Tuesday, 28 February 2017

MacBeth the True Story

Wolves Circling
At the dawn of the 11th century Scotland was a declining nation, and one that really shouldn’t have survived at all. Divided within into highland and lowland, then again into Mormaer (Earldoms) each with little in common except mutual hatred and treachery towards one another. To the north Caithness, Shetland and Orkney were in the hands of the Norsemen, ever building strength to both raid and snatch more Scottish soil. To the south the powerful Northumbria, the traditional foe with it’s greedy eyes ever transfixed on the lowlands. In the west the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde was still independent and in somewhat of a renaissance, stretching as far south Cumbria and a jagged thorn. Overseas Cnut was building his Scandinavian Empire intent to add the Scottish crown to his own. Scotland hung together by a thread

The Mormaer in principle owed fealty to the king, who could call upon them to defend Scotland from foreigners. Amongst the Mormaer one stood out in power, the northerly province of Moray, much larger than it is now, stretching from west coast to east and encompassing almost the entire of the Grampian mountains. The power of Moray rivalled that of the king himself, technically the Mormaer of Moray was still a vassal of the king, though, Irish chroniclers always referred to the Mormaer of Moray as King of Moray, reflecting the fact the Mormaer of Moray were virtually independent monarchs of the highlands.
The Kingship of Scotland was always a bloody business, more a matter of plots and assassination that rightful succession. in the 11th century, never was this more true. So precarious was the position of Scotland that a single weak link and the nation would succumb to the wolves that surrounded it. Just as Edward I’s empire collapsed & fell apart in the hands of the weak Edward II or Henry V’s conquests were left in the hands of the infant Henry VI. One weak ruler and Scotland would be overrun. Scotland avoided this by not practicing primogeniture, but instead a system known as Tanistry.
Scottish lords named a ‘Tanaise’ as heir, the Tanaise was an adult selected from among the lords larger family group. The Tanaise would be an adult, proven in battle and the most capable of ruling. based on his acheivements. His extended family included; brothers, nephews, uncles, sons, stepsons, cousins ect. The extended family or a lord during the height of his reign would be in a constant brutal struggle to prove the fittest to be Tanaise.
When the noble in question died, the Tanaise would become lord and often slaughter his entire extended family to secure his position. More often than not a relative not named Tanaise would get in first, murdering both the lord and his Tanaise and proving even more ruthless and canny and fit to rule. When the new Mormaer or king came to power he then had to find an extended family to begin the struggle to succeed him. Family ties were given a low priority in this, and adoption, by marrying widows with sons, was just as legitimate as a blood relative in the extended family grouping in which one would undoubtedly excel in brutality and treachery. Scotland owed it’s existence to Mr Darwin.
This was the world Macbeth was born into, around 1005, the son of Findlaech Mac Ruaridh, Mormaer (Earl) of Moray. Little is known about his ancestry but he was possibly the grandson of Malcolm II, the king of Scotland, through his mother.
When Macbeth was around 15 his father was murdered by his cousin who became Mormaer and began the slaughter of the family. One of the advantages of Tanistry unlike primogeniture is children are spared, but Macbeth at 15 was old enough to be considered a threat and disposed of. The young MacBeth seems to have had his head screwed on and managed to flee south to the sanctuary of the court of King Malcolm II. The young Macbeth resided in Malcolm’s court for at least a decade finding both favour and high office which suggests he was quite capable. In 1031 he is mentioned as one of the emissaries sent by Malcolm to Cnut, delivering Malcolm’s submission after Cnut’s invasion of Scotland, along with two other Scottish kings.
A year later Macbeth's torch was so strong he was able to raise an army an march on Moray to avenge his father’s murder and become Mormaer. Arriving with a band of men he caught the current Mormaer (his cousin Gillacomgain, his father‘s assassin) by surprise, Gillacomgain took refuge in one of his strongholds which Macbeth surrounded and set on fire and Gillacomgain and fifty of his men burnt to death.
Macbeth was now Mormaer of Moray the second most powerful man in Scotland, he had served the king well for over a decade and had proven a canny and ruthless politician as well as a capable commander. He probably considered himself to be a good candidate to be named Tanaise by Malcolm. However Malcolm was about to drop a bombshell on both Macbeth and Scotland.
