06 November, 2006

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

Having nearly set light to Cardinal Wolsey's garden with fireworks last night, here are some interesting journalistic pieces from recent years on Guy Fawkes and Co.

From Alex Renton, an article from 2000 titled Who the Hell is this Guy Anyway?

AN Wilson's 2001 piece Guy Must Stay on his Pyre on why Guy Fawkes will be remembered long after Bin Laden.

Clive Aslet from 2002 has Five places to visit in London from Guy's time.

Finally, this Gunpowder Plot website has this popular ditty:

Ladies and gentlemen you'll never grow fat,
If you don't put a penny in the old Guy's hat.

Guy, guy, guy!Stick him up on high;
Hang him on a lamp post
And leave him there to die.


31 October, 2006

Dunkirk pt 2 - play golf in a fort

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, check out this Dunkirk golf course within what looks like a coastal fort - impressive.

30 October, 2006

Charles II sells Dunkirk to the French, 27th October, 1662.

For this week's post we go back to Charles II's sale of Dunkirk to France on 27th October, 1662. The price was a reasonable 2.5m livres, or around £400,000 (partly paid in installments).

The map on right "Plan de la Ville et Citadelle de Dunkerque" dates from the early 18thC, but the original drawing is believed to date from 1662. This is from the excellent University of Jerusalem Geography dept. historic cities website.
Samuel Pepys makes several mentions of the Dunkirk sale in his diary ("This day come the King's pleasure-boats from Calais, with the Dunkirk money, being 400,000 pistolles." 21-Nov-1662), and there are further contributions from readers of the Pepys diary retro-blog.

Link to previous posts:
Samuel Pepys learns his uncle has died
Indians sell Manhattan Island for $24 in cloth and buttons, 1626

07 October, 2006

A Man For All Seasons - Can Sir Thomas More outwit Master Cromwell?

Today's Saturday Play on BBC Radio 4 was an abridged version of A Man for All Seasons, with an a-list cast. If you missed the broadcast like me, for the next 7 days you can "listen again" on the Radio 4 Saturday Play web page. Enjoy!

Here is the BBC synopsis and cast list..
A Man For All Seasons. By Robert Bolt

"Sir Thomas More has managed to resist Henry VIII's pressure on him to sanction the forthcoming wedding to Anne Boleyn. All of Cromwell's plots to entrap Thomas fail as the wily Chancellor counters with his knowledge of the law and his right to silence. But can treachery from an unsuspected source spell doom for the brilliant statesman? "

Sir Thomas More ...... Charles Dance
Master Richard Rich ...... Julian Rhind Tutt
Master Thomas Cromwell ...... Ken Cranham
Cardinal Wolsey ...... Timothy Bateson
King Henry VIII ...... Brian Cox
Duke of Norfolk ...... Nicholas le Prevost
Master Will Roper ...... Martin Freeman
Lady Alice More ...... Kika Markham
Mistress Margaret (Meg) More ...... Romola Garai
Boatman/Steward (aka Matthew)/Jailer ...... Sam Dale
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer/Headsman ...... Peter Tate
Woman ...... Adjoa Andoh
portraits: Sir Thomas More (above left), Master Thomas Cromwell (above right).
related previous posts:

04 October, 2006

Cardinal Wolsey Quotes including his Death

If you are searching for quotes by or about Cardinal Wolsey, including his Death, these are perhaps the two best-known quotes from the man himself....

"Father Abbot, I am come to lay my bones amongst you"
George Cavendish, Negotiations of Thomas Wolsey (1641), referring to Wolsey's arrival, already ill, at Leicester Abbey, Nov 26th, 1530, on his way to probable execution at the Tower. He died at Leicester on November 28th or 29th, aged around 55.

"Had I but served God as diligently as I have served the king, he would not have given me over in my gray hairs."

Click this link for Cardinal Wolsey quotes in Shakespeare's Henry VIII

28 September, 2006

Turn the pages of "The Golf Book" with the British Library

Have just discovered The British Library "Turning the Pages" site, where they use a clever Shockwave plug-in to simulate turning the pages of landmark historical books with your mouse.

The list of books on display includes the Luttrell Psalter; the Sherborne Missal; the Sforza Hours; and the Flemish "Golf Book" (so called due to the inclusion of golf in the illustrations of medieval games and pastimes).

There is even a draggable "magnifying glass" for superb close-ups.

You can download the Shockwave plug-in from Adobe from the site.

25 September, 2006

Exhibition time

A couple of must-see London autumn exhibitions for today's post. Firstly Holbein in England at Tate Briatin starts on Thursday 28th. Highlights include "the" portrait of Henry VIII reunited with those of Jane Seymour and his son Edward (VI). Here's another link to the same exhibition on ArtKnowledgeNews. There is an excellent article about the exhibition by Tom Teodorczuk in tonight's Evening Standard, and here's a link.

Secondly, At Home in Renaissance Italy at the V&A, which has its own very nice web microsite, complete with renaissance e-cards to send to your friends.
This quote from the V&A site gives a flavour:
"Many of the paintings, sculpture and decorative art objects we now associate with this period began their lives within the home. The exhibition places outstanding art and domestic objects within their original contexts. Together they highlight the rhythms and rituals of Renaissance living - from entertainment and cooking, to marriage and collecting.
With rich displays of paintings, furnishings and cherished family possessions from the palazzi of Tuscany and the Veneto, At Home in Renaissance Italy presents an entirely fresh look at the Renaissance."

