Wild Arabia; Chivalry & Betrayal: The Hundred Years War; Panorama: North Korea Undercover

Over the last week we finished off watching the Wild Arabia series. The second episode looked at the wildlife along the south eastern coast of the peninsula (what I think of as the bottom of it, for no apparent reason!). Part of the programme focussed on the sea life in the region (including turtles coming up to lay their eggs on the beach. Another strand followed two biologists (from Oman) who set up cameras through the region to record the animals that moved past & got some great footage of species that are generally hard to find. Most of the year the landscape is the sort of desert you'd expect, but during monsoon season the winds blow across the Indian Ocean full of moisture and when they get to the cliffs in this region the water comes out first as mist then as rain. And the land is transformed into a lush green landscape.

The third episode looked at the impact of the oil industry and the cultural changes that's brought on the land and the animals. It was pretty evenly balanced, showing us both the bad and the good effects. The bit that sticks most in my mind was the high-tech camel racing - instead of a jockey each camel has a small robot on its back and the trainers drive alongside the track shouting encouragement to the camel that is played out through a speaker on the robot. And the robot carries a small whip for when the trainer thinks that is required. It was a very odd sight.


The third & last episode of Janina Ramirez's series about the Hundred Years War covered the time from the English victory at Agincourt (in 1415) to the end of the war in 1453. After the victory at Agincourt Henry V set about conquering France properly - he didn't just take an army over the Channel to raid, they captured and held cities and towns. And Henry handed out lands & titles to his nobility, this was a Norman Conquest in reverse. The English were helped in this endeavour by the divisions among the French. Charles VI (the Mad) was still on the throne and spent not inconsiderable amounts of time thinking he was made of glass and worrying about breaking - but Ramirez was saying that unlike in England the French saw their King as so sacrosanct that no-one was about to depose him even if he was mad. So real power didn't rest with the King, instead there were the supporters of the Dauphin (the heir to the throne) called Orleanists who were in charge through most of the south of the country. And in the north of the country (including Paris) were the supporters of the Duke of Burgundy. These two factions were more concerned with their power struggles against each other than they were with what the English were doing in Normandy. So Henry V managed to conquer most of Normandy before there was any thought of stopping him.

Finally the two French factions met to negotiate with thoughts of stopping Henry V - but instead of actually negotiating the Dauphin's men killed the Duke of Burgundy. Which didn't go down well with the Duke's son & heir, so the new Duke of Burgundy formed an alliance with the English. Henry V now had control of the north of France, including the treasure house in Paris. And access to Charles VI. A treaty was agreed between Charles & Henry saying that Henry was now heir to the throne of France. Henry also married Charles' daughter. And doubts were cast on the Dauphin's legitimacy, to make him seem a less viable alternative.

Sadly for Henry he was never to be crowned King of France, as he pre-deceased Charles VI by a couple of months in 1422. Henry's son Henry VI was only 9 months old at the time, and before Henry V died he appointed his brothers as regents and gave them strict instructions about how to proceed - in particular they were to persist with the conquest of France. Ramirez told us how the brothers did their best to follow Henry's wishes, in particular the Duke of Bedford who was left in charge of the French conquest. Over the next few years he pushed forward with the conquest of France, and eventually England controlled all of France down to as far south as the Loire. Well, almost all - the island Mont Saint Michel off the coast of Normandy wasn't under English control, which Ramirez told us was a psychological boost to the Dauphin and his supporters because Saint Michel was the Dauphin's patron saint.

And now the tide was about to turn. Ramirez told us that the Dauphin was a bit of a non-entity, but now he had help from an unexpected source - the peasant girl Joan of Arc who heard messages from God. She won the trust of the Dauphin, and led the French to several victories over the English which was taken as a sign that God was now on the side of the French. During this period of pushing back the English the Dauphin was crowned King of France in Reims as was traditional. The Duke of Bedford tried to counter this by having a coronation ceremony for Henry VI in Notre Dame in Paris - but Ramirez spoke to a French historian who told us that this wouldn't've been seen as a "proper" coronation by the French. All French Kings were crowned in Reims, and anointed with the Oil of Chrism kept there - so a coronation somewhere else wasn't regarded as real.

Joan of Arc was eventually captured by the Burgundians and then tried for heresy by the English. Ramirez explained it was politically motivated - if Joan of Arc was a heretic then clearly God isn't on France's side and the Dauphin would be tainted with heresy as well. Joan was condemned & burnt at the stake - first they burnt her & put out the fire so that people would see that she was dead. Then they lit the fires again to reduce her body to ash so that there would be no relics.

But the death of Joan of Arc didn't improve anything for the English. After the Duke of Bedford died, trying to fulfil his brother's wishes to the last, the alliance between England and the Burgundians broke down. The Duke of Burgundy allied with the Dauphin and France was now united against the English.

The programme took a small detour here to consider what sort of man Henry VI was. He'd been brought up sheltered from any dangers and it seemed he was also protected from ever making his mind up. He'd inherited his father's piety, but not his warrior nature - in fact he's apparently the one medieval king never to lead his army into battle. Ramirez paid a visit to King's College Chapel in Cambridge which was started by Henry VI - this building, inspired by Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, is where the money went rather than towards the conquest of France.

In the end the French managed to drive the English completely out of France - England even lost control of the territory in France that it had had at the start of the Hundred Years War. The last battles were decisive victories for the French - they used new war technology and tactics to defeat the now out-of-date English army. I know, but I always forget, that the Hundred Years War ends as cannon and guns become the new weapons of war.

And now the series is over - I enjoyed watching it :) This time period is just before my favourite era of history, so I know a bit about it but this gave a different perspective because it concentrates on the war and not so much on what's going on in England. If anything I'd've liked more details on the French side of it, because what I know of French history is pretty much just the bits where it interacts with England. Once I whittle down my stack of books to read I should add an overview of French history to the list.


We were running late on Wednesday, so looked for a half hour programme to finish the evening with. We ended up continuing the current affairs theme we've had recently by watching the Panorama programme about North Korea. The journalist John Sweeney (and presumably an uncredited camera person) joined a tour group doing an official 8 day tour of North Korea, and secretly filmed their visit. It was notable that even most of the sanitised-for-the-foreigners stuff that they were shown on the tour (and actually permitted to photograph) was looked dirty and poor and backward. Whenever the electricity went out, or they couldn't visit somewhere on the itinerary, it was always the fault of the war. The wording used about the possibility of thermonuclear war was interesting too - always "if war is provoked", not "declared", not "breaks out" but "provoked".

It must've taken a lot of courage to make the programme - the consequences of being caught would not be good. But I wasn't entirely comfortable with the way Sweeney kept poking at the edges of what the people he spoke to were allowed to say. Like the segment in the hospital where he keeps asking why there aren't any patients there. Other parts of the programme had interviews with defectors from North Korea and they were all clear that to say the wrong thing in North Korea meant death and it didn't matter how high ranked you were. So to try & expose the foolishness of the script these people were following felt wrong - they would believe it would cost them their lives to deviate from it.

As well as the footage within North Korea, and interviews with defectors, there were also interviews with analysts and diplomats. They all seemed to agree that the posturing about nuclear war with the US is really part of the propaganda & brainwashing for the North Korean public - the image of a strong leader is one who is ready to go to war and to destroy enemies so Kim Jong-un needs to use that rhetoric. Tho one expert did say that thermonuclear war might still happen, albeit not because North Korea wants it ... just they might miscalculate. Not particularly reassuring.