01 December, 2010

West Wycombe Park

An autumn view of West Wycombe Park, an early 18th century English Palladian mansion in the Chiltern Hills, north-west of London. The house was built by Sir Francis Dashwood, sometime Chancellor of the Exchequer and founder of the Dilettante Society and slightly more notorious Hellfire Club. The caves where the latter Club held meetings are nearby and make an interesting visit.

The house is still in the family:the 12th Baronet Edward Dashwood currently enjoys the modest 5000-acre estate, albeit shared with visitors as the property is run by the National Trust.

Nearly West Wycombe village dates from the 16th century and is also looked after by the National Trust. The pubs and jettied shops on the old coaching road feel in a different age to dreary High Wycombe up the road.

The peace of this area of the Chilterns is now threatened by the High Speed 2 train project.

Photo: the author.

29 September, 2010

Lost Rivers of London: What Lies Beneath

Fleet River view

The prolific Diamond Geezer blog is running a series on The Lost Rivers of London.
And I thought Stamford Brook was mainly a bus garage....

The Londonist has also run interesting posts on London's lost rivers from above., and explains what the Tyburn Angling Society is up to.

These guys hope their torch batteries don't run out...

Frank Jacobs' Strangemaps has ...... a map.

Wikipedia has a general article.

photo: Fleet River Tour by Tom Bolton, on Strange Attractor's London leg of Obscura Day, 20 March 2010 (photo credit: Mark Pilkington)

04 August, 2010

The Lutenist

A reenactor plays the Lute in the Great Hall at Hampton Court.
[Photo copyright the author]

The Lute Society of America has a useful selection of clips on YouTube "illustrating the use of the lute and vihuela in various styles of music". (will open in new window)


22 July, 2010

London Lives 1690-1800

London Lives 1690-1800 is a new searchable directory of over 240,000 contemporary primary sources relating to the lives of 3 million 18th century Londoners at the lower end of the social spectrum.

The project manager is Sharon Howard, who writes Early Modern Notes and is one of the coordinators of the long-running history blog carnival Carnivalesque.

The site is based around workhouse records, criminal registers, coroners' reports and court orders, and the London these documents describe is one where the death penalty was standard for run-of-the-mill thieving.

In many cases individuals with reasonable education and prospects fell in with wrong'uns and ended up on the wrong side of the law, and the consequences were often fatal or involved transportation "down under".

The Keyword search facility is itself evocative - who could resist exploring CopesMadhouse and HardLabouronHulks ?

Documents relating to the same individual are assembled into biographies or lives, with historical background written by the project team. This is one of the most powerful features of the site, and will expand as more biographies are added.

I decided to have a look at the fate of Margaret Larney, an Irish mother of five who was sentenced to death for "degrading the coin of the realm". This involved filing down gold coins, selling the filings, then passing off the "light" coin.

For women the death penalty even in this century was burning at the stake, but in this case there is no surviving record of how Larney perished.

This is an excellent resource that gets under the skin of 18thC London.

The Guardian/Observer has a glowing review too.

The picture is Hogarth's portrait of Sarah Malcolm, hanged for her part in the murder of three women in 1733 (also featured in the Observer review above)

15 July, 2010

I'm back

Cardinal Wolsey is back, and must apologise to loyal followers for having neglected to blog since February.

"Off with his head!" I hear you cry. If there are any readers still out there, I promise to resume regular posts forthwith.

I have consulted the foremost experts in the land on the subject of Writer's Block, and have the following explanation. The blame clearly lies at the feet of the French.

My enemies across the Channel caused mendacious vapours to float across to England on the breeze. On reaching Court, these vapours served to stifle original thought and render the palace keyboard useless.

This state of affairs was only resolved when the prevailing winds changed and the vapours were dispersed.

I must away now to survey the state of the early modern blogosphere....

26 February, 2010

History of the world in 100 objects - early modern bits

A History of the World in 100 objects is a joint venture between BBC Radio and the British Museum. It is written and presented by Neil Macgregor, Director of the BM and cleverly focusses on a single object from the Museum's collection for each 15 minute radio program. The programs are aired 3 times a day (ze nation vill be educated!), Monday to Friday, and if you miss all of these are also on the BBC iPlayer....

The official website is a confusion of whirling graphics and whoever designed it should have their head chopped off, or at the very least put in the stocks for a day. Objects submitted by the general public (this is a participative exercise) mingle with the "official" objects, and I got lost in the navigation. One minute you are looking at a Chinese bronze bell from 500BC, the next at a Sutton's Seeds catalogue (albeit an old one). It's all rather confusing. At least the radio shows are available on the website permanently.

Hurray for the Radio Times, which has published a nice simple list of the 100 objects, or rather 99. The last one has yet to be revealed. According to the RT, there are 4 European objects from the 1500-1800 period in the list:

75 Dürer's Rhinoceros - 1515 (pictured above)
"A woodcut made by the German painter, said to be based on a sketch of an Indian rhino that had arrived in Lisbon that year. Described by the British Museum as one of the great images of European art."

76 The mechanical galleon - 1585 AD
"The Nef Galleon, an intricate mechanical "toy" that demonstrates the importance that ships had for Europeans."

80 Pieces of eight - 1589–1598
"Made for the Spanish empire from silver mined in the Peruvian Andes, these coins became the world's first global currency."