It runs from 5th October.

19 September, 2006

Tudor perfumery - how to smell nice without taking a bath

This post is prompted by a surprise link to this blog from the Perfume of Life discussion forum Baths were infrequent in Cardinal Wolsey's time, so how did tudor gentlefolk stay sweet?.

This from Proctor and Gamble's site: "At the royal court in Tudor days 'sweet breath' was prized as much as facial beauty, and perfumes were highly valued in a society where few people paid much attention to washing"

The International Federation of Aromatherapists has a comprehensive piece on the perfumes of Elizabeth I , from which the following extract gives a flavour......

"Houses and Royal Residences used masses of pleasant smelling herbs and flowers as 'strewing herbes' which would be scattered on the floor to produce a pleasant perfume to the air. England produced many aromatic plants in both gardens, fields and hedgerows. In the days when sanitation was virtually unknown, they also assisted in keeping hygienic standards. As every visitor to the the Tower of London will know, the Royal Appartments contained small grilles in the wall for 'bodily functions'.

Every castle or country house had its still room where perfumes and aromatics were made. These were vital places in the country as they produced herbals wines, mead and many other drinks. Housewives prided themselves on producing a whole range of 'household recipes' which included candied flowers, anti-moth powders and herbal bath additives of mint and lovage. Herb gardens proliferated and many can be seen today with their intricate herb knot gardens"

Here is a recipe from the same source:

Take 1 ounce of Benjamin ( Benzoin), 1 ounce of Storax and 1 ounce of Labdanum.Heat in a mortar till very hot, and beat all the gums to a perfect paste. In beating add 6 grains of Musk and 4 grains of Civet. When it is beaten to a fine paste, wash your hands with Rose Water and take a portion and roll between the hands till it is round. Make holes in the beads and string them while they are hot.

....certainly beats Blue Stratos.

15 September, 2006

Tudor Googlefight!

A bit of fun for today's post. Googlefight.com enables you to have a little contest between search terms - whoever returns the highest number of google results wins. It is simple but addictive.

Always intersted in the balance of power, Cardinal Wolsey has staged some Googlefights between various Tudor figures, with some interesting results.....

Henry VII starts us off with a respectable 617,000 results, managing to overcome his Yorkist predecessor Richard III on Bosworth field in spite of the latter's superior 2,500,000 Google results.

However (as may be expected) both these are trumped by Henry VIII who wins the overall Tudor Googlefight with an all-conquering 4,690,000 results.

How about the Six Wives? Catherine of Aragon manages 194,000, but the winning combination of beauty and tragedy gets Anne Boleyn 555,000 results. Jane Seymour trumps that on 1,400,000 but of course shares the score with the eponymous actress. Anne of Cleves' appearance seems to have put people off writing about her and she only manages 113,000 hits. Henry's later wives also struggle for attention with Catherine H on 131,000 and Catherine P 125,000.

As for myself, Cardinal Wolsey scores a modest 152,000, but manages to stay ahead of my protegee Thomas Cromwell on 124,000. However we are both well beaten by Sir Thomas More with 395,000 results.

Mustn't forget Edward VI who at least beats his grandad Henry VII with 638,000 results.

Turning to Mary I's time, "Bloody Mary" herself scores an impressive 1,540,000, far ahead of those she did away with: Thomas Cranmer manages 149,000, Lady Jane Grey slightly better on 226,000, and Hugh Latimer a sad 65,000. Clearly martyrdom doesn't guarantee fame on the web.

Mary Queen of Scots gets an impressive 961,000 results, but cannot match her nemesis Elizabeth I on 3,620,000, second only to her father in the rankings.

In Elizabeth's reign it's nearly a dead heat between fellow schemers the Earl of Essex with 224,000 and Robert Dudley on 227,000

Finally, the battle between Elizabethan popular heroes sees Sir Francis Drake on 991,000 trounce Sir Walter Raleigh who has a still impressive 534,000. Clearly beating the Spanish scores higher in the web world than introducing potatoes and tobacco.

11 September, 2006

Men who commanded their own firing squads part 2: Admiral John Byng, March 1757

Admiral John Byng of the Royal Navy, like Marshal Ney in last week's post, gave the order to fire to his own firing squad, in his case by dropping a white handkerchief onto the deck of his flagship "Monarch", on which he was shot at Portsmouth in March 1757.

Byng had been found guilty by court-martial of "failing to do his utmost" in preventing the French capture of Minorca in 1756, at the start of the Seven Years War.

Many thought Byng had been made a scapegoat, and Voltaire wrote about his death in Candide, recording that in England 'it is thought good to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others' (pour encourager les autres)

Byng's end is recorded in typically terse naval style in the Master of the 'Monarch's' log recording the execution: 'at 12 Mr Byng was shot dead by 6 Marines and put into his coffin'.

Links: the National Maritime Museum , Peter Davis' site (where you can also download a Windows simulator for a square-rigged frigate) , Letters from Voltaire re. Byng on the Voltaire Soc. America site.

