Has Trump handed over American Hegemony? Poisoning the world – the new American dream.

It’s always been one of the themes of history that I have found most interesting; that moment when the primary power in the world sees its position usurped.  History is replete with turning points where one massive power is surpassed by a rival.  The causes can be varied from natural disasters to simple economics.  As often as not wars are involved but rarely is suicide the reason but that could just be the case with the decision of President Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Ever since China surged from a series of Five Year Plans and a number of economic reforms in the mid to late 20th Century, it was inevitable that China would eventually become the dominant global power at least for a time.  Has this week’s decision however brought this day ever closer?

It is hard to always make a judgment call as events unfold contrasted to the advantages of future historians being able to see how events actually unfolded.  Often changes in the balance of power aren’t always as obvious as they might be.   The Turkish Ottomans were a fearsome bunch but after their defeat at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, they were never quite the same.  It took centuries for them to collapse and from time to time they discovered their old glories but the overriding theme was one of decline and withdrawal.

The Battle of Ayn Jalut finally saw The Mongols lose their mojo in 1260, not that you’d want to face them in battle in 1261 but they never again were entirely indefatigable.

Other powers have seen their powers wane more slowly, Portugal to Spain.  France to Britain.  Britain’s fall from grace is one of the closest to suicide possible when under the weight of WW1, it was clear to all that embarking on WW2 would be the end for the glory days but it did so anyway for a greater good.

The passing of power from Great Britain to the United States is one of the few times when such a transfer happened peacefully, assisted by a common language, history and culture.   It’s long been a worry how the world might journey from one of American hegemony to Chinese.  Nuclear War would be the worst option and if escaping that is a relief, inheriting a dying planet is something of a phyric victory for the rest of us.

For several decades, most of the world has followed American leadership on a wide variety of issues but this has been less so since the Obama presidency and the arrival of President Trump is seemingly alienating all such nations, whilst alarming opponents.   This could be just the opportunity that China has been waiting for, the opportunity to take a global lead in a cause that almost the entire planet supports and in an area that is entirely peaceful and on the surface without any downsides.

Unlike Mr. Trump, I was aware of global warming by about the age of 8 in the early 1980's... long before China became the power it is today and when it was against environmental measures as much as the USA is.

Unlike Mr. Trump, I was aware of global warming by about the age of 8 in the early 1980’s… long before China became the power it is today and when it was against environmental measures as much as the USA is.

Whilst there are many reasons why many of us would rather live in an America of old than a China of today and that alone will ensure in terms of soft power that China won’t ever have its own way in everything, nevertheless, in other ways it can only improve relations between China and other states and allow it to move into prominence in other ways too.

Could it be even that President Trump will do to the United States what President Putin did or re-enforced with Russia?  Making it a rogue state, feared only for its military but in every other way something of a pariah.  A country we laugh at for the very reasons Trump says we won’t.  A people who we feel sorry for in the same way we do for those in other rogue states?

The impact of Trumps decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is clear. The USA is the second biggest polluter in the world. Whilst the world is better with the Paris Agreement excluding the USA than none at all, it means either CO2 will increase at a slower rate or everyone else will have to work extra hard and cut back​ even more. In effect, President Trump has decided that it is ok for him and his country to solely poison our planet. The new American dream?

The impact of Trumps decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is clear. The USA is the second biggest polluter in the world. Whilst the world is better with the Paris Agreement excluding the USA than none at all, it means either CO2 will increase at a slower rate or everyone else will have to work extra hard and cut back even more. In effect, President Trump has decided that it is ok for him and his country to solely poison our planet. The new American dream?

It will take a long time for the repercussions to become clear and it would be hard to imagine that Europe for one would jump into bed with Russia though it could in theory find a way to do business with China as many African nations have.  Perhaps something of this can be seen by the joint press conference in Brussels yesterday with the EU and China standing up for putting the planet first over any one nation.

The decision doesn’t even make economic sense in the United States, regardless of the environmental costs.  More American jobs are tied into renewable energies and new industries rather than those like coal mining.   Last week, President Trump was once again putting America first by complaining about German cars and how there are barely any American cars in Germany.   Aside from Fords, there are barely any American cars in France or the U.K. either.  The reason being is due to the supremacy of German (and other) cars in terms of quality, appearance and practicality.  Practicality in a large way ties into size and fuel inefficiency that make American cars all but a non-starter in Europe not just in terms of cost of fuel but the terrible cost to the environment that barely anyone could contemplate supporting by purchasing such a car.  It’s clear to everyone to see except those few climate change deniers in the USA and in the end, their opinion almost becomes irrelevant as if 95% of the planet thinks otherwise then simple economics will bring about change in many other areas of life, not just car manufacturing.

