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History isn’t “horrible”, it’s essential….!

Richard III – from ‘Horrible Histories’

“…Imagine knowing the entire list of British monarchs by heart at age 10. Imagine knowing about cavemen courting rituals or what soldiers ate during World War I. Imagine becoming so invested in the life of the infamous King Richard III of England that you joined the Richard III Society, a group dedicated to finding his bones and solving the mystery of what happened to his nephews over 500 years ago…”

The extract above is from this study breaks article which, as you might guess, is all about ‘Horrible Histories’!

It made me think, because I did know my English/British monarchs by the age of 10…by 8/9 in fact. There was a chart on my bedroom wall and it faced me when I sat up in bed. I noticed Richard III even then, because he was so different from the rest. Slender, dark-haired, troubled…or so it seemed to me. The other kings/queens seemed more or less expressionless (except for Henry VII, who looked out of the chart in that rather crafty, sideways manner we know and love so well!)

A present-day friend tells me: “There was a frieze over my classroom door { at the same age} with them all on from Alfred, including the years. I did the research and writing, although none of us could reach where it was placed.”

There’s no doubt that history lessons used to entail knowing our stuff. Nowadays, it seems, they’re taught that the world didn’t exist before World War I. Medieval? What the heck is that? So, the likes of ‘Horrible Histories’ are to be welcomed, because they introduce modern children to the past. It’s their past, after all. They should know how their country developed to become what it is today…and realise that it wasn’t a process that came into being magically in the year 1900!

PS: And if help is needed to remember history and its facts, then there’s nothing better than a good song. So try this one.

Susan Calman’s Secret Scotland

This excellent programme, now on its second series, has seen the diminutive Glaswegian comedienne visit parts of Scotland that she had not previously, “behind the scenes” areas or, in the case of the Borders, driven straight through to work in England.

Last year, Calman visited places like Edinburgh Castle (left), Stirling (to fry fish, among other things), Loch Ness, Orkney and Melrose’s legendary Greenyards (below left) to practice sevens skills where the truncated game was invented.

This year, she has been to the Cairngorns (including Balmoral), Dunrobin and John O’Groats among other north coast venue, followed by a return to Glasgow visiting a music hall, making chicken tikka masala, sampling Irn Bru, meeting the footballer Rose Reilly and using the “Subway”. To end the series, she went to Skye to shear sheep, Perthshire and Fife (including Scone Palace, tree planting, Caithness Glass and DC Comics in Dundee) and then Ayrshire and its environs (celebrating Burns, sampling Dunlop cheese, remembering J.M. Barrie at Dumfries and visiting Dunure Castle with its tunnels) and Arran (testing a Viking longboat, tasting seaweed and changing a bulb at a lighthouse).

A great “feasting” hall where Edward IV and Richard III dined….

I have just watched an episode of Digging for Britain (2014, series 3, episode 3, entitled “North”) in which Alice Roberts presented a section about an archaeological dig that had at that time been going on for five years at a large 15th-century hall owned by Sir John Conyers.

Sir John Conyers

Sir John had served both Edward IV and Richard III, was a Knight of the Garter, and carried Richard III’s sceptre at his coronation. Both kings were said to have dined at the hall. He fell from grace under Henry VII because he supported an attempt to topple Henry and replace him with Edward, Earl of Warwick, the imprisoned son of George, Duke of Clarence, brother of both Edward IV and Richard III.

Hornby Castle before partial demolition

I didn’t hear any actual identification of the site of the dig, and so imagine they didn’t want to invite unwelcome intrusion. Maybe I’m wrong, and I’m prepared to be put right, but all I picked up was that it was in North Yorkshire, and was a vast “feasting” hall (capable of holding upwards of 1000 people) where many artefacts were being found. Maybe it was at Hornby Castle, Yorkshire, which was Sir John Conyers’ main base. But that’s my guesswork.

Anyway, after Bosworth and the attempted coup, the site that became the dig described in 2014 was sacked by Henry VII, using cannon, and set on fire, reducing it to rubble. What I couldn’t quite decide was whether it was just the great hall that suffered this fate.