In 1034 Malcolm II died. On his deathbed he abolished Tanistry and adopted European primogeniture as the legitimate method of succession for Scotland. Malcolm named his young unproven grandson Duncan as heir, his own son being ineligible having joined an order of monks.
This would have been all well and good if Duncan had proven a good king. Shortly after becoming king, obviously aware of the doubts upon his shoulders, Duncan made the bold move of going on the offensive against his enemies. The Saga or Orkneyinga tells the story of a massive Scottish attempt to regain the islands from the Norse and their calamitous defeat at the final battle.
Duncan after the defeat must have felt his position weakened. So to remedy it in 1039 he decided to try again. His objective was to strike a blow at his main foe, the Northumbrians. This time he lead his forces personally, laying siege to Durham. However the siege quickly deteriorated into a shambles as the city held out, the besieging Scots ran out of supplies and retreated chaos
"Dunecan, king of the Scots, advanced with a countless multitude of troops, and laid siege to Durham, and made strenuous but ineffective efforts to carry it. For a large proportion of his cavalry was slain by the besieged, and he was put to a disorderly flight, in which he lost all his foot-soldiers, whose heads were collected in the market-place and hung up upon posts. Not long afterwards the same king, upon his return to Scotland, was murdered by his own countrymen."
Historia Ecclesiae Dunelmensis
Scotland had been humiliated twice and the wolves that circled licking their lips. The fact that Macbeth’s coup never became a civil war suggests it was orchestrated with the consent of the other Mormaer. Evidence for this can be seen in that after Macbeth seized power there was no massacre of his extended family or assassinations of his rivals. The Mormaer probably agreed Duncan needed, a return to the old ways was needed and Macbeth the natural Tanaise.
No report of the event that occurred or how Macbeth’s usurping of the throne occurred, though a certain Mr Shakespeare has a rather famous theory.
In 1040 the Annals of Ulster announced,
"Donnchad son of Crinan, king of Alba, was killed by his own people.”
The Annals of Tigernach reported,“Duncan was killed at an immature age”
The Chronicle of Melrose states,
“By Macbeth, the son of Finleg (Findlaech), he was struck down; The mortally wounded king died in Elgin (in Moray)”
Marianus Scotus wrote
"Duncan, the king of Scotland, was killed in the autumn by his earl, Macbeth, Findlaech's son"
The fact that Duncan died in Moray suggests that Duncan took the initiative again and marched north to attack Macbeth. He was mortally wounded at the battle of Bothgafnane taken to the Blacksmiths hut and died of his wounds there.
With Duncan dead, Macbeth was now Tanaise King of Scotland. However the hereditary heir was Duncan’s son Malcolm ‘Canmore’, who proclaimed himself king. Testimony of how the Scots recognised Macbeth not Canmore is the lack of support his claim gained. Canmore and his brother Donald tried to gain support for their cause against Macbeth but failed and after two years were forced in exile overseas, Donald to Ireland and Canmore to Northumbria.
The first serious challenge to Macbeth’s throne came in 1045 when Duncan’s father, Crinan, who as Abbot of Dunkeld, a position that commanded substantial resources, organised what was described as a sizable rebellion, which left 180 of his men dead. Why Macbeth left Crinan in such a strong position when he had usurped his son is a mystery. Was Crinan one of the lords that supported Macbeth coup in Scotland’s darkest hour? Was Macbeth still ruling independently enough from the other Mormaer to be allowed to dispose of him? Or was Macbeth showing a fatal weakness by not brutally deposing of his enemies, something he notably didn’t do to many others who would be aparty to his downfall.
After the failure of Crinan’s rebellion the middle years of Macbeth’s rule seems to have been one of stability and prosperity. In 1052 he showed great statesmanship when Edward the Confessor expelled all Normans from England, Macbeth granted them refuge and lands, many of them loyally served him to the end.
The Prophecy of Berchan gives a clear description of Macbeth and his rule,
“The ruddy faced king... will possess Scotland.
The strong one was fair, yellow-haired and tall.
Brimful of food was Scotland, east and west,
During the reign of the ruddy, brave king”
Strong, brave and ruddy (red) faced (perhaps with rage) if this is added to tall, fair and with long blond hair, a picture of huge terrifying warrior emerges, the kind of man to forge a country in a violent age.