Other posts on this blog of naval interest:
The Spanish Armada
The Battle of Sole Bay
The Capture of Napoleon by the Bellerophon

07 September, 2006

Execution of Marshal Ney, 1815

This blog occasionally makes an excursion into the Napoleonic period (see previous posts on Napoleon's final surrender to the English Navy and Napoleon's death on St.Helena ), and today's post commemorates the death by firing squad (commanded by himself - how's that for guts) of Marshal Ney in December 1815.

Ney was knows as "le Rougeaud" (he had ginger hair), and was a popular general, but attracted enemies firstly by siding with the Bourbons while Napoleon was on Elba, and secondly poor tactics at Quatre-Bras and Waterloo.

Bruno Nackaerts's article on the lack of opposition to Ney's execution includes mention of two good conspiracy theories - one that Wellington felt guilty and arranged for a mock execution with Ney spirited away to America where he became Peter Ney, a schoolteacher; the other conspiracy theory is another mock execution arranged by the masons, complete with stage blood!

Incidentally, the excellent Fondation Napoleon site has an interesting article on Napoleon's famous hat ('whilst most of his officers wore their hats "en colonne", that is, perpendicular to the shoulders, Napoleon wore his "en bataille", that is, with the corns parallel to shoulders').
There is also a link to various primary sources on the Napoleonica site, as well as some fun stuff - how about a classy Napoleonic e-card to your history buddies?.

04 September, 2006

Great House of Easement webcam

Cardinal Wolsey has returned from holiday in Cornwall (where the population is still paying for their ill-advised rebellion in 1497), to learn that King Henry wishes a web-cam to be installed in the Great House of Easement at Hampton Court.

Given that up to 28 may be sat upon the boards at a time, there is scope for seditious conversations and discussion of plots, which vexes the King. The matter will be discussed with the Master of Works and hopefully some interesting views will be available on this blog shortly.

23 August, 2006

Cardinal Wolsey and Cleopatra

A quick post to plug the Cliopatria group blog on the History News Network hosted by George Mason University, Seattle. Cardinal Wolsey has made it onto the v.long Cliopatria history blogroll (it is conveniently classified into sections), which gave a nice increase in readership just when it was getting a bit quiet - thanks folks.

22 August, 2006

Henry VIII orders licensing of "beggars, pardoners, fortune-tellers, fencers, minstrels and players", 1530

Today's event from tudor history is inspired by a recent article by Simon Davis in that well known historical journal, the London Evening Standard.

Entitled "Advice to all buskers - drop Hawaii Five-O from the repertoire", Davis gives an interesting history of the practice.

Cardinal Wolsey could not find an online version of the article to link to, so will attempt to paraphrase so as not to court trouble with the powerful interests of Associated Newspapers...

According to Davis, the word busking may derive from the Italian buscare, "to procure or gain". Alternatively in Spanish buscar means " to seek" (eg money), but it has another meaning "to wander", as in minstrels and troubadours (Latin tubare = to disturb, as is the case when a mistrel enters your tube carriage).

Davis goes further back to buskin, the knee-high boots worn by actors in Greek and Roman tragedy - he makes a slightly tenuous link to the thick-soled boots favoured by modern travelling buskers, especially those with dogs on strings leads.

The earliest mention of street performance in the West was probably in Roman legislation in AD 451, prohibiting singing of libelli famos ( satirical anti-regime songs), with death as the reasonable punishment.

Henry VIII was a little more reasonable, with only two days of whipping for unlicensed beggars, pardoners, fortune-tellers, fencers, minstrels and players.

13 August, 2006

England throws out German salesmen, 1597

This is a follow-on to the last post. It turns out that the English merchants thrown out of "Germany" (which did not actually exist at that time) were victims of ongoing power struggles between the Hanseatic League and English and Dutch trading interests. In the same year, 1597, Elizabeth I closed the Steelyard, the trading post of the League in London. The League gradually declined and was effectively defunct by the end of the 17thC.

11 August, 2006

Germany throws out English sales people, 11th August, 1597

According to History Orb's site for today in history, and several other "this day in history" lists, English sales people were expelled from Germany on August 11th, 1597. This looked an interesting subject to write about, but I cannot find any more information on it...including the Today in German History site....(pause for short excursion into the excellent beer section of their site).
Maybe the Bad History blog carnival will be interested in this and can start a campaign for more research links to be provided from these one-liner sites.

02 August, 2006

The Last Wolf in Scotland, 1743

This post was prompted by a UK newspaper article about the Wolf Conservation Trust, which led to a bit of web research on wolves in British history. The wolf has a part-mythic place in history and so the boundary between fact and fiction is slightly blurred.

By means of hunting with horses and dogs or trapping in pits, traps and cages, wolves were completely wiped out in England by the early 1500s, in Cardinal Wolsey's time. Wolves may have survived in Scotland until the mid-1700s, when deforestation finally removed their safe havens . The exact time and place date or place when the last wolf was slain is not known, but here is an [edited] account from the page on wolves in Scotland on the website of the now-defunct Glasgow Zoo:

". . One day, in the winter of 1743, in Morayshire, the ruling Laird, of MacIntosh received a message from the chief of clan Mackintosh, that a large wolf had on the preceding day killed two children, who, with their mothers, were crossing the hills from Calder.

