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Reginald Cardinal Pole

 Reginald Pole /

Reginald Pole /

Pole is one of those ancient English surnames that appear in various forms throughout the history of the British Isles. Reginald, born 1500 rose rapidly from being an ordained priest to Cardinal, and then Archbishop of Canterbury.

He could have been archbishop and/or King, as he had a strong Yorkist claim to the monarchy through his mother, who was Countess of Salisbury. It is very easy, by the way, to confuse de la Pole with Pole, as a close blood relationship exists between these two distinguished Plantagenet families. (more…)

A Pair of Pious Popes (amended)

Pius XI /

Pius XI /

Pius XI was born in 1857 and was Pope from 1922 for eighteen years, during which he inadvertently caused the collapse of the Catholic Popular Party. He did not like the idea of mixing religion with politics anyway, and spoke out against such an idea. He saw the CPP as far too radical in its views, and forbade it utterly to form alliances with any other parties who wished to oppose the rise of Benito Mussolini. For this he was seen by all as a supporter of the Italian leader. (more…)

State theft or The Dissolution of the Monasteries

Rievaulx - 'one of the ruins that Thomas Cromwell knocked about a bit' /

Rievaulx – ‘one of the ruins that Thomas Cromwell knocked about a bit’ /

In civilized society there is a multitude of ways used by ‘the authorities’ to extract money from citizens like squeezing pips from a lemon or orange. Clever people, versed in these ways,  invent new names for new taxes every day, and equally astute parliaments in democratic countries shovel them into a hat and out roll new Acts or Orders perfectly phrased – and the citizen reaches into his fast emptying pocket to pay, again, for something he has certainly already paid for. Charging  direct tax on income, for instance, and then charging indirect tax on everything sold including services, means duplication or triplication of the same tax. As far as I know only the State of New Hampshire USA charges no income tax but maintains indirect taxation on goods and services. (more…)

The Middle Ages

Historians disagree about exact dates, but I believe it is generally accepted that the phrase ‘Middle Ages’ denotes the period in Europe from around 700 A.D. to around 1500. Before 700 were ‘The Dark Ages’ – dark in many senses but mainly because professional historians did not exist after the decline of the civilised Roman Empire in the west, and countless barbarian invasions/occupations in the 5th and 6th centuries after Christ. (more…)

The first Hanoverian King of Great Britain


The British King who spoke no English /

The British King who spoke no English /

   The Hanoverian dynasty got its name from the city of Hanover, capital of Lower Saxony in Germany. In 1658 the grand-daughter of James I of England (and VI of Scotland), and daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia, by name Sophia, married Ernst Augustus. He was the Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg, and became an Elector (Prince of the Holy Roman Empire with the right to elect the Emperor) of Germany in 1692. He took Hanover as his princely title and capital city.

It was Sophia and Ernst’s son (born 1660) who became George I, the first of the House of Hanover to be King of England (actually Great Britain and Ireland). Hanover as a territory contained important towns like Göttingen and Hildersheim. The defence of these places was to become a serious factor in British foreign policy during the eighteenth century.

So how was it that a full-blooded German ascended the throne of England?  The answer is because George’s mother Sophia and her issue were recognised as heirs to the throne by the Act of Settlement in 1701, which excluded the Roman Catholic Stuarts. George moved to England to become king in 1714 on the death of Queen Anne – herself a descendent of Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. (more…)

A Seymour and a Dudley, not exactly saints

Edward VI, sickly son of Henry VIII /

Edward VI, sickly son of Henry VIII /

Seymour (pronounced ‘Seemer’) is a name that rings bells throughout British history. There is still a Seymour Marquess of Hertford living at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire. One of the best-known from that brood of planners and plotters was Edward, Ist Earl of Hertford (pronounced ‘Harfod’) and Duke of Somerset. He was born around 1500 and managed to survive to fifty-two, something of a miracle in the sixteenth century, for reasons of health or politics. (more…)

Missing or misdirected: $13,000 million for Haiti


Only two years after the catastrophic earthquake that almost destroyed the island of Haiti, killing many (200,000 is one estimate) and leaving more homeless, it would not be incorrect to ask what has happened to the huge sums of money raised by international organisations and private donors to finance the recovery of the island. (more…)

Charles M. Talleyrand-Périgord (‘Since the masses are always eager to believe something, for their benefit nothing is so easy as to arrange the facts.’

Talleyrand /

Talleyrand /

The French statesman was born in 1754 with a club-foot, a piece of bad luck he shared with Kaiser Wilhelm II and Lord Byron. None of the three allowed their pronounced limp to impede an upwardly mobile career. Byron, a poet who loved boxing, swam the Hellespont, an act of physical courage most athletes with both feet intact would shy away from. The Kaiser thought his kingly first cousins found his limp funny and mimicked it. He was thus only too anxious to have a world war, and achieved that ambition. Charles Talleyrand found the French army closed to him, so he became a priest instead. (more…)

Knights Hospitaller & Knights Templar: the difference



   The difference is simple, and not very subtle; the Templars ceased to exist, and the Hospitallers certainly exist right now, working for the sick. Originally the latter were of a military order, the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. The name comes from the dedication to St. John the Baptist of their headquarters in Jerusalem.

These are not their only names: from 1310 they were the Knights of Rhodes, and from 1530 the Knights of Malta, but they were established themselves first in (or around) 1070 with Muslim permission, managing a hospital for sick pilgrims in Jerusalem. They only became a formal order of knights when the city fell to the first Crusaders in 1099.

They wore a black habit, with a white eight-pointed Maltese Cross. They elected a Master and under him were at first purely military, in an order which spread quickly across Europe. In questions of order and discipline they followed Augustinian rules (q.v.) and divided themselves into three classes or ranks: knights, chaplains and serving brothers.

Driven out of Jerusalem by Saladin himself they moved to Acre, from which they were expelled a century later, transferring to Cyprus. In 1310, however, they captured the island of Rhodes and remained there until 1522. Then Emperor Charles V made them a present of the island of Malta, which they had to defend by force against the Turks, but they could not deal in a similar fashion with Napoleon: by this time the Order had lost its influence and supporting voices. (more…)

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