The line, Brimful of food, suggests what facts seem to support, Scotland was a stable and prosperous land for a time. So stable that in 1049 felt secure enough to leave Scotland and go on a pilgrimage to Rome. Leaving your country was a big deal for any medieval king, but for Macbeth, with a pretender Malcolm Canmore exiled in Scotland’s main rival Northumbria, this was the bold move of a confident man.
Macbeth arrived in Rome in Easter 1050 where he visited the poor areas of the city and scattered so much silver in the streets it was written of by monks in Hamburg. Why he went on pilgrimage is less clear. As a Norman ally was he seeking more favour from the pope against England? Was it to try and get the pope to legitimise his rule over Malcolm Canmore? Or maybe he just was genuinely pious.
Towards the end of Macbeth’s reign discontent emerged in Scotland. The reasons are unknown, but for the first time Malcolm Canmore found support for his cause in Scotland and he was to return to haunt Macbeth.
Earl Siward of Northumbria hadn’t harboured Canmore for all these years out of kindness, but as a card to play in the prolonged struggle between the two realms, in 1034 he decided to play it.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records,
"This year went Siward the earl with a great army into Scotland, both with a ship-force and with a landforce, and fought against the Scots, and put to flight the king Macbeth, and slew all who were the chief men in the land, and led thence much booty, such as no man before had obtained. But his son Osbarn, and his sister's son Siward, and some of his housecarls, and also of the king's, were there slain, on the day of the Seven Sleepers”
According to the chronicle, Siward and Canmore rode at the head of a large army into Scotland and defeated Macbeth, however it’s not this straight forward. Amongst the Northumbrian army were a lot of the personal troops of Edward the Confessor, which suggests it was an English not Northumbrian orchestrated invasion, perhaps in response to Macbeth’s harbouring of Normans.
By standards of the day the invading force was huge. The Northumbrian Chronicles paint a vivid picture, a large Northumbrian fleet lead by Canmore captured the city of Dundee and was joined by Scottish rebels including horse. They marched out to the plains of Gowire past the capital Scone and Edinburgh, probably pillaging in an attempt to force Macbeth to face them. Macbeth presumably having to ride the country to muster forces to fight such a huge invasion. The campaign was recorded as being costly to men on both side and culminated in one of the most massive battles seen to date in Scotland, the Battle of Seven Sleepers (Dunsinane). The Northumbrian Chronicle tells little of the battle but that Macbeth’s forces charged down from the hills at the Northumbrians and were put to flight. The annals of Ulster record as many as 3000 Scottish dead, 1500 English dead and all of Macbeth’s Normans wiped out.
The Battle of Seven Sleepers put Canmore in firm control of the Lowlands, for the English this was enough, who made a separate peace with Macbeth and returned home with their booty.
Canmore now devoid of English support lacked the power to venture into the highlands and confront Macbeth. Meanwhile Macbeth still Mormaer of Moray, the most powerful Mormaer in Scotland retreated to the security of his highland kingdom where he mounted a guerrilla war against Canmore raiding south. For three years Macbeth carried out his war leading ambitious raids deep into the lowlands and retreating north assured the lowlanders could never follow, he was to prove wrong. 1057 Malcolm Canmore managed to lead a force to Macbeth's surprise across the Grampian mountains and ambush the unsuspecting Macbeth, at the village of Lumphanon, deep in Moray, as he returned from a southern foray. Macbeth was slain in the battle.
Macbeth 1005-1057 (King 1040-57)
It is always said, with the death of Macbeth died Tanistry in Scotland, as Malcolm Canmore and his descendants ruled in primogeniture from then on. However in a great twist of irony it was perhaps Macbeth himself who ended it when his own stepson became his successor, ‘Lulach the foolish,’ never crowned, Lulach survived his father by only seven months before Canmore invaded Moray again and slew him. Whereas Canmore himself was succeeded by his brother (briefly) before his son. Macbeth may not have been the last Tanaise monarch of Scotland, but he was the last Highlander.
