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The real site of the Battle of Barnet…?

site-of-battle-of-barnet

The excellent BBC series Digging for Britain, Series 5, the episode concerning the east of Britain, presented by the equally excellent Dr Alice Roberts, contained a section on the Battle of Barnet, 1471.

Why is it that an accepted site for a battle so often proves to be the wrong one? Bosworth is a prime example, of course, but it seems the Battle of Barnet was another. Apparently it has always been thought that the battle took place where the town of Barnet is now, yet there was never any proof. So the discovery of some 15th-century cannon balls in fields outside the town had the local detectors out in force.

Accounts of the battle describe it as having taken place in a hollow in the landscape, and the area of the fields fitted the bill. Standing in the middle and panning his camera around in a circle, one of the searchers showed how the land rose gradually all around. He and his fellows searched and searched, only finding things that might have had nothing to do with the battle, but then (in a style that brought Time Team to life again!) right at the eleventh hour a final detector happened upon something more substantial. They did not know if it was from horse harness or perhaps male clothing, although it was a little heavy for that.

battle-of-barnet

Various other finds convinced them they had found the true site of the battle. But it seemed curious that Edward IV, arriving on the scene with his battle at the end of the day, should choose to place himself in a dip. Surely that would be inviting trouble? Especially as he did not know exactly where the Lancastrian army was situated. But, the Lancastrians didn’t know the exact whereabouts of the Yorkists.

Battle commenced in at dawn, in fog, with the Earl of Warwick, in command of the Lancastrians, firing his cannon where he thought the Yorkists were. But he couldn’t see them because they were low down, and his cannon balls went harmlessly over their heads. Edward, on the other hand, kept his cannon silent, in order not to give his position away.

It became a bloody affair, with the Lancastrians mistaking one of their own, the Earl of Oxford, whose badge was a star, for Edward IV, whose badge was the sun in splendour.  Warwick was killed in the rout that followed.

So, was Edward IV a brilliant tactician in choosing the site he did? Or was it pure chance? We will never know.

See this previous post or this one.

Go here to see some of the programme itself.

Bloody tales of the Tower….

bloody-tales-of-the-tower

I have only just found the series Bloody Tales of the Tower, previously on National Geographic and now on Channel 5 (http://www.channel5.com/show/bloody-tales-of-the-tower and http://www.natgeotv.com/za/bloody-tales-of-the-tower), and have to say that I enjoyed it very much. The presenters, Suzannah Lipscomb and Joe Crowley, are at ease in their roles and with each other, and do not adopt a patronising, superior attitude, as some do. Suzannah is a Tudor historian, and very sensible with it.

There is a good format of setting the scene and then dividing the tasks in two, then going their separate ways until coming together again toward the end, to weave their discoveries together. Suzannah leads us effortlessly through the story itself and the sources, while Joe discovers how things worked, who did them, what they looked like and so on. It may sound as if it’s aimed at teenagers tops, but it isn’t. I’m no teenager, and it was fine by me.

The most innovative series/presenter at the moment has to be Lucy Worsley, who dresses in costume and blends effortlessly into the docudramas she talks about. She is marvellous. Although a Tudor historian, she didn’t gild the Tudors. There were no controversial remarks for the sake of it. She said it how it was. It was all very natural and flowing. Good informative entertainment. As for all the other presenters of television history documentaries, mostly posing males who think more of their own vanity than their subject matter, they would do well to learn a few lessons from Worsley, Lipscomb and Crowley.

Bloody Tales of the Tower told its stories in compelling docudramas, sometimes set in the very spots where it all happened. Sometimes rather grisly! There are three episodes, Royals on the Block, Death to Traitors and Deadly Love, and each contains three separate stories from various centuries.

In episode one, Royals on the Block, the royals in question are James, Duke of Monmouth, Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, and Lady Jane Grey, who was, of course, Queen Jane. I’m not sure how the archbishop is included, unless it is the implication that Richard II’s life should have been forfeit, not Sudbury’s!

James, Duke of Monmouth, was something of a 17th-century superstar and the people’s favourite, but he rebelled against his uncle, James II, because he believed the throne should have been his, even though he was illegitimate. Such was his fame and popularity, that for the huge crowds gathered for his beheading on Tower Green (the programme drew a likeness between his execution and the Wembley Cup Final for crowd-pulling power). There followed a butchering by one Jack Ketch, who was a hangman but not a competent wielder of an axe. Monmouth’s head was finally severed with a knife! Ketch later blamed Monmouth for not presenting his head properly.

