Thursday, 28 January 2016

Mount Elbruz

A splendid dramatic picture of Mount Elbruz, the highest peak in the Caucasus mountain range, taken by Alexander Trashin.

It used to be believed that it was here that the Aryan races of Europe originated; hence the word "Caucasian" for the body of an unidentified white man in American crime dramas. Heinrich Himmler believed this story of Aryan origins, and in the Second World War, as Nazi forces approached the Caucasus, he sent an S.S. mountaineering team to scale Mount Elbruz and plant a banner on the summit, to show that the Aryan race had returned to its homeland.
   In fact, when I was down in Georgia, south of the Caucasus, thirty years ago, it was noticeable that none of the locals bore any resemblance to the Aryan racial ideal of blond hair, fair skin and blue eyes. In fact they all looked very like that most famous of Georgians, Joseph Stalin; especially the women!
   Nowadays the story of the all-conquering Aryans sweeping through Europe in the Bronze Age is generally dismissed as a myth. Instead the less emotive term "Indo-European" is used to describe not a race, but a group of languages which have a common root. This group includes Persian (the words "Iran" and "Aryan" being much the same), Hindustani, the ancient Hittite language and most of the languages of Europe, with a few exceptions such as Finnish, Hungarian and Basque. However, I don't anticipate the word "Caucasian" disappearing from our TV screens in the foreseeable future.   

Sunday, 10 January 2016

England: Moreton Corbet

Moreton Corbet is a village a few miles north of Shrewsbury in Shropshire; taking its name from the Corbet family. The first of the Corbets, with two of his sons, came to England with William the Conqueror, and settled in Shropshire, where they were granted land by Earl Roger de Montgomery, one of William's most trusted lieutenants. This region was to remain the "wild west" for many generations, until Wales was finally brought fully under English rule. There were frequent raids and skirmishes, as well as occasional full-scale battles; and because of this the great Earls of the borderlands, the "Marcher lords" were given quasi-regal powers, greater than anywhere else in England.
   The Corbet coat of arms is easy to recognize. There are several versions, but they always involve one, two or more ravens on a gold shield (in heraldic parlance, "Or, two corbeaux sable"). This is an example of a "canting" coat of arms, which makes a pun on its owner's name: French, "corbeau", old Scots "corbie"; a raven or crow. A single raven was sometimes a "corbyn".

St. Bartholomew's church in Moreton Corbet contains the magnificent Tudor tombs of the Corbet family: Sir Robert Corbet (died 1513) and his wife:-

and Sir Richard Corbet (died 1567) and his wife:-

The Corbet coat of arms is clearly visible in the first quarter of the shield. I suspect some of the heraldry may be imaginary, as was quite common in the Elizabethan age!
  The revolution in artistic taste which took place in the following century is well shown in the monument to Richard Corbet (died 1691).

The church itself has features dating back to the Norman period. Nearby are the remains of a mediaeval castle,

 but the most spectacular feature is an enormous ruined Elizabethan mansion, built by Sir Andrew Corbet in 1579.

In its time, it would have been as grand as any contemporary building in England. It also shows how Renaissance architectural features were appearing here, even though the local builders did not yet really understand them.
   It was destroyed by Parliamentary forces  in the Civil War..