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About Dean Swift

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

A seventeenth century diarist – Samuel Pepys

/ en.wikipedia.org

/ en.wikipedia.org

History too is re-cycled, like glass, water, paper and other essenials. A history book is nothing more than a re-thinking, in some cases revising as well, of what an earlier historian wrote in another book. What happened in the world ten thousand years ago on a certain day is History, but then what happened in our world yesterday is History too. Historians have always relied on contempories who were there, in a great battle for instance, survived injured or whole, and wrote about that battle as soon as they could. This particular piece of history might be heard in the form of a ballad, or published as writing, or become a yarn told in taverns. In a recent very serious case, England discovered that their teachers, and their teachers’ teachers, and their teachers’ teachers, relying on published history texts, have been stating untruths for nearly five hundred years. This is the case of King Richard III, last of the Plantagenets, who died on a battlefield. He was everybody’s wicked uncle, a serial murderer, poisoner of his own wife, assassin of his own brother etc. etc since 1485 because the contemporary historians said so. Though it was mostly mythical, it was taught as fact in schools and colleges. Luckily, the very finest texts that can be used by historians, if they have been preserved well, are diaries. Obviously they were written by first-hand witnesses, though many have been embellished, as a diarist’s wont. It was a diarist, a foreigner whose English was questionable, called Polydore Vergil, who wrote most of the lies about Richard. Another contemporary diarist was Thomas More, an official and well paid Tudor historian, who wrote distatefully about Richard because it suited his book to do so. It was pure propaganda, but it kept More’s head on his shoulders – even if only for a while.

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) is probably the most famous and quoted (and misquoted) diarist in world history. He was nothing more than an Admiralty clerk, who rose after the Restoration of Charles II in the ever-growing British Navy. He became Admiralty Secretary in 1672 when he was thirty-nine. Then he lost his job because some imp accused him of involvement in The Popish Plot (1679). It was nonsense, and he was re-instated in 1684. Meanwhile however, he was keeping a diary which became internationally celebrated, running from January, 1660 to May, 1669. It is fascinating because it provides an intimate picture of everyday personal life (Pepys was exceptionately fond of buxom, pretty, large women), court intrigue (the merriest of melancholic monarchs, Charles II, was on the throne), and naval administration. His account of three national disasters, The Great Plague of 1665/66, the Great Fire of London (1666) that followed, and the impertinent but courageous sailing up the Thames Estuary and river itself of the Dutch war fleet and the damage it did – have been quoted and used by historians ever since. It should be noted that these diaries were written in code which was not de-coded until 1825, one hundred and twenty-two years after Pepys’ death at the age of seventy. (more…)

Some ineffectual prime ministers

Britain has had some seventy-five prime ministers since the year 1721. Many in the earlier days came from the higher aristocracy, were landed and naturally unpaid. Many, but by no means all, had been to schools like Eton, Harrow and Winchester, though mainly Eton. The last senior aristocrat to be PM was the Marquess of Salisbury (PM 1895 – 1902). One man was PM no less than four times – William E. Gladstone ( PM 1868 – 74, 1880 – 85, 1886 and 1892 – 94). Despite being middle class, Scottish and representing the Labour Party, Ramsay Macdonald was prime minister three times (PM 1924, 1929 – 31, 1931 – 35). No Labour prime minister in the 20th or 21st century has been genuinely working class, though one (Gordon Brown) was a son of the manse, and knew what being poor was like. Tony Blair was of much higher class, though a Labourite, than Conservative John Major. Around twenty-five PMs have been hereditary dukes, marquesses, earls or viscounts. In the 20th century one Scottish earl renounced his earldom in order to become prime minister (14th Earl of Home, PM 1963/64 as Alec Douglas-Home). One Anglo/Scottish/American prime minister became an earl (of Stockton) when he retired from politics (Harold Macmillan PM 1957 – 63). Margaret Thatcher (Cons. PM 1979 – 90) and Harold Wilson (Lab. PM 1964 – 70 and 1974 -76) were educated at grammar schools before this excellent educational system was destroyed by legislation. Here we mention three somewhat ineffectual prime ministers from different periods in British history. (more…)

By | 2015-07-05T12:27:01+00:00 July 5th, 2015|British History, English History|0 Comments

Further thoughts on John of Gaunt & his son Henry Bolingbroke

The old Palace of the Savoy / freegaes.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com

The old Palace of the Savoy / freegaes.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com

In early February, 1399, John of Gaunt died in Leicester. He was fifty-eight years old – not a bad age-scale for the fourteenth century. His body was brought for burial at the old St. Paul’s church in London, the mourners dressed in black. King Richard II had been to see his old councillor on his deathbed, who warned him against lechery.

