Anti-Abortion: The Architect of New Conservatism 

(Note: This article was written before the midterm elections in the United States of America last November.)

Roe v Wade’s reversal has put abortion at the heart of public debate. Progressive communities boil with rage. Meanwhile, the anti-abortion movement celebrates success while watching states sanction barbaric abortion bans. Today’s bitter divisions, however, didn’t always dominate politics. So, in light of the right’s growing effort to restrict abortion, many wonder: How did we get here? Why did conservatives turn against abortion? 

Surely, the anti-abortion movement fundamentally changed the Republican Party. Adopting pro-life beliefs was a desperate attempt to revive conservatism. They enabled Republicans to exploit women’s bodies as a political attention tactic. But broadly, anti-abortion gave way to the conservative community’s identification with religious and family values.

An Undivided Issue

Before the 1970s, abortion wasn’t squarely divided across party lines. Put simply, it was a non-partisan issue concerning individual privacy. If anything, it was mainly discussed with regards to medicine

According to Anna North, Republicans supported “abortion at about the same rate as Democrats.” In 1967, when he was California’s governor, Reagan loosened abortion restrictions. Conservative Vice President Rockefeller similarly fought for abortion rights in New York. The Equal Rights Amendment surprisingly passed with 84 percent of Republican support. Importantly, the amendment would give a de facto right to abortion. Overall, the pre-1970 anti-abortion movement was largely Catholic men, and thus could not be associated with either party

Right to Life Revolution and New Right

“Will the liberals capture the GOP?” asked a right-leaning newspaper in 1975. Conservatism was on the decline. With progressives controlling the White House since the 30s and Watergate tainting the Republican name, young conservatives wanted to separate themselves from the “Old-Right.” A fresh issue was necessary to save the dying party. Simultaneously, the giant National Right to Life Committee emerged, seeking to regulate abortion and women’s bodies. So it’s no surprise that the anti-abortion movement would help cauterize the Republican party’s wound. 

Mildred Jefferson promised to intertwine the Right to Life Revolution with New Conservatism. She aimed to harness the political force of anti-abortion Evangelical and Catholic voters. Other political strategists turned abortion into a tool too – one that shifted blocks of voters from the Democrats to the Republicans. This was successful, to say the least. For one, grassroots anti-abortion groups sparked across the nation. Even more, Republicans endorsed Feminists for Life and strategically spoke against abortion. Then, the Hyde Amendment, which prevented Medicaid-funded abortions, passed, signaling a new era for politicizing abortion. 

Anti-abortion policies gradually became more extreme. The Federal Abortion Act of 2003 banned late-term abortions and extraction. Around 20 years later, and today, Republicans plan to fully ban abortions. This policy evolution reflects a wider radicalization of the Republican party. 

The anti-abortion movement captured and reinvigorated the Republican party. But the movement was only a prelude to the New Right’s campaign. 

The Family Party 

In effect, anti-abortion provided a blueprint for the new conservative motto. By encouraging birth and motherhood, the new anti-abortion stance painted the Republican party as “pro-family.” Pro-family, though, wasn’t only about family. Republicans grew worried about a loss of respect for tradition. Thus, pro-family meant a reversion to conventional sexual, marital, and economic norms. Laws limiting same-sex marriage, opposing contraceptives, and banning critical race theory all o fell within the realm of “pro-family.” This campaign redirection triggered a surge in social conservatives and mobilized many to vote. 

Today, conservatives like Ron Desantis assert that “Parents’ rights have been increasingly under assault” and proceed to punish speech about sexuality. Remember that this Floridian pro-family policy stems from abortion. After all, the anti-abortion movement shook the foundation of conventional conservatism by involving it in the social aspects of society. Conservatism previously focused on economics and government moderation. But the anti-abortion ideology set off a social chain reaction, pushing the Republican Party into modern culture wars

The Christian Party

Abortion is by no means secular. While the rejection of abortion was initially led by Catholics, Southern evangelicals hopped onto the anti-abortion train. The political potency of anti-abortion proponents thus shifted from Catholic states to Southern evangelical regions. This had grave consequences. While most Catholics disapproved of abortion, they supported anti-poverty programs, maternity insurance, and government-funded day-care. Southern evangelicals did not. As economic conservatives — and now social conservatives — evangelicals rejected abortion as well as any program to support poor pregnant women. This was a recipe for disaster. Clearly, commingling moral, religious, and economic regulation was not a good idea. Even worse, progressive Catholics were forced to sacrifice otherwise liberal positions and identify with the new anti-abortion party — the GOP.

This seismic religious shift was not without precedent. Rather, it is a continuity of religious zeal in American politics. Between the 1870s and 1920s, conservative Christians fervently fought for alcohol prohibition. Religious conservatism had transformed party politics. Likewise, between 1970 and the present, the anti-abortion movement has engrained religiosity into conservatism.

Anti-abortion biblical beliefs prompted religious enthusiasm within the Republican party. It laid the groundwork for a party unified by faith. But while religious, abortion was never meant to be a political issue. It is a private concern. Republicans were mistaken to think they could control women’s lives without resistance.

A Hazy Future 

The best hope for women and abortion advocates lies in their vote. If Democrats secure the midterm elections, they can move past a filibuster and grant federal abortion rights. With a heavy majority supporting at least some abortion rights, it’s possible — as shown by the Kansas citizens. Americans need to make noise. After all, millions of women’s lives depend on it. 

