On the afternoon of 7th July, 1307, the Plantagenet king of England Edward I died on his way north with a huge army. His intention had been, again, to smash the irritating and disobedient Scots. After all, he was known by his politer subjects as ‘Hammer of the Scots’. He had certainly hammered the Welsh, after many bloody battles, leading to the building of dozens of superior castles on the borders with England, and surrounding Gwynedd and most of North Wales.
He collapsed and died as his servants tried to lift him out of a bed to eat something, but had been ill for many months, and was too weak even to hault himself out of bed. Later he tried and failed to get on his faithful old warhorse, much to the latter’s astonishment. But Edward, once tall, immensely strong, with dark blond locks and a fearsome temper (Plantagenet) – was now a shattered wreck. He was sixty-eight, and his courtiers could hardly recognise the great man and monarch he had been.Continue reading →
These three sixteenth century men had a lot in common, though the first had royal blood, the second noble blood, and the third was a foreign commoner. What they had in common was Mary Queen of Scots. All four would have spectacular or gruesome ends.
The explosive end of Lord Darnley / groteskology.blogspot
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was an Anglo-Scottish aristocrat who married as her second husband the ill-fated Mary Stuart, whose first husband had been a king of France.This matrimony produced a son, the future King James VI of Scotland and First of England – founder therefore of the reigning Stuart dynasty. Darnley was tall, athletic and handsome, but weak in mind and spirit. At his marriage to Mary he was Earl of Ross and Duke of Albany, both ancient Scots titles dotted about in the works of Shakespeare. This young man quite liked his very tall wife (Mary was six feet high in her silk stockings), but then he liked all women equally, and spent much time in bedchambers other than his wife’s. He was arrogant, debauched and made a present to his wife of a venereal disease. He was, like so many ladychasers, insanely jealous, and it was his jealousy of Mary’s young Italian secretary, David Rizzio, that caused his downfall.Continue reading →
Statue of William Wallace in Aberdeen, Scotland / en.wikipedia.org
Some years ago the anglophobe film star and director Gibson made a Hollywood-backed movie called Braveheart. This tasteful work of art purports to be the story of a Scot called Wallace who led his (kilted) warriors to victory against a dastardly English king and won a major battle at Stirling in the cause of independence for Scotland from domineering, untrustworthy England. The film is so full of historical errors as to make it extremely funny, and therefore worth watching on your video machine at least once a year.
The real William Wallace was born around 1294. His was a knightly family, not a collection of crofters. Still young, he began the impossible task of gathering the Picts and Scots together – not the clans, they came later. Most northern Scots spoke Gaelic and nothing else, except some relics of their Norse ancestry. All lowland Scots spoke what went for English in the 13th century, a heady mixture of French and Saxon tongues. One thing bound these fighters together, their joint hatred of the English, and of each other. William Wallace, who was born a knight, did indeed manage this tricky task, and the English were trounced at the battle of Stirling in 1297 when William was only twenty-three.Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
The Duchess starts her third marriage / nick verreos.blogsite.com
The best known duchess in Spain, probably Europe too, has died after a long life (1926 – 2014) and a short but fatal illness. She was Cayetana, made 18th Duchess of Alba in 1954 after the death of her father the Duke. At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War the Albas had left Spain to live in London, where the Duke was Ambassador until the Treaty of Lausanne.