Macbeth, Man and Myth - Nick Aitchison
In Search of British Heroes - Tony Robinson
Annals of Ulster
Annals of Tigernach
Chronicle of Melrose
Prophecy of Berchan - Marianus Scotus
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Northumbrian Chronicle
The literary encyclopaedia
Dot to doomsday - http://www.stephen.j.murray.btinternet.co.uk

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

US cavalry 1866-90

Anyone who grew up on a diet of cowboy films will have the image of the US cavalry charging over the horizon guns a-blazing dressed in striking blue uniforms, bandannas, and yellow hats chasing the Indians off at the last moment to save the day. In this little piece of writing I aim to destroy this image, so if you are squeamish please look away.
In 1865 the American Civil War ended the country was in recession and broke, disbanding the huge armies was a priority and the few remaining roles highly sought after. One of these was the worst job in the army, cavalry deployed on the plains.
After the ACW the number of regiments deployed on the plains was increased from 6 to 10, two of the regiments were black and these were arguably the two best.
With there being an overabundance of officers getting in a regiment was incredibly difficult and promotion hopes terrible. After the war an estimated 88% of officers were West Point graduates and 12% enlisted men promoted during the civil war. Between 1866 and 1890 it took roughly 25 years to get promoted from lieutenant to major. It was even more difficult for Confederate officers who often joined as NCO’s or even enlisted men.

If there were too many officers, there was a shortage of enlisted men. The proverbial bottom of the barrel was scraped and nuances in the law used. One such was the fact Indian territory was technically outside of the United States so civil law didn’t apply and men convicted of crimes in the US weren’t criminals on the plains, so on the run criminals proved an excellent source of recruits. Another was recent immigrants. On average half of the troopers were recent immigrants; in numerical order the nationalities were Irish, German/Austrian, Italian, British, Dutch, French, Swiss, other nationalities. Of the 260 who died at Little Big Horn      30% were Irish.
The average age of 23 troopers came from a quite amazing diversity of backgrounds, US recruits could come from good families whereas immigrant motivation tended to be poverty. A company of Custer’s cavalry had 3 Professors, a doctor, a telegraph operator, a printer, 2 lawyers, 4 cooks, 3 schoolteachers, a farm labourer, a book keeper, a farm boy, a dentist, a blacksmith an ivory carver, a young man of position trying to gain a commission and a salesman ruined by drink.
The main problem the cavalry faced was not the Indians but desertion, roughly 1/3 of all soldiers deserted and companies were often as low as 50% strength. A special kind of professional deserter even emerged called ‘snowbirds’ they would join the army to see themselves through the winter, then desert in summer.
From the 60’s to the late 70’s the cavalry received no training other than basic drill. This is quite amazing when you consider most recruits had never seen a horse let alone ridden one. No riding training was provided whatsoever. When a trooper was went on patrol this was the first time he rode his horse. Hopefully he would have the luxury of weeks of uneventful patrolling in agony from saddle sores to learn horsemanship skills, but if he was unlucky enough to see trouble right away he had big problems, new recruits had little hope against the skilful Indian riders. From 1880 proper training procedures were established. Recruits learnt shooting, marching, physical fitness exercises, riding, mounted and dismounted sabre drill.
Equipment too was not standardised. Cavalry were given a single uniform when they enlisted but the uniform was so poor quality it quickly fell apart, it was also useless to in winter cold so most cavalry unlike in Hollywood movies reverted corduroy, buckskin or flannel scouting suits.
Cavalry horses differed from Indian ponies in that they lacked both the speed and stamina but were superior in that they could be ridden in winter unlike the Indian ones.
Up until 1870 there was no standardisation of weapons, a cavalry troop would have carried a mixture of Sharp muzzle loading carbines, short range Spencer repeating rifles, Springfield muzzle loading rifles, Remington’s and others, pistols were similarly mixed, the only standard weapon was the 1860 cavalry sabre which was not carried on campaign. In 1870 a standardised breach loading Allin Springfield’s were issued to all troops.
Warfare involved mostly long rides, hunger and exhaustion but little fighting, encounters tended to be ambushes with one side heavily outnumbering the other. Catching Indians on the run was almost impossible due to their superior horsemanship skills. Taking prisoners was rare for the cavalry and being captured meant slow torture and death so suicide was common if an action was going badly. Ironically the second biggest killer after the enemy was men falling off their horses.