There comes a point when it is time to stop cutting off your nose to spite your face and if America doesn’t soon then it will become more like Russia, a slightly crazed country that everyone else has to keep under control rather than a normal and friendly state.

To keep the position of primacy, the United States should be maintaining the most important relationships around the world and address what the citizens of allies consider their most important problems such as economic growth and the environment but instead rather like a spoilt child who is unhappy how the sports game is turning out, they’ve taken their ball and gone home.  Which is fine but it leaves everyone to get on with a new game and with their own rules.

That sentiment was evident on Thursday in Berlin. Just hours before Mr. Trump spoke, China’s premier, Li Keqiang, stood alongside Angela Merkel, and used careful words as he described China as a champion of the accord. China believed that fighting climate change was an “international responsibility,” Mr. Li said, the kind of declaration that American diplomats have made for years when making the case to combat terrorism or nuclear proliferation.

China has long viewed the possibility of a partnership with Europe as a balancing strategy against the United States. Now, with Mr. Trump questioning the basis of NATO, the Chinese are hoping that their partnership with Europe on the climate accord may allow that relationship to come to fruition faster than their grand strategy imagined.

Naturally, the Chinese are using the biggest weapon at their disposal, namely money. Their plan, known as “One Belt, One Road,” is meant to buy China influence from Africa to Britain, from Malaysia to Hungary, all the while refashioning the global economic order.

One Belt One Road Map - From London to Bejing and beyond.

One Belt One Road Map – From London to Bejing and beyond.

Mr. Xi announced the sweeping initiative last month, envisioning spending $1 trillion on huge infrastructure projects across Africa, Asia and Europe. It is a plan with echoes of the Marshall Plan and other American efforts at aid and investment, but on a scale with little precedent in modern history. And the clear subtext is that it is past time to toss out the rules of ageing, American-dominated international institutions, and to conduct commerce on China’s terms.   What China didn’t expect was that the USA would so quickly and so willingly leave them an open goal.

Like those who witnessed the Battle of Ayn Jalut 750 years ago, it might not seem quite as pivotal today as it does in decades to come and there might be the odd final flourish for more internationally minded Presidents but it would be hard to deny that this week finally saw China take its place at the top of the world leaderboard. That it was something that the USA brought upon itself and in what traditionally would be seen as such an inconsequential policy area is just one of those many quirks that make history so interesting…. or scary if you happen to be tasked with living through it.


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A brief history of Milkmen

If you’re anything like me then if you cast your mind back to around 7am or so then up until the late 1980’s you’d likely be very familiar with the jingle of milk bottles and the heavy clunk as they were placed on doorsteps.   There’s almost certainly a couple of foil-topped glass milk bottles there. Maybe more. Some of the tops may have been pecked by birds, although if you left a couple of plastic cups out the milkman probably popped those over the top of the bottles to protect them.

Blue Tit drinking milk

A Blue Tit has pecked through the foil lid to get at the cream before the humans have got up in the morning!

Back then in the UK 94% of milk was put into glass bottles, according to Dairy Crest. By 2012, this was just 4%.

You’d also likely reminisce about the morning whirr of electric floats, the different coloured foil tops that denoted which type of milk was inside and most satisfying, of all the weirdly satisfying way of opening them – a push just powerful enough to dent but not break it.Birds were attracted to peck away at the caps to get to the cream line,” says Paul Luke, editor of Milk Bottle News and the owner of some 12,000-13,000 glass milk bottles.

Birds were attracted to peck away at the caps to get to the cream line and because milk wasn’t processed as much as today, even the semi-skimmed milk would have cream at the top and it would all be a little different than the slightly watered down

Leaving out the empties represents many people’s first understanding of the concept of recycling. But there’s been a slow but lengthy decline with the proliferation of fridges in the 1950s, which allowed milk to be kept longer, meaning the three daily deliveries reduced to one.  By the 1990s, the deregulation of the British milk industry and the decision by supermarkets to sell milk – cheaply – in plastic containers changed everything.

I very well remembering protesting to my parents that they were taking part in destroying a tradition and vital community service for the sake of saving some money but I didn’t pay the bills.

I’ve never really liked the plastic containers, I thought milk even tasted better from glass bottles which is kind of fortunate now as I can’t drink so am reduced to drink soya milk from cartons.

