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Field Marshal Montgomery (‘Monty’)

In practice, the nickname or epithet ‘Monty’ was not used when addressing Bernard Law Montgomery, except possibly by the few other soldiers senior to him in rank, and even then, with caution. He was born in 1887, and became a middle-sized, clip-toned, fiery exponent of the philosophy that insists that anything will be achieved by will-power. Montgomery rose so fast after leaving Sandhurst that he was appointed Lt. General, commander of the British Eighth Army in North Africa in August, 1942. He was a greyhound-like fifty-five.

Montgomery found his troops fed up, dispirited, low in morale. He adopted slightly unmilitary dress, favouring light fawn trousers of decidedly military cut, with a grey pullover peeping below a standard battle dress jacket. On his head he wore a distinctly peculiar beret, more like a Basque farmer’s headgear than a British general’s. On it he wore not one cap badge but two or perhaps three. The men loved it. He used to give them what he called ‘pep-talks’ which enthused them. (more…)

Burke, politician, essayist & long-lasting influence

Edmund Burke was born in Dublin in 1729. Educated in this city, it was not long before he quit ‘the bogs of Ireland’ and moved to London, where he got the job of being private secretary to Lord Rockingham in 1765, when Burke was 36. So far so slow, but the Irishman never wasted a moment of his long apprenticeship with Rockingham, which lasted until the latter’s death in 1872. (more…)

Victoria, the Queen Empress

I am lucky enough to have a wife who found an almost complete collection of early Victorian lithographs in a back street of Lymington. They are dated and signed by the lithographer, and the date is 1840. The series starts with William Duke of Normandy and First of England, and ends with rather a pretty portrait of a sad-looking girl. A guest saw this and exclaimed, “This cannot be Queen Victoria you fool! Much too young; she was an old, fat woman with a disagreeable expression.” So much for the study of history; the lithograph was made just three years after Victoria became queen in 1837 at the age of nineteen. (more…)

Thomas Cromwell: different opinions

Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell

This early sixteenth century politician has had a mostly stinking press since his execution at the order of his master Henry VIII. In the 1960s BBC TV serial The Six Wives of Henry VIII Cromwell is played masterfully by Wolfe Morris as a wicked and unscrupulous schemer, of sinister mien, probably troubled by evil spirits. In the splendid film written by Robert Bolt called A Man for all Seasons the part of Cromwell is acted, again with consummate mastery, by Leo McKern. (more…)

The talented Mr. Rich

Not only did Henry VIII spend (and mostly waste) the vast fortunes accumulated by his father the first Tudor, in his youthful desire to be the king of kings in Europe; he also wasted the experience and talent of his best courtiers and advisers. They were men of varied skills, educated in a time when many could not read, ambitious yes, cruel and unjust yes, but they lived and died in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, when men’s lives could easily expire, as Shakespeare says, before the flowers in their caps. Henry VIII killed Thomas More, The Earl of Surrey, Edmund Dudley, Bishop Fisher, Thomas Cromwell and Cardinal Wolsey, though the last-named died of natural causes on his way to execution.

One such able-minded and gifted courtier who survived the tyrant king was a young man, son of a wealthy London draper, some twenty years younger than Thomas More. He was Richard Rich; the very talented Mr. Rich. His family were neighbours of the Mores, and the future saint knew Richard from his babyhood: he had no illusions about him. (more…)

The ancient game of football

In the first twenty minutes or so of a foolish movie called First Knight, cinemagoers were treated to the Hollywood spectacle of a young and beautiful Lady of the Manor playing football with the burly hoi-polloi of her village. The scene was set in the twelfth century. It would not occur to the American writers and the director of this film that no 12th century castle-dweller would get within smelling distance of the peasantry, let alone play football with them.

The game itself, however, is another thing. I am not sure why the name ‘soccer’ was imposed on football, and I am sure I will be told – but a distinction had to be made when American Football, a variety of rugby, became popular in the United States. English-style football was replaced by soccer. (more…)

The Tudors

I do not refer to the hideous filmed television series of the same name, designed more as pornography for sexually deprived viewers than students of England’s history. I refer to a family of minor Welsh gentry, smallholders in the North of that sad country, one of whose male members managed to marry a French girl, the widow of a Plantagenet king.

The King, Henry V, died young after winning the crucial battle against the French at Agincourt. He had defeated and routed the Dauphin, whose father Charles VI gave the victor his daughter Catherine of Valois in marriage. When she was widowed, this Catherine fell in with one Owen Tudor – and married him. He had his head cut off in 1461 but not before siring  Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond. He in turn took as his second wife Margaret Beaufort. This is where the trouble started. (more…)

Transportation & the penal Settlements

At the end of the sixteenth century English prisons were showing signs of collapse. Thanks to absolute monarchs like Henry VIII, plus the warring sections of the Church, plus the sheer volume of petty crime in rural and urban districts, not enough gaols could be found to ‘house’ the criminal element, at least half of which was not criminal at all, but had crossed the wrong person.

Transportation was introduced as a means of banishing from Britain convicted felons guilty of most ‘petty’ offences, which could mean anything from stealing a loaf of bread or tearing down a fence put up by a landowner. The new colonies in America were considered ideal and a suitably long way from the motherland, and organised transportation to America started in 1597 and continued through the 17th and 18th century, until stopped by the American Revolution or War of Independence. Naturally the established and prospering settlers in the thirteen colonies did not wish to see convicted criminals (who could be of any age or sex) in their settlements. (more…)

Quotable quotes from Winston Churchill (1864-1965, edited)

He is one of those orators of whom it was well said, ‘Before they get up, they do not know what they are going to say; when they are speaking, they do not know what they are saying; and when they have sat down, they do not know what they have said’. To the House of Commons, February, 1906.

I remember that as a child I was taken to the circus, which contained an exhibition of freaks and monsters. The one I most desired to see was called ‘The Boneless Wonder’ My parents judged that the spectacle would be too revolting for my youthful eyes; I have waited fifty years to see the boneless wonder sitting on the Treasury bench. To the House of Commons, January 1931, referring to Mr Ramsay Macdonald. (more…)

The Valois of France

The Valois of France

France was ruled by the Valois Dynasty from the accession of Philip VI (Count of Valois, 1328) to the death of Henry III in 1589. Two hundred and sixty-one years of almost constant warfare. The Valois kings could not trust their dastardly cousins the English, but founded a tradition of trusting ( and funding) the Scots.

The succession was kept in the direct male line from the fourteenth century until the Orléans branch (q.v.) put the French crown on the head of their Louis XII in 1498. Something then went badly wrong, for the last three Valois monarchs, Francis II (died 1560), Charles IX (died 1574) and Henry III (died 1589) had no legitimate children. The Valois were replaced by the Bourbons, first king Henry IV –  of no blessed memory. (more…)

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