20 October, 2007

Trafalgar, 21st October, 1805

Today is the 202nd anniversary of Trafalgar, perhaps the Royal Navy's greatest victory. The picture shows part of Nelson's sketch of his famous battle plan, to sail at an angle through the French and Spanish lines, rather than line up in parallel and blast away with broadsides as was the usual tactic.

This plan however involved 20-30 minutes of sailing under heavy fire toward the enemy lines without being able to engage them until the point of breaking through.

Colin White of the National Maritime Museum describes how Nelson drew up his battle plan here .

There is an interesting animation showing the progress of the battle, on the National Maritime Museum website.

Budding admirals who would like to test their skills against a computerised enemy can refight the battle in the BBC's Trafalgar Battlefield Academy

Various eyewitness accounts such as that of 16-year old marine Lt Paul Harris Nicholas show how Nelson's plan to bring about a chaotic "pell-mell" in order to defeat the enemy became all too true. Casualties on both sides were heavier than any sea battle in the previous 250 years.

David Cordingley's excellent book Billy Ruffian (Bloomsbury, 2003) contains a gripping description of the battle from the point of view of a particular ship of the line (the Bellerophon).

Cardinal Wolsey's Vodpod selections this week have a naval warfare theme, including a very funny spoof.

Finally here is a useful Royal Navy index of navy slang, so you can find out what Honkydonks and Mouldys are.

15 October, 2007

Trees Lounge

A visit to Kew Gardens last weekend to see the magnificent exhibition of 28 monumental Henry Moore sculptures installed around the landscape. If you can get there the exhibition is highly recommended, and is on until March when the lorries will cart them away again.

An interesting tree at Kew is the impressive Lucombe Oak, Quercus x hispanica . It is a semi-evergreen hybrid of the cork oak and Turkey oak, and was first raised around 1765 by William Lucombe, a nursery man of Exeter. Lucombe cut down the original hybrid in 1785, and decided to keep some of the timber to cut into planks his coffin. He stored the wood under his bed for this purpose. Things did not quite go according to plan, as Lucombe lived to 102, by time the timber under his bed had decayed in the damp Devon atmosphere. Undeterred, he replaced the timber with another graft, and was buried in a Lucombe Oak coffin.

Whilst on the subject of historic trees, the creepy looking Big Belly Oak (see picture) is a 1000-year old tree in the Savernake forest near Marlborough, Wiltshire. This is a remnant of one of the ancient "royal forests" going back to the Norman kings. The BBC Wiltshire website recounts the legend that the devil can be summoned by anyone dancing naked twelve times around the tree. In Tudor times the forest's steward was John Seymour, and Henry VIII may well have courted his daughter Jane in the forest: "Henry dear, will you stop running round that tree; I'm sure he would have appeared by now !"

11 October, 2007

History as Entertainment

Although I managed to miss the opening of " The Tudors" on BBC, I understand now why the USA is already on series two. Just check out the enthusiastic "Renaissance Fayre" videos on the Cardinal Wolsey vodpod sidebar this week. I like the witty voiceover on the Nebraska one: "Who put the car dealership ad on the castle??". They just can't get enough of those Tudors!

04 October, 2007

National Poetry Day selections

It is England's (or is it Britain's?) National Poetry Day. Here are Cardinal Wolsey's selections:

First, the moving verse written by Ben Johnson (pictured), on the death of his first daughter Mary in 1593 aged 6 months.

Here lies, to each her parents' ruth,
Mary, the daughter of their youth;
Yet all heaven's gifts being heaven's due,
It makes the father less to rue.
At six months' end, she parted hence
With safety of her innocence;
Whose soul heaven's queen, whose name she bears,
In comfort of her mother's tears,
Hath placed amongst her virgin-train:
Where, while that severed doth remain,
This grave partakes the fleshly birth;
Which cover lightly, gentle earth!

Next, a nice reading of John Donne's poem Death Be Not Proud from the anonymous Classic Poetry Aloud podcast.

Shakespeare fans will enjoy the BBC's Scrambled Sonnet game. (Shakespeare, Donne and Johnson were contemporaries).

Finally, from 1890, an amazing wax cylinder recording of Alfred Lord Tennyson reading The Charge of the Light Brigade . The recording was made by Thomas Edison in the poet laureate's home. Listen for the strange knocking toward the end of the recording - the ghost of the doomed cavalry?

01 October, 2007

I am 58% addicted to blogging

I found this fun quiz at Phil Stolle's Thoughtsparks site. So I can reassure my wife that I am less than 60% addicted to blogging, according to a reputable scientific test. Unfortunately this only gets the reaction: " What are you doing on a dating site???" . Err....

58%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?