Simon of Sudbury was Richard II’s Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, and when the Peasants’ Revolt began in 1381, he was the object of the mob’s hatred because of all the taxes and unfair laws over which he had presided. He, the king and the court took refuge in the Tower, which was impregnable. Nevertheless the mob got inside and Sudbury (whose head is still preserved) was torn to pieces. How did they get in? Well, Richard II gave the order to let them through all the gates. Richard consigned the old man to his death. A lamb to the slaughter.

The last story in Royals on the Block was that of Lady Jane Grey, another lamb to the slaughter. She was only sixteen, but her cousin, Bloody Mary, sent her to the block. Mary went on to earn the soubriquet Bloody Mary, so I imagined there were soon many in the realm who wished they hadn’t risen to support her against Jane. Oh, well, it’s always easy to be wise after the event. It was pointed out that Lady Jane should be referred to as Queen Jane, because although she did not have a coronation, she was, nevertheless, the queen. Just as was Edward V (cue picture of the urn) and, more recently, Edward VIII. They are always referred to as kings, so why not Jane as queen?

The second part of the trilogy is called Death to Traitors, and covered the tales of Father John Gerard, who survived secretly in Elizabeth I’s Protestant England. He escaped from the Tower and lived to his 70s on the Continent. He wrote his story, which is how we know so much about his escape. (One oddity I noticed during this story was the careful use of white gloves to examine an old copy of Gerard’s story, yet earlier I noticed there were no gloves at all for poking around in a beautifully illustrated copy of Walsingham! Isn’t there a rule on this sort of thing?)

Next we went to Guy Fawkes, whose story was related with overtones of modern terrorism. The blowing up of King James and Parliament was an intended spectacular which would see Catholics triumph over Protestants. We all know it failed—some nasty Protestant informer!—and Guy was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Not a pleasant way to go, but he confounded everyone by managing to fling himself from a ladder and break his neck, so he was dead before they even hanged him, let alone the drawing and quartering. The senior member of the conspiracy were eventually cornered in a country house (they included one Catesby, a descendant of Richard III’s Catesby) and went out in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style by rushing out into a hail of musket fire.

The third story in Death to Traitors was that of Josef Jacobs, a German spy in World War II. Yes, the last person to be executed in the Tower was in 1941. He was parachuted into England, injured and captured.  As he was a military officer, the sentence was death by shooting at the Tower. There he was duly despatched. There was part of this story that seemed to throw all sympathy on Jacobs, a family man who left a wife and children behind. His final letter to them was produced, and his Canadian granddaughter was there with the presenter at his graveside. Yes, the story had a very human side, but should it not have been said that if a British man had been captured in similar circumstances in Germany, he would have suffered the same fate? A spy in wartime is a spy in wartime.

Deadly Love, the final episode of this first series is entitled Deadly Love, and covers the deaths in the Tower of three famous women, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Arbella Stuart. The first two ladies are very well known, of course, and the only thing I would pick out particularly where Anne was concerned was the portrayal of her supposed lover, Mark Smeaton. It seems that he paid the price of arousing jealousy and resentment among his “betters”. He was lowborn, talented and handsome, and had risen very high very quickly. Anne’s fall from grace was a useful way to get rid of him too.

Catherine Howard was young, and yes she was probably a puppet, but she was also very silly. How could anyone think of trying to deceive a bloodthirsty old monster like Henry VIII? Had she never heard of Anne Boleyn? I am afraid she doesn’t earn my sympathy – I feel more for Lady Jane Grey than I do for Catherine.

The story of Arbella Stuart was the most interesting for me, and what a very sad tale it was, especially as although her marriage to William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset, was dynastic at first, I think it soon became a matter of love. But any children would have presented a great threat to the security of James I, the first Stuart king, so Arbella and William were arrested. She was held under house arrest in Barnet, while he was imprisoned in the Tower. By means of an intricate but successful plot involving exchanging clothes with his barber, William managed to escape. Arbella, dressed as a man also escaped and they arranged to meet at Blackwall. They never did. She took to the sea alone, afraid he was not coming, and he arrived too late, two hours later. He escaped to Calais, but she was captured. No Barnet for her this time, it was the Tower, under much stricter conditions than had applied to William.

She gradually succumbed to ill health (maybe porphyria)—or perhaps lost the will to live—and died a few years later. Her death rendered William harmless to James, so he was permitted to return to England. He eventually married again and lived another fifty years. A tragic love story.

An excellent series, and I hope there is another. Bloody Tales of the Tower is well worth watching.

Lucy does WOTR fibs….

lucy-worsley

I awaited Lucy Worsley’s latest series with great eagerness. Her impish character and entertaining presentation is always worth watching. And so it was again on Thursday, 26th January, in the first episode of British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley. It concerned the Wars of the Roses.