On the assumption that it was Hornby Castle in North Yorkshire, this webpage gives a lot of archaeological details, going back to 2011. The work there was still ongoing in 2018.

An unexpected conclusion

Who do you think you are? is always an interesting programme and is disappointing to see only eight episodes in the series. In the past, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Frank Gardner, Danny Dyer and Clare Balding have all been revealed as proven descendants of Edward I. That has not happened in 2019 and few lines have gone back as far as the eighteenth century, so I hoped that the concluding episode’s research could beat that.

Wrong

Wright

As it turned out, it did go back a long way. The subject was Mark Wright – not the red-haired central defender (left) who scored against Egypt in 1990, heading home a Gascoigne free kick, but a “reality show” star and former semi-professional full-back who was born only three years before that, who had a feeling that his complexion pointed to some Italian ancestry. This Mark Wright (right) was accompanied in the earliest scenes by Eddie, his paternal grandfather, who had collated his knowledge in advance, particularly about his own grandfather and namesake.

Edward Wright senior was a builder whose materials occasionally fell off the back of carts and was imprisoned for this on one occasion. On another, he was said to have left for America after another conviction and passenger lists proved that this really happened as opposed to being a cover for another “stretch”. With the help of Mark Smith (left), the arms and militaria expert from Antiques Roadshow, he proved that Edward Wright sourced horses for the British Army before signing up after reducing his age to serve in the First World War.

Next, Mark discovered that his grandfather’s  mother came from a Jewish line named Simons/ Simmons, through which he was able to visit the 1701 Bevis Marks synagogue (right), built for the Sephardi (Iberian and North African) Jewish community whom Oliver Cromwell had allowed back into the British Isles.

Further research took him to Spain, in particular Jaen in Andalucia, where his ultimate known ancestor Antonio de Castro/ David de Mendoza, a fencing master, was born in 1661 and then brought up there. This was a family of “conversos”, but frequently came under suspicion from the Inquisition. Antonio, as he was known, was arrested and tortured, tried, convicted and imprisoned before escaping to Amsterdam with his wife and children, where they resumed an overt Jewish life. His nephew Miguel was then arrested and, possibly because of Antonio’s activities, burned, a fate he shares with an ancestor of Simon Sebag Montefiore, her brother and sister. On a brighter note, Mark was able to meet a distant cousin who is also a Mendoza descendant.

“Mordecai Mendoza”(Bernard Cribbins)

Wright actually showed a real flair for genealogy, enthusiastically drawing up tables on paper and spotting the religious significance of the name Mendoza. Might we hear more about his family some time?

Medieval (sic) Murder Mysteries

This is a six-part series, first shown on “Yesterday” (a UKTV channel) in 2015 but is available to view on their website here. The producers used pathologists, coroners, historians, barristers and other writers to form their conclusions, some of which are more reliable than others.

The first episode, which surely misses the mediaeval timescale, is that of Christopher Marlowe, stabbed in a Deptford tavern in 1593: in self-defence, a brawl or a targeted assassination? Marlowe’s possible involvement with heresy or espionage, Raleigh or Cecil is investigated in depth. The riddle of Edward II‘s fate at Berkeley Castle is tackled next – could he really have died by poker or suffocation or could he have escaped? Their conclusion points in the latter direction, although the current Berkeley heir leans towards the ultra-traditional legend.

The third show is about Arthur of Brittany, son of Geoffrey and nephew of John, who seems to have been disposed of in a particularly grisly manner in Brittany – blinding and castrating, either of which could have been fatal through shock. Several Byzantine Emperors, from 800 onwards, had been blinded, to prevent them from ruling effectively and castration would prevent him from reproducing, although death would not necessarily be intended. The fourth, again un-mediaeval, case covered Amy Robsart’s fall down a staircase at Cumnor, Oxfordshire after sending her servants away – accident, suicide, murder to free her husband Dudley to marry Elizabeth I, murder to stop him from ever marrying Elizabeth? Both suicide and murder are less probable, as the pathologist argued, because Amy might have survived as an invalid for a few years and remembered her assailant if there was one. There was no mention of the cancer I have heard, elsewhere, that she suffered from, although the staircase is the series emblem.

