Category Archives: English History

Henry VI of England, sad man and king

/ en wikipedia.org

/ en wikipedia.org

Henry was born in 1421, and became King of England at the age of one. He had two reigns, due to the Wars of the Roses. The first lasted from 1411 to 1461; he was noted for his piety and general air of preferring to be left out of things. He was the only son and child of a very famous warrior, Henry V, who after the Battle of Agincourt married a daughter of the French King – Catherine of Valois. This sturdy couple managed to produce only our subject, a weakly child, disposed to illnesses and madness. During his infancy and adolescence his tutor the Duke of Bedford (a younger brother of Henry V) was regent, while another uncle, Humphrey of Gloucester was Lord Protector of England. Nothing of these three redoubtable men showed in the future Henry VI. The one useful thing he managed successfully was the founding of Eton and King’s College, Cambridge.
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The English Pope

Pope Adrian at a crowning ceremony / telegraph.co.uk

Pope Adrian at a crowning ceremony / telegraph.co.uk

Strictly speaking, our title should be ‘The only English Pope’, since that is the case. There were several other leaders of the Roman Catholic church called Adrian, and this was the Fourth. He was Nicholas Breakspear, an attractive surname, and he was born in 1100. He started his career in the Church as an altar boy, and moved on to become a ‘lay brother’ but not in England. A ‘lay brother’ is a helper in the Mass, perhaps a sacristan, not yet ordained. This was in the monastery of Saint Rufus, near Avignon in France.

   It does not seem certain when he was ordained, but we do know that he was elected Abbot at St. Rufus at the age of thirty-seven, which indicates an iron will and unshakeable faith in himself, given his period in history. He was perhaps too strict a discplinarian for the other monks, because they chose to report him for his zeal in applying punishment, and he had to go to the Vatican to explain himself and his methods to the Pope there – Eugenius III. If his fellow monks had imagined Breakspear would anger the Pope, they were wrong. Not only did he explain his case, clearing away any possibility of reprobation, but he managed to acquire the esteem of Eugenio III: instead of reproving him he was made Cardinal Bishop of Albano at the age of only forty-six. Continue reading

Four illustrious Cecils

William Cecil / tudorplace.com.ar

William Cecil / tudorplace.com.ar

William Cecil was the first illustrious Cecil, men from an ordinary background who managed, by determination, hard work, guile, ambition and not a little luck to reach very near the top in English history. William worked as a young lawyer with the Dukes of Somerset and Northumberland. He was born in 1520 and was made Secretary of State at thirty. He cleverly avoided the fates of both his bosses (executed for some reason or other) and when Henry VIII’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon – Mary – became Queen he rapidly became a fair imitation of a devout Roman Catholic by conversion.

   Mary Tudor died (rather fortunate for England, for she had been Bloody) and Elizabeth her half sister, born of Anne Boleyn, became Queen. She made him her Chief Secretary of State, and for the following forty years he was her chief advisor, counsel, and loyal subject. He was also the architect of her successful reign as he kept an iron grip on the Administration, influenced the Queen’s pro-Protestant foreign policies, and got rid of the troublesome Mary Queen of Scots by getting Elizabeth to sign the essential death warrant. The Queen, as always, sat on various fences at once by using special Tudor skills of her own, and bitterly complained after the execution that William had ‘tricked her into signing’. This was the nearest that he sailed into the wind, and indeed he was banned from the Court for a while, but Elizabeth soon needed him again. Working closely with the cunning Francis Walsingham (q.v.), who ran the 16th century forerunner of the SIS, he knew all about King Philip of Spain’s intention to invade Britain, and made more than adequate preparations for the country’s defence against the Gran Armada. Continue reading

After the Abdication – HRH or not HRH?

/ Britannica.com

/ Britannica.com

The popular Prince of Wales who should have become the crowned and annointed Edward VIII (q.v.) gave up his throne because Church and State would not recognise his plan to marry a twice-divorced lady from America. As we know, the Prince married his lady from Baltimore, and abdicated as well. When all the fuss had died down in the Thirties, and the Prince became the Duke of Windsor, the question arose as to whether or not his American wife should become ‘Her Royal Highness’, as indeed her husband was HRH. Continue reading

Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey

/ onelondonone.blogspot.com

/ onelondonone.blogspot.com

The second earl was born in 1764, was elected county Member of Parliament for the whole of Northumberland when he was but twenty-two years of age, representing the Whig party dominated by Charles James Fox. A devout reformist, he presented Bills for parliamentary reform in 1793 and 1797, with the intention of demolishing the so-called ‘rotten’ boroughs: both bills were defeated. Continue reading

Like to spend the night in a Tudor castle?