Patrolling miles from civilisation the prospects for the wounded were grim, 5 out of every 1000 men died form wounding, however disease was to prove the biggest killer of all. Twice as many cavalry died from disease as were killed by Indians.
Life in the cavalry was harsh and not remotely romantic like in movies, it was mostly for the dispossed; criminals, the empoverished or people who couldn't adjust to normality after the ACW. Pay was poor and propsect virtually zero, fights ended either in death or victory, but despite this it wasn't very dangerous with a death rate of only 0.13 percent.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Female Fuhrer and the British Fascisti

Rotha Lintorn-Orman
The History of British Fascism tends to be dominated by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, itself a very a-typical fascist organisation. However Baronet Mosley’s (touted as future British Prime Minister during his tenure in both the Labour and Conservative parties) conversion to Fascism didn’t occur until 1931 when he visited Mussolini in Italy and the British Union of Fascists wasn’t formed until 1932 a full ten years after Il Duce’s march on Rome and 6 years after Hitler had published Mein Kampf.
Mosley wasn’t Britain’s first taste of Fascism then, by far, few appreciate long before Mosley Britain had a flourishing right wing scene of would be Nazi’s and Fascists all trying to work out what these strange ‘continental’ ideologies were with varying degrees of quirkiness. By the 30’s such names as ‘Imperial Fascist League, the British Empire Fascists, the Fascist League, the National Fascisti, the Kensington Fascist Party, the Yorkshire Fascists, the Empire Fascist League, the Social Credit Greenshirts, the British Fascisti, the British United Fascists, the National Worker’s Party, the National Socialist League, the Nordic League and the Right Club.’ (1) Would have been common place in the right wing scene. It was one of these aforementioned groups, The British Fascisti, to whom the honour of being the first British fascist group falls.
Rotha Lintorn-Orman (left),
mother Blanche (middle)
Illegal Girls Scouts
In 1908 Baden Powell formed the Boys Scouts, girls were forbidden to join Baden Powell feeling the activities too unladylike. However 2 years later at the first scout rally held at Crystal Palace he was surprised to see a troop of girl scouts march past him.
One of the scout mistresses responsible for this was Blanche Lintorn-Orman and one of the girls her 15 year old daughter Rotha Lintorn-Orman. The girls had got away with joining by only putting their first name’s initial on the application form and their deception had escaped notice by them being them located in rural Liphook far from any other scout organisation. The act forced Baden Powell’s hand, shortly after he formed a female version of the scouts and a year later young Rotha was leader of the only troop in the country with royal patronage, Princess Louise’s Own Bournemouth troop.
This act of female defiance seems to have been the first step in a life of breaching male social convention for the young Rotha Lintorn-Orman and gives us insight into the unique upbringing she had at the hands of her mother. We can also guess from the experience she developed a love of uniforms as for the rest of her life Lintorn-Orman was to either wear a British Army uniform, Red Cross uniform or the uniform of her own personal adult scout troop, to the ranks she would attract such figures as William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) and Maxwell Knight who Ian Fleming would include in his James Bond novels as ‘M’.

Watch the video version of this article.

Rotha was the daughter of a British army major, but her grandfather was Field Marshall Sir John Lintorn Arabin Simmons and she grew up in a minor gentry household able to afford a servant. When World War One broke out like many women Rotha went to work, but unlike most she did it by joining the army as an ambulance driver serving in the Reserve Ambulance Corp and later the Scottish Women’s Hospital Corps with whom she won Croix du Chairite twice for bravery, serving on the Drins Front in Serbia. In 1917 she was invalided back home with malaria where she joined the Red Cross and became commandant of the Motor School at Devonshire House in charge of training ambulance drivers.
In 1922 Mussolini marched on Rome at the head of his own troop of boy scouts, in Britain it caused heads more to shake than to turn at this strange form of foreign mysticism called Fascism, it was to have an a lasting effect on Rotha. Legend goes that Rotha was in her garden in her Somerset home planting vegetables and alarmed by the Labour Party, the growing influence of the trade union movement and Vladimir Lenin, when an epiphany struck her, to start a fascist party in Britain.