Well, obviously, as a Ricardian I was keen to know what she would have to say about Richard III, but the programme was about the wars in general and how they have been immensely misrepresented through the centuries as a thirty-year-long blood bath that terrified and depleted the entire realm. The truth was that most people hardly noticed what was going on, because it was strife among the nobles, not the populace. It has been estimated that out of the thirty years, there were only thirteen weeks of actual fighting.

One actual example of carnage and bloodshed was Towton. There was an excellent account of the carnage. Lucy stood at the top of the steep slope, where the Yorkists were positioned, looking down to the level meadow and winding river at the bottom. She reminded us that the river was in flood at the time. The Lancastrians were trapped between the Yorkists and the floodwater. It was really demonstrated how the Yorkists were able to rush down and slaughter the Lancastrians. A horrible, horrible battle, but the only one of all the WOTR battles to produce such devastating killing in such huge numbers. 28,000.

Towton aside, the universal version of events in those thirty years is courtesy of the Tudors, especially Henry VII, the first and most devious of a devious pack. The fifteenth-century conflict is “a tapestry of different stories woven together by whoever was in power at the time”—cue Henry VII, darn his usurping little socks. That man a master weaver of lies!

As a result of his machinations, it’s as if there was such a huge conspiracy to lay blame on Richard III that the whole of English history has somehow been tainted by it. Cruelly, Henry’s lies took root, and Richard was damned. That was made clear throughout the programme.

We saw all the Tudor embellishments—masonry, paintings, literature (read Shakespeare). Henry even saw to it that  illustrations predating his accession were doctored to include his badges and symbols, thus pretending that his ancestry and right to the throne had been there all along! There was very little of which he did not think and take steps to correct. One almost has to admire his thoroughness. But what a natural-born LIAR!

There weren’t many glimpses of Richard. Least of all the real Richard, because the programme was all centred on the myths, as the series title makes plain. But Henry’s endless untruths were just accepted, without any real attempt to prove them to be so.  Nothing was said to show how good a king Richard had been in his brief two years. No mention of his Parliament, for instance, which definitely proved  him to be a just man with the welfare of the people at heart. I doubt if Henry knew what welfare was, except when it applied to himself. As for justice…forget it. Anyway, one sentence about the Parliament would have gone a long way to redress the balance.

As for Richard’s physical appearance, it wasn’t until the very end that Lucy went to Leicester, and Richard’s skeleton had a look-in, but not the modelled head that gives such a good impression of what he actually looked like. The fine statue by the cathedral featured in one of the final scenes, but even then we had to see Henry again—a little statuette brought by someone who has started a Henry VII Society to rival the Richard III Society. This gentleman moaned that Henry was now being maligned. Well, Horrible Henry, have a dollop of your own medicine!

All that said, it was still enjoyable. Lucy is wonderful viewing, and if she told us black was white, I might have trouble arguing. Except where Richard III is concerned, of course.

See a clip at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04png88

 

 

Perhaps they should call it …

… “Primary School Challenge”?

According to one of the Cambridge teams on January 9th, Edward IV and Edward V had the same mother. According to Jeremy Paxman, Margaret “Beaufort” was married to the Duke of Burgundy. To be fair, she did marry four times, even though the first was annulled.

Oh dear. We dunceindexshall have to fine him.

A dead ringer for Henry VII….

sinister-henry-vii

While browsing for a particular portrait, I came upon the picture above. It’s Anton Lesser as Thomas More, from the TV production of ‘Wolf Hall’, but in this particular shot he is a dead ringer for Henry VII. Before I read further, I actually did think it was a portrayal of Henry. It doesn’t make me think of More at all.

See more information and pictures of the cast at:-

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/wolf-hall-damian-lewis-is-a-sinister-henry-viii-in-new-bbc-trailer-9949523.html#gallery

Brat Farrar

Josephine Tey’s novel Brat Farrar is widely perceived as having been based on the Victorian Tichborne case where a well-upholstered Australia-based butcher’s son posed as the missing claimant to a baronetcy. Arthur Orton/ Castro persuaded Roger Tichborne’s mother that he was the heir to the title, but very few others and lost his court casesbratfarrar.

In a book serialised by BBC1 in 1986, in their classic “Sunday teatime literature slot”, Tey makes some of the Ashby family circumstances different and introduces an interesting psychological feature: Simon knows that Farrar cannot be his elder twin, Patrick, because … but we won’t spoil the ending for those who have not yet read it. This frequently occurs in great literature and Rattigan, for example, plays with the facts of George Archer-Shee’s postal order problems at Dartmouth Naval College in The Winslow Boy.

