The great House of Savoy

The luxurious Savoy Hotel on the Embankment in London was constructed in the 19th century more or less where another famous house had stood until it was burnt down by a furious London mob. That house was called the Savoy too, and it was built by a man important in British history called John of Gaunt (q.v.), a son of Edward III who became Duke of Lancaster and the richest man in England. The hoi polloi burnt the Savoy to the ground because they had been told John of Gaunt was planning to take the throne from Richard II, a grandson of Edward III.

The name Savoy is ancient, and comes from an alpine area in what is now Switzerland and France. It existed from the middle part of the 11th until the 19th century under that name. (more…)

The Ist Duke of Berwick, illegitimate and Jacobite

James Fitzjames was born in 1670. His father was James II of England and VII of Scotland, younger brother of Charles II. His mother was Mrs Arabella Churchill, one of the latter James’s numerous mistresses, the Stuart brothers being highly sexed and beyond doubt very attractive to women. (more…)

Nihilism & Nihilists

A portrait of Sergei Nechaev /

A portrait of Sergei Nechaev /

These two words, plus nihilistic, are come across by history students frequently; they may know what the words means, or perhaps not. Imagine a child not yet in its teens who refuses to accept any kind of symbol of authority at home or in school: a child who will always do the opposite of what is ordered or suggested. This is nihilism.

The Nihilists rejected all authority of the State, the Church, the School or the family. Specifically, it was the doctrine of a Russian extremist revolutionary party most active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As part of their struggle against conservative elements in Russian society, the Nihilists justified any action, including extreme violence. They were concerned in making everyone else believe that ignorance and oppression could only be eliminated by radical means. (more…)

By | 2013-09-16T09:54:48+00:00 September 16th, 2013|Russian history, Today, World History|1 Comment

Poor Laws in Britain, and ‘Speenhamland’

A typical Victorian workhouse /

A typical Victorian workhouse /

The Poor Law provided during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I at the very end of the sixteenth century was still in force at the very beginning of the nineteenth century. Not much progress had been made during those three hundred years. A Poor Law is supposed to provide public relief, that is benefits paid out of the public purse to the destitute. Poor agricultural organisation and constant wars leaving thousands of out-of-work ex-soldiers ensured there were always destitute people.

In Britain parishes were made responsible for the support of the old, infirm and insane. Workhouses gave work to the workless, and were supposed to feed their otherwise helpless children. The cash necessary came from local rates and taxes, often supervised by unqualified overseers, who might succumb to temptation. (more…)

By | 2013-09-10T11:36:10+00:00 September 10th, 2013|British History, English History, Philosophy, Today|0 Comments

Fortified Homes: the castle

An interior courtyard at Berkeley /

An interior courtyard at Berkeley /

“An Englishman’s home is his castle” as the old saying has it, and the phrase implies a multitude of meanings. Castles were defendable fortified buildings, increasingly strong as the dark ages moved noisily into the middle ages. They were invariably the homes of barons, those warlike ancestors of our modern aristocrats depended on by the King to help defend the realm and himself in time of civil or national wars. As wars were a constant menace castles were continually being built by the King and his nobles. (more…)

English monarchs from the Norman Line to the Windsors

The Crown of St. Edward /

The Crown of St. Edward /

Before a Norman Duke successfully invaded England, there had been in the Danish or Viking Line six kings including the last two, Edward the Confessor (started building Westminster Abbey) and Harold II (very much a Viking, killed at the Battle of Hastings). Then it goes as follows:-

Norman Line: William the Conquerer 1066-87 – William II known as Rufus, murdered perhaps at the order of Henry I followed by Stephen and then Henry II (first of the Plantagenet dynasty, who had four sons, three of whom were revolting for one reason or other – Richard Lionheart, John and Geoffrey who was never King. After these came Henry III (1216 – 72 fifty-six years in which he did not do much for anybody including himself but was father of Edward I who did a great deal and was one of England’s greatest kings whatever Mel Gibson says. He had a son who became Edward II who did unsuitable things with male favourites such as the Despensers, ancestors of Diana, Princess of Wales, and a Gascon knight called Piers Gaveston. All three favourites were bumped off by the Barons, as was poor Edward, murdered in Berkeley Castle at the orders of his wife and Mortimer. Then came Edward III 1327 – 77, another long reign and a great King, though he was indeed the son of Edward II. After him came twenty-two years of Richard II, who started well by extinguishing the Peasants’ Revolt, but went wrong, made himself disliked by his barons, and got murdered in 1399 just in time for the – (more…)

Some more eccentricities of pronunciation

Some more eccentricities of pronunciation

Spanish television announcers are lax when it comes to telling the viewers about the films they interminably show. Perhaps they do it on purpose, though I doubt that. This might have something to do with the fact that Spain is the only Spanish-speaking nation in the world where they still dub foreign language films into Castilian. No Latin-American country does this. They use sub-titles. Someone asked a Minister in the Thirties why Spain does this. The reply was appropriate for the Thirties, but not for the Noughties and after: “If we used sub-titles the people won’t understand the film, as few can read”. Can this explanation still stand today, after decades of compulsory education? (more…)

By | 2013-08-21T16:28:38+00:00 August 21st, 2013|History of the Cinema, Humour, Today|0 Comments

‘Adiós Princesa’: a review of the book published in Spanish in 2013

I have carefully read this paperbook book of nearly 300 pages, written in Spanish. The name of the author on the front cover is David Rocasolano. He is a lawyer by profession, and if he is in truth the author of this book then I suggest he changes his profession immediately to that of professional writer. Once begun, it is impossible to put the book down, as horror after horror is exposed in readable prose, composed without mercy either for its subjects or the reader.

The whole book is dedicated to a well-planned and even better timed attack on the following: Don Juan Carlos I, King of Spain; the wife of his son Felipe, Prince of Asturias, the ‘princess’ of the title – Letizia (actually a cousin of the author); the system of protocol in Spain; the Press in Spain; most of the television and radio news programmes in Spain; one of the sisters of the King and every courtier in sight. The Prince of Asturias escapes censure. He is one of the goodfellows. The blind sister of the King also escapes, because she is a Dear Lady and not in the least snobbish. The Queen of Spain also escapes without blemish.

I do not believe for one second that David Rocasolano is the actual author of this gripping and absorbing book. No provincial lawyer without any published literature to his name can write like this. The dialogue (though there is little) is worthy of Hemingway. The planning, the use of cynicism and sarcasm, the imagery, the detail, the literary hammer blows – this is not the work of an unpractised author. Someone has been there at David’s elbow, insinuating this, suggesting that, changing this, altering that – here is a literary master at work. Sorry David, your whole family has suffered tragedy after tragedy, and you have ended by separating yourself from them, which seems the ultimate low blow. But if you really did write this book, I congratulate you, though I may not agree with the book’s general trend. As a piece of literature, the book will enter the most illustrious sections of Spanish literature. I pray that a really decent translation into English will shortly become available.

In Dumas’s series of books about D’Artagnan, someone warns the hero about Richelieu and Milady: “Do not go into unlit streets, be wary of strangers, watch your back in taverns, your very life is in danger.” Do take this as good advice, David.

By | 2013-08-13T15:43:59+00:00 August 13th, 2013|Philosophy, Spanish History, Today|0 Comments
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