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History. What in the World Was Going On?
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What in the World Was Going On?

THIS IS A MULTI-PART COLUMN. ADDITIONS ARE MADE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE.

During the 15th century, the world was changing. Most of us are familiar with names like Henry V, Joan of Arc, the Wars of the Roses, Ferdinand and Isabella, the Fall of Constantinople, the Gutenberg Bible, etc.

On the other side of the world, things were changing too. In China, the Ming Emperor Yongle held the throne. He established a new capital in 1402 and sent out Admiral Zheng He with his treasure to collect tribute. In Japan, the Ashikaga shoguns dominated the country at the beginning of the century, but conflict between and within the great families led to the strengthening of the Samurai and changes in the pattern of society.

In Korea, the Joseon Dynasty was established in 1392. In 1400, Taejong took the throne and ruled until 1418. His son and successor, Sejong the Great, held the throne until 1450. Sejong was not only a strong military leader, he was responsible for great advances in the sciences.

In the Americas, the Inca Empire was taking hold in what is now Peru. Farther north, the Aztec were reaching their zenith. Throughout the Mississippi Valley there were Mound Builders.

In Africa, several advanced civilizations existed: the Songhai Empire, Kanem-Bornu, Great Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia.

Things were changing in the 15th century, all over the world, and the effects of those changes are felt to this day.

What in the world was going on?


WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS GOING ON IN JAPAN?

PART ONE: SIGNIFICANT EVENTS
*Note: do not cite this article as a primary source.


Significant events included the Onin War (1467-1477) and the Sengoku Jidai or "Warring States Period."

The Onin War (1467-1477) was a dispute between Hosokawa Katsumoto and Yamana Sozen that began when Hosokawa and Yamana chose sides in the succession of the Hatakeyama family. The succession dispute became a pretext for a struggle for military supremacy, and escalated into a nationwide war involving a number of daimyo (warlords). The roots of the war included economic distress.

That war was followed by Sengoku Jidai, the "Warring States Period", when individual daimyo, whose power had been suppressed by the Ashikaga, struggled for supremacy.

The Emperors

Throughout the 15th century, Japan was nominally under the rule of the emperors. For much of that period, however, civil and military power was held by the Ashikaga shoguns, who were regents or deputies of the emperors.

The preceding century had been known as the Nanboku-Chu, the Period of the Northern and Southern Courts. Two branches of the imperial family claimed the throne, and each had its own court. Thus, at the beginning of the 15th century, there were two rival emperors. The Ashikaga brokered an agreement that ended the conflict between the supporters of the two Courts and firmly established the authority of the shogunate.

The emperor's chief task was priestly, containing many repetitive rituals. The ceremonial duties could be, and were, carried about by boys who were quite young. "The high-priestly duties were deemed possible for a walking child." 1

The emperor's chief task was priestly, containing so many repetitive rituals that it was accepted that, after serving around ten years, he deserved a pampered retirement. Several emperors abdicated to their entitled retirement while still in their teens, though none of the 15th century emperors did so. When the emperor abdicated, he could wield considerable power behind the scenes.

"The emperor was more like a revered embodiment of divine harmony rather than the head of an actual governing administration. In Japan it has always been easy for ambitious lords to hold actual power, as such positions have not been inherently contradictory to the emperor's position." 1

The emperors during the 15th century were: Go-Komatsu (r. 1392-1412), Shoko (r. 1412-1428), Go-Hanazono (r. 1428-1464), and Go-Tsuchimikado (r. 1464-1500).

Go-Komatsu (1377 - 1433) was the first son of the Northern Pretender Emperor Go-En'yu, who died in 1382. His personal name was Motohito-shinno. Some older sources refer to him as Koko II, because he was named after the 9th century emperor Koko, who was called the "emperor of Komatsu". Go-Komatsu reigned for ten years during the Nanboku-cho period as the northern pretender, and from 1392 to1412 as the legitimate emperor.

Emperor Go-Komatsu abdicated and his son, Imperial Prince Mihito, ascended the throne as Emeror Shoko, in repudiation of the agreement that the succession would alternate between the Northern and Southern (or Junior and Senior) lines. Hostility flared between the shogunate and supporters of the Southern Court.