These days there are only 5-9,000 milkmen delivering about 5-10% of our daily milk.  Plastic containers are cheaper to make and lighter for transport which goes a long way to offset against the issues of recycling them.

Convenience and cost has triumphed. Smaller dairies may continue to provide milk in glass bottles.

Milk used to be advertised in a way that was way cooler than current unhealthy foods and drinks.  The 1970s saw adverts in which mysterious creatures called Humphreys attempted to steal milk with long straws. “Watch out, watch out, there’s a Humphrey about,” was the slogan. Muhammad Ali got involved.

The catchphrase “Gotta lotta bottle” followed. It’s hard to imagine a series of more 1980s-style videos – whirlwinds of dazzling neon, innuendo, and the chanted tagline “nice cold, ice cold milk”. This was an era when Linford Christie raced a milk float.

Not to mention the all time classic milk advert with two young boys fighting over milk so that they will be good enough to play football for Liverpool rather than Accrington Stanley.



The milkman in the horse and cart days



  • First glass milk bottle patented in 1874 in the US
  • Gradually transferred to UK but until WW1 milk mainly delivered on horse-drawn “milk pram” – ladled into tin cans from a churn
  • At that time, milk was delivered three times a day – “pudding round” later dropped due to WW1 constraints
  • By 1920s and 1930s glass-bottled milk is the norm, but bottles had cardboard slips at the top, which children used to play “pogs”
  • 1935 – slender-neck bottle introduced, giving the illusion of more cream and supposedly favoured by housewives
  • Aluminium foil tops eventually replaces cardboard for hygiene concerns – but WW2 shortages mean experimentation with zinc, tin and lead-based alternatives
  • Estimated 30 million lost glass bottles a year during WW2 – some return to tin can delivery using ladles
  • 1980 – modern version of bottle introduced. Shorter and wider, initially it was nicknamed “dumpy”

Milkmen regularly had a career of 30 to 40 years and often became family friends, says Phelps. The milkman would go around and collect the money and would then be invited in for a cup of tea.  Like postmen, they would often be a vital source of contact for the elderly and infirm as well as helping out in vital unpaid and additional services such as deterring night crime and even looking after pets when people are on holiday.

In the old days, Milkmen would be up at 4 or 5am and be finished soon after breakfast but now milk is cheaper than water and the supermarkets pricing strategy of selling milk at or below cost isn’t just ruining farmers but putting milkmen out of business as their purchase price becomes as high as supermarket prices to the consumer.

Today milkmen areas can have a round that is 100 miles whereas as urban milkmen can start their day around midnight and be finish at midday as they stock up on some of the 500 items that many sell to supplement their milk.

So why am I writing about milk today?  Well yesterday the local milkman knocked on every door in my street and several dozen people have signed up, perhaps all fed up with the over-commercialisation of the supermarkets and their treatment of food producers.  Or perhaps they don’t mind paying a little more to get personal and high-quality service.

Milk & More - my local milk delivery.

Milk & More – my local milk delivery.

I’ve opted for a delivery by a milkman as I like tradition and helping small businesses, I already shun supermarkets so this is just a nice little extra that I am happy to pay a little extra for that.  Also as I can only drink Soya milk, the local shops often run out and only have other non-dairy milk such as rice, coconut and almond which I have tried but actively dislike.   Now I no longer have to always keep an eye on my milk or walk around the streets for an hour just to get some milk.  Nor do I have to carry 5 or 6 litres back, it will all come to my front door by 7.30am.

These days I don’t have to leave a note out if I want to change my order or go away, I get my own login account and can go online and change my usual order until 9pm at night and even pay online too.

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My New Book – Straight from the Horse’s Mouth : 100 Idioms, their Meanings and Origins

Today is one of those wonderful days that can be the highlight of my creative year, the launch day of my latest book.  I’ve always enjoyed words and sayings, some of them archaic that seemingly make no sense to us today.  The history of language and word usage is the history of us.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth – 100 Idioms, their Meanings and Origins is a book that had its origins in a rough-draft blog post which I penned in September 2016.  I thought it would make an interesting posting given that my article 102 great words that aren’t in English but should be! gets tens of thousands of reads every year.

My new book is all about Idioms and an Idiom can be described as being a group of words in a fixed order that have a particular meaning that is different from the meanings of each word on its own.

Our modern English language is bursting with unusual sayings and Idioms that once had a very specific cause and meaning but centuries later, we use them every day even if we don’t exactly know why or even what they precisely mean.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth is one such example and my new illustrated book takes a look at some of the popular Idioms that makes  English the beautiful, evolving and at times downright bizarre language that it is.