The birth of New Conservatism was precipitated by the anti-abortion movement. How will it end? Logically, abortion should cause its downfall too. Yet the overturning of Roe v. Wade sends that prospect far into the future. Right now, Republicans are toning down the anti-abortion rhetoric for contentious midterm elections. They understand that anti-abortion is a minority view but will never give it up. It has hoisted the Republican platform and has shaped the contours of modern conservatism. 

It’s a shocking thought that abortion was once a non-partisan issue. The moment the anti-abortion movement introduced abortion’s partisan face to conservatives, though, politics spiraled. Now, the 1970s decision to conflate anti-abortion and conservatism profoundly impacts every facet of the Republican Party and daily life. Here’s some finishing food for thought: America is the only Western nation that experienced such a tectonic political shift in opposition to abortion. Why? 

By Ashwin Telang

‘In abstracto’ versus ‘in concreto’: Evaluating the position of the Stuart Monarch as evidenced by James’ deliverance to the Parliament (1610)

James’ deliverance before the Parliament in 1610, made in reserved defence of the doctrine of monarchical absolutism, is reflective of his intent to substantiate, through similitudes – scriptural, familial, and bodily, the abstract but commanding theory of Divine Right of Kings, while also, in a placative move, express loyalty to the fundamental law, as established by the body-politic. 

During his initial regnal years in Scotland, James’ authority was restricted. Bent on his quest of re-establishing episcopacy, he found himself at loggerheads with the Presbyterian Church, which attempted to limit his sovereignty. It could be argued that much of his later conviction in Divine Rights, as made evident from the ‘True Law of Free Monarchies’, actually stemmed from the experience gained through assertion of authority against the backdrop of such religious crises in Scotland.

Subsequent to his coronation in England, James was greatly impressed by the legality of the prevalent hierarchical order. Through the enforcement of acts leading to the Religious Settlement, the recognition of the monarch as the ‘Supreme Governor’ of the Church had been restored. As such, in spite of divine-rights and absolutism having no inherent medieval associations, by the time James was crowned, the two had come to be connected through the implementation of the Elizabethan tracts. The Settlement entitled the monarch to supremacy, both in the Church and the State hierarchies, by virtue of his being divinely ordained, whilst also reinforcing the importance of legal bodies and the Parliament as channels through which to exercise authority.

James explores both of these ideas – the absolute kingly supremacy and need for abidance by fundamental laws, in this speech. With primacy, in the first part, however, he endeavours to expound the nature of abstract monarchical supremacy.

It could be argued that his initial assertion of a King, in his administrative capacity, bearing figurative resemblance to God, is primarily intended to embolden the biblical principle of obedience among his subjects (to both, as James says, “are soul and body due”). He further makes note of certain close similarities between the extent of officiating powers granted to the comparative figures, such as the powers of life and death and judgement, and this permits him to draw from divinity’s like and reinforce his notional claim of unaccountable supremacy (beyond realms of the judicial order) for the King. 

For his second argument, James posits the then patriarchal familial hierarchy. Since this, he argues, represents a microcosmic yet natural and lineal order, the manner in which a patriarch is empowered to ‘potestatem vitae et necis’ over the family and can act – inclusive of banishment and disinheritance, based on favouritism, resembles kingly dealing. It could be contended that such resemblance not only helped James augment his previous assertion concerning obedience, but also substantively profess the natural basis of such authority.

James’ third argument is metaphorically placed. He presents an analogy between the workings of the natural human body and the state, his philosophy of the latter bearing close resemblance to the premise of the body-politic, with the metaphorical ‘head’ empowered to direct members “to that use which the judgment in the head thinks most convenient.” For this statement bears clear indications of his advocacy in favour of unhindered authority and could be open to interpretations, however, James attempts to douse the ambiguity concerning his intents through a supplemental assurance, skilfully employed.

While, in noting the extent of his divinely ordained powers, he is careful to uphold the absolutist doctrine, he also ensures not to put his audience in a dicey conundrum. Quoting a verse (“ad aedificationem, non-ad destructionem”) from 10:8 of the 2 Corinthians, James clarifies the purpose of absolute power. Making a macrocosmic reference to God’s doing, he implicitly states his personal motive of putting to use such authority for constructive purposes and not for “overturning the whole frame of things”, or the common law.

Interestingly, James’ proclamation, concerning his motive, intended to reassure his parliamentary audience, and the follow-up dealing with the distinction between Kings in the ‘first original’ and settled monarchs in ‘civil kingdoms’, bear striking adherence to Heylyn’s political theory exploring the distinction between kingly power ‘in abstracto’ and ‘in concreto’. Most of the arguments advanced in the first part of this speech, deal with monarchical absolutism ‘in abstracto’ – a political state where the King, with illimitable powers, is at the helm of the body-politic, and commands obligatory obedience. ‘In concreto’, however, he is expected not to ‘breake those lawes, which he hath promised to observe.’ It is to the exposition of this latter political state, wherein the need for observance of law is recognised, that his following theories of evolutionary legislation and monarchical degeneration are devoted.

James contends that the fundamental difference between the state of kingly power in the ‘first original’ and a settled kingdom lies in legislation. Whereas, he argues, kingly will equated to laws in the ‘first original’, in a settled kingdom run on lines of civility, people collectively appear as an actor with a role in ‘rogation’. That such recognition is provided to the concrete legislative power of the Commons would not be very surprising, especially when assessed against James’ contemporary intents of obtaining a financial settlement from the Parliament.

