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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.

The Hundred Years’ Grudge?

William Catesby, a Northamptonshire lawyer, was one of only three people executed in the aftermath of Bosworth, the others being a West Country father and son. From this and other circumstantial evidence, we are inexorably drawn to the conclusion that this happened because he was the only surviving layman who knew the details of Edward IV’s bigamy. In this respect at least, by not executing members of the clergy, Henry VII conducted himself as had his Yorkist and Plantagenet predecessors but not as his descendents were to act.

A hundred and twenty years later, his descendant Robert (Robin) Catesby was one of the ringleaders of the “Gunpowder Plot” and was shot dead, resisting arrest, at Holbeche House in Staffordshire, just three days after the Plot had been discovered. An ardent Catholic recusant, he had already survived participating in the Essex Rebellion of 1601.

As you can see here (Catesbys2), the family’s ancestors can be traced back to another William, who died in 1383. From 1375 until 1605, with a short interruption, they lived at the Manor House, Ashby St. Ledgers.

To what extent were the actions of the younger Catesby influenced by his ancestor’s fate?

To answer a visitors’ question:

We have had a few views recently, asking “why was arthur pole executed?”. Well, we don’t think he was.

There were several Arthur Poles:
1) The first (Sir Arthur, 1502-35) was probably the youngest son of the Countess of Salisbury but there are no suggestions that he died from other than natural causes.
2) The second (1531-70), son of Sir Geoffrey of Lordington and nephew of the above, was involved in plots, possibly encompassing Mary Stuart, early in Elizabeth I’s reign but was merely imprisoned in the Tower, where he died. His brother Edmund also died in the Tower that year.
3) The third (c.1575-75), Sir Geoffrey’s great-grandson was assassinated at the Orsini Palace in early 1605, as was his brother Geoffrey in 1619. These may have been the result of coincidental robberies but we cannot quite exclude security service involvement, with the “Gunpowder Plot” being planned at the time of Arthur’s death.

Robert Cecil–Was he Shakespeare’s Real Richard III?

Robert Cecil—Was He Shakespeare’s Real Richard?

It is quite astounding that many traditionalists still trot out the old ‘Shakespeare was right’ trope when referring to Richard III, even though more statements in his famous depiction have been proved to be wrong than ‘right’ in regards to this maligned king.
Shakespeare was, of course, a dramatist, a writer of fiction, and his work should have no more significance as a historical document than that of any fiction writer, even if he was using a historical basis for his creations (as many authors do, with varying degrees of success!)
Indeed, it seems that his character of Richard III may have had only a partial relationship to the actual man his play purported to be about, although this is often overlooked as if this author was some kind of top modern journalist or historian and not merely writing to entertain.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays, however, are known to have some grounding in reality, but not so much in regards to the historical figures he wrote about, but to the leading lights of his own time. Frequently there is a political basis (and bias) disguised within the context of his fiction. The play Richard III is no exception, and the main target of the Bard’s vitriol may well not be the historical Richard, but the powerful and devious Elizabethan politician Robert Cecil.
Cecil was the son of the great statesman William Cecil, who lived in the palatial Burghley House outside the town of Stamford in Lincolnshire. He had a Cambridge education and became a powerful statesman himself in the reigns of both Elizabeth I and James I. Robert Cecil was also known to have clearly noticeable kyphosis, possibly since birth or early infancy.
His physical description in 1588 is described in Motley’s History of the Netherlands:

“A slight, crooked, hump-backed young gentleman, dwarfish in stature, but with a face not irregular in feature, and thoughtful and subtle in expression, with reddish hair, a thin tawny beard, and large, pathetic, greenish-coloured eyes, with a mind and manners already trained to courts and cabinets, and with a disposition almost ingenuous, as compared to the massive dissimulation with which it was to be contrasted, and with what was, in aftertimes, to constitute a portion of his own character…”

Now, does this not sound more ‘Richard III’ than Richard himself, whose only mentioned ‘deformity’ (and that not written about till after his death) was a raised right shoulder?
So, why would Shakespeare wish to slander Robert Cecil? It seems like Shakespeare’s two most famous patrons, Essex and Southampton, were the arch-enemies of Cecil, so it would be politic of him to write in the ruthless character that these powerful lords would recognise and appreciate, without openly damning the man who Elizabeth I called ‘my little Imp’ or ‘my elf.’ The man who was Secretary of State and one of the most powerful personages in the realm.
Additionally, Cecil may have ordered the murder of Shakespeare’s very first patron, Ferdinando Stanley, whose mother was heiress presumptive to Elizabeth I. Stanley of course was a descendant of those Stanleys, and also maternally of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. He appears to have been poisoned; his body giving off such an unnatural reek that even months after his death, no family members could bear to approach his crypt. There is also a line of thought that Robert Cecil was heavily involved in the Gunpowder plot, having black-mailed Robert Catesby (yes, a descendant of that Catesby too) into proceeding with the fatal plot; Cecil’s intent was to inflame the public so that he could pass a series of anti-Catholic bills.
A devious man and with the physical attributes of Shakespeare’s character, Cecil may well be the ‘Real Richard III.’

sources: The Assassination of Shakespeare’s Patron: Investigating the Death of the Fifth Earl of Derby (2nd Edition) by Leo Daugherty
British History-John Simkin.

The four Geoffrey Poles

The first of these was Welsh, a potential descendant of the princes of Powys who died in c. 1479 (1). He married Edith St. John, half-sister of the younger Margaret Beaufort and they had one son (Richard) and possibly a daughter (Eleanor), although the latter could have been his daughter by Bona Danvers. Richard was a half-cousin of Henry VII and was knighted for his service during and after the battle of Stoke. He married Margaret, daughter of the Duke of Clarence, by which he had five or six children.

The second (2) was Sir Richard and Lady Margaret’s youngest son, ie the grandson of the first, who lived at Lordingham in Sussex. His elder brothers were Henry (Baron Montagu), Reginald (later Cardinal Pole) and Sir Arthur. He married Constance Pakenham, whose father previously owned Lordingham. Reginald, in exile, protested at Henry VIII’s break from Rome and self-pronounced annulment of his first “marriage”. He may have plotted with Montagu and Sir Geoffrey – either way both were arrested. Sir Geoffrey’s servants were threatened with torture and he gave evidence against Montagu, who was executed in January 1539. Sir Geoffrey, reckoned to be insane, retired to his estates and then to exile. He returned on Mary’s accession and died in November 1558, the same month as Reginald.

The third was Sir Geoffrey of Lordingham’s son (c.1546-91), one of nine children, married to Catherine Dutton. With his brother (Arthur), he was involved in the 1562 Fortescue plot against Elizabeth. Both were imprisoned and Arthur died in the Tower about a decade later. Geoffrey may have been released, to die in Antwerp.

The fourth was the son of the third. Born in c. 1577, he was assassinated in the Farnese palace in Rome during 1619 as the last of his male line (3). His brother Arthur had suffered the same fate in 1605. As members of an English Catholic family in continental exile, it is possible that Arthur’s death was connected to the Gunpowder Plot that was attempted later that year. Was there involvement of intelligence agents that James I had inherited?

(1) http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22451/75344?back=,22447,22451

(2) http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22447/22447?back=,22447,22451,22451

(3) http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/POLE.htm#Geoffrey%20POLE%20of%20Lordington1

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