The English language is incredibly rich with centuries of history behind it. This does mean though that a lot of us use phrases today but we have absolutely no idea of why? What do they mean? Where does the saying come from? The meaning and origins of 100 common idioms or phrases are explained in this irreverent journey through the English language. This book takes you from the ancient world to the modern day

The meaning and origins of 100 common idioms or phrases are explained in this irreverent journey through the English language. This book takes you from the ancient world to the modern day and covers almost every aspect of life, it will open your eyes to the rich and fun heritage of the English language, maybe make you think twice but definitely raise a smile. ‘The writings on the wall’ though we don’t want to ‘blow our own trumpet’ so ‘keep your shirt on’, we’ll give you the ‘full monty’, ‘Warts and all’ lowdown on 100 of the most interesting Idioms. This isn’t a ‘damp squib’ that deserves to be ‘left on the shelf.’ and that’s ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’!

Straight From The Horse’s Mouth is available from the UK in Kindle format from Amazon here and paperback format here.      American Amazon readers can squirm their way through the book in Kindle format here and in paperback format here.   As well as being available through Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Nook, you can also get in on the action on your favourite Apple product in a few days.  It’s published but still working through the Apple processes.  When it is on iBooks then I will post an update and maybe even an Idiom or two.

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Ragnarok 2017 Convention and Book Signing

I’m thrilled to announce that I have been invited to have a table at Ragnarok 2017 at the Well End Activity Centre, Well End, Borehamwood which is just outside London and off the A1M.   Ragnarok runs 9am-6pm next weekend, Saturday the 3rd and Sunday 4th June 2017.


Organised by Thors Hammer Gaming Club, Ragnarok is a weekend of family-friendly wargaming, LARP, crafts, food, fun, and adventures! Come along and try out the games played at Thor’s Hammer Gaming Club. Be a bold adventurer and complete a quest with our Live Action Role-Play.

See how the craftsmen and woman of ancient times made their living in our mystical fantasy village. Could you be a budding Robin Hood on the archery range.? Sample the amazing array of food on offer from a variety of artisan producers. Have a go on the bouncy castle and the rest of the fairground stalls and attractions on offer. Fill up on candy floss, toffee apples and other sweet treats or maybe a flagon of ale or mead! Free entry and free parking.


There are all sorts of activities including a Nunchuk workshop, costumes, lots of role-play and wargaming going on of course as well as various demos.

Last but not least, along with some other authors, I will be there too with copies of all my books both fiction and non-fiction. From history to fantasy, vigilante to poetry and everything in between.  Hopefully, if my shipment arrives, I will be launching my new book Straight from the Horse’s Mouth – 100 Idioms, their Meanings and Origins but if that shipment is delayed, I will still have around 250 copies of my 10 or so other books around and about.  Plus a few other things that people might like to see.


It is free entry and free parking so if you live in London or the Northern Home Counties, why no pop in and say hi!  As I’m so busy with my tours at the moment, this is likely my only signing event of the summer but at least I will be present for two days.


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Manchester Remembered Around The World

As the world remembers the atrocity in Manchester this week, I’d like to thank everyone for their emails to me in the last few days from around the world.  In the same spirit, here are some photos of just a few of the buildings lit up around the world in the beautiful Union Flag.

I’m really sorry and sad about all the deaths by the murderer in Manchester.  I refuse to call him a terrorist as I am not terrified. I don’t hate anyone any more than I did 24 hours ago so he failed on that count too.

What I do recognise is the amazing way the community of Manchester has come together and how unified everyone in the land is. It’s given another opportunity for us all to show the best side of humanity and what makes our culture and society so superior in every way to that of the supposed ideology of these perpetrators who are ‘Zabad’ (scum) in any language.

If they had any idea of history (which they don’t as they don’t even know their own religion) then they’d realise that there is no country that has faced down violence, threats and oppression more than ours.  If people like Hitler and Napoleon failed, a few crazies have less than no chance.

For an old blog post that touches on how Manchester recovered after its last major terrorist incident which was from the IRA then do click here.


The Burj Khalifa - The Tallest building in the world

The Burj Khalifa – The Tallest building in the world


Tel Aviv: Municipality

Tel Aviv: Municipality Building


Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate



The Orlando Eye

The Orlando Eye





Amsterdam Central Station



Zaghreb Fountain

Zagreb Fountain

And finally my favourite of all those lit and unlit buildings in Britain.



The Penshaw Monument, near Sunderland.


