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Britain’s Lost Battlefields (with Rob Bell)

Channel Five’s reputation for history programmes has risen greatly over the past few years. At the heart of this, first in a Great Fire of London series with Suzannah Lipscomb and the ubiquitous Dan Jones, has been the “engineering historian” Rob Bell, who has toured bridges, ships, buildings and lost railways in his own amiable, enthusiastic but authoritative style.

Now, only four days after completing series two of Britain’s Lost Railways, Bell is back, touring some of our great battlefields. The series, initially shown on 5Select, starts at Bannockburn, progresses to Hastings, Watling Street, Bosworth and Naseby, as well as Kett’s Rebellion. Perhaps the six episodes could have been shown chronologically by the battle years?

The third, fourth and fifth shows, however, do form a neat triangle in the East Midlands, if you accept the suggested location of the Battle of (the very long) Watling Street. Featuring historians such as Matthew Lewis, Julian Humphreys and Mike Ingram, the hangun (or arquebus) is described with respect to Bosworth, as is the evolution of the musket to the forms used at Naseby, together with commanders such as Fairfax and the Bohemian brothers: Rupert and Maurice.

Digging up Britain’s Past

This Channel Five documentary has just completed a second series, with Alex Langlands and Raksha Dave, late of Time Team, in place of Helen Skelton. One particular episode was about Auckland Castle, where the “Prince Bishops” of Durham have lived for centuries and where archaeology is being carried out around the building.

One of these influential Bishops was William Bek who, surprisingly for a cleric, co-commanded the English army against William Wallace at Falkirk, shortly after Wallace and Moray’s victory at Stirling Bridge. Consequently, Langlands and Dave visited a few other venues associated with the story, including those in Scotland.

The series has also covered the lost Roman town of Silchester and HMS Invincible, as well as the Catterick garrison and Sudeley Castle.

The “historically aware” Murderer (2012)

Alfred John Monson was born in 1862. His parents were Rev. Thomas Monson and Hon. Caroline Monckton, putting the first two Barons Monson and the Viscounts Galway among his close ancestors. Both of his parents were descended from Anne of Exeter through the Earls of Rutland. Monson was a confidence trickster with three small children, soon to be made bankrupt.

Cecil John Hamborough was about a decade younger, a tall non-swimmer and the son of Major Dudley Hamborough, seeking a commission in the Yorkshire Millitia. In 1891, the Major¬† hired Monson as Cecil’s tutor at six pounds a week for this purpose but the Major was having second thoughts by 1893, the year before Cecil would reach his majority. Cecil and Monson made their way to the Ardlamont estate in Argyll for the summer shooting season, together with Mrs. (Agnes Maud) Monson and Edward Davis, an associate of Monson’s. Hamborough’s life was insured in Mrs. Monson’s interest for ¬£20,000. The three men set out on Ardlamont Bay in a boat which developed an open plug-hole and sank – this was very close to the shore and Hamborough waded to dry land.

On 10 August, they walked into a dense woodland on the estate. A shot rang out and only two – Monson and Scott – emerged alive, Hamborough being found with a bullet in the head. It was not yet open season for grouse but it was for army lieutenants. Monson was arrested three weeks later although Davis (or Ted Scott or Edward Sweeney) returned to hide in the London underworld. Monson was tried and found “not proven”. Madame Tussaud’s exhibited a waxwork of Monson and he successfully sued them for libel but won only a farthing.

Given his lineage, it is highly probable that Alfred John Monson had received a classical education. He would have learned how Nero sought to murder his mother Agrippina by sinking a boat she was on. He would have learned how William II, Walter Tirel and others went into the New Forest in early August 1100, the others returning safely but the King being shot dead (with an arrow) and nobody punished. Quite apart from his desperation for money, Monson was inspired by these examples – again the drowning failed but the shooting succeeded.

We do not yet know when Alfred Monson died but he was later imprisoned for five years for fraud, whilst Agnes lived until 1942. In 2012, his twenty-eight year-old cousin Hon. Alexander Monson, son of the twelfth Baron, died in Kenya from blunt force trauma, as the result of apparent police violence.

Main source: “Murder Not Proven”, by the late Jack House, dramatised by BBC1.

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