Towards the end, much emphasis is put on observance. Pursuant to a brief description of the legislative process, James provides an evaluative parameter through which to identify a ‘tyrant’. Intending to appease the lawmakers whilst staying firm in his advocacy of Divine Rights, he posits a biblical reference. So long, James asserts, a monarch stays true to his oath and upholds the ‘fundamental laws’, there is no degeneration. He refers to the observance of the ‘paction’, to which, through his biblical remark, he offers great sanctity. 

In commenting that there is need for observance of both the fundamental ‘laws’ and the ‘paction’ and assenting that acting otherwise (personal rule in contravention of fundamental laws) would equate to tyranny, James eventually, albeit implicitly, admits the limit to monarchical authority ‘in concreto’, leading to comprehension of the gap between accepted theory and established practice in his age. 

To access a copy of the speech referred to, please see Wootton, D. ed. Divine right and Democracy: an anthology of political writing in Stuart England. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986. 

Souhardya De


Brewer, H 2022, ‘James I – The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598)’, Slavery Law and Power Project, University of Maryland, web log post, 22 April, viewed 12 November 2022,

Burgess, G 1992, ‘The Divine Right of Kings Reconsidered’, The English Historical Review, vol. 107, no. 425, pp. 837-861. 

Greenhaw, N 2022, ‘The Little God of England: The Divine Right of James I and the English Response’, SMU Journal of Undergraduate Research, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 1-13, viewed 10 November 2022, DOI

Lee Jr., M 1974, ‘James VI and the Revival of Episcopacy in Scotland: 1596-1600’, Church History: Studies in Christianity & Culture, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 50-64, viewed 12 November 2022, DOI

MacDonald, AR 2005, ‘James VI and I, the Church of Scotland, and British Ecclesiastical Convergence’, The Historical Journal, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 885-903. 

Neale, JE 1950, ‘The Elizabethan Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity’, The English Historical Review, vol. 65, no. 256, pp. 304-332. 

Olwig, K 2002, Landscape, Nature and the Body Politic, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin. 

University of Glasgow Library Special Collections Department 2003, James VI and I Speeches, University of Glasgow, viewed 11 November 2022,

Stirring more than just their drinks: How English coffeehouses, French salons and French cafés stimulated discussion and debate

A Cafe in Paris, France (P.C. ayustety, flickr)

English coffeehouses and French salons and cafés were not simply areas to consume a caffeinated beverage or two. They were key features of society from the mid-17th century. They were forums for discussion and lively debate, engaging numerous social classes and contributing to the spread of the culture and ideals of the Enlightenment. People from multiple classes and backgrounds could gather and talk, making them an important component of the ‘public sphere’. French cafés hosted Enlightenment thinkers, and English coffeehouses accommodated people from all walks of life, whilst French salons provided a more structured and controlled arena for intellectual discussion. The three thus deserve serious historiographical attention; this article offering an introduction.

Originally drunk exclusively for its supposed health benefits, coffee began to be seen as more than just medicinal. The first English coffeehouse was set up in Oxford in 1650. Oxford was a hub for scholarship and intellectual discussion, and these first Oxford coffeehouses became known as ‘penny universities’. For a penny, patrons had access not only to drinks but to newspapers and stimulating conversation. Since this admission fee was the only entrance requirement, coffee houses were accessible to people of various ages and from all social levels. Moreover, without the consumption of alcohol, coffeehouses could host more serious conversations and debate than the more raucous taverns and alehouses, which the upper classes had come to regard with scorn.

The broad appeal of French cafés is also evident. French Philosophes or Enlightenment thinkers such as Diderot, Rousseau, and Voltaire (who apparently drank over fifty cups of coffee a day), frequented cafés in which their works were also disseminated amongst other customers. A variety of ideas were being discussed, then, and the Café Procope became infamous as such a gathering place.

English coffeehouses quickly spread to the capital and throughout the country. Samuel Pepys wrote about the London coffee houses in his diary and frequented his favourites often. In this way, coffee houses also became a part of the structure of people’s daily lives. Impressively, the crises of the 1670s – the 1665 plague outbreak and the Great Fire of London in 1666 – did not dampen coffeehouses’ attraction for long.

They were arenas for news consumption, where people could read and discuss newspapers. The power of such activities is suggested through King James II’s banning of all newspapers except the official London Gazette in these establishments. The creation of new newspapers after James’ order expired highlights the continued appetite for fresh and alternative sources of information to fuel discussion.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his father’s fate, Charles II was concerned about the unregulated gatherings and discussions in English coffeehouses. As a result, spies were planted in coffee houses in London, and he even tried to ban them altogether. The imposition of this measure illustrates how coffee houses were significant as far more than just places to drink coffee, whilst its failure demonstrates their attraction and potency in the second half of the seventeenth century.

Over a century later, shortly before the Bastille was stormed, journalist Camille Desmoulins delivered an impassioned speech from outside a café in the Palais Royal area of central Paris, before leading a crowd of revolutionaries away. The potential revolutionary potency of the coffee house was thus realised, and French cafés were indeed deeply intertwined with real revolutionary fervour and activity. With over eight hundred around the beginning of the French Revolution, cafés functioned as hubs where information and ideas could spread.

Although women could be present in English coffeehouses as servers or even owners, these were principally male spaces in which men engaged and sparred with other men about political and intellectual ideas. This links to the notion of ‘separate spheres’ for men and women, which was to become more explicit and endemic in English society. Indeed, some women were critical of coffeehouses, which kept men away from home to debate and drink coffee, which was said by some to make them infertile.