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When your biggest hope turns into your worst nightmare – The Legend of Prester John

Prester John was for several centuries once one of the most famous people in the world, despite not having ever existed.  His non-existence however didn’t stop him having a great and possibly horrific legacy to those who believed in him in possibly the biggest example of the phrase “Be careful what you wish for”.

Before anyone starts thinking about the founding figures of the worlds major religions, most of them can be proven historically to have existed irrespective if you believe in their religious teachings or the miraculous events attributed to them.   Prester John though is more like the worst case ever of Chinese Whispers, the idea that if you have a line of people and you give the first a verbal message, by the time it reaches the last person then it is impossibly different from the original message.

Tabula Rogeriana

The Tabula Rogeriana a contemporary map of the known world from Western Europe to the Pacific.

Prester John or as he was known at the time in Latin, Presbyter Johannes, is a legendary Christian patriarch and king popular in European chronicles and tradition from the 12th through the 17th centuries. He was said to rule over a Nestorian (Church of the East) Christian nation lost amid the Muslims and pagans of Asia, in which the Patriarch of the Saint Thomas Christians resided. The details are as sketchy as they are bizarre, a collection of medieval popular fantasy, depicting Prester John as a descendant of the Three Magi, ruling a kingdom full of riches, marvels, and strange creatures.

If there is a kernel of truth about Prester John, it likely lies in India.  The subcontinent saw the Apostle of Jesus, Thomas, reach relative evangelical success there.  As time progressed the location of Prester John shifted to Central Asia and finally to Ethiopia.

Though its immediate genesis is unclear, the legend of Prester John drew strongly from earlier accounts of what was known as the Orient and of Westerners’ travels there. Particularly influential were the stories of Saint Thomas the Apostle‘s proselytizing in India, recorded especially in the 3rd-century work known as the Acts of Thomas. Amongst Europeans, this text inculcated in Westerners an image of what we now know as India being a place of exotic wonders and offered the earliest description of Saint Thomas establishing a Christian church there, themes that loomed large over later accounts of Prester John. 

The Tomb of St. Thomas

The Tomb of St. Thomas in Chennai, India.

Equally to blame were reports of a Church of the East which is also known as the Nestorian church and centered in Iran.  With quite a wide following in parts of the Middle East and Asia, it formulated in European minds as an assemblage both exotic and familiarly Christian. Particularly inspiring were the Nestorians’ missionary successes among the Turkic peoples of Central Asia, the most famous of which were of course The Mongols but there were many others including the Kerait tribe which has seen thousands of conversions to Nestorian Christianity shortly after the year 1000. By the 12th century, the Kerait rulers were still following a custom of bearing Christian names, which may have fueled the legend.

To really confuse things, there was an early Christian figure known as Joh the Presbyter who lived in Syria.  Little is known of him though his existence is inferred from actual known and documented early Christian figures.     However his first century existence could have had no actual connection with the mythical kingdom in India or Central Asia.
Throw in a mix of the famous literary and pseudohistorical accounts of travels and conquests of such luminous figures as Alexander the Great then it seemed there just had to be a Prester John waiting to be discovered.
Nestorian Church

Inside a beautiful and ancient Nestorian Church in the Iranian city of Shiraz.

The Prester John legend as such began in the early 12th century with reports of visits of an Archbishop of India to Constantinople, and of a Patriarch of India to Rome at the time of Pope Callixtus II (1119–1124).  These visits, apparently from the Saint Thomas Christians of India, cannot be confirmed, evidence of both being secondhand reports. What is certain is that German chronicler Otto of Freising reported in his Chronicon of 1145 that the previous year he had met a certain Hugh, bishop of Jabala in Syria, at the court of Pope Eugene III in Viterbo.
Hugh was an emissary of Prince Raymond of Antioch, sent to seek Western aid against the Saracens after the Siege of Edessa; his counsel incited Eugene to call for the Second Crusade. Hugh told Otto, in the presence of the pope, that Prester John, a Nestorian Christian who served in the dual position of priest and king, had regained the city of Ecbatana from the brother monarchs of Medes and Persia, the Samiardi, in a great battle “not many years ago”. Afterwards, Prester John allegedly set out for Jerusalem to rescue the Holy Land, but the swollen waters of the Tigris compelled him to return to his own country. His fabulous wealth was demonstrated by his emerald scepter; his holiness by his descent from the Three Magi who you may remember were said to pay their respects to the baby Jesus at Bethlehem over 1,000 years earlier.
The Registan in Samarqand

The Registan in Samarqand

It has been theorised that this account may be based on the historical events of 1141, when the Kara-Khitan Khanate under Yelü Dashi defeated the Seljuk Turks near Samarkand. The Seljuks ruled over Iran at the time and were the most powerful force in the Muslim world, and the defeat at Samarkand weakened them substantially. While the Kara-Khitan at the time were Buddhists and not Christian, and there is no reason to suppose Yelü Dashi was ever called Prester John.