The Laird's stalker Macqueen was consequently invited by the chief to attend a "Tainchel", or gathering in the forest of Tarnaway, in Moray, and to bring with him his dogs. A man great stature and of corresponding strength, Macquenn kept the best deer-hounds in the country

On the morning of the tryst, Mackintosh waited eagerly for Macqueen, but he only arrived at noon. As Mackintosh was about to complain of his delay, Macqueen raised his plaid, and drew from under his arm the bloody head of the aggressor. "I met the bit beastie," said Macqueen, "and this is his head...as I came through the sloch by east the hill there, I foregathered wi the beast. My long dog there turned him. I buckled wi him and kirkit him, and syne whuttled his craig, and brought awa his countenance for fear he might come alive again, for they are precarious creatures!"

Mackintosh expressed his admiration, and rewarded his vigorous kinsman with the lands of Sean-a-chan for "meat to his dogs." Macqueen of Pall-a-chrocain died in 1797"

For another link to the history of wolves in Scotland go to the Wolves and Humans site.
Also see Wolf web

29 July, 2006

The Spanish Armada. Today in history,1588

For this weekend's post, here are two pictures of the Spanish Armada engaging the English fleet by an unknown artist of the 16thC English School. One is from Dover's tourism site, and the other from the National Maritime Museum site. Spot the difference?

I was recently disappointed to learn that Sir Francis Drake did not indeed insist on finishing his game of bowls while the Armada approached...but it is a plausible story as the English fleet had to wait for suitable weather and tides.
Channel 4's history microsite has more Armada myths and facts.

Finally, a link to the useful Internet Modern History Sourcebook , which has the full text of Elizabeth I's speech to the English forces containing the famous lines "I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England, too". Hearts of Oak, indeed.

More naval history posts in this blog:
The Battle of Sole Bay, 1672
The Capture of Napoleon by the Bellerophon, 1815

27 July, 2006

Castles of the Day

Today's post is inspired by Melissa Snell's great Castles of the Day site on About.Com

Here are some of Cardinal Wolsey's favourite castles:

1. Hermitage Castle , Northumberland, U.K. (pictured). In the middle of nowhere, forbidding, impregnable. Don't even think about attacking it.

2. Threave Castle (aka Thrieve Castle), Castle Douglas, S.W.Scotland. Built by Archibald the Grim. Ring the bell and the boatman comes to row you across to the island where it stands. Get him to wear a cloak and hood for full Styx effect.

3. Fort Ticonderoga, Lake Champlain, USA. Site of four bloody battles in the French and Indian War, and the American Revolution. A must-see if you are in the area.

4. The Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town. The oldest structure in South Africa. Get a real perspective on the origins of this beautiful if edgy place.

25 July, 2006

Time for some more links

For today's post here are some history sites and blogs I have enjoyed looking at recently :
xoom -thanks for the link in your July blog carnival guys.

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog - brilliant....especially if you did Canterbury Tales at school and didn't get it. Check out "Most fresshe and newe postes".

Tudor England FAQs - all the questions you might expect, plus some you might not,
eg Was Anne Boleyn really a witch? Did she have an extra finger? Did she really commit adultery and have an incestuous affair with her brother? How many times was she pregnant as Queen? Better than Eastenders.

24 July, 2006

James VI becomes King of Scotland (aged 1). 24th July, 1567

24th July, 1567. Today in history, James VI became king of Scotland aged 13 months.

James acceeded after the abdication of his mum Mary Queen of Scots, (and the earlier murder of his dad, Lord Darnley) and became James I, the first Stuart king of England, in 1608 as a result of an alliance with Elizabeth I against...the French. His reign was highly successful (commissioning the King James Bible, surviving Guy Fawkes' Night, etc).

For a Scottish angle on James's life, follow this link to Scotlandspast.org

For today's post, here is a starter list of other infant kings and queens in history who started young:

1. Mary, Queen of Scots (James VI's mother)probably holds the record, becoming Queen of Scotland aged 6 days old in 1542.
2. James II became King of Scotland aged 6 yrs in 1437
3. Louis the Child became King of Germany, aged 6 yrs, in 899.
4. Richard II became King of England , aged 10, in 1377. See previous post on the Peasants' Revolt.
5. Ethelred the Unready became King of England, aged 10, in 978 (according to one account he pooed in the baptismal font, a bad omen). He also makes it into a previous post on monarchs with odd names

Can reader's add to this list?

23 July, 2006

Thomas Cromwell beheaded on Tower Hill. 23rd July, 1540.

History.net has the date of Thomas Cromwell's demise as 23rd July, although most other sources have the 28th. Anyway, he is featured in today's Tudor post .

Thomas Cromwell (portrait by Hans Holbein jr above)began his government service as secretary to Cardinal Wolsey, and following Wolsey's fall from grace, rose rapidly to prominence as one of Henry VIII's key managers.

His key period of influence was the 1530's, but fame could be shortlived during this period....

In 1538 Henry described Cromwell to the French ambassador as "A good household manager, but not fit to meddle in the affairs of kings".