Shoko (1401 - 1428) was the eldest son of Emperor Go-Komatsu. Shoko was twelve years old when his father stepped down.

"This sovereign abandoned himself to the profligacy of the era. It is doubtful whether his reason was not unhinged. Some accounts say that he fell into a state of lunacy; others, that he practised magic arts. At all events he died childless in 1428."1

Shoko's coronation ceremony was held in January, 1415. He was succeeded by his adopted son, Go-Hanazono.

Go-Hanazono (1419 - 1471) was Shoko's third cousin, adopted by him as heir. He was ten years old when he ascended the throne. His personal name was Hikohito-shinno. He was actually chosen by Shoko's father, the cloistered emperor Go-Komatsu, who lived until 1433.

An armed group of rebels (or Southern Court supporters!) penetrates palace defenses. A fire was started and one of the men tried to kill Go-Hanazono but the emperor escaped. They did manage to steal the Imperial Regalia. Later a guard found the mirror and a priest found the sword but the location of the jewel was not known for some time.
In 1464, Emperor Go-Hanazono resigned his throne in favor of his son, who was known as Emperor Go-Tsuchimikado. He continued his rule, indirectly, as cloistered emperor until his death at age 52.

Emperor Go-Tsuchimikado (1442-1500) was the oldest son of Go-Hanazono. His personal name was Fusahito-shinno. Shortly after he succeeded his father in 1464, the Onin War broke out. Temples, shrines, and mansions of court nobles, among others, were burned to the ground. The Imperial Court's finances dried up and the Court declined. When the Emperor died, his successor lacked funds to pay for the funeral, and the body lay in a palace storeroom for over a month before a donation was made to the court and the funeral could be held.

*
This is Part 1 of a multi-part series

Part1: the Emperors of Japan
Part 2: the Ashikaga Shogunate
Part 3: the Onin War
Part 4: the Sengoku, or Warring States, period

If you are interested in more information about specific topics, contact me via this website.

References

1. Frank Brinkley and Dairoku Kikuchi, A History of the Japanese People From the Earliest Times to the End of the Meiji Era. Project Gutenberg, 2008.

Resources

Frank Brinkley and Dairoku Kikuchi, A History of the Japanese People From the Earliest Times to the End of the Meiji Era. Project Gutenberg, 2008.

Ponsonby-Fane, Richard Arthur Brabazon. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan. Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society. OCLC 194887



WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS GOING ON IN JAPAN?

PART TWO: THE ASHIKAGA SHOGUNATE
*Note: do not cite this article as a primary source.


The Ashikaga Shogunate, which was also called the Muromachi shogunate, lasted from 1336 to 1573. Shogun was a military rank and the title of the hereditary military ruler of Japan. The shoguns did not replace the emperor, though several shoguns were recognized by Ming China as “king of Japan.” Ashikaga was their family name.

The Ashikaga shoguns during the 15th century were:

•Yoshimochi held office from 1394 to 1423, and again, briefly, after his son Yoshikazu died.
•Yoshikazu was in office from 1423 to 1425.
•Yoshinori, the younger brother of Yoshimochi, ruled from 1425 until he was assassinated in 1441.
•Yoshikatsu replaced his father in 1441 and died in 1443.
•There was an interim period of about six years before Yoshikatsu’s younger brother, Yoshimasa, was confirmed as shogun.
•Yoshimasa held office from 1449 to 1473, then retired. He reassumed office when Yoshihisa died, until he could adopt Yoshitane and have him installed in office.
•Yoshihisa was shogun from 1473 to 1489.
•Yoshitane held office twice, from 1490 to 1493, and again from 1508 to 1521.
•The last shogun of the 15th century was Ashikaga Yoshizumi, who was in office until 1508.

About the Shoguns

Since the names of all the shoguns begin with “Yoshi-“ the history can be a bit confusing. For clarity, pay attention to the last two syllables of their names, "-mitsu", "-mochi," etc.

Yoshimochi was 4th of the Ashikaga shoguns. He was nine years old when his father, Yoshimitsu, became chancellor of Japan under the emperor in 1394 and Yoshimochi was made shogun. Yoshimochi’s father and members of other powerful families held power, and Yoshimochi was a figurehead.