John was the third son of the great Plantagenet King Edward III. The son and heir was Edward the Black Prince, black armour, black humours, fabulous in battle. The second son was Lionel of Clarence, who had died in 1368. John had first married Blanche, only daughter of the Earl, then first Duke of Lancaster, Henry Grosmont. Grosmont was extremely rich, and Blanche had inherited land, farms and castles spread across medieval England. Through marriage, John became the first (Plantagenet) Duke of Lancaster and whatever was Blanche’s became his. Blanche died in the same year as brother Lionel of Clarence, providing the opportunity for John to marry Constance (Constanza) of Castile in Spain. John, who was son of kings and father of them too, had no kingdom, and thought that he might, through diplomacy or warfare or both become King of Castile (Castilla) too. But Constance died in 1394, so John married his mistress of many years – Catherine Swynford – with a quiverful of illegitimate children whom he intended to make legitimate. When this was done the children became John, Henry, Thomas and John Beaufort. They were all of the House of Lancaster, and from them descend the ducal line of Beaufort, still very much in existence now. The first, John Earl of Somerset, was great-grandfather to the horrible first Tudor, Henry VII, through his mother Margaret Beaufort. (more…)

Further thoughts on Edward I of England

Artist's impression of King Edward / genial.net

Artist’s impression of King Edward / genial.net

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. (more…)

An infamous trio, Darnley, Bothwell & Rizzio

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

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. (more…)

Further thoughts on John I

Angry John signs while elderly Marshal supervises / britishromanticism.wikispaces

Angry John signs while elderly Marshal supervises / britishromanticism.wikispaces

King John has the worst reputation of any English king, and there is plenty of competition. He was a crooked legislator, greedy, consumed with ambition of the despicable kind; he is proved to have murdered his nephew Arthur (son of Geoffrey) with his own hands in the boy’s prison cell. The boy was still in his teens, and after strangling him John tied a stone to the body and threw it in the River Seine. He brought constitutional crisis to England before and during his reign. Robin Hood was a mythical figure, but it is no coincidence that stories about the legendary outlaw proliferated during the reign of King John. (more…)

By | 2015-06-22T10:09:40+00:00 June 22nd, 2015|British History, English History, French History|0 Comments

The father of Winston

Lord Randolph Churchill /lifedaily.com

Lord Randolph Churchill /lifedaily.com

Few people have any other mind’s eye image of Winston Churchill than that of a very old man, with a big cigar and perhaps an even bigger ego.

Young Winston / winston churchillfoundation.org

Young Winston / winston churchillfoundation.org

But Winston too had a father, and not an insignificant one either. He was Lord Randolph Henry Spencer, third son of the Duke of Marlborough, who lived in the great palace of Blenheim, given to the family ‘by a grateful nation’ of the first Duke, with grateful thanks for his outstanding military qualities, shown across Europe in battles at Donnauwórth, Blenheim, Ramillies, and Oudenarde. John Churchill won all these, after defeated the rebellious bastard son of Charles II – The Duke of Monmouth. He had a split personality too, which he demonstrated by betraying his one-time friend, the brother of King Charles II – James II. It was Marlborough and others who orchestrated the de-throning and voluntary banishment of James, who had pronounced Catholic tendencies disliked by Marborough and other magnates. (more…)

Regicides, family murders & mysteries

The regiside of King Charles I / lookandlearn.com

The regicide of King Charles I / lookandlearn.com

Regicide, or the killing of a reigning monarch by his own people has always been believed (though not by republicans) to be among the worst of all crimes. In British history the best known regicide is that of Charles I: there are other not so celebrated perhaps, but regicides nonetheless. Murders committed within the royal family itself are also numerous. Mysteries never yet solved abound too. Here is an easily remembered account of these criminal actions.

Norman Dynasty

William II (Rufus) Family murder and mystery: The unpopular king, a son of William I the Conquerer was fatally shot with an arrow while hunting in the south of England in the year 1100. He was around 44 years old, and was succeeded by Henry I (his brother) who may or may not have arranged the killing. Henry reigned for 35 years.

Angevins

King John, an immensely unpopular man and king, murdered by strangulation his own nephew Arthur, imprisoned by him, probably in Calais.