French salons provide a clear contrast to this. Women were far more actively involved in salons as hostesses or salonnières. In this capacity, women exercised a significant amount of power, choosing who would attend the salons and what would be discussed there. As such, salons were home to more controlled debate than the English coffeehouses, which lacked any comparable structure. They were distinct from French cafés, too, which were less exclusive and more distinctly male. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was often at cafés, was a strong critic of salons and salonnières as he resented the idea of women controlling or restricting men in such a way.

All three establishments were important cultural, political and intellectual hubs. In their own ways, they attracted a variety of attendees and fostered a safe space for healthy and lively debate. In France, the power of such ideas was actualised in the French Revolution, in which cafés continued to play important roles.

Emily Cull

The Double-Edged Cutlass of the Grenada Revolution 

The City of St George’s, Granada (P.C. Martin Falbisoner, Wikimedia)

Cuba was not the only Caribbean nation to experience a revolution and adopt communist ideologies in the twentieth century. The February Revolution of 1970 in southern neighbour Trinidad and Tobago proved the desire of many young Caribbeans to demolish colonial institutions and Euro-American capitalist power systems. It was Grenada’s revolution from 1979-1983, however, that truly captured the attention of the world, especially the United States.

The Grenada Revolution began on 13th March 1979 with the deposition of the first Prime Minister Eric Gairy by revolutionary Maurice Bishop, leader of the Marxist-Leninist New JEWEL Movement (NJM), one which advocated for educational and welfare reforms along with political liberation. The NJM quickly established the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) with Bishop as the new Prime Minister and suspended the post-independence 1974 constitution enabling them to rule by decree. Simultaneously, the NJM utilised their National Liberation Army to conduct armed takeovers of vital strategic locations such as police barracks and the national radio station. 

Since 1974, Prime Minister Gairy had increasingly restricted the rights of political expression and attempted to quell all forms of opposition. On the 21st January 1974, known to witnesses as “Bloody Monday”, Gairy’s private paramilitary nicknamed the ‘Mongoose Gang’ was mobilized to subdue a mass protest resulting in the death of Bishop’s father, the injuries of numerous others, and a drastic gain in support for the NJM. The fraudulent 1976 re-election of Gairy due to his continual deployment of the infamous paramilitary, and rumours of his plans to assassinate leaders of the NJM in 1979 seemed like the perfect storm for Bishop’s party to gain traction.  

By March of that year, most Grenadians supported the “Revo” (revolution) and once in full swing, Bishop and the PRG implemented social and political changes up until its end. The new government prioritised improvements to the education system, introduced a national literacy scheme, expanded free healthcare provisions, and encouraged voluntary labour schemes to construct housing and other physical infrastructure such as the new international airport with Cuba’s assistance. Additionally, the PRG authorised the creation of farming co-operatives to maximise the islands’ limited agricultural resources, decriminalised labour unions, and established the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA). The domestic finances of Grenada would only stretch so far to fund these projects since sanctions had meant diminished access to the IMF and the World Bank. Inevitably, this led to international economic support from Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other left-wing allies much to the frustration of the Reagan administration. 

However, a few of Bishop’s key decisions seemed contrary to the ideals of fellow NJM members and supporters. Firstly, the decision to maintain the British monarch Elizabeth II as Head of State seemed paradoxical. After all, the monarch was a figure of imperialism and the colonialism that had once afflicted Grenada and who revolutionary Grenadians wished to distance themselves from. Nonetheless, Bishop allowed Elizabeth II to remain Head of State and for the Crown representative Governor-General Paul Scoon to be kept in his position since Bishop believed that Grenada would mantain stronger legitimacy due to its ties to Britain and develop stronger international trade links. It should be noted that while Grenada’s relationship with the Crown did not change, the country was sanctioned by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. 

Secondly, in the autumn of 1983, the central committee of the PRG attempted to convince Bishop to enter into a power-sharing agreement with Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard to ensure more focus on political as well as social stability for Grenada’s future. This proposition caused a massive internal fissure within the PRG with accusations of Bishop deviating from the ideological prerogatives of the NJM and having no coherent vision. Following Bishop’s rejection of this proposal in October, he was placed under house arrest leading to demonstrations across the islands flaring up as Coard assumed leadership of the PRG. Despite attempts to evade re-capture having been helped by demonstrators to escape, Bishop and seven others were executed by a PRA firing squad on 19th October. What followed was the rapid collapse of the PRG and the six-day military junta led by former PRA General Hudson Austin. This, too, came to a grinding halt with the invasion of Grenada by the coalition forces of the US and six Caribbean nations on the 25th October 1983. Overall, from 1979-1983, Grenada experienced a unique position as a pro-monarchy, a (at times) stable socialist Caribbean nation, and a huge concern to the United States.

Stephanie Ormond, Summer Writer

Industries of exploitation: The ‘Radium Girls’ and the state of industrial working conditions today

The effects of radium exposure (P.C. Flickr)

In the early 1900s, radium became a prolific consumer product in the US. Used in a variety of products, including cosmetics and tonics, it was most famously worked into dials and clock faces.  Now, despite its far-ranging consumption, radium had only been discovered in 1898 and knowledge of the element was limited. Safety guidelines, hence, were scant. From 1917 onwards, hundreds of young working-class women attained jobs in factories painting clockfaces and dials with radium. Here, these women were encouraged to practice ‘lip-pointing’, sharpening the points of brushes with their lips. Having their employers’ assurances that radium was safe, many applied it to their hair and skin to achieve a luminescent effect, soon to become known as ‘the ghost girls’.

