an interesting character: she was a dwarf, but led a full life at court, until she also married without Elizabeth’s permission, to Thomas Keyes, Elizabeth’s serjeant-porter.  Thomas was thrown into the Tower, and, by the time he was released, his health was broken and he died shortly afterwards.  Mary was put under house arrest.  The book ends on an upbeat note, with Mary vowing to stay strong … but she died only a few years later, aged just 33.

It’s a very sorry tale. And Philippa Gregory makes Elizabeth the villain of the piece.  She really does not like Elizabeth.  She always makes out that she was having a full-blown affair with Robert Dudley, which I very much doubt; and, far worse, she makes out that she let her obsession with Dudley override the best interests of the country, which is utter nonsense.  She makes out that she was weak and vacillating, which just isn’t true at all – look at everything she achieved!  And she not only hints strongly that she was involved in the death of Amy Robsart, but even blames her for the murder of David Rizzio.  What??  How on earth can anyone try to blame Elizabeth for the murder of Rizzio?!  And she really plays up the suffering of the Greys.  OK, obviously they did suffer, but it’s highly unlikely that Katherine starved herself to death because of her unhappiness: she probably died of TB.  And to say that Frances Grey married her groom, Adrian Stokes, because she thought that marrying a man of low birth would get her out of the orbit of the court is rubbish.  She married Adrian Stokes because she had to (the baby sadly died in infancy)!

The book is told from the viewpoint of the Grey sisters, and Katherine and Mary would inevitably have hated Elizabeth because of her treatment of them, but it has to be seen in context. Edward IV almost certainly had Henry VI murdered.  Richard III almost certainly had the Princes in the Tower, his own young nephews, murdered.  Henry VII had the young Earl of Warwick, who wasn’t guilty of anything other than other people trying to use him as a pawn, executed.  Henry VIII had quite an assortment of his relatives executed, including Margaret Pole, who was an elderly lady by Tudor standards and whom no-one seriously thought was plotting against him.  Mary had Jane executed.  It even went on into the reign of James I – he had Arbella Stuart, the granddaughter of his half-great-aunt Margaret Douglas (another one whose treatment by Elizabeth is criticised in this book), and William Seymour, the grandson of Katherine Grey, both thrown into the Tower of London for marrying without his permission.  So why criticise Elizabeth?  And look at her childhood, and her sister Mary’s.  They were as much victims of the whole ongoing succession nightmare as many of the others were.  So many innocent lives affected.  So sad.


Going back to Arbella, I did wonder if Philippa Gregory might be planning a book about her, because Bess of Hardwick – Arbella’s other grandmother – features quite prominently in this book, but she says that she’s moving away from this period for the time being.

Margaret Douglas is also mentioned quite a lot in the book, and so, of course is Mary Queen of Scots. But what about the one Tudor line which is always forgotten?  I’ve got a book by Alison Weir, Children of England, about the heirs of Henry VIII, and this branch of the family isn’t even shown on the family tree in that.  Why does everyone always seem to forget that Frances Grey, nee Brandon, had a sister?  She had.  Eleanor Brandon.  Eleanor married into the Cliffords of Skipton Castle and Brougham Castle.  She died very shortly after Henry VIII, but her claim passed to her daughter, Margaret.  And the Dudleys were well aware of Margaret: they tried to pair her off with Guildford, before realising that they could go higher up the pecking order and get Jane instead.  Margaret married the Earl of Derby.  Lots of northern connections here!  And Elizabeth was certainly very well aware of her: she had her briefly arrested in 1579, for speaking out of turn.

Margaret predeceased Elizabeth, and so did her eldest son, the interestingly-named Ferdinando, but the claim passed to Ferdinando’s eldest daughter, Lady Anne Stanley. Poor Anne.  She was widowed young, and then remarried, to Mervyn Touchet, Earl of Castlehaven – whose son, also Mervyn, appears in highly fictionalised form in Pamela Belle’s wonderful Herald of Joy.  The elder Mervyn seems to have been some sort of horrendous debauched monster, and, on his orders, Anne was raped by a servant.  She was so traumatised that she tried to commit suicide.  Very bravely, she testified against her husband in court, and he was executed.  It’s a horrific story, but it’s one which deserves to be told.  And this is the woman who, if you were going to go by the will of Henry VIII rather than by primogeniture, and if you were to accept that the marriage of Katherine Grey and Edward Seymour was invalid (it was proven to be valid, but not until later), should have become Queen of England in 1603.  Not that that’s got much to do with the Greys, but it does annoy me how that line of the family’s always ignored!

This book is standard Philippa Gregory stuff. Her books can be quite annoying, but they are always readable.  So there we go!