Diplomatic relations between Japan and China had come to a halt in 1386 because of Japanese pirates. In 1401, chancellor Yoshimitsu sent a diplomatic mission to China, pledging to stop pirate activity and authorized ships began official “tally trade” with China.

Yoshimitsu was extravagant; after his supposed retirement, he built himself a magnificent palace that included the Kinkaku-ji, or golden pavilion shrine, with an interior covered with gold foil thickly covered with lacquer varnish. Naturally, he was concerned with anything that might improve the economy of the realm.

Yoshimochi (1386-1428), son of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu became shogun at the age of nine and the administration was conducted by Hosokawa Mitsumoto, Shiba Yoshishige, and Hatakeyama Mitsuiye. It was not until his father’s death in 1408 that Yoshimochi “came into his own” as shogun. In 1411, he broke off relations with China and they were only resumed in 1434, under the 6th shogun.

A rebellion in the Kanto province in 1415-16 was handled by his relative Ashikaga Mochiuji. Pirate activities that Yoshimitsu had promised to curb continued, and in 1419, in response to attacks by pirates based on Tsushima Island, Korea invaded the island and took effective control of the area. In 1420 famine was widespread and serious. In 1422 there was a resurgence of support for the Southern court. Yoshimochi seems to have left others to deal with these matters, as long as the capital, Kyoto, remained peaceful. Yoshimochi abdicated in 1423.

Yoshimochi entered the religious life and his son Yoshikazu (1407-1425) became the 5th shogun. His age at the time of his succession to the shogunate is given variously as 15, 16, 17, or 18.

Yoshikazu drank himself to death in 1425, and because Yoshimochi had no second son to succeed him, he resumed his duties as shogun. Just before Yoshimochi died, he told his administration to choose his successor by drawing lots among his brothers, that is, the four surviving sons of Yoshimitsu. They drew lots in the temple.

Yoshimochi’s younger brother Ashikaga Yoshinori (1394-1441) was chosen as the 6th shogun. He was the Chief Abbot of the Tendai sect until he was called to the shogunate. He was an efficient and effective ruler, with “high talents and great intrepidity”1, but he was “notorious for his oppressive measures and unpredictable, dictatorial whims”.

All his measures were designed to eradicate immorality and corruption, and to restore law and order throughout the country. “His fault seems to have been precipitancy”. So many suffered by his reforms, and in such quick succession, that the hatred he provoked could scarcely have been kept within control1. He was assassinated in 1441.

In 1441, Ashikaga Yoshikatsu (1434-1443) was named as his father’s replacement and was confirmed in 1442. He died at the age of 10, from injuries received when he fell from a horse. He was replaced by his younger brother.

Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435-1490) was was officially confirmed shogun in 1449, when he would have been about 14 years old.

The country “now began to experience the consequences of Yoshinori’s death…disorder became the normal conditionof the provinces.”1 Supporters of the Southern Court tried to retake the throne from Emperor Go-Hanazono; their army suffered a crushing defeat and the remnants of the Southern Dynasty were suppressed.

Yoshimasa built a new palace, the Palace of Flowers, just on the eve of a period of natural calamities that ended in famine and pestilence. People flocked to the capital seeking food.

Yoshimasa adopted Ashikaga Yoshimi, his younger brother, as his heir in 1464. Yoshimi was the abbot of a Jodo monastery when he was first approached about succeeding his brother, and at first he tried to stick with his religious life but by 1464 he was convinced to join his brother. A year later, Yoshimasa had a son, called Yoshihisa. Although Yoshimi’s role as succcessor was questionable, he remained as his brother’s deputy. Yoshimi and Yoshihisa ended up on opposite sides of the Onin War.

In 1469, Yoshihisa was appointed heir to the shogunate, and in 1473, in the middle of the Onin War, Yoshimasa resigned in his favor. Some sources say that Yoshimasa continued to hold on to the reins of power. Others say that he was never really interested in being shogun, preferring to spend his time in cultural pursuits.

The Onin War ended the Ashikaga hegemony, though they remained as figureheads until 1573. The real power was in the hands of the Hosokawa clan. The Onin War was followed by the Period of the Warring States, as other families fought for power.