Cromwell probably took the blame for the fact that Henry claimed he was not informed of the poor physical shape of Anne of Cleves before it was too late to stop the marriage (which Cromwell had arranged).

But there were many of Wolsey's old enemies out to get him, and it was probably only a matter of time before he would be out-manouvered.

Good links to find out more are Englishhistory.net, and the BBC History site.

20 July, 2006

Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield. (1694–1773)

Who's he?, I hear you say. Philip Dormer Stanhope was a statesman (ambassador to the Hague, lord lieutenant of Ireland) and author. Many memorable quotes come from Stanhope's letters to his illegitimate son, (also named Philip Stanhope), published in 1774, designed "for the education of a young man". [Sadly his son died young].

On this day in 1749 he wrote "Idleness is only the refuge of weak minds".

Here is a selection of more of his witticisms from various sources...

"Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well". (my mother's favourite)
Letter, March 10, 1746.

"I knew once a very covetous, sordid fellow, who used to say, 'Take care of the pence, for the pounds will take care of themselves.'”
Letter, Nov. 6, 1747.

"Chapter of accidents"
Letter, Feb. 16, 1753.

"I assisted at the birth of that most significant word 'flirtation', which dropped from the most beautiful mouth in the world".
The World. No. 101.

"Every woman is infallibly to be gained by every sort of flattery, and every man by one sort or other"

"Religion is by no means a proper subject of conversation in a mixed company.”

“Advice is seldom welcome; and those who want it the most always want it the least.”

"Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination: never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day. "
- Letters to his Son

For more on the earl, see this link to the Project Gutenburg site, where you can read the letters to his son.

17 July, 2006

Arnulf III the Hapless becomes Earl of Flanders. 17th July, 1070

For today's post, we celebrate all those rulers with unfortunate names. In addition to Arnulf the Hapless, I have come across.....

Charles the Stout (conquered Nijmegen in 1473)
Philip III, the Stout, King of France (1270-85)
Ethelred the Unready (king of England 979-1016 )
Charles the Bare (king of Lotharingen, 869)
Robert II, the Vrome (sounds painful)
Louis VI the Fat One, King of France, 1108 (his coronation pictured in the rather nice painting above).
Bertha "with the great feet", wife of French king Pippin III (died 783)
Charles, The Angry One, King of Navarra (1349-87)
Louis X, the Stubborn, King of France (1314-16)
Charles II, the Bald, King of France (843-77)
Louis II, the Stutterer, King of France (877-79)
Charles III the Plain, King of France (893-929)

French monarchs in the majority......and one wife.

Jon Linin has kindly supplied these additions to the post...
Magnus Barelegs - yes he's got a website. Magnus Barefoot (aka "Barelegs"), Viking King of Norway, was killed in battle near Downpatrick in the year 1103.
Niall of the Nine Hostages - Irish ironage king (4th Century)
Charles the Simple, 9th Century king of the Franks.

16 July, 2006

Kissing Banned in England. 16th July, 1439

Kissing was banned in England, 16th July 1439, to stop the spread of disease and pestilence. Well that's according to historyorb.com. Don't click this link if you are disturbed by nasty flashing ad's!. According to various sources the people only paid lip service to the banning order.....

Henry VI (pictured left) was on the throne at the time. He nominally became king in 1422 whilst still a baby, and is not generally rated as a success, in spite of two spells as King (1422-61 and 1470-71) . Henry failed to prevent the slide into civil war between Lancaster and York (the Wars of the Roses). He eventually met a nasty end in the Tower of London in 1471. More on Henry VI from the official British royalty info site

Finally, a pertinent quote from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part III:
"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"

15 July, 2006

Capture of Napoleon, 15th July, 1815.

Napoleon in fact surrendered to the British man-of-war Bellerophon (known as the Billy Ruffian to its crew), after realising that the possibility of escape through the British sea blockade was remote.

On being transported back to the UK, en route to St Helena and exile, crowds turned out every day to view the former Emperor's daily walk on deck.

See previous post covering his death on St Helena in 1821.

The history of the Bellerophon is desribed in the gripping ship's biography "Billy Ruffian" by David Cordingly.

14 July, 2006

This Day in History - Bastille Day, 14th July.

This Day in History for July14th is of course Bastille Day. If you'd like to listen to a rousing version of La Marseillaise, here is a link . The lyrics are bloodthirsty, but good for rousing the troops.
Something a little bit different for today's post is some literary history, from the Writer's Almanac website from US public radio, which I have just discovered via Bloglines. Click on this link to hear the wonderful Garrison Keillor (pictured) tell you about literary anniversaries today (Owen Wister, Woody Guthrie, and Isaac Singer) , and as a bonus he also reads a poem.

12 July, 2006

This Day in History: Kett's Rebellion (July and August, 1549)

Another popular uprising in England for today's post, this time with a particularly tragic finale.

Robert Kett's Rebellion took place in Norfolk in July and August, 1549, in the reign of the young Edward VI. By the time it was finally crushed over 4,000 lay dead.

It was essentially a protest against the enclosure by "robber barons" of the common land, where landless peasants could graze their animals and gather wood, etc.