West wing at Thornbury / en.wikipedia.org

West wing at Thornbury / en.wikipedia.org

Should you be touring Britain and find yourself in Gloucestershire, you might want to sleep and eat in a genuine Tudor castle at Thornbury, though it is only half-built because its inspirer and builder, 3rd Duke of Buckingham in the Stafford line, was executed before he could finish it; he had intended it to be the finest palace in England.

   Edward Stafford, like the Tudors, descended from Edward III through the Beauforts, as well as Plantagenet prince Thomas of Woodstock. One year after getting his licence to fortify his manor house and enclose a park of around 1000 acres, he evidently wished to build himself a near-regal castle-cum-palace there himself. Continue reading

The Bard in the Bible

William Tyndale's statue: he was strangled and burned at the stake, but not in England, for heresy

William Tyndale’s statue: he was strangled and burned at the stake, but not in England, for heresy

The Bard in the Bible. Here is a mystery for Shakespeare fans and inquisitive youngsters who know what the King James Version of the Bible is. Most of the translation work commissioned by James I of England and VI of Scotland was done by William Tyndale. The English language in the King James is perhaps the finest in all English literature – including the works of Shakespeare. Tyndale’s name has never been as well-known as that of the Bard, but they were near contemporaries, and Tyndale may have been responsible for the following homage, if homage it is . . . Continue reading

Oh dear, these history books . . .

Not bad for hunchbacked, lame man with a withered arm; Richard III's last cavalry charge / historyfiles.co.uk

Not bad for hunchbacked, lame man with a withered arm; Richard III’s last cavalry charge / historyfiles.co.uk

Oh dear, these history books. An online bookseller I deal with kindly sent me a copy of a ‘book of history’ published in the United States, featuring long essays on three women – Jacquetta Duchess of Bedford, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort. The writers are Philippa Gregory, a historical novelist, David Baldwin and Michael Jones, history PhDs at British universities. The men write more easily and less breathlessly than the woman, but she is the more famous writer. The book has a rather stretched title – The Women of the Cousins’ War, the Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother.

Before reading a book I admit to the habit of flipping through the pages to see the illustrations, but unfortunately my eye was drawn towards a line of writing in one of the three biographies: Henry Tudor, the line said, defeated Richard III at Bosworth in 1485. Then I was quite unable to read the book, and it joins hundreds of other regularly dusted hardbacks in my library. Why, the blogger may ask, should I not read a book because of one rather silly and uninformed line? I believe it is because if all three historians obviously agree with the line, which is manifestly untrue, chances are that the rest of the 342-page book is as irritating, not to say exasperating and infuriating, as G.B. Shaw would say. Continue reading

The Myth of King Arthur

'King Arthur' at Camelot / wrl-inc.org

‘King Arthur’ at Camelot / wrl-inc.org

The Myth of King Arthur. Thirteenth century Europe knew much of the legends of a possibly Welsh King called Arthur, who supposedly drove away Britain’s enemies, laid the laws for honour and chivalry, surrounded himself with romantically named knights at a great Round Table, and married a beautiful but unfaithful wife called Guinevere. The myth was propagated in art and literature, exciting, inspiring and entertaining men and women everywhere from Sicily to Scotland. King Edward I of England was seduced by the stories and supposed relics of the imaginary hero. Continue reading

European anti-Semitism in the 13th century

Treacherous sands and a tidal bore / en-wikipedia.org

Treacherous sands and a tidal bore / en-wikipedia.org

European Anti-Semitism in the 13th century. There can be no doubt that the thirteenth century was the most violently anti-Semitic in all the Middle Ages. Kings in Europe made similar repressive measures against their own kingdom’s Jewish communities. Frederick II made Sicilian Jews wear a blue T-shaped badge, and the men must keep their beards long; French Jews under Philip Augustus had to wear a wheel-shaped badge. English Jews wore a book-shaped yellow badge ordered by law under Edward I. Massacres, pogroms, locking into ghettoes, discriminatory laws, abuse and general persecution were rife. Yet despite this the Jews remained Europe’s accepted financial sector. This is not to say that several kings did not cast a speculative eye on Jewish wealth. Continue reading