In 1489, Ashikaga Yoshihisa died on the battlefield, leaving no son and Yoshimasa reassumed power until he could adopt Yoshitane, the son of his brother Yoshimi and have him installed as shogun. Yoshimasa also adopted Yoshizumi, the son of another brother, Masatomo.

Ashikaga Yoshitane was shogun twice. The first time was from 1490, after Yoshimasa adopted him and helped place him in that position. Yoshitane fled Kyoto after losing a power struggle with Hosokawa Katsumoto, who was supposed to be his deputy. Hosokawa placed Yoshizumi (1481-1511) in the shogunate in 1494 as a puppet ruler. He held office until 1508, when Yoshitane returned to power.

In other words, after the death of his son, Shogun Yoshimasa adopted the son of his brother Yoshimi. After the death of his adopted son, Yoshimasa adopted the son of another brother. Shogun Yoshimasa was succeeded by Shogun Yoshihisa (Yoshimasa's natural son), then by Shogun Yoshitane (Yoshimasa's first adopted son), and then by Shogun Yoshizumi (Yoshimasa's second adopted son).

Some things to note: the shoguns had begun to imitate the emperors in retiring early and ruling from behind the scenes, with quite young sons holding nominal power. Twice the retired shogun had to return to office when his successor died. When the shogunate – not just the shogun but his administration -- was weak and the daimyos, or regional warlords, had more power in the areas away from the capital, conflict and disorder resulted. In the face of natural disasters, famine, and external threats, the country often lacked strong leadership and everyone suffered.

*
This is Part 2 of a multi-part series.

Part1: the Emperors of Japan
Part 2: the Ashikaga Shogunate
Part 3: the Onin War
Part 4: the Sengoku, or Warring States, period

References

1. Frank Brinkley and Dairoku Kikuchi, A History of the Japanese People From the Earliest Times to the End of the Meiji Era. Project Gutenberg, 2008.

Resources

Frank Brinkley and Dairoku Kikuchi, A History of the Japanese People From the Earliest Times to the End of the Meiji Era. Project Gutenberg, 2008.

Ponsonby-Fane, Richard Arthur Brabazon. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan. Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society. OCLC 194887



What in the World Was Going On…?
*Note: do not cite this article as a primary source.

… in Japan in the 15th Century?
Part 3

The Onin War

The Onin War, which lasted for ten years, from 1467 to 1477, had its origin in disputes about inheritance. Three important families fell into dispute because the head of the family had no legitimate direct heir, and as powerful men took sides, the entire country became embroiled in the fighting.

The Hatakeyama family was one of three “great families” that filled the post of kanrei (governor-general). Tokuhon adopted his nephew, Masanaga, as his successor. But later, he had a son by a concubine and wanted that son, Yoshinari, to succeed him. Some of the family, and some vassals, continued to support the legitimate claim of Masanaga.

The Shiba family was also one of the three that filled post of kanrei. Shiba Yoshitoshi was appointed to head the family, but his vassals defeated him in battle and nominated Shiba Yoshikado.

The third inheritance dispute was about the successor of the shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa. The shogun had adopted his younger brother, Yoshimi, as his successor, but later, when his consort gave birth to a son, Yoshihisa, the shogun broke his oath to Yoshimi.

The third of the “great families” was the Hosokawa, which was headed by Katsumoto. They were the most powerful of the three. . In the middle of the fifteenth century, their head was Katsumoto, an administrator who had “extensive erudition and a profound knowledge of medicine added [to] very exceptional gifts of statecraft and organizing ability”1.

Hosokawa Katsumoto became allied with Yamana Sozen in 1441, after the assassination of shogun Ashikaga Yoshinori, when they joined forces with the Takeda family to bring down the once-powerful Akamatsu family. However, there was no real friendship between them, and Sozen did not trust Katsumoto.

At first, the two men were allied against Tokuhon and his son Yoshinari. In 1464, Sozen threw his support to Yoshinari, who displayed “greatly superior skill as a strategist1”. Sozen also supported Shiba Yoshikado, who was confirmed as head of his house about 1466. Their rivals turned to Katsumoto for support.