However, several vassals of the Kara-Khitan practiced Nestorian Christianity, which may have contributed to the legend, as well as the possibility that the Europeans, who were unfamiliar with Buddhism, assumed that if the leader was not Muslim, he must be Christian. The defeat encouraged the Crusaders and inspired a notion of deliverance from the East.

Prester John recedes into the background for a while until about 1165 when copies of what was certainly a forged Letter of Prester John started spreading throughout Europe. It was supposedly written to the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (1143–1180) by Prester John, descendant of one of the Three Magi and King of India.  The many marvels of richness and magic it contained captured the imagination of Europeans, and it was translated into many European and Middle-Eastern languages.  It circulated in ever more embellished form for centuries in manuscripts, a hundred examples of which still exist. The invention of printing perpetuated the letter’s popularity in printed form; it was still current in popular culture during the period of European exploration. Part of the letter’s essence was that a lost kingdom of Nestorian Christians still existed in the vastnesses of Central Asia.

The credence given to the reports was such that Pope Alexander III sent a letter to Prester John via his physician Philip on September 27, 1177. Nothing more is recorded of Philip, but it is most probable that he did not return with word from Prester John or else we would have heard something about it.  The Letter continued to circulate and with every reprint or new generation more embellishments wered added. In modern times, textual analysis of the letter’s variant Hebrew versions has suggested an origin among the Jews of northern Italy or Languedoc: several Italian words remained in the Hebrew texts. Regardless, the author of the Letter was most likely a Westerner, though his or her purpose remains unclear.

In 1221, Jacques de Vitry, Bishop of Acre, returned from the disastrous Fifth Crusade with good news: King David of India, the son or grandson of Prester John, had mobilized his armies against the Saracens. He had already conquered Persia, then under the Khwarezmian Empire’s control, and was moving on towards Baghdad as well. This descendant of the great king who had defeated the Seljuks in 1141 planned to reconquer and rebuild Jerusalem.

At this time it is entirely understandable why European so desperately wanted to believe in Prester John.  The Crusader kingdoms were under pressure, Islam was making deep inroads into the Christian world in areas such as Anatolia (Turkey) and Iberia (Spain).

The Bishop of Acre was correct in thinking that a great King had conquered Iran; however King David, as it turned out was Chinggis Khan, known to many as  Genghis Khan. His reign took the story of Prester John in a new direction. Though Genghis was at first seen as a scourge of Christianity’s enemies, he proved to be tolerant of religious faiths among those subjects that did not resist the empire, and was the first East Asian ruler to invite clerics from three major religions (Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism) to a symposium so that he might learn more about their beliefs. The Mongol ruler was also reputed to have a Nestorian Christian favorite among his many wives, whom the Europeans imagined as influential in the disastrous Mongol sack of Baghdad.

Could the famous banners held up by the Mongols during their epic cavalry charges in Central Asia have been interpreted as Christian Crosses belonging to Prester John?

Could the famous banners held up by the Mongols during their epic cavalry charges in Central Asia have been interpreted as Christian Crosses belonging to Prester John?

The Mongol Empire‘s rise which unified much of the world, gave Western Christians the opportunity to visit lands that they had never seen before, and they set out in large numbers along the Empire’s secure roads. Belief that a lost Nestorian kingdom existed in the east, or that the Crusader states‘ salvation depended on an alliance with an Eastern monarch, was one reason for the numerous Christian ambassadors and missionaries sent to the Mongols. These include Franciscan explorers Giovanni da Pian del Carpine in 1245 and William of Rubruck in 1253.

The link between Prester John and Genghis Khan was elaborated upon at this time, as the Prester became identified with Genghis’ foster father, Toghrul, king of the Keraites, given the Jin title Ong Khan Toghrul. Fairly truthful chroniclers and explorers such as Marco Polo,Crusader-historian Jean de Joinville, and the Franciscan voyager Odoric of Pordenone stripped Prester John of much of his otherworldly veneer, portraying him as a more realistic earthly monarch.

Odoric places John’s land to the west of Cathay en route to Europe, and mentions its capital as Casan, which may correspond to Kazan, the Tatar capital near Moscow. Joinville describes Genghis Khan in his chronicle as a “wise man” who unites all the Tartar tribes and leads them to victory against their strongest enemy, Prester John.