Inevitably, the “Princes” feature, in part five. Sadly, as with Edward II, many of the “experts” may understand their own professions well but seem not to appreciate the level of “Tudor” propaganda and have not approached the case with open minds, which skewed their conclusion against the high probability of one or both being sent to Burgundy. The final case was that of Juan (Giovanni) Borgia, the acknowledged son of a Pope (Alexander VI), who was definitely murdered and dumped in the Tiber – but as a random victim, by his brother Gioffre, the Orsini family or someone else? An Orsini had just died in a Papal prison.

“World’s Greatest Palaces” …

… is another excellent series on the “Yesterday” Channel. Last night I watched the fourth episode, about Kensington, the influence of architects such as Wren and Hawksmoor, the evolution of the building, the creation of the Serpentine Lake and the monarchs and their relatives who have lived there. These include William III and Mary II, Anne, George II, Victoria and Elizabeth II.
The contributors included the consistently good Kate Williams and several royal curators such as Tracy Borman. Much was made of Anne’s reproductive difficulties and her longest-lived child, William Duke of Gloucester (left) was frequently mentioned, except that Borman called him “George”. George was, of course, his father’s name. Victoria’s cloistered childhood was detailed, as well as the story of how Elizabeth II met Prince Phillip of Greece.

A visible difference

This Mail on Sunday interview with Jonathan Rhys Meyers is sadly, mostly about his current personal problems. However, one or two paragraphs towards the end, should be of interest:

But it was his lead role in TV drama The Tudors, as the criminally charismatic Henry VIII, that made everyone take note, even though Rhys Meyers initially had his doubts about playing the monarch.
‘When they first asked me to do it, I said, “You must be insane!” And they said, “We have to make this part of English history palpable to a modern-day audience – and no one’s going to watch a 300lb guy run around the screen having sex.”’ Watching Rhys Meyers run around the screen having sex was a different story entirely, however.

In other words, he agreed that he felt far too slim for the part, as “The Tudors“‘

final scene with him merging into the great Holbein painting showed. At least Maria Doyle Kennedy, Natalie Dormer (left) and the other four “wives” didn’t have to be paid danger money, as an actor of Henry VIII’s real bulk (above) may have necessitated.

Otherwise, Mr. Rhys Meyers may have wanted to visit a certain pub in Ely with this menu:

Has one of the Kingmaker’s pirate ships been found in Newport….?


Conjectural view of medieval Newport, by Anne Leaver, 2007
Showing large berthed vessel in the middle.

Last night I watched (on PBS America) a BBC2 Timewatch episode entitled The Mysteries of the Medieval Ship. It concerned the discovery, in June 2002, of a foundered/scuttled medieval vessel of some size, buried in the oozing mud of the Severn Sea – well, the oozing mud of the River Usk, at Newport, to be precise. But Severn Sea mud is the same, whichever estuary, and it takes prisoners, with the result that this particular ship has survived almost intact, and is that only such large 15th-century vessel to have done so in the United Kingdom.

Artist’s impression, by Paul Deacon

Dendrochronology dates the timbers to around late 40s of the 15th century, and the oak identified as from northern Spain or Gascony, the latter possibility being just within English tenure, before France took it back.

It is believed that the ship had been berthed for repairs, but sank when supports gave way. And the fact of these repairs leads to a strong link to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who turned upon King Edward IV at the Battle of Edgecote Moor on 26th July, 1469. Warwick won the battle, and among those he executed afterward was his predecessor as Lord of Newport, William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke.

Tomb effigy of Richard Neville – Warwick the Kingmaker – Earl of Warwick

There is a letter, signed by Warwick, concerning the repairs to just such a vessel as has now been discovered, at the time berthed in Newport. Here is the modernised text, taken from here :-

Richard Earl of Warwick and Salisbury great chamberlain of England and captain of Calais to Thomas Throckmorton our receiver of our lordship of Glamorgan and Morgannwg greeting.