As a result of their continued exposure to and ingestion of radium, many of these women grew ill. The first fatality among this group of women was Amelia Maggia, an employee of the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation (later the US Radium Corporation) who died in 1922. Maggia experienced toothache and ulcers that soon spread and necessitated the removal of her lower jaw. Many other dial painters experienced similar symptoms, but the RLMC continued to deny the possible role of radium in their deaths. Even after the corporation commissioned a study on the deaths of the workers that proved a link between the fatalities and radium, it continued to deny the dangers of the substance. After numerous deaths, ‘lip-pointing’ was abolished in 1927, but workers continued to handle radium with little protection. Women employed as dial painters continued to suffer radium-related illnesses, such as cancer in the 1940s and 1950s. It wasn’t until 1979 and 1980 that the final radium factories were closed.

The case of the ‘Radium Girls’ (as they have come to be known) has shown some results for the way employee welfare has improved across the US; in 1938 Catherine Wolfe Donohue’s case against the Radium Dial Corporation was one of the first instances of a company being held responsible for the safety and welfare of its employees. Yet despite this, and numerous other cases made by other workers, changes to working conditions in factories has progressed rather slowly across the decades.

After all, similarities between the ‘Radium Girls’ and modern garment factory workers cannot be overlooked. Payment by piece, relaxed safety regulations and exposure to harmful substances tie these groups together. As a parable in tragedy, the ‘Radium Girls’ illuminates the need for improvement to the lives of factory workers todays. 

The company Shein, for example, when investigated by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was found to have been selling clothing that contained elevated levels of lead, PFAS and Phthalates, all of which, when exposed to in high amounts and over long periods could pose health concerns. Workers, therefore, were likely exposed to these substances in high quantities. This is on top of the fact that the Swiss company, Private Eye, found that workers producing for Shein were often working 75-hour weeks in factories with inadequate fire safety measures. 

International action, of course, is needed to ensure the welfare of these workers is protected, and that they are paid fairly. Countries importing this clothing could enact change by enforcing legislation against exploitative working practices and enforcing quality control over imports. The exploitation of the ‘Radium Girls’ and present-day textile workers was and is enabled by governments refusing to create new legislation on radium and enforcing responsibility on large corporations. Remembering tragedies such as that of the ‘Radium Girls’ demonstrates the necessity of swift action to protect the welfare and rights of exploited workers. 

Amy Raven, Summer Writer

Our Own COINTELPRO: The Black Britons under surveillance by the Black Power Desk

The Black Power Symbol (P.C. Wikimedia)

On the 8th of March 1971, a small group from the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI – an American political organisation – raided the FBI’s office in Media, Pennsylvania. During the raid, they burgled over 1,000 documents about Operation COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO was a series of illegal and covert projects conducted by the FBI against American citizens after 1955, on the grounds that those civilians were seen as “politically subversive”.

The American state’s fight against “political subversiveness” is well known, yet its British counterpart, now known as the Black Power Desk of the 1960s and 70s, has little notoriety. Founded in 1967 by Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, its composition and formation are still debated. On the one hand, some historians have suggested that the Desk was part of MI5. On the other hand, however, the more popular – yet hardly uncontested view – is that the Desk was part of the former Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism unit, Special Branch. The Desk’s recent discovery in the 2010s by Robin Bunce and Paul Field, and via the Special Branch Files Project led by Eveline Lubbers, has enabled us to finally see some of the Black Power Desk’s intel, operations and implications. 

The most extensive information currently available about those under surveillance by the Desk pertains to people identified as prominent members of the British Black Panthers (BBPM) and the Racial Adjustment Action Society (RAAS). Trinidadian-born Michael de Freitas, known under the aliases Michael Abdul Malik and “Michael X”, is the most frequently mentioned Black Power activist. Abdul Malik’s foundation of the RAAS in 1967 and his North-London-based community centre Black House, made him a key person of interest because of his status as the first non-white person to be charged under the Race Relations Act of 1965 in November 1967. 

Indeed, Abdul Malik’s charge and his supposed tendency for criminality underpin the Desk’s surveillance reports. This characterisation of a British Black Power leader as criminal, orator of hatred towards the white British population and insurgent against the state, embodied the general pattern of reports by the Desk. In December 1968, Obi Egbuna, a co-founder of the Universal Coloured People’s Association (UPCA) and later a member of the BBPM, was arrested and tried alongside fellow members Peter Martin and Gideon Dolo for threatening to murder a police officer. According to reports collated by the Special Branch from their surveillance of the BBPM, informants acquired ‘reliable information’ about plans to destroy police boxes and government buildings in conjunction with the Branch supposedly finding evidence of formulas for explosives written by the BBPM. Of course, the group rebuked these claims, and historians have questioned the “reliability” of such intelligence since the arrest came shortly after Egbuna’s speech on resisting police brutality and injustice that same year. Yet, it is clear that the themes underpinning reports into Malik were along very similar lines to the report into Egbuna.