Robert Kett (pictured above, seated) led a successful assault on the city of Norwich, which was captured after fierce fighting (twice). John Dudley Earl of Warwick eventually arrived with an army of 8,000-14,000 , but a possible deal involving a pardon for the rebels was scuppered when a boy mooned at Dudley's messenger and is shot dead (whether he uttered the words "kiss my arse!" is unknown) ....see painting above.

Grisly details: 3,000 rebels killed in the subsequent battle on open ground, Kett and several hundred others executed (Kett hung from battlements of Norwich Castle).

The issue of enclosure of common land was to return...

Learnhistory.org has a great Robert Kett site with many useful links if you want to find out more.

More posts on popular uprisings:
The Essex Peasants' Revolt, 1381
Jack Cade's Rebellion, 1451

11 July, 2006

The Good Parliament (28th April to 10th July, 1376)

Back to English medieval history for today's post.

The Good Parliament was the name given to the reforming English Parliament that sat between 28th April and 10th July 1376, in the reign of Edward III.

In those days the monarchy, regarded with general suspicion by the people, tended to avoid calling a Parliament unless money needed to be raised, as was the case in 1376 due to the expense of the war with France.

Sure enough the Parliament flexed its muscles against Edward (and his 4th son and key fixer John of Gaunt), and made a number of moves.

Firstly it appointed the first Speaker, Thomas Hungerford; secondly it introduced impeachment for officials thought to be abusing their power (ie siphoning off Treasury funds). Thirdly it upheld the principle that no taxation should be raised without Parliamentary consent (please note Gordon). Oh, and it also placed the King's aquisitive mistress Alice Perrers "in seclusion".

Although John of Gaunt saw to it that the following parliament undid much of the good work (implementing the dreaded Poll Tax - see previous post on the Peasant's Revolt) , the principles upheld in the "Good Parliament" ultimately won through.

09 July, 2006

Lady Godiva rides through Coventry (10th June,1057 or thereabouts)

On the 10th of June, 1057 (or thereabouts), Lady Godiva rides through Coventry to lower taxes.
Could not resist this one. It may even get a few hits by those interested in adult material. The exact date is open to question, but the story goes as follows..
Lady Godiva was the good wife of tough Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and lived in Coventry UK. She is mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Leofric raised the oppressive Heregeld tax from the people of Coventry in order to pay for Danish king Canute's bodyguard [schoolchildren know Canute mainly for his unsuccessful attempt to reverse the tide, when he got his feet wet].
Godiva pleaded with her husband to relieve the taxes, which he famously agreed to do if she rode naked through the town. She ordered doors and windows to be shut, but was spotted possibly by some monks and a man named Tom (hence "Peeping Tom"). In any case her exploits were recorded in Roger of Wendover's medieval chronicle.
This week the free Godiva music festival takes place in Coventry, complete with Mercian version of the Rio carnival - see this link
More information on the BBC history site

05 July, 2006

6th July, 1661. Samuel Pepys learns his uncle has died

Samuel Pepys' diary is a fascinating and often earthy record of life in the mid-17th century, from Pepys' point view close to the center of power. It is now available as a 17th Century Blog, a brainwave on the part of Phil Gyford, who has been adding daily entries since 2003. This is a great way to dip into the diary, and there are discussion groups too. Here is the URL: http://www.pepysdiary.com/.

The text comes from the Gutenburg Project, which makes copyright-free literature available (for free) on the Internet - please link to http://promo.net/pg/ .

The portrait at right is in the National Portrait Gallery London (http://npg.org.uk)

Here is an extract from the diary entry for 6th July 1661, complete with a smelly corpse and a will Pepys is keen to see. Is Pepys the source of the phrase "in a pickle"?

Waked this morning with news, brought me by a messenger on purpose, that my uncle Robert is dead, and died yesterday; so I rose sorry in some respect, glad in my expectations in another respect. ..... My uncle’s corps in a coffin standing upon joynt-stools in the chimney in the hall; but it begun to smell, and so I caused it to be set forth in the yard all night, and watched by two men. My aunt I found in bed in a most nasty ugly pickle, made me sick to see it. My father and I lay together tonight, I greedy to see the will, but did not ask to see it till to- morrow. (source www.pepysdiary.com)

03 July, 2006

The First Cook's Tour (5th July, 1841)

Thomas Cook was a lay preacher, a Baptist teatotaller who thought that the working classes would benefit from less drinking and more education. In 1841, he was walking from his home in Market Harborough to Leicester for a temperance meeting, when... "The thought suddenly flashed across my mind as to the practicability of employing the great powers of railways and locomotion for the furtherance of this social reform..".

On July 5th 1841, the first "Cook's Tour" took place when he organised a Sunday outing for around 500 teatotallers fom Leicester to Loughborough and back in open railway carriages for a shilling a head.....no buffet car, or probably decent brakes.

Cook's single-minded vision led to rapid expansion of his enterprise. Here are some of the milestones....

1851 Trips to the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London.
1855 First package trip abroad: to the Paris Exhibition via Harwich and Antwerp (more fun than Eurostar)
1864 First tour to Italy
1865 First exploratory trip to North America
1872 8-month round-the world tour from Leicester at age of 62. This became an annual event, at bargain price of £300.
1874 First Travellers' Cheques issued
1919 Flights in Handley-Page aircraft from Cricklewood.