In early 1923 just a few months after Mussolini’s march to power Rotha placed several adverts in the right-wing journal, The Patriot, which read “Seeking Anti-Communists” and within a few weeks and most likely much too her surprise had over 200,000 anti-communists signed up and her mother signed over £50,000 of the family fortune to Rotha to run the movement
Rotha’s then does not only enjoy the unpresidented curiosity of being a woman who founded and lead a fascist party; in 1923 Britain was still months short of its third ever woman MP, women at that time only had limited suffrage (limited by age, wealth and education level) and only had that for 5 years. She was the first woman to found and lead a political party of any kind.
A Very British Fascisti
Rotha started the British Fascisti, but what exactly was a British Fascist? 10 Years later Oswald Mosley was to wrestle with this realising German and Italian forms were not really suited to Britain but it could be said at least Mosley understood what fascism was and why he was modifying it, what Rotha seems to have built is anything but a Fascist movement.
The British Fascisti
It’s often taken by modern readers as a derogatory put down that at the time many people said what Rotha wanted to create an adult scout troop. However early scouting was quite different to its modern counterpart. Scouts carried Union Jacks and Badon Powell had based the movement not on the militaristic Boy’s Brigade but the individualist thinking cadet corps he was in command of during the 2nd Boer War, scouting was about bushcraft, frontiersmenship and survival skills.

Rotha’s idea of the role of the movement is perhaps the most unique thing about it and explains its unusual methods. She had a millenarian vent believing in the coming communist revolution in Britain and the Fascisti role was not so much to become a political force or take power but to try and create trained, disciplined, self sufficient people to get the country running again after a communist revolution. In this respect the image Rotha Lintorn-Orman’s had of her British Fascisti was akin to that of the survivalist movement in the US preparing for the post-holocaust.
The role of women in the Fascisti was equal to that of men, even training wise, female members complained they were expected to change the tyres on vehicles the same as men. While the suffragette movement had ended before Rotha grew up this didn’t stop her having strong opinions on equalising the voting rights for men and women. In fact while most of the suffragette movement had died the one area of radicalism old suffragettes continued in right wing politics, such as the Pankhurst’s Anti-Socialist League, in fact several former suffragette far right groups existed. Membership of the fascisti didn’t just attract proto-feminists but perhaps the most reactionary element of society, the legions of middle aged, middle class, reactionary military wives and widows. It’s unclear by how many the women in the British Fascisti outnumbered the men, but it was quite considerable. Perhaps the most lasting legacy of the British Fascisti was fascist feminism, as later Mosley’s Blackshirts had to tone down the sexist elements of British Fascism much to the derision of leading German Nazis on his visits, in fact 25% of Mosley’s Blackshirts themselves were female and so many women marched with him he had to ban female members form wearing matching black coloured skirts to stop the press dubbing his movement ‘the Blackskirts’.
Women Blackshirt
Politics wise was another curiosity as the British brain at that time didn’t really comprehend fascism, other European countries had the advantage of centuries of absolute monarchies, centralised governments or dictatorships in their recent history. Rotha later was to dislike Mosley’s calling him a communist. It’s quite ironic when the first fascist in Britain sees a man who does actually understand what fascism is and immediately thinks him a communist. The British Fascisti itself spent much of its efforts providing stewards for Conservative Party meetings which in those days were known to come under disruption from communists and socialists. The Fascisti also openly encouraged its members to vote Conservative and it's two main political lines seem to have been the government should pass anti-union legislation and equal votes for women. In Feminine Fascism Julie V. Gottlieb even suggests the British Fascisti was a feminist response to the Primrose League. The club run since the 19th century for women Conservatives, whose entire leadership and committee were men. Also that Rotha who had seen how women had equal treatment during the war had decided uniforms was another way of female emancipation.
Perhaps then the British Fascisti can be considered an early vision of feminism. A uniformed, marching, tyre changing, Ju Jitsu fighting, millenarian, survivalist, Conservative voting, union jack flying, girl scout troop.
The British Fascisti was more a paramilitary group than a political party, while it stood candidates, the pinnacle of its electoral success was winning just two local council seats. However on the professionalism of paramilitary side it put the British Union of Fascist to shame.
