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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.

Another DNA case

The father of James Duke of Monmouth is usually assumed to be the future Charles II, who freely acknowledged his resonsibility. There exists a scientific proof, as published on p.36 of Beauclerk-Powell and Dewar’s Royal Bastards, through Y-chromosome tests comparing Monmouth’s male line descendants the Dukes of Buccleuch with the Dukes of Grafton, St. Albans and Richmond, from Charles’ other illegitimate sons.

Charles II was, of course, not unique in his Y-chromosome. In June-August 1648, when Monmouth was probably conceived in France, he was one of three brothers with a father still alive. Charles I was a prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle and Henry Duke of Gloucester was in England so they can be eliminated as Henry was also too young. Charles I was his father’s only surviving son and James VI/I had been his father’s only child.

From the attached document, you will observe that Henry Lord Darnley had one brother, who died without issue, and that his father (Matthew, Earl of Lennox) had two other sons but one was a childless Catholic Bishop. The other son was Jean Stuart, Seigneur d’Aubigny, whose French son Esme Duke of Lennox was known as James VI/I’s “favourite”. Esme’s male line grandsons all fought for the Royalist cause and three were killed between 1642-5.

There were two others, James and Ludovic, although they were more likely to have been in England than France in summer 1648. Together with the future Kings Charles II and James II, they share a common Y-chromosome with nobody except fourth or more distant cousins. Despite James II’s reputation for promiscuity, similar to that of Charles II in many ways, this more rigorous analysis tends to support the traditional view, for once.

The document also now shows the origin of the Stewarts and how Matthew of Lennox’s Y-chromosome should have matched that of James V, before his son married that King’s daughter:
Monmouth

Is this a new Richard film? Or not…..?

Benedict Cumberbatch at Wells

http://www.blackmorevale.co.uk/Extras-sought-Somerset-appear-major-Hollywood/story-26757962-detail/story.html

http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/Long-haired-men-requested-extras-Hollywood-film/story-26744545-detail/story.html

Before you examine the above links, let me say that the following tale of woe demonstrates the hazards of taking a press article at face value. Beware of doing so, for it can lead you up the garden path. . .

Right. To the links. They require some wading through a clutter of tiresome ads, as so many sites do, but this time there is a little mystery to be found in the actual text, which is the same at both sites:-

Extras sought in Somerset to appear in ‘major Hollywood feature film’ By Blackmore Vale Magazine – posted: June 24, 2015

Men with long hair but no tattoos are needed as extras for new Hollywood film to be filmed in Wells, Somerset.

The Casting Collective has put out an appeal male and female extras to appear in what they describe as a “Major Hollywood Feature Film”.

It is unclear at this stage what the film will be called or who will be starring in it.

According to the company’s website the extras will need to be available for a costume fitting around the week commencing Monday, July 6 and one filming day around Thursday, July 16.

Men ideally need to have some length to their hair, and facial hair is sought but it is not essential. Women wishing to take part as an extra need to have natural chin length hair or longer. Extras must not have any visible tattoos, for example on the face or hands. 

Right, the next thing to point out is that the whole of this follows beneath the picture at the top of this page, i.e. of Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III in the forthcoming “Hollow Crown” series on BBC2. The inference, it seemed to me, was that the ‘major Hollywood feature film’ being filmed in Wells was perhaps about Richard III. All bells and whistles, and Hollywood pzaz! Wow!

Well, that was my initial impression. Oh, goody, thought I. A new film about Richard. However, on reading it again, for all the inclusion of the picture of Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard, there isn’t actually a connection between the BBC production and this mysterious new, unnamed movie. Unless you count filming in Wells.

So I went to the website of Casting Collective, to see what appears there. Here is the link to: http://www.castingcollective.co.uk/become-an-artiste/urgent-casting-calls#wells 

The text there is: Costume fitting around week of 6th July and one filming day around 16th July. Men ideally need to have some length to their hair, they like facial hair but it is not essential and Ladies need to have natural chin length hair or longer. No visible tattoos ie necks or hands Good rates of pay. Interested? Apply here and we will be in touch. You must be over 16, legally allowed to work in the UK with National Insurance number

The requirements for the extras suggest a historical story of some sort, but still does not actually mention Richard at all.

Finally, after more Googling, I found this utter deflater: http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/…/story…/story.html  It’s only a prequel to “Snow White and the Huntsman”! So, not even the Monmouth Rebellion (when Wells Cathedral was looted for ammunition and the battle of Sedgemoor took place on 6 July) What a let down to this hopeful Ricardian.

Thus fizzled out my brief but dazzling excursion into the realms of fantasy. But there will be a really good film about Richard. One day. I just know it!

Stephen Lark’s book on the Battle of Sedgemoor….

Stephen Lark - The Battle of Sedgemoor

The Battle of Sedgemoor 1685

by Stephen Lark

(Bretwalda Battles Book 19) [Kindle Edition]

ASIN: B00TEAO11G

Driving the M5 today, across the Somerset Levels, it is hard to imagine what the landscape used to be like, before rhynes and ditches drained much of the water. The rhynes were there in the 17th century, but they were nowhere near as efficient as they are now, and there were still wooden ‘paths’ among the reeds on the marshes. Folk used boats and skiffs a great deal, especially where the deeply channelled marshes had not surrendered to man’s attempts to drain them.

Even now, only a year or so ago, the Levels were under water for a long period. Television reporting showed film after film of the terrible scenes of prolonged flooding, and what the local people had to suffer.

So imagine having to fight a pitched battle in such surroundings. Having to not only strike down your bitter enemies, but save yourself from drowning as well.

James, 1st Duke of Monmouth, was the illegitimate (some say legitimate) son of Charles II, at whose death, the king’s brother, James II ascended the throne. James II was a Catholic in a Protestant land, and there was great resentment in a number of quarters. Monmouth—young, handsome, popular— raised a rebellion against him. After skirmishes, the two armies finally confronted each other on Sedgemoor. The conflict started in earnest on 6th July 1685. It all went wrong for Monmouth, who fled but was finally caught. He was executed on 15th July on Tower Hill, requiring a number of blows from the infamous executioner Jack Ketch to sever his head. Ketch often botched his task, so poor Monmouth suffered at his hands.

The irony of it all is that three years later, on 30th June 1688, James II was deposed in the Glorious Revolution. Perhaps, if Monmouth had waited, his claim might have been accepted. We will never know, of course, because history unfolds and there is no folding it back again and putting it in another drawer.

This book by Stephen Lark is, as always with him, exceeding interesting and well told. If you want to know the story of Monmouth and the Battle of Sedgemoor, this is an excellent place to start. Recommended.

C17 deja vu all over again

Consider the following coincidences:

1) The Mortimer-York army in 1458-60 was led by the Duke of York, two sons, a brother-in-law and a nephew. Charles I’s principal commanders were himself, two sons and two nephews.
2) Richard of York had four healthy sons, one named after himself who became King. Charles I had three healthy sons, one of whom bore his own name and eventually succeeded him.
3) Richard III was crowned because his nephews (and nieces) were illegitimate, as was James VII/II.
4) Henry of Buckingham’s revolt was apparently coordinated with that of his cousin, Henry “Tudor”, as was James of Monmouth’s with the Earl of Argyll.
5) “Tudor” sought to land in Dorset, which Monmouth actually did.
6) Autumn 1483 and summer 1685 were both exceptionally wet, hindering the revolts.
7) Buckingham and Monmouth both went into hiding but were eventually captured.

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