Linguistic bit: the term "Cook's Tour " has two different meanings, relating to different famous Cooks.

Referring to Thomas Cook, a "Cook's tour" is a guided tour of a place, or subject, that only covers the key highlights.

The other meaning refers to Capt. James Cook, meaning a roundabout route, reflecting his voyages of discovery in his ships Endeavour and Resolution.

23 June, 2006

The Battle of Solferino (23rd June, 1859)

French under Napoleon III & Italians (more correctly Piedmont-Sardinia) under Victor-Emmanuel II (later first king of Italy) v. Austrians under the young Emperor Franz Joseph (with Germans in reserve). Italians were trying to regain Lombardy and Venetia from five generations of Austrian rule. France had agreed to help and in exchange would receive Savoy and Nice.

Solferino was the greatest land battle since Austerlitz, with 270,000 men clashing for 15 hours from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. There were 40,000 casualties. In the end the Austrian forces were driven from their positions but the carnage was so great that Napoleon III decided he could not continue with the war; by 11th July he had signed a peace treaty gaining Lombardy for Victor Emmanuel but leaving the Austrians with Venetia. On hearing the news, V-E's prime minister Cavour resigned, declaring that Italy had been betrayed. Italy had to fight another war in 1865 to regain Venetia.

The battle was witnessed by Swiss businessman Henri Dunant (pictured right), who happened to be in the area whilst on a business trip to Italy. He was so deeply moved by the plight of the many wounded, many of whom went on to die of wounds or be finished off by enemy forces, that he wrote his famous book "A Memory of Solferino", and is credited with founding the Red Cross. By 1864, 14 nations had signed the Geneva Convention which covered the treatment of wounded and prisoners.

An grisly extract from his book :
"For several days running I handed out tobacco, pipes and cigars, in the churches and hospitals, where the smell of the tobacco, smoked by hundreds of men, was of great value against the pungent stench which arose as the result of crowding so many patients together in stifling hot buildings. The stocks of tobacco in Brescia were very soon exhausted, and more had to be brought from Milan. Only tobacco could lessen the fears which the wounded men felt before an amputation. Many underwent their operation with a pipe in their mouths, and a number died still smoking"

[thanks to JL for contributing most of this post]

17 June, 2006

16th June, 1904. Bloomsday

This is the day that Leopold Bloom, a central character in James Joyce's "difficult" (ie weird) novel Ulysses, begins his walk around Dublin. Ulysses is based loosely on Homer's The Odyssey, and divides opinion as to whether it is a) work of genius or b)pretentious tosh ("Man goes for a walk around Dublin. Nothing happens").

There is a neat summary, with reader views for and against, on the BBC website

12 June, 2006

12th June, 1839. Game of Baseball invented in USA (allegedly)

The Americans think that they invented baseball....but not so fast you colonial types. It might in fact be based on an old English folk-game called Base-Ball, as illustrated here.....

More details including a related ancient game called Stool-Ball (don't ask) can be found at : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origins_of_baseball

09 June, 2006

6th June, 1672. Battle of Sole Bay

The Battle of Sole Bay formed the main engagement of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, and was a essentially a draw. Sole Bay is off the Suffolk coast near Southwold, and the battle is commemorated on the label of Adnams Broadside bitter (abv 6.3), which is brewed in Southwold.

The English thought they had an agreement with the French fleet to support them against the Dutch navy, but when the Dutch attacked from an unexpected direction, the French made a tactical withdrawal hoping that the English and Dutch fleets would reduce eachother to smithereens. Never trust the French!

There were heavy casualties on both sides: fireships were used to set opposing men-of-war alight, and many sailors were burnt as well as drowned, or hit by cannon shot. Body parts were washed up on the beach for some time afterwards.....nice.

There is an excellent blog devoted to the Anglo-Dutch wars.

Try this link to sample an album of sea shanties on : amazon.com

05 June, 2006

5th June, 1783. First Public Balloon Flight

The Montgolfier brothers make the first public balloon flight.

This from inventors.about.com...[incidentally, in their "what's hot" list, they have the history of frozen food.....geddit?]

"The Montgolfier brothers, born in Annonay, France, were the inventors of the first practical balloon. The first demonstrated flight of a hot air balloon took place on June 4, 1783, in Annonay, France.

Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier, paper mill owners, were trying to float bags made of paper and fabric. When the brothers held a flame near the opening at the bottom, the bag (called a balon) expanded with hot air and floated upward. The Montgolfier brothers built a larger paper-lined silk balloon and demonstrated it on June 4, 1783, in the marketplace at Annonay. Their balloon (called a Montgolfiere) lifted 6,562 feet into the air.

First Passengers
On September 19, 1783, in Versailles, a Montgolfiere hot air balloon carrying a sheep, a rooster, and a duck flew for eight minutes in front of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the French court.

First Manned Flight
On October 15, 1783, Pilatre de Rozier and Marquis d'Arlandes were the first human passengers on a Montgolfiere balloon. The balloon was in free flight, meaning it was not tethered.
On January 19, 1784, a huge Montgolfiere hot air balloon carried seven passengers to a height of 3,000 feet over the city of Lyons.