The new (19th) Duke of Alba /vanitatis.com
The new Duke of Alba is Carlos Fitzjames-Stuart, a prematurely white-haired, serious man, separated from his wife, is in his late fifties; he became Duke of Huescar when his mother was named duchess. The white hair might possibly have come about because Carlos’ mother led an extraordinary life, speaking several languages, being much loved by the ordinary people of Sevilla; at the slightest opportunity she would, even in her eighties, throw up her arms in flamenco movements and ululate on the pavement, observed with love by her third and last husband Alfonso Diez, and a certain gloom by her oldest son. Her first husband was another aristocrat, Luis Martínez de Irujo, with whom she had six children, all boys until the last. They are Carlos, Alfonso, Jacobo, Fernando, Cayetano and Eugenia. All have dukedoms. Cayetana had more titles than any other grand aristocratic family in Europe. This privileged position used to be held by another grand duchess, that of Medinaceli, who had more than ninety, but many were lost during the Second Republic, while others simply expired.Continue reading →
A scene from the film The Battle of Britain / omfdb.org
The Blizkrieg from Nazi Germany that opened the Second War in 1939 showed that apart from tank power, air power was a vital component of Hitler’s war efforts. Germany pounded the meagre defences of Poland from the air, breaking communications, causing death and chaos on a scale not known by the suffering Poles not even during their centuries of abuse by neighbours. Dive-bombers called Stukas were used by the Luftwaffe, and a malevolent touch was added by their fitted sirens, terrorizing populations as the bombers hurtled almost vertically down from brilliant blue skies, releasing their lethal cargo at the last moment before straightening out. Many pilots, very young and with very little experience, did not straighten out, with the result that the Stuka made a bigger hole in the earth than its bombs. The efficient and very fast Messerschmidt I09 and 110 fighters attacked the ramshackle Polish aircraft without mercy, destroying most of the aeroplanes on the ground even before the pilots could climb into them. Many of these young ill-disciplined but courageous young men escaped to England, and were to take an important part in the air Battle of Britain. Assault parachutists were dropped from heavier German aircraft – a new use of air power pioneered by the Germans and quickly copied by Germany’s enemies. Parachutists were extensively used in the attack and invasion of Crete in 1941.Continue reading →
The Grave of Louis Riel,one of the founders of Manitoba / tourismerial.com
Among the first Canadians were the oddly named Métis – having a mixture of pure Native American blood with white, mostly French and Scottish. It was a robust race of independent mien, believing themselves a separate and special people, which they were. Their culture was also a mixture of aboriginal skills and manners and customs inherited from the French.
They lived an almost nomadic life which depended greatly on buffalo hunting and the uncomplicated industries that go with it, such as the curing and selling of skins as clothing for the Canadian winter. Newly arrived settlers were put off the métis by their semi-military organisation. Immigrants learned to leave them alone.Continue reading →
The Old Library at Balliol, an Oxford college founded by the father of John Balliol / balliol.ox.ac.uk
John Balliol was born in his native Scotland around 1250, the exact year is uncertain, because of faulty records. When Margaret ‘The Maid of Norway’ died in 1290, John was a claimant to the throne, and was supported in his petition by none other than Edward I (‘Hammer of the Scots’), King of England. The reason for this was probably that another claimant was Robert Bruce, whom Edward had reasons for disapproval.
Balliol was the claimant chosen and he swore fealty to Edward both before and after his investiture at Scone in 1292. He was then forced to cancel the Treaty of Bingham (signed in 1290) with its guarantees of Scottish liberties. This reinforced his popularity with English rulers but made him unpopular with the Scots.Continue reading →
Stephen was born in or around 1097; anyway it is safe to assume his birth took place at the end of the 11th century. His mother was Adela, a daughter of William I, a.k.a. ‘The Conquerer’, and his father was Stephen, Count of Blois in France. Stephen had promised to accept a daughter of Henry I King of England as Queen of that country. She was the Empress Matilda, ‘Empress’ because she was the widow of Emperor Henry V of Germany (also known as Maud, which brings on the problems we have with confusing Maud with Maud!) Continue reading →
Only two Queens have been monarchs of Scotland, and one of them actually reigned as the official Queen of Scotland for twenty-five years before being betrayed by the Scots themselves and was finally beheaded by the English Queen Elizabeth – though she blamed her chief minister for the sad death of Mary, Queen of Scots, who had already been Queen of France too.
The other Scottish queen was known as the Maid of Norway, christened Margaret, who ‘ruled’ for only four years. She was an infant queen, granddaughter of Alexander III, and the only child of his daughter Margaret who died at birth. The father was King Erik of Norway, which explains the child’s nickname. When Alexander died in 1286, Margaret was the only direct survivor of the Scottish line of kings. The politicians betrothed her in 1289 (when she was three) to the infant Prince Edward, first Prince of Wales and son of Edward I of England, known as ‘The Hammer of the Scots’ by historians, and as ‘Longshanks’ by Mel Gibson. Luckily for the little girl she died at sea on the way from Norway to Britain at seven years of age. I say luckily because nothing was happy about the life of the young Edward (q.v.), who as Edward II made a mess of everything, married a charming French lady whose nickname (well deserved) was ‘The She-Wolf of France’; Edward preferred the social company of male favourites, and ended his life in prison, possibly murdered in a peculiarly horrible manner (sodomy by red-hot poker) as suggested by his own wife and her lover, Mortimer. In the 13th century, thrones and the nobility inspired little else but jealousy, incest, robbery and assassination. Continue reading →