Finally, the protest on the 9th of August 1970 in support of the Mangrove Restaurant and the emergence of the Mangrove Nine were intricately documented by the Metropolitan Police and sent to the Desk. Three of the nine: Barbara Beese, Darcus Howe and Althea Jones-LeCointe, were leading figures in the Black Power movement and BBPM. Likewise, they had the most detailed and least redacted surveillance files relating to their involvement in the movement, the protest, and personal relationships, including mention of Beese’s absent father. The fact that the three most investigated individuals were three leaders of the Black Power movement cannot be ignored, as it suggests surveillance into them predated the Mangrove Nine and instead was part of the Black Power Desk’s investigation into supposed “subversion”.

It is unlikely the arguments will ever be conclusively proved, as we will likely never know the full extent of the Black Power Desk and its activities. Compared to what we know about COINTELPRO and its campaigns against civil rights groups and the Black Power movement, our knowledge of the full extent of the Black Power Desk’s activities is minute. The struggle Lubbers and her team initially endured gaining access to documents relevant to the Desk and Special Branch reveals the British Government’s reluctance to allow anyone to view them. Additionally, the legacy of the Black Power Desk appears to have outlived its dissolution. According to whistle-blower and former Special Demonstration Squad officer Peter Francis, covert surveillance was in place for the Stephen Lawrence justice campaign during the 1990s. Therefore, it is likely the Black Power Desk engaged in far more surveillance than we know of, yet the likelihood of this being revealed any time soon is minimal.

Stephanie Ormond, Summer Writer

Ruth Handler: Remoulding the Legacy of Barbie’s Creator

A barbie doll from 1959 (P.C. Flickr)

In 1959, Ruth Handler debuted the Barbie fashion doll. Named after her daughter Barbara, Barbie was an instant success and became an iconic figure in popular culture. Despite having long been vilified by feminists such as Gloria Steinem, the doll is currently undergoing something of a revival. Barbie’s sales surged during the COVID lockdown, and she is the star of Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated upcoming film. An exploration of Ruth Handler’s life and career reveals the significance of Barbie’s inception, but also shows that it was just one of the legacies she had left behind. 

The tenth child of Polish Jewish immigrants, Ruth Mosko was born in 1916. She moved to Hollywood and married Elliot Handler in 1938. They later founded Mattel together alongside Harold Matson. Ruth was inspired to create Barbie after noticing that her daughter preferred to play with paper models of adult women over baby dolls. For male executives at Mattel, it was unthinkable for parents to buy dolls with breasts for their daughters. In response, Handler advertised Barbie directly to children and not their parents, and. Barbie became hugely successful. As the first mass-produced doll in the U.S to have adult features and breasts, Barbie was a pioneer – and so was the woman who created her. 

Barbie changed the way girls interacted with dolls. While realistic baby dolls popular at the time were made for girls to nurture and care for, Barbie was a glamorised adult doll they could play with. In fact, Barbie was inspired by the sexualised Lilli dolls, which were given as joke gifts at bachelor parties and certainly not designed for children to play with. Barbie showed young girls that their lives didn’t have to revolve around motherhood, allowing them to explore different versions of their future selves. 

Barbie’s unrealistic figure and dimensions were quickly met with criticism, and outrage at Barbie’s lack of diversity is still prominent today. Barbie is undeniably problematic in these respects, and studies have shown the doll can have a detrimental impact on girls’ body image. Although Mattel has introduced more lines to make Barbie more inclusive, she remains a controversial figure.

Despite the controversies, however, Handler remained a staunch defender of her creation during her lifetime. She emphasised that it showed little girls a variety of career options available to them, such as the introduction of astronaut Barbie in 1965.

After a breast cancer diagnosis in 1970, Handler underwent a mastectomy. Unable to fully focus on business, she lost control of Mattel and resigned. Struggling to find a realistic breast prosthesis, she was again inspired to create a solution herself. She manufactured ‘Nearly Me’, a successful line of prosthetic breasts designed to  enhance comfort and confidence amongst breast cancer survivors. Sales exceeded $1 million by 1980. Regarding her motivations, Handler thought “it was important to a little girl’s self-esteem to play with a doll that has breasts. Now I find it even more important to return that self-esteem to women who have lost theirs.” Handler had once again used unusual marketing tactics when promoting her prosthetics line, as she would ask reporters to feel her chest and try to identify which one of her breasts was real.

First lady Betty Ford was fitted for a prosthetic from Handler’s line after she had a mastectomy in 1974. At a time when there was little awareness on breast cancer, Ford’s openness about her diagnosis was unprecedented and inspired further discussion, a ripple effect of Handler’s influence. 

Handler died following surgery for colon cancer in 2002, aged 85. While Barbie has been continually and justifiably criticised, Handler’s legacy ultimately helped empower the girls who played with the doll. The drive to lift up other women also fuelled the development of her prosthetics line. Despite the warranted controversies surrounding Barbie, Handler’s resilience, determination, and business savvy deserve to be remembered. 

Emily Cull, Summer Writer

Quote from: 

Spindler, Amy M. “Bless Her Pointy Little Feet”, The New York Times, 5 February 1995. 

‘Creating Awe and Fear in other Men’: King Henry V and the Gendered Legacies of Late Medieval Monarchs

King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt on 25th October 1415 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Harry Payne
‘King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt on 25th October 1415 in the Hundred Years War’ Painting by Harry Paine (P.C. World History Encyclopaedia)

This article examines Henry V’s reputation of exceptional masculinity, and how this has influenced his historical evaluation as a ruler. He is often portrayed as the archetypical medieval king, embodying the ideals of both the warrior and saintly monarch. These narratives often portray him as a successful king, through highlighting his military achievements and popularity. Henry V, therefore, is a figure who demonstrates the critical importance of gender to the perception of a monarch’s success. 