The War

In February, 1467, Sozen’s followers attacked Hatakeyama Masanaga, and drove him from the capitol. Meanwhile, Katsumoto made no move, “confident that thus the legitimacy of his cause would obtain recognition”1. The rival armies remained in or near the capital, Kyoto, observing and engagiing in small battles. In early July, 1467, a petty skirmish precipitated a general engagement that was inconclusive, and the attitude of mutual observation resumed. Two months later, reinforcements reached Yamana Sozen’s and for nearly two years, Yamana had the upper hand. But Katsumoto clung to his position.

What Katsumoto lacked in military ability he made up in statecraft. From the outset, he took care to legalize his cause by inducing the Emperor and the former Emperor to move to the Muromachi section of Kyoto, where they were guarded by the Hosokawa, as was the shogun. He fomented intrigues in the domains of the Yamana and their allies that necessitated a diversion of strength from the Kyoto campaign.

Katsumoto also obtained an Imperial decree that deprived Yoshimi of his offices, and early in 1469, had Yoshihisa, then four years old, declared officially heir to the shogunate.

There was no “crushing victory” for either side and the armies hung on. In May 1473, Sozen died and less than a month later, Katsumoto died as well. With Yamana Sozen and Hosokawa Katsumoto both dead, the two opposing armies began talking of finding a solution and end to the fighting. But the talking took years as Yoshimasa and Yoshimi were still at odds.

In 1473, Yoshimasa retired from office and his nine-year-old son Yoshihisa succeeded him as shogun. His kanrei was Hatakeyama Yoshinari, the son of Tokuhon. Yoshihisa “showed sagacity and diligence, eschewing his father’s luxurious habits, studying literature and military art, and taking lessons in statecraft from the ex-regent, Ichijo Kaneyoshi1.”

Finally in December 1477, the Yamana forces withdrew from Kyoto and Yoshimi retired to Mino. In the fighting, Kyoto was reduced almost completely to ruins, the Imperial Palace, Buddhist temples, and other mansions were laid in ashes, countless works of art were destroyed, and the Court nobles and other civil officials were compelled to flee to the provinces for shelter. “…[In] the Onin Records it is stated that the metropolis became a den for foxes and wolves, and that Imperial mandates and religious doctrines were alike unheeded.”

Fighting continued, though, throughout the provinces between various families. The Hatakeyama clan split into two parts and fought each other to a standstill. The great Shiba family was attacked by the Asakura, the Oda, and the Imagawa. The Togashi house was divided against itself. In Kyushu there were bitter struggles between the Shimazu and the Ito, the Sagara and the Nawa, and the Otomo, the Shoni, and the Ouchi.

The provincial magnates, or daimyo, displayed considerable independence: they levied what taxes they pleased, employed the proceeds as seemed good to them, enacted and administered their own laws, made war or peace as they wished, and granted estates or revenues to their vassals at will. Yoshihisa attempted to bring them all under his authority but he died at 25, during a military campaign before he could do it.

The War ended the Ashikaga hegemony, Kyoto was virtually destroyed, and the country became completely decentralized. This initiated the Sengoku jidai, the “Warring States Period”, a long struggle for dominion by individual daimyo. The Ashikaga shoguns remained as figureheads but the real power was in the hands of the Hosokawa clan.


This is Part 3 of a multi-part series.

Part1: the Emperors of Japan
Part 2: the Ashikaga Shogunate
Part 3: the Onin War
Part 4: the Sengoku, or Warring States, period

References

1. Frank Brinkley and Dairoku Kikuchi, A History of the Japanese People From the Earliest Times to the End of the Meiji Era. Project Gutenberg, 2008.

Resources

Frank Brinkley and Dairoku Kikuchi, A History of the Japanese People From the Earliest Times to the End of the Meiji Era. Project Gutenberg, 2008.

Ponsonby-Fane, Richard Arthur Brabazon. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan. Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society. OCLC 194887



What in the World Was Going On…?
*Note: do not cite this article as a primary source.

… in Japan in the 15th Century?

Part 4

The Warring States Period

The Sengoku-jidai was a time of social upheaval, political intrigue, and nearly constant military conflict that lasted roughly from the middle of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century. Social upheaval is seen most clearly in the Ikko-Ikki uprisings, and the rise to power of Hojo Soun. Political intrigue was a big part of the succession disputes among the various clans, including the Ashikaga shoguns, that triggered the Onin War, and also the conflict that followed the death of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, as described earlier.

The Onin War is generally regarded as the onset of the Sengoku-jidai or Warring States Period. Daimyo, samurai warlords, fought one another for territory nearly constantly, across the entire country. The Ashikaga shogunate failed to win the loyalty of many daimyo, especially those whose domains were far from Kyoto.

“The important picture here is not just the fighting for, against, and around the Shogun, but the ongoing process of decentralization and redistribution of power throughout the country.”

Developments in agriculture and trade lead to the desire for greater local autonomy throughout all levels of society. At the same time, the continuing wars between neighboring lords and with the shoguns ahd kept armies in the field and these armies subsisted on “contributions exacted from the tillers of the soil”. Farmers had little incentive to cultivate crops that were almost sure to fall into the hands of others. As early as the beginning of the 15th century, suffering and misery caused by natural disasters such as earthquakes and famines often served to trigger armed uprisings by farmers weary of debt and taxes. They became more likely to revolt as centralized authority decreased.

Well-organized religious groups gained political power by uniting farmers in resistance and rebellion against the rule of the daimyo. The monks of the Jodo Shinshu, or Pure Land, school of Buddhism formed numerous “Ikko-Ikki.” These were the ikki, or armies, of the Ikko-shu, a small militant offshoot of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, which is said to have provided a kind of “liberation theology” or ideology for the uprisings.

The Ikko-Ikki were, at first, disparate and disorganized followers of the teachings of Rennyo, the abbot of Hogan-ji. They were mobs of peasant farmers, monks, Shinto priests and local rulers. Rennyo was a pacifist, but he saw to it that temples of his sect were fortified and defended from attackers.

In 1485, the peasants and the kokujin, “lords” of smaller rural domains revolted in Yamashiro Province. The kokujin, also called ji-samurai, used their relatively small holdiings for intensive and diversified forms of agriculture. Independent and strongly attached to their land, many kokujin formed leagues for common defense. These leagues too became part of the Ikko-Ikki uprisings.

The rebels in Yamashiro Province set up their own army, the Ikki, and forced the clan armies to leave the province. In 1486 they formed a provisional government for the province. In 1488, an Ikko uprising drove the Shugo and his army out of Kaga Province and became the defacto rulers of the entire province. It was the first time commoners had governed a province, and they continued to govern it until 1576.

The upheaval resulted in a power shift in which some well-established clans expanded their spheres of influence while others found their positions eroded and eventually usurped by more capable underlings. One of the earliest instances of this was Hojo Soun, who rose from relatively humble origins to seize power in Izu province in 1493.

Hojo Soun (1432-1519) was born Ise Moritoki, and was originally known as Ise Shinkuro, a samurai of Taira lineage from a reputable family of shogunate officials. His son gave him the name Hojo Soun posthumously. Shinkuro belonged to a cadet branch of the Ise clan, but he had important family connections. His sister was married to Imagawa Yoshitada, head of a cadet branch of the Ashikaga family. Yoshitada died in battle in 1476 and Shinkuro mediated the succession dispute between Yoshitada’s son and Yoshitada’s cousin. In 1493, he took Izu Province, and in 1495, he took Odawara.

Hojo Soun is sometimes called “the first Sengoku daimyo”, but there were many others. The best-known of them, such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, were prominent in the succeeding century.

The Sengoku-jidai lasted roughly from the middle of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century.


References

1. Frank Brinkley and Dairoku Kikuchi, A History of the Japanese People From the Earliest Times to the End of the Meiji Era. Project Gutenberg, 2008.

Resources

Frank Brinkley and Dairoku Kikuchi, A History of the Japanese People From the Earliest Times to the End of the Meiji Era. Project Gutenberg, 2008.

Ponsonby-Fane, Richard Arthur Brabazon. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan. Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society. OCLC 194887





Also see the following by BamBamsGirl. -Editor
  • What in the World Was Going On? (continued)
  • The 15th Century and the ''Other'' British Isles