Is Tey implying something more? We all know that she also wrote The Daughter of Time, in which she employs the device of a fictional mid-C20 policeman to explore the facts about the “Princes”. Is Brat Farrar, written two years earlier, a previous attempt at this objective. Is Patrick actually the younger “Prince” (or a combination of both) and is Simon his, or their, brother-in-law? It is more than sixty years too late to ask Tey but perhaps she wrote about it somewhere, privately.

A year of anniversaries

shakespeare

2016 has been the 1000th anniversary of Edund Ironside’s accession and death, also of the death of his father Ethelred Unraed and the double accession of Cnut of Denmark. It has also been the 950th anniverary of the battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings, being the end of the House of Wessex after its interruption.
Four centuries ago, St. George’s Day to be exact, marks the death of Shakespeare and possibly his 1564 birth. Opinion is still divided as to whether, in Richard III’s case among others, he merely embroidered what passed for history during his lifetime or invented many of the significant events he wrote about. At least we can precisely date his death better than we can his birth and we can, ironically, rely on the flow of his plays relating accurately to the culture of his own time, such as Cordelia’s execution, which could not have happened in Richard’s own century.

In March, Helen Castor marked the anniversary on Channel Four by investigating the fate of the Bard’s own remains in this documentary. It transpires that, having been buried in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church with his family and a forbidding epitaph(1), GPR investigations show that his skull is probably missing, just like Morton’s at Canterbury Cathedral. Richard, of course, was intact except for his feet. It seems that not everyone over the years heeded the curse:

(1) Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be Middle English the.svg man Middle English that.svg spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he Middle English that.svg moves my bones

DIGGING FOR BRITAIN–NEW NEWS ON the BATTLE OF BARNET

Like Bosworth, the actual site of the Battle of  Barnet has been the subject of much conjecture, especially as the area is heavily modernised. On the latest episode of DIGGING FOR BRITAIN, airing on BBC 4 on December 20 at 9 PM,  experts take a new look at the site and believe they can now pinpoint its actual location.

Hopefully, this programme will raise the profile of battlefields in general, which always seem in danger of being built on, as well as increasing awareness of the importance of this battle, in which Warwick the Kingmaker was slain and Edward IV was victorious. It was, of course, the 18 year old Richard of Gloucester’s first major battle as the two opposing armies railed against each other in a thick mist.

In itself, Barnet would have been a crushing defeat for the Lancastrians, having lost Warwick in the fray, but their insistence on pressing for a second confrontation only a few weeks later at Tewkesbury brought about the complete ruin of the Lancastrian House, with the death of the Prince of Wales, Edward of Lancaster, upon the field.

 

 

The Wars of the Roses. The final battle at Barnet

The return of an old favourite

Time Commanders, the television programme that replayed old battles from a studio and saw a Norman army lose at Hastings – oh yes – is back after eleven years. There will only be three episodes and Richard Hammond has given way to the somewhat louder Gregg Wallace but it will be on BBC4 tonight at 21:00, set in Carthage (202BC).timecommanders

The other battles will be Waterloo (!) and Chalons (451 AD).

If you have watched …

… Channel Five’s http://www.channel5.com/show/secrets-of-great-british-castles, let me reassure you of something.

There really was a king named Richard III and Dan Jones has simply forgotten to mention him.

Episode 2 was about Cardiff Castle, where Richard and Anne have a window devoted to them (seasons-greetings-2016-a-2).

Episode 3 was about the structure at York, or Clifford’s Tower as it is now called, which Richard frequented during his dozen years as Lord President of the Council of the North, whilst the city walls had borne the detached heads of his uncle, father (the Duke of York) and brother. Then again, “King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us was, through grete treason, piteously slane and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie”., as their macebearer John Spooner recorded soon after Bosworth.

So Richard played a very real part in the history of both cities.

There have been a few interesting parts to this series – the “Black Dinner” with James II and the Douglases at Edinburgh Castle, Curthose held and Llewellyn Bren executed at Cardiff, the witchcraft charges against Joan of Navarre and Eleanor Cobham at Leeds, John starving various enemies to death at Lancaster and elsewhere, together with Robert Aske’s execution and Margaret Clitherow’s death in York, although Henry of Huntingdon could have been mentioned in conjunction with the latter. There has, however, been too much posing by Jones in his leather jacket, T-shirt and jeans firing arrows and trying on armour as the camera focussed on the other historians, includding Hutton, Morris and Capwell being older than him, together with too much dramatisatisation of Jones’ tendentious interpretation of events. The myth of Catherine de Valois and Owain Tudor, from the Leeds episode, is another case in point.

It isn’t that difficult to make a favourable reference to Richard III, surely? Then again, given what Jones has said about John and Edward II, perhaps it is better this way.cliffordstower

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