The authority of medieval English kings was inherently masculine. The power and respect such rulers could command depended upon how well they performed their masculinities, and how such masculinites were more widely represented. As the person of the late medieval king was an inherently political entity, the quality of the political regime was itself determined by masculine ideals. In terms of these ideals themselves, men were expected to demonstrate twelve masculine virtues, with particular emphasis placed on the Aristotelian cardinal virtues of fortitude, prudence, justice, and temperance. Contemporaries regarded Kings who displayed these virtues as more successful, tying their legacy to the performance of gender. 

Integral to Henry V’s masculine reputation, and consequently to the legacy of his reign, is the notion of Henry V as a warrior king. Medieval kings are often conceptualised as soldiers and commanders, and military success was central to the performance of royal masculinity. Henry’s active participation in the Hundred Years War was no exception. He fashioned himself as a king willing to defend and fight for his kingdom, highlighting his virtuous character and prowess as a warrior. He proved his devotion to his kingdom and subjects, which consolidated his authority. This strategy was effective and led to Henry’s status as a warrior king being mythologised in literature, particularly through Shakespeare’s eponymous play. Though some portrayals of him in this work are dramatised, its narratives are grounded in the reality of Henry’s military successes, and the reputation that this gained him have endured through to the Elizabethan age, and far beyond. The Bbattle of Agincourt, for instance, is often highlighted in these interpretations. Henry’s masculine reputation was therefore informed both by the militaristic expectations of late medieval monarchies, and by Henry’s ultimate success on the battlefield. 

Henry V’s masculine reputation is also tied to his representation as a highly religious figure. Narratives that highlight his piety also imply another form of virtuous masculinity, and therefore present him as a good, Christian king. One common portrayal of with Henry V is of a wild, rebellious young prince reformed into a pious and loyal king, a highly Christian concept. This transformative process has often been over-exaggerated; Prince Henry’s arguably reluctant submission to his father’s will was self-interested, and enabled him to create a reputation of filial devotion. Rumours of his rebellious nature were likely intended to discredit him as a potential ruler, and by subverting these, Henry affirmed the quality of his masculinity. While kings such as Richard III have been criticised for their personal excesses and ambitions, Henry has been cast as a selflessly devoted king and prince. His self-control and restraint have been highlighted in both contemporary sources and in later accounts. His personal reputation was crafted by deft political decisions during his reign, decisions which successfuly culminated in a strong and enduring legacy. 

As King, Henry’s personality embodied the state of the country. His example of masculinity implied to contemporaries that England under his rule was similarly virtuous. As such, his authority was reinforced. His character also provided an example for his subjects and notables to follow, which was beneficial in maintaining order in the kingdom. His virtuous masculinity, although less discussed than his military prowess, promoted his reputation as the right kind of man to be King.

The long-standing view of Henry’s exemplary masculinity meant that there were attempts to recreate his success. The most famous example of this was Henry VIII’s attempt to emulate Henry V by invading France, aiming to and conquerterritory and present himself as a warrior king. Like Henry V, he also made a claim to the French throne through Edward III, cementing his legitimacy as Edward’s successor after the turmoil of Wars Of The Roses. Although this attempt by Henry VIII was unsuccessful and ill advised, culminating in the loss of Calais it demonstrated the potency of masculine reputations as a political force. Henry VIII sought to liken himself to Henry V by emulating his successes. Henry V’s successful masculinity formed a significant part of his political legacy as it continued to have influence years after his death. 

Henry V therefore demonstrates the critical importance of masculine performances for English kings of the 15th and 16th centuries. Being perceived as masculine was essential, because it allowed for greater authority, and helped to ensure the perception of a successful reign. Henry V is an example of a king able to perform masculinity incredibly effectively, and as such he provides an example of what his successors were attempting to achieve by performing both militaristic and pious forms of masculinity. 

Amy Raven, Summer Writer

Henry VI and the decline of Royal Authority

Portrait of Henry VI, King of England 1422-1461 and 1470-1471 (P.C. World History Encyclopaedia)

Henry V was an immensely successful king. He was instrumental in English victories on the continent, as exemplified by his campaigns through northern France between 1415 and 1422. The success of Henry V’s French wars had consolidated his rule, and his depiction as a semi-legendary king by later Tudor historiography, whilst likely exaggerated, will have had its foundation during his and his son’s lifetime. His son, Henry VI, grew up in the shadow of his father’s achievements. Henry was only eight months old when his father Henry V died on the 31st of August 1422, and for the next 16 years there was a Regency Council led nominally by John, Duke of Bedford and in practice by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester that oversaw state affairs. Once Henry began ruling in his own right, it became crushingly clear that firstly he would not be able to live up to the reign of his father, and secondly that his very ability to rule was considerably lacking. 

Henry was the first English king to not fight in battle. Although he was an avid hunter, Hugh Bicheno argues that his minority and protection from dangers by the Regency Council made Henry ‘regard warfare with distaste’. Whilst this negatively impacted his military prowess, as shall be seen, it also resulted in magnates trying to exert increasing influence on the monarch’s actions. The medieval period was one where a magnate could not possibly risk proclaiming his right to the throne, as that would be going against the will of God, for monarchs were anointed by God. As such, Richard of York, who through the matrilineal line had a claim to the throne, sought to discredit those around the King for his own gain. One such individual who received York’s displeasure was William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, a close confidante and advisor to the King. Henry VI had gone into secret negotiations with Charles VII of France on the 22nd of December 1445, when he wrote to Charles seeking peace in the form of the surrender of Maine and Anjou. This would have almost certainly been unknown to Suffolk, but nevertheless he had to take the blame when news of the negotiations reached the ears of the Body Politic. This, coupled with the mysterious death of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in Bury St Edmunds five days after being arrested by Suffolk’s retainers in February 1447, meant that from that point onwards Suffolk was viewed with ever-increasing suspicion. 