William of Rubruck says a certain “Vut”, lord of the Keraites and brother to the Nestorian King John, was defeated by the Mongols under Genghis. Genghis made off with Vut’s daughter and married her to his son, and their union produced Möngke, the Khan at the time William wrote. According to Marco Polo’s famous work, Travels, the war between the Prester and Genghis started when Genghis, new ruler of the rebellious Tartars, asked for the hand of Prester John’s daughter in marriage. Angered that his lowly vassal would make such a request, Prester John denied him in no uncertain terms. In the war that followed, Genghis triumphed and Prester John perished.

The historical figure behind these accounts, Toghrul, was in fact a Nestorian Christian monarch defeated by Genghis. He had fostered the future Khan after the death of his father Yesugei and was one of his early allies, but the two had a falling out. After Toghrul rejected a proposal to wed his son and daughter to Genghis’ children, the rift between them grew until war broke out in 1203.

Of course, the Mongols under Genghis Khan and then even more so under his prodegny Hulegu, went on to conquer and destroy much of the Middle-East and almost eradicated Islam as a force.  Whereas all of this must have appeared fantasic to European powers just as with the Soviet Union allying up with Nazi Germany, sooner or later, when the baddest guys have dealt with everyone else, they inevitably turn their attention to you and it wasn’t long before the Mongol horseman swept through Ukraine, Russia, Poland and Eastern Europe.

After this, the major characteristic of Prester John tales from this period is the king’s portrayal not as an invincible hero, but merely one of many adversaries defeated by the Mongols. But as the Mongol Empire collapsed, Europeans began to shift away from the idea that Prester John had ever really been a Central Asian king. At any rate they had little hope of finding him there, as travel in the region became dangerous without the security the Empire had provided. 

Eventually it became clear that there was no Prester John in Asia, it had all been wishful thinking and accumulative misunderstandings.  However, the Western Europeans weren’t quite ready to give up on the Priest King just yet.

Prester John had been considered the ruler of India since the myth originated but “India” was a vague concept to the Europeans. Writers often spoke of the “Three Indias”, and lacking any real knowledge of the Indian Ocean, they sometimes considered Ethiopia one of the three. Westerners knew that Ethiopia was a powerful Christian nation, but contact had been sporadic since the rise of Islam. No Prester John was to be found in Asia, so European imagination moved him around the blurry frontiers of “India” until it found an appropriately powerful kingdom for him in Ethiopia.  There is evidence that suggest that Prester John’s kingdom was re-imagined into Ethiopia around 1250.

Marco Polo had discussed Ethiopia as a magnificent Christian land and Orthodox Christians had a legend that the nation would one day rise up and invade Arabia, but they did not place Prester John there. Then in 1306, 30 Ethiopian ambassadors from Emperor Wedem Arad came to Europe, and Prester John was mentioned as the patriarch of their church in a record of their visit. Another description of an African Prester John is in the Mirabilia Descripta of Dominican missionary Jordanus, around 1329. In discussing the “Third India”, Jordanus records a number of fanciful stories about the land and its king, whom he says Europeans call Prester John.

The Ethiopian Prester John

The Ethiopian Prester John

By the time that  “Preste Iuan de las Indias” (Prester John of the Indies) is positioned in East Africa on a 16th-century Spanish map, Prester John is well and truly based in Africa.

Most likely due to increasing ties between Europe and Africa as 1428 saw the Kings of Aragon and Ethiopia actively negotiating the possibility of a strategic marriage between the two kingdoms.

On 7 May 1487, two Portuguese envoys, Pêro da Covilhã and Afonso de Paiva, were sent traveling secretly overland to gather information on a possible sea route to India, but also to inquire about Prester John. Covilhã managed to reach Ethiopia. Although well received, he was forbidden to depart. More envoys were sent in 1507, after Socotra was taken by the Portuguese. As a result of this mission, and facing Muslim expansion, regent queen Eleni of Ethiopia sent ambassador Mateus to king Manuel I of Portugal and to the Pope, in search of a coalition.

Mateus reached Portugal via Goa, having returned with a Portuguese embassy, along with priest Francisco Álvares in 1520. Francisco Álvares’ book, which included the testimony of Covilhã, the Verdadeira Informação das Terras do Preste João das Indias (“A True Relation of the Lands of Prester John of the Indies”) was the first direct account of Ethiopia, greatly increasing European knowledge at the time, as it was presented to The Pope.