Plantagenet

Edward II was murdered in Berkeley Castle, Gloucs, by order of his own wife, known as ‘the she-wolf of France’ and her lover, Mortimer, who had his eye on the throne. It was September, 1327. Tradition has it that red-hot pokers were introduced into the king’s body via the anus and rectum, using a horn funnel so that no marks of violence could be seen on the body after death. Mortimer was foiled by Edward’s eighteen-year old son, who became King Edward III and reigned well for fifty years. Mortimer was executed at his order, and he sent his mother the she-wolf to a nunnery which she was not allowed to leave.

Richard II was born in 1367, and deposed in September, 1399. Five months later he was murdered in prison by order of Bolingbroke, who had usurped his throne and become King Henry IV (‘Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’ William Shakespeare).

Henry VI founder of Eton and Kings College. Weak, often ill and semi-deranged, he was the son of popular Henry V (winner at Agincourt). He was deposed in March, 1461 during the Wars of the Roses, restored to the throne in 1470 as the battles between York and Lancaster raged, deposed again in April, 1471, and finally disposed of in prison in May of that year, presumably by order of the new king, Yorkist usurper Edward IV. Henry VI was the last Lancastrian king.

Edward V was born, a son of Edward IV in 1470. He actually became a very young king on the early death of his father. He was shut in the Tower of London accompanied by his younger brother the Duke of York, by order of king Richard III, who was their uncle. Richard usurped the throne, and the two young boys never left the Tower. Londoners believed Richard had had them murdered, but there is no evidence. The boys had been declared officially illegitimate, and could therefore pose no threat to Richard’s kingship. Two other men, the Duke of Buckingham, a royal cousin, and Henry Tudor himself, stand out as more likely suspects, for a multitude of reasons and motives revealed in countless scholarly books.

Richard III was killed on the battlefield by soldiers supposedly serving him. Kings killed in battle by the common soldiery are not seen as the subject of regicide.

Tudor

Henry VIII judicially murdered two of his wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, but these unfortunate women are only two in a very long list of those who died because they offended Henry or disagreed with him. He was about to kill Cardinal Wolsey, and actually executed Thomas Cromwell, both men having served him faithfully and well.

Lady Jane Grey was born in 1537, promoted as queen by a relative, a Dudley Duke of Northumberland, acceded in 1553, and executed with her teenaged husband Guildford at the order of Mary I (a Tudor) after a reign so brief it was hardly noticeable.

Elizabeth I last of the Tudors, signed the death warrant of her cousin Mary Queen of France and Scotland, whom she had imprisoned. She later claimed that she had been pressured to do so by her courtiers. This is not regicide as such, merely a significant murder in the family.

Stuart

Charles I, son of James I of England and IV of Scotland, declared war on his own parliament, causing the English Civil War. A gentle, indecisive man, his is the best-known regicide in British history. He was beheaded in 1649 on a cold, blustery day, and it is said that a loud groan from the huge crowd was heard all round Whitehall. He died at the behest of ‘the Regicides’, some, but not all of whom would pay with their lives for their signatures on the death warrant, at the Restoration of Charles’ son, king Charles II.

By | 2015-06-10T11:03:31+00:00 June 10th, 2015|British History|0 Comments

More thoughts on that Yalta Conference

The 'Big Three' from l. to r. 'Exhausted', 'Dying', and 'Exuberant' / spartacus.educational.com

The ‘Big Three’ from l. to r. ‘Exhausted’, ‘Dying’, and ‘Exuberant’ / spartacus.educational.com

In February, 1945, the second ‘Big Three’ conference took place at Yalta in the Crimea. The first had been in Teheran in Persia. What was agreed at Yalta changed the face of Europe, prepared the ground for the Cold War, and put millions of ordinary people into a condition of near-slavery. The three major protagonists were the respective leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and Russia – Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. The first was dying slowly but certainly, the second was old and exhausted, and the third was younger, fitter, and unable to see any point of view that was not his. He was also a fully-qualified dictator. (more…)

What was the ‘White Australia Policy’?

William Hughes with some fellow White Australians / smh.com.au

William Hughes with some fellow White Australians / smh.com.au

Towards the end of the Victorian era, when neither statesmen or dustmen had yet heard of political correctitude, Australia began the unenviable task of preventing the immigration of non-Europeans. In the 1850s/1860s waves of Chinese and South Pacific islanders had come to Australia because of a dearth of labour in the Queensland sugar farms, but trade unions had been invented in the mother country, and were becoming rife in the Dominions too. They objected, as dirt cheap labour was seen as a threat to their members’ living standards. (more…)

By | 2015-06-03T09:46:52+00:00 June 3rd, 2015|A history of Australia|0 Comments
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