Montgolfier Gas
At the time, the Montgolfiers believed they had discovered a new gas (they called Montgolfier gas) that was lighter than air and caused the inflated balloons to rise. In fact, the gas was merely air, which became more buoyant as it was heated."

30 May, 2006

30th May, 1381. Start of the Essex Peasants' Revolt

Jack Straw was one of the leaders of the Peasant's Revolt, a medieval protest against the poll tax (a government device often used to provoke popular discontent and the occasional uprising). On the 30th May 1381 Straw led an ill-fated crowd from the churchyard in the village of Great Baddow in Essex to one of the risings in London.
The picture shows Wat Tyler, leader of the Kentish men in th erevolt, being killed by the mayor of London . King Richard III (aged 14) looks on.
However, before their demise the rebels did capture the Tower of London, worth maximum points...

29 May, 2006

29th May, 1919. Invention of the Pop-Up Toaster

Charles Strite invented the pop-up toaster. -
This is from www.toaster.org (it's not the only toaster website...!)
"During World War I, a master mechanic in a plant in Stillwater, Minnesota decided to do something about the burnt toast served in the company cafeteria. To circumvent the need for continual human attention, Charles Strite incorporated springs and a variable timer, and filed the patent for his pop-up toaster on May 29, 1919. Receiving financial backing from friends, Strite oversaw production of the first one hundred hand-assembled toasters, which were shipped to the Childs restaurant chain. The first pop-up toaster for the home, the Toastmaster, arrived on the scene in 1926. It had a timing adjustment for the desired degree of darkness, and when the toast reached the preselected state, it was ejected, rather forcefully. The device stirred so much public interest that March 1927 was designed National Toaster Month, and the advertisement running in the March 5 issue of the Saturday Evening Post promised: "This amazing new invention makes perfect toast every time! Without turning! Without burning!" "
Check out this monster industrial-sized version with a later model shown for scale, from www.toastercentral.com

23 May, 2006

23rd May, 1906. Elgar bored on a ship

Edward Elgar was returning, by ship from Cincinnati .....from his diary entries it doesn't look like the voyage of the century -

21st "Began to be wet & cooler - dreadfully bored - No shovel board & no one to talk to -"
22nd"Voyage all much the same. Took refuge in reading Monte Cristo & Vingt ans après -"
23rd"Rain fog etc etc
24th"Fog all the time -"

18 May, 2006

Eleanor of Aquitaine marries Henry Plantagenet, 18th May, 1152

Eleanor of Aquitaine marries Henry Plantagenet. Two years later following the settlement of the civil war in England between Henry's mother Matilda & Stephen of Anjou Henry succeeds Stephen as king. Together with the land held by Eleanor (Aquitaine & Poitiers) this creates the Angevin Empire, covering England and most of modern day France.
When they married Eleanor was thirty, eleven years older than her husband, and only two month divorced from the French King Louis VII.
Eleanor gave Henry five sons and two daughters. Two of the sons become King in turn, Richard "the Lionheart" & John "Lackland". Eleanor became increasingly distanced from her husband and in 1173 leads a rebellion with three of her sons against Henry. The rebellion fails and Eleanor is locked up for the next 15 years until Henry's death.
Her favourite son Richard succeeded his father and, of course released his mother. When Richard was later captured and imprisoned it was Eleanor who was the driving force behind raising the ransom and getting him released.
She died in 1204 in her favourite religious house Fontevrault Abbey.
This period of English history is unusually well cover by Hollywood - "The Lion in Winter" starred Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor. In Disney's "Robin Hood", the spoiled Prince John sulks and sucks his thumb on constantly being reminded of his mother - and of course the relationship between Richard & John is a key plot device behind the wonderful "The Adventures of Robin Hood" starring Errol Flynn.

11 May, 2006

PM Spencer Perceval shot in the Commons Lobby, 11th May, 1812

British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval is shot by a bankrupt banker John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons .
After the excitement caused by the shooting had quietened down, someone called out "Who was the rascal who did it?". At this moment a stranger to the House (a person who is not a Member of Parliament) walked up and calmly said "I am the unfortunate man". Bellingham made no attempt to escape, although he had by this time discarded his pistol.

Perceval is the only British PM to date to have been assassinated. For 10 points, can you name the four US Presidents who have suffered this fate? (answers tomorrow).

09 May, 2006

"They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist...", 9th May, 1864

Union General John Sedgwick is shot and killed by a Confederate sharpshooter during fighting at Spotsylvania. His last words are: "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist--"

08 May, 2006

Jack Cade's Rebellion, 8th May, 1450

Jack Cade's Rebellion-Kentishmen revolt against King Henry VI.

As with most similar rebellions, Jack Cade's effort met with initial success (they had a good shot at capturing the Tower of London), but he ended up with his head on a stick.

05 May, 2006

Napoleon dies in exile, 5th May 1821

Napoleon Bonaparte dies in exile on the island of St. Helena

Some telling quotes from the great man:

"It is always your next move"
"Don't wait. The time will never be just right"
"It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed"

04 May, 2006


Indians sell Manhattan Island for $24 in cloth and buttons to a Dutchman. Doh!