One of the famous rock churches of King Lalibela of Ethiopia

One of the famous rock churches of King Lalibela of Ethiopia

By the time the emperor Lebna Dengel and the Portuguese had established diplomatic contact with each other in 1520, Prester John was the name by which Europeans knew the Emperor of Ethiopia. The Ethiopians, though, had never called their emperor that. When ambassadors from Emperor Zara Yaqob attended the Council of Florence in 1441, they were confused when council prelates insisted on referring to their monarch as Prester John. They tried to explain that nowhere in Zara Yaqob’s list of regnal names did that title occur. However, their admonitions did little to stop Europeans from calling the King of Ethiopia Prester John. Some writers who used the title did understand it was not an indigenous honorific; for instance Jordanus seems to use it simply because his readers would have been familiar with it, not because he thought it authentic.

Ethiopia has been claimed for many years as the origin of the Prester John legend, but most modern experts believe that the legend was simply adapted to fit that nation in the same fashion that it had been projected upon Ong Khan and Central Asia during the 13th century. Modern scholars find nothing about the Prester or his country in the early material that would make Ethiopia a more suitable identification than any place else, and furthermore, specialists in Ethiopian history have effectively demonstrated that the story was not widely known there until well after European contact.

Finally during the 17th and early 18th centuries, it was finally agreed across Christendom that there as not and never had been a Prester John though his myth and legend continue to this day.



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Ye Olde Fighting Cock – The Oldest Pub in Britain?

This time last week I was giving a lovely guided tour to a charming couple to the old Roman city of St Albans which as it happens is just 5 miles from my house and an hour out of central London.

We visited some of the sights which I might post on next time but one of the highlights for them was when we decided to have lunch in one of the contenders of being the oldest pub in Britain.


Ye Olde Fighting Cocks dates back to the 8th Century. The pub you can see today was built in the 11th Century. St Albans Cathedral and grounds are just across the road and there are tunnels stretching from the beer cellar to the Cathedral, apparently used by Monks. Cock fighting took place in the main bar in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hence the name of the pub. With its long history ‘The Cocks’ could tell a few stories!Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 08.56.52

It is reputed that Oliver Cromwell, subsequently Lord Protector from 1653 until his death in 1658, slept at the inn for one night during the Civil War of 1642-1651.


The main structure is free-standing and has an octagonal appearance, attributable to its earliest use as a pigeon house. It has been added to over the years but the original timber-framed structure is clearly visible.

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The octagonal half-timbered structure was once a medieval dovecote. You will notice that as with many old buildings the inn has quite low ceilings as well as intriguing nooks and crannies. There is an original bread oven next to the main fireplace.



The oldest part of the pub lies within the area inside this room from the camera to the bar stools.

It was originally located close to St Albans Cathedral (when it was St Albans Abbey) and was moved to the present site after the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539.


Of course, one of the reasons why Ye Olde Fighting Cocks has a claim to being the oldest pub is because it is so close to the site of the earliest Christian services in Britain all the way back in the 3rd century, and the ‘city’ itself existed just across the river even before the Romans arrived.

The foundations of the pub incorporate part of the Palace of Offa, King of the Mercians and dating from around 793. The pub you can see today was built in the 11th Century, originally on these early Saxon ecclesiastical foundations near St Albans Abbey and moved to its present site after the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539.

It is reputed that there are tunnels stretching from the beer cellar to the Abbey, apparently frequented by the monks of that time. Cock fighting was a national pastime in England for 600 years from the reign of Henry the Second up to and through the reigns of the three Georges.



A fighting cock still looking splendid a century or more later.


it is thought that the Cock Pit – about 8ft wide and 10ft long – was brought down from the Abbey when the original name ‘The Round House’ was changed to ‘Ye Olde Fighting Cocks’ until cock fighting as a sport was banned in 1849, when the pub name was changed to ‘The Fisherman’. However it has been known officially as ‘Ye Olde Fighting Cocks’ since 1872.

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Of course it’s one thing having all this history but even here, you need more than history to run a business and Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is always amongst the front runners of the pub awards with a fine range of local beers, ales and other drinks.

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My guests had some very traditional regional British food whilst I had a slightly more modern cheese and bacon burger with chips which looked rather like the photo below, pinched from their website!


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If you’d like to go on a visit to Roman St Albans with me then let me know   Or if you would like to visit some of the very best historic pubs in London itself on a fabuluosly authentic walking tour then again, you know where to look!

I hope you don’t mind me sharing a little bit of my office with you 🙂


Posted in history, Life, Travel, Ye Olde England Tours | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments