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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.

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

 

 

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