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1066: A Year to Conquer the Cauliflower….

According to Mark Twain, “A cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.” And maybe he’s right, but the BBC documentary series “1066: A Year to Conquer England”, starts off with cauliflowers that must have had a Tesco education.

There they sit, large, super-white, plump, and nestling in beautifully tender, pale green supermarket-trimmed leaves, atop posts that have vaguely human-shaped figures fixed to them. The vegetables are the figures’ heads. Along on horseback, in the middle of winter, at full pelt, come young William of Normandy plus friend, with razor-sharp swords. Double whoosh! The poor cauliflowers are in smithereens.

Now, I wouldn’t mind so much if they hadn’t used what are clearly cauliflowers grown under glass, or something similar. No cauliflowers grown outside in the middle of an 11th-century Norman winter would have such delicate pale leaves. Or such beyond-flawless white heads.

A much more awkward point, however, is that according to http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(95)00072-8 (which in turn quotes from Cabbages, kales etc. Brassica oleracea (Cruciferae), by Thompson, KF, 49-52) “…Cauliflowers were domesticated relatively recently. They were unknown in the early Middle Ages, and were apparently introduced into Europe from the Levant or Cyprus at around the end of the fifteenth century…” Oops. So how could they be in Normandy in William’s time?

If the Beeb had only used a common old cabbage, they’d have been OK, but I suppose bits of greenery flying in all directions would have quite the same impact as huge white cauliflowers being obliterated with such Norman gusto.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Views over the site of Stoke Field….

tom-fort-and-punt

Oh, the penalty of working my way through the documentaries available on BBC iPlayer! I keep finding little nuggets of Ricardian interest. Tonight I chose “Crossing England in a Punt: River of Dreams”, the title of which is rather self-explanatory. Explorer Tom Fort punts his way from the birth of the River Trent in Staffordshire to its mouth in the Humber Estuary. Imagine how I sat up when right at the beginning, in the trailer, I spotted a portrait of Henry Tudor . What had he to do with the Trent, I wondered?

Then – ha! Of course. The Trent passes the site of Stoke Field, 1487, when the Earl of Lincoln’s Yorkists were defeated by Henry’s forces. Well, by the Earl of Oxford, actually, Henry didn’t arrive until it was virtually over.

The programme commenced, and was very enjoyable and interesting, but you can imagine how I was filled with eager anticipation when mention was made of Staythorpe Power Station. The Yorkist rebels under John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, and the banners of the so-called Lambert Simnel, were believed to have camped at Staythorpe before the battle, crossing the Trent in the early morning. Surely Tom Fort would mention the battle? After all, he’d mentioned Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Vikings. But no, not a word.

Hope faded as the punt moved on downstream, and I decided that Stoke Field was going to be overlooked. Then, suddenly, there it was. A large chunk of the programme was devoted to the story of the battle, with views over the field. We were shown where the Yorkists took up their positions along a low hill that stretched above the riverbank. When defeat was inevitable, the fleeing Yorkists were so crammed into a gully, pursued by the merciless enemy, that the place ran with blood and is still known as the Red Gutter. Mr Fort didn’t mention Francis Lovell, who is is said to have escaped by swimming his horse across the Trent. Nor the Earl of Lincoln, who was slain in the battle. It is said that Henry had him buried ignominiously and anonymously under a willow tree, with a willow stave through his heart.

So, my friends, if you want to sit in your armchairs and see where the last battle of the Wars of the Roses took place, go to iPlayer and take a look at this documentary. Tom Fort’s words were that it was where the White Rose of York had one final throw of the dice.

Several years ago, when I was researching for chapters of a book that concerned the battle of Stoke Field, I learned that the spring and area of the willow trees where Lincoln, his Landsknecht commander and others were buried so unceremoniously, has now been destroyed to make way for the new A46. There are still pictures of the spring, just before it vanished forever.

For further information about the battle and the area where it took place, the following links are useful:-

https://content.historicengland.org.uk/content/docs/battlefields/stoke.pdf

http://legacy.newarkadvertiser.co.uk/articles/news/Spring-that-ran-red-runs-dry

http://meanderingthroughtime.weebly.com/wars-of-the-roses-blog/battle-of-stoke-16th-june-1487

http://nottsvillages.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/east-stoke.html

Coming up this year:

As you can see, Kit Harrington will soon portray Robert Catesby in a BBC drama about the Gunpowder Plot. Catesby, shot while resisting arrest, was one of 130731-e5cae8c8-18cf-4b66-aa08-3c4ae03e6428the lucky ones. Then again, our folk memory of the seventeenth century is not entirely accurate …

Oh, woe, Lucy! What a blooper….!

elizabeth-i-dunce

Not long into the final episode of Lucy Worsley’s wonderful series about British History’s Greatest Fibs, the one about India, the British Empire’s Jewel in the Crown, she makes the astonishing statement that Britain’s first arrival in the then Calcutta was not in the Victorian era, but in 1619 by ‘buccaneers’ of the East India Company . Well yes, I hear you say. It’s true, so what’s the point?

The point in this case is that 1619 was declared to be in the reign of Elizabeth I. Really? Well that redoubtable monarch died in 1603.

Come now, Lucy! And you a historian!!!!!

The Black Cat of Kidwelly….

 

The picture left above is from https://tinyurl.com/h3s5pds, the one on the right is from https://blackcatrescue.wordpress.com/tag/black-cat-myth/

Last night I watched a programme in which the family history of the actor Ioan Gruffudd was traced. Rather amusingly, right at the end, he learned he was descended from Edward I, the very king who subjugated Wales. Oh, what a dilemma for a proud Welshman.

However, at one point my attention wandered from Ioan’s very interesting background, because I noticed a black cat badge on the back of a chair in which he was seated for part of the programme. So I searched for ‘the black cat of Kidwelly’, and sure enough, it’s on the town’s coat-of-arms.

I found the following explanation at http://www.kidwelly.gov.uk/Kidw…/kidwelly_history-11133.aspx

“The Black Cat of Kidwelly

“Kidwelly’s Coat of Arms and Official Seal shows a Black Cat. Herein lies the dilemma. The name of the township changed considerably over the centuries. In the ninth century when few people could read and spelling was of little importance, it was called Cetgueli. It was not until the advent of books, newspapers and dictionaries that correct spelling became significant. In the 17th. Century even William Shakespeare, who had more practice than most, spelt his own surname in at least eight different ways!

“In ancient documents, Kidwelly was spelt Cadwely, Catwelli, Kadewely, Keddewelly, Kadwelye, Kedwelle. The “Cat” in “Catwelli” may, however, have just been a misunderstanding about the origin of the word – some even believe that Kidwelly was named after a gentleman named Cattas, whose habits included sleeping in an oak tree in the vicinity!

“Others will affirm that the Town’s mascot was originally an otter. Otters were frequently seen on the river banks surrounding Kidwelly and indeed, one is depicted in a carved memorial in St. Mary’s churchyard. Those who believe the Cat to be the true emblem of Kidwelly, will tell you that the black cat was the first creature seen alive after the great plague hit the town. It was therefore honoured as a symbol of salvation and deliverance and subsequently used as Kidwelly’s heraldic symbol.”

So, the black cat is important to Kidwelly!

To see Ioan’s programme, go to:-

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04lpbn1

Lucy does the Glorious Revolution

lucy-in-armour

Did anyone watch the second episode of Lucy Worsley’s fib-busting series last night? I didn’t quite make it to the end because I was so tired, but saw enough to understand that she did to James VII/II exactly what she did with Richard III. By that I mean she concentrated on the deeds/misdeeds of the winning side. Like Richard, James II became no clearer as a man and king as the programme progressed. James was Catholic and “unpopular in a Protestant country”. Full stop.

We were shown the letter from a handful of peers that “invited” William III to visit Britain and some Dutch archivists explained how it would aid his campaign against Louis XIV, another Catholic. Lucy explained just how laughably improbable the “warming pan” stories were and how James Francis Edward’s birth would stop the Catholic monarchy from just dying out when his father passed away, as he did within thirteen years of his dethronement. William’s propaganda emphasised that his coup, from his landing at Brixham, was bloodless. This was true in England but not in Scotland and Ireland, where James and his supporters fought back, as you can see here.

Lucy was as watchable as ever, cheeky and entertaining. And when she was dressed up, she was delightfully sleek. I continue to love whatever she does.

You can read about this second episode in the series here.

How to build a medieval castle….

secrets-of-the-castle

If you have not seen the BBC documentary series “Secrets of the Castle”, please give it a whirl. It is about a 20-year project in Burgundy to build/rebuild a medieval castle, using all the materials and skills that would have been available to the original castle-builders. It is being repeated on the Yesterday channel at the moment.

Some of the techniques are absolutely astonishing. The human treadmill on top of a tower raises enormous weights of stone. Ingenious. Many details of medieval life are brought vividly to life, including the women’s tasks in the home. The cooking is simple but nourishing.  Thoroughly recommended viewing for anyone interested in those centuries.

Gloves? Or bare hands….?

enforcer

BBC TWO: Henry VIII’s Enforcer: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell, information concerning which will be found here.

This programme is very interesting, and I recommend it, but it’s not the content that has prompted me to write this, rather the treatment of an ancient copy of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain”.

I have commented before that some ancient books and papers are treated as if they will shatter if someone breathes upon them, while others – in this case a really old copy of Geoffrey of Monmouth – are almost manhandled. Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of the history of the church at Oxford, was, I thought, rather enthusiastically bare-handed with the precious pages.

Why no white gloves and bated breath? What, exactly, makes the difference between gloves and no gloves? It seems to me that not so long ago, they were worn every time. But not now.

Aha, puzzle no more. The British Library has already answered my question here! So many apologies to the good professor!

 

white-glove

 

George III revealed

This documentary, presented by Robert Hardman of the Daily Mail, unveils some of our longest-serving King’sgeorgeiii secrets, such as a draft abdication letter after American independence was achieved. It also discusses his health issues in greater detail. Until recently, it was thought that he suffered from porphyria, a physical disease that Mary Stuart carried to her descendants but now it appears that he was afflicted by some form of insanity and was aware of it in the early stages. Hardman tells us that George, as a prolific writer, is likely to have appreciated the many scientific and georgetechtechnological advances that followed his reign.

We are also told how, at the onset of his reign, he micro-managed his royal duties, possibly wearing out his formidable mind. Just like Henry VI, George III had an early attack, in 1782 when his favourite son died and the letter was drafted, but recovered within months, only to lose that mind irrevocably at a later stage. Fortunately, George had several adultoldgeorgeiii sons, the eldest of which could serve as Regent, whilst he stumbled around unaware, either mentally or visually, of his granddaughter Charlotte’s death in childbirth or of her cousin’s birth. At least he knew about the “discovery” of Australia.

Here  is a link to the recently released “Georgian Papers Online”, now part of the Royal Collection and here is Hardman’s original article.

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.

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