After two years of impatiently waiting for Henry to hand over Maine and Anjou, Charles VII of France gained the upper hand. On a personal request by Henry, one of his Knights of the Garter, François de Surienne took the Breton border fortress of Fougères with the aim of forcing the Duke of Brittany to release a childhood friend of Henry’s, Gilles of Brittany. This escapade into Brittany who, whilst not allied with France, were certainly less appreciative of Henry’s rule, gave Charles the justification to acquire an anti-English alliance with Brittany and declare war on the English. The capitulation that followed was not simply an embarrassment to an England that only thirty years had routed the French so convincingly at Agincourt but was also a reflection of the vastly insufficient political and military expertise of Henry. Within a year and a day of the declaration of war on the 31st of July 1449, the entirety of Normandy, Maine and Anjou had fallen to the French. In 1445 Henry had spontaneously and unexplainedly removed the astute and experienced Richard Duke of York from the post of Captain General of France. For the following two years York was not replaced in the role, and thus it would be understandable that when Charles VII invaded in 1449-50, he was welcomed with open arms by many who viewed the English as having neglected them in that period. When Henry did eventually choose an appointment for the role in 1447, it was salt in the wound for York, who had in the meantime been sent to govern Ireland, for his replacement was Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

Compared to later events of Henry’s reign, such as his catatonic state in 1453 or the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, the events of the 1440s may seem insignificant. Yet, in reality, they represent the beginnings of the decline of royal authority. Henry’s undermining of his own authority by secretly giving Charles VII English lands in France whilst simultaneously failing to inform the body politic that he had done so eventually resulted in the demise of his key advisor, the Duke of Suffolk, when it was discovered. Simultaneously, appointing Edmund Beaufort as Captain General of France only served to alienate the influential Duke of York. In summation, Henry’s deficient political acumen resulted, at least in the short term, in the collapse of English governance in France.

Henry Carless, Summer Writer

The national governments of the 1930s: short term success but long term failure 

Stanley Baldwin, leader of the Third National Government, by John Boyd jnr (P.C. flickr)

The first National Government of the 1930s was formed on the 24th of August 1931 by Ramsay Macdonald, under the backdrop of the Wall Street Crash in 1929, which led to the contraction of the global economy. As a result, Macdonald’s government immediately had to deal with severe economic difficulties such as rising unemployment, slowing international trade, and rapidly declining domestic production. What the National Governments achieved in the short term was remarkable, as they helped mitigate the effects of the Great Depression while holding off the tide of extremism that swept across Europe during the 1930s. The National Governments failed, however, in dealing with the regional disparities that came with the depression. This lack of policy to combat regional disparity led to unequal growth, and the beginning of generational depression in some areas of the UK. 

The immediate problems that faced the National Governments of the 1930s were vast, yet were largely dealt with in the short term. For example, the National Governments faced a large decrease in shipbuilding due to the decline in international trade. State intervention helped mitigate this through funding ships such as the HMS Queen Mary, which reduced the impact of the depression on the Clydeside shipbuilding industry. The National Governments also pushed to amalgamate unsuccessful mines in order to increase the coal industry’s efficiency. This was successful, as there was a 34 million tonne increase in coal production between 1933 and 1937. Even unemployment dropped in the mid-1930s from 22% to 10%; although this may not have been because of the direct actions of the National Governments, but instead the consequence of the rearmament process that was being pushed as a result of tensions in Europe. Thus, the National Governments were at least partially successful. They held extremism at bay and remained moderately popular through a period when extremist politics became the norm in many European countries. 

Yet, despite their short-term successes, the National Governments had significant failures which condemn them in my eyes. There was, for instance, a complete and utter failure to recognise the regional disparity in unemployment during the Great Depression, causing systematic depression in regions of Britain. Although it is statistically correct that overall unemployment dropped throughout the mid-1930s, that isn’t the entire picture. Unemployment remained high in areas that relied almost completely on the traditional industries, such as coal and textiles. This unemployment was especially high in the North East and areas of Wales. The National Governments did not mitigate this, even when people were starving on the streets. The conditions became so dire that the MP for Jarrow, Ellen Wilkinson, led a ‘hunger march’ to London with 200 shipyard workers behind her. This blatant ignorance of the regional disparity in employment, wealth and opportunities, marks one of the first times that the North East was pushed to the side in policy making, and it was certainly not the last. Its painful miasma haunted the region long into the post-war era, exemplified by Thatcher’s cruel policies. Fundamentally, the generational depression seen in the North East and other deprived areas began because of the National Governments and their negligence.

It is important to be thankful that the National Governments allowed the government in the country to continue – preventing the country from being taken over by extremists like Oswald Mosley – while helping the UK prepare for the Second World War. However, we must not forget the conditions that persisted in the most deprived areas of the UK due to the lack of effective policy designed to mitigate the regional disparity in unemployment. 

Matthew Cook, Summer Writer