Episode Zero - Introduction
Hello and welcome to Thugs and Miracles, the podcast where we will be looking back on 1,500 years of history, as seen through the eyes of the French kings and queens. My name is Benjamin Bernier and I will be your guide as we look at history, so much of which is already readily familiar to us in the English-speaking world, through a lens which, quite honestly, gets overlooked because of the differences in language and culture that separate us from France. Before I go too far though, I want to declare my background and biases so that you can better understand where I’m coming from and where we can expect to go. So, yes, I have a French family name, and yes, my grandfather came over emigrated from that country in the late 1940s. However, that’s about as close to France as I get, outside of a few vacations spent in Paris or Marseilles. I am an American, born on the East Coast and raised in multiple spots throughout that country. I have no real ties to France, and my interest in this topic is borne out of genuine historic interest and curiosity. All of this is a very long way of saying that no, I am not some unapologetic Francophile who will be telling you all about why you should ditch everything and make your way to Nice or Bordeaux or Montpellier, nor will you need to be a Francophile to enjoy the history that will be presented.
My interest in this topic actually has roots in one of my favorite episodes from Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, Episode 48 – Prophets of Doom. Now, if you’re familiar with Dan or this particular episode, you may think, “Boy, this guy is way off the mark.” The tagline for that episode was “Murderous millennial preachers and prophets take over the German city of Munster after Martin Luther unleashes a Pandora’s Box of religious anarchy with the Protestant Reformation.” What does this have to do with Medieval France? Well, what I loved about this particular episode is that Dan reached back into history and found a story that, mainly because of language and culture, was completely unknown to me. Now, I’m a history buff and feel like I can hold my own when talking about a lot of topics over a very wide range, so when I sat there for over four hours listening to a story that was completely new to me, I couldn’t help but wonder what else I had been missing, mainly by failing to look a little deeper at what I thought I knew. Enter me taking a trip to France and standing in the Gallerie des Batailles and seeing a number of huge canvases depicting battles I had never heard of, fought by people I barely knew, if I even knew them at all. And that’s when things began to come together for me. I wanted to know what stories were out there that I had maybe never heard of. I became excited to pull back the layers of culture and language, and to see if there weren’t more stories out there like the one Dan had told of polyamorous priests in a German town trying to overthrow the established order.
Well, luckily for us, I didn’t have to dig too far. Within just the first few centuries of the French monarchy there are stories that include the fall of Rome; the rampaging of Attila and his Huns; the birth story of a French king spawned by a sea monster; murderous family rivalries; the execution of queens torn apart by horses; backstabbing courtiers looking to overthrow the king; and an obsession with hair that actually leads a mother, when given the choice between cutting her sons hair or slicing their throats, to choose the latter. All of this happens before we even get to Charlemagne, so I’d say that there’s more than enough material to carry us through for a long, long time.
So you’ve already heard me talk about Dan Carlin, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how my influences also include Sebastian Major of the Our Fake History Podcast, Mike Duncan of the Revolutions Podcast, and Patrick Wyman of the Fall of Rome Podcast. These guys have consistently produced stories that I find compelling, and they’ve inspired me to step up to the mic and give this a shot. I truly believe that the history I will be bringing to you is endlessly compelling, and if I am even a fraction as entertaining as the guys I mentioned, then I believe the story will see me through. I hope you’ll feel the same. The first episode of Thugs and Miracles goes live on 1 September, and I’ll work to have a new episode out every other week. I would love to be faster, and maybe one day I will be, but for right now I have to keep on working the day job until podcasting can take over as my sole source of income; a boy can dream. Anyway, until that mythical day, I would rather underpromise and overdeliver, and if at some point I find myself getting ahead, perhaps I will look at dropping an extra episode or two. As I say to my kids before I inevitably disappoint them, we shall see.
Alright, I look forward to starting down this path with you. Join me on September 1 when we head back to the fifth century and explore what happens in Western Europe when the Roman Empire is no longer around to keep things in check. My name is Benjamin Bernier, and I will see you then.