85 Reformation centenary broadsheet - 1617
"Produced in Leipzig to mark the centenary of the start of the Reformation. The woodblock print of Protestant propaganda is seen as a forerunner of the print media."

An interesting selection...

10 February, 2010

Trees Lounge: The Great Oak at the Gates of the Dead

The Great Oak at the Gates of the Dead is a 1,200-year old oak near Wrexham on the English/Welsh border. It marks the site of the battle of Crogen, 1165, when Owain Gwynedd defeated Henry II's force.

The BBC site has news that ice has caused the great oak to split down the middle, with more background and links .

More ancient trees in this previous post.

photo credit: thetreehunter via flickr.

07 February, 2010

Admiral Byng.....it's not over

As mentioned in a previous post, Dan Snow's recent BBC series Empire of the Seas mentioned the unfortunate fate of Admiral John Byng, executed on his own ship for "failing to engage the enemy" off Minorca.

Snow didn't question the verdict of 1757, and this has prompted Byng's family (who have been running a campaign to clear his name) to pen this letter to the Daily Telegraph:

TV unjust to Admiral Byng

SIR – We are collateral descendants of Admiral Byng, and have reacted to the BBC 2 programme Empire of the Seas in a similar way. While it is excellent to capture the imagination of the public, it is wrong to repeat historical inaccuracies.

Admiral Byng did not “retreat” from Minorca having failed to engage the enemy. After initially engaging with the French, he withdrew to Gibraltar when the enemy had disappeared, in order to mend his battered ships and to tend to his wounded sailors. It was also his duty to defend Gibraltar from the French.

He wrote to the Admiralty asking for reinforcements and stipulated he would then waste no time in attacking the enemy again. This letter was censored by the Admiralty for political reasons. He presented his full-length letter at his court-martial, yet was imprisoned in Greenwich and shot on the Monarch.

What he had written to the Admiralty, on May 25, 1756, was this: “I send their Lordships the resolutions of the council of war, in which there was not the least contention or doubt arose. I hope, indeed, we shall find stores to refit us at Gibraltar; and, if I have any reinforcement, will not lose a moment of time to seek the enemy again, and once more give them battle.”

Thane Byng Nelson
Chris Byng-Maddick
Sarah Saunders-Davies
John Byng-Hall
London NW3

Last year Chris Ware of the University of Greenwich published Admiral Byng : His Rise and Execution which would be a good place to start your own appraisal.

Although unrelated, this reminded me of an entry in the visitors' book at Appomattox: "It's not over".

Sometimes history just won't lie down....

01 February, 2010

Less is more: Cardinal Wolsey's blog stats for January

In spite of only managing one blog post in January, according to the official Court stats there were 1,015 unique visitors to Cardinal Wolsey's Today in History - the fourth highest since launch in 2006. Only 17 were return visitors, which is something to work on.

The average time anyone spent on the site was 53 seconds precisely. Visitors came from 54 countries, with about half from the good old USA, but only a quarter from the UK.....

The most popular page last month was a post from way back in 2006 on Thomas Cromwell's beheading.

Incidentally, plenty of google searchers are still looking for evidence that Cardinal Wolsey either a) was executed or b) committed suicide. Sorry folks he died of natural causes on the way to trial......but then again.....

28 January, 2010

Empire of the Seas with Dan Snow

"Empire of the Seas: How the Navy Forged the Modern World" is the title of Dan Snow's four-part documentary series currently setting sail on Friday evenings on BBC2, and jolly bracing it is too.

Dan is the son of Peter Snow, through-the-night BBC anchorman for many parliamentary elections, and I half expected Dan to roll out his dad's famous Swingometer to illustrate the shifts in the balance of sea power between Spain, France and Blighty.

As a former Boat Race man himself, Dan loses no opportunity to climb rigging, stand Winslet-like at the prow and man the wheel of various expensive-looking craft that the BBC has managed to borrow.

He also helps the modern Royal Navy to show off several of its more modern vessels, including a simulated raid by a large state-of-the-art fisheries protection vessel on a tiny defenceless fishing boat which the RN boat could easily squash by accident. Maybe there were no Somali pirates around to teach a lesson to...

The series charts the progress of the Royal Navy from the defeat of the Armada to the First World War, and therein lies one of the criticisms that have been aimed at the BBC. Why ignore the contribution of Henry VIII (and earlier regimes) in establishing the early Navy? Daly History Blog argues a similar point.

Cardinal Wolsey suspects that with such high production values (lots of helicopter flypasts as Dan sways on the topmast) the budget would only stretch to four episodes, so the early days had to be cut. See this previous post on Henry VIII's dockyards if you are interested in this period.

Another criticism is the sometimes slapdash treatment of the background politics (as opposed to the naval stuff proper). James Russell points out that the Armada was not simply a revenge mission for Drake's attack on Cadiz (as claimed in episode 1), but in fact it's key objective was to reverse the Protestant reformation and restore the Catholic church.

But Empire of the Seas is very good on how the expansion of the Navy was masterminded by men such as Sam Pepys . I agree with Molly Joyful's blog that the series isn't too gung-ho and highlights some of the less savoury episodes on the seas. These include the sad story of Admiral John Byng, also the subject of a previous post in this blog.

There is also a lavishly illustrated book to go with the series, written by expert naval historian Brian Lavery. Amazon UK are currently offering it at half price which at £10 is incredible value. That leaves a tenner spare for a bottle of rum to go with it.