We will and charge you that of the revenues of your office to your hands coming you content and pay …… Trahagren ap Merick £10 the which he paid unto John Colt for the making of the ship at Newport to Richard Port purser of the same 53s 4d, to William Toker mariner for carriage of iron from Cardiff unto Newport for the said ship 6s 8d to Matthew Jubber in money, iron, salt and other stuff belonging to the said ship £15 2s 6d. ……

Given under our signet at our castle of Warwick the 22 day of November the ninth year of the reign of our sovereign lord king Edward the fourth. (1469)

Warwick’s Signature

It may not be the same ship, of course, but the retrieved vessel had been armed (stone cannon balls found among the timbers) and there seems a strong possibility that far from being a peaceful merchantman, she may have been one of his pirate vessels. Warwick was known to dabble in piracy.

This mysterious ship is something to be cared for and treasured. She may not be the Mary Rose, but she is of more interest to those of us who prefer the 15th century. Especially when a figure like Warwick seems to be part of her history.

There is much to be found online about this extraordinary medieval discovery, and the following links are but a few:-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newport_Ship and
https://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/15479544.15-years-on-how-newports-medieval-ship-was-found-and-how-it-was-saved/ and http://www.newportpast.com/early/port/ship.htm and
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-39711214

There is also a book!

Britain’s Most Historic Towns (2)

This excellent Channel Four programme, presented by Professor Alice Roberts, with Dr. Ben Robinson in the helicopter, has returned for a new series. The early venues were Dover (World War Two, visiting the underground base, concentrating on the retreat from Dunkirk and subsequent Channel defence, meeting some survivors, wearing ATS uniform and riding in a tank), her home city Bristol (Georgian, with slavery, gin, chocolate and great architecture featured) and Cardiff (where coal and the Marquess of Bute brought much prosperity in the Edwardian era, before it could supplant Machyllenth as Wales’ capital).

The series then moved on to Oxford to illustrate the Civil War sieges, where Alice Roberts’ Worsleyesque love of dressing up saw her in New Model Army uniform, playing real tennis and viewing Charles I’s ersatz capital. Episode five illustrated Plantagenet Canterbury, featuring St. Augustine, Becket, Chaucer, the Black Death and Peasants’ Revolt. We were also shown a copy of the Magna Carta. The last show was about Stewart Stirling, where she visited the Castle and walls, brewed beer, played with a replica antique football and visited a well, illustrating how individual Stewart monarchs were vulnerable, even to internal opposition, but the line was secure.

Not again: “Britain’s bloody Crown” (3)

Here at Murrey and Blue, we are not in the habit of reviewing repeats, not even when we have commented on them before. This time, it is the very fact and timing of the repeat of Channel Four’s “Who killed the Princes in the Tower?”, with the ubiquitous Dan Jones, that is at issue, together with the assumptions made by Jones in the programme and even in the title. In the show, a bearded (!) Richard is shown ordering the murder of two individuals who were declared illegitimate by the Three Estates, a verdict that some of his rivals disagreed with, giving those rivals a motive he didn’t have.

The programme is the very apogee of denialism, based upon Jones’ imagination and Domenico Mancini’s wholly discredited account, presented with at least a dozen disproven “facts”, such as the definition of treason, the Constable‘s court and the boys’ “house arrest”. Mancini’s name is also wrongly rendered as “Dominic”, and Jones fails to mention that he was a spy for Angelo Cato, speaking little English. So, if you want to watch the investigation of a “crime” that may never have happened …

These assumptions include:
1) That Edward IV’s sons qualified as “Princes” – as Ashdown-Hill pointed out, their illegitimacy means that this cannot be the case.
2) That they have died – we can let him have that one!
3) That they died together – for which we have no evidence whatsoever.
4) That they died in the Tower  -again no evidence.
5) That they died in 1483 – a little suggestive evidence in one case.
6) That anyone killed them or ordered their deaths – again no evidence.
7) That Richard III was that person – again no evidence.

The timing of this repeat is also at issue because Ashdown-Hill’s discovery of the “Princes”‘ mtDNA has provided us with the opportunity to test what some people still regard as “evidence” – the remains, of whatever age, gender, era, quantity or even species, in the Westminster Abbey urn. One might argue that this repeat was scheduled “in the teeth of the evidence”.

Still, what can we expect, knowing Jones’ mentor?

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