Fearing an imminent communist revolution the British Fascisti had adopted both paramilitary and intelligence wings. Its intelligence wing was run by Maxwell Knight who upon leaving the Navy had become impressed by Mussolini and joined the British Fascisti. Knight’s organised the intelligence wing of the British Fascisti so well he was noticed and recruited by MI5 to become Britain’s top spymaster and the figure ‘M’ in the James Bond movies is based upon him. Knight was said to have members of the Fascisti infiltrate the Communist Party, trade union movement and the Labour Party. Ironically just over a decade later as spymaster he would be sending his agents out to infiltrate the British Union of Fascist and other right wing groups, it was Knight who was responsible for the internment of many British Nazis and Fascists during the war, including Mosley and many of his former British Fascisti comrades. Knight was also the first member of MI5 to suspect the communist leanings of some of its members, however he wasn’t believed by his superiors, perhaps because his earlier membership of the British Fascisti had made them wary of any anti-communist claims by him. Finally it was Knight the former member of a political group lead by a woman who introduced women into MI5 on equal status to men. There had been a few before but he was seen as the man who did most to liberate the service.
The paramilitary wing of the British Fascisti run on strict military principles, members wore uniforms based upon Italian Blackshirts, it was divided into regional ‘troops’, district and county commands, a central command in London presided over by a chief of staff. Both men and women received the same military training including Ju Jitsu and survival techniques.
It was claimed there were 800 commands, with 200 to 500 members in each. When the commands took to organising street patrols from 1924, the highly unusual sight for the time of militaristic, marching and drilled groups of uniformed women was unleashed on the bemused British public. These women's street patrol according to inteviews with x-members seem to have been one of the main draws for women members. During the general strike of 1926 the Fascisti's female members were expected alongside the male to engage in violence if needed.
Alumni & Fall
Rotha Lintorn-Orman
Some quite notorious historical figures also passed through the ranks of the Fascisti, some who left to form of join more genuine Fascist or Nazi organisations such as William Joyce and Arnold Leese.
William Joyce, who defected to Germany at the outbreak of World War Two and became the infamous Lord Haw Haw got his facial scare while at a British Fascisti parade, he believed a Jewish Communist responsible and the incident is said to be the source of his fervant Nazism. Arnold Leese was a vet and militant vegetarian, teetotaller, animal rights activist perhaps the most fanatical anti-Semite Britain has ever produced, despite not believing Nazi racial theory and having no objection to Jews other than Kosher food. Leese who left the British Fascisti in 1924 and formed the Imperial Fascist League in 1928 claimed he found no Fascism in the British Fascisti, but “conservatism with knobs on”
The demise of the Fascisti came from being both too moderate for some and too extreme for others. A large section broke away in 1926 to join the male dominated, non fascist, Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, the dispute being sex and politics based. Moderates feeling the Fascisti too extreme defected, but a lot women members not wanting to be under a male organisation stayed. Much more of the membership was lost to newer genuine fascist organisations disillusioned by the tame fascism, groups like the National Fascisti, Imperial Fascist League and a dozen more were to whittle away members.
When Mosley formed the British Union of Fascist, Union, was an idealistic term as he didn’t really have ideas of giving the other groups choice, those Fascist groups that refused to choose to unite with him, he would force to or destroy. The last large section of the Fascisti defected to Mosley lead by Neil Francis Hawkins in 1932, the remaining anti-Mosley Fascisti was down to 500 members and found themsleves under constant violent attack from the Blackshirts. Britain’s first Fascists were ultimately killed by Britain’s last.
Rotha received much criticism personally for her masculinity, never married, doing a man’s job and never being seen out of uniform. She herself would play Santa Claus at the Fascist Children’s Club Christmas parties and won a fancy dress contests dressed as a grandfather. Rotha also after World War One had increasingly become dependant on drugs and alcohol, like so many men who saw similar service she was most likely suffering shellshock and paranoia, the later of which may have fuelled her communist takeover scenario. Shortly before her death in 1935 at just 40, her mother cut off her allowance as she believed British Fascisti members were supplying her with drugs for cash.
Had she lived, unlike other prominent British Fascist leaders it’s doubtful she would have been interned during World War Two, a Home Office report in the 1930's assessing the dangers to national security of the various organisations in Britain, reads it considered her a “harmless lunatic”.
(1) British Fascism and the Measures Taken Against It by the British State - David Botsford
Feminine Fascism: Women in Britain’s Fascist Movement - Julie V. Gottlieb
A century of British Fascism – John Hope