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‘Lecturas’ puts its foot in it again

This is a pinkish Spanish glossy magazine published with great success throughout Spain. It mostly deals with ‘celebrities’ whatever they are; it is not in my list of great reads. In April of this year that sheet chose to congratulate the Queen of England on her eighty-seventh birthday, running seven colour photographs of Elizabeth II taken at various ages. There was a bit of text too, and in its single paragraph Lecturas managed to place its foot firmly in its own gob as per usual. (more…)

The father of Winston

Lord Randolph / brooklyneagle.com

Lord Randolph / brooklyneagle.com

Lord Randolph H.S. Churchill was born in 1849, the third son of the then Duke of Marlborough. In character more similar to his grandson Randolph than his son Winston, he got into the House of Commons for the family borough (and almost fief) of Woodstock in 1874. I say ‘fief’ because near Woodstock stands Blenheim Palace, presented to John Churchill Ist Duke of Marlborough by a grateful Queen and Nation after his military successes. The building was designed by a retired playwright called John Vanbrugh, and the massive park was designed by Vanbrugh himself aided by Queen Anne’s gardener Henry Wise, with later additions by ‘Capability’ Brown. (more…)

The dashing Prince Rupert (amended)

Prince Rupert of the Rhine / ntprints.com

Prince Rupert of the Rhine / ntprints.com

He might have been invented by Daphne du Maurier or Rafael Sabatini. He was outlandishly handsome and a lover of women; he was an aristocrat of the best blood, which he shed from other men’s veins in floods, as he was a soldier. He lived to old age and died in his bed. (more…)

The Empress Matilda a.k.a. Maud

Matilda (or Maud) / simple.wikipedia.org

Matilda (or Maud) / simple.wikipedia.org

Even the best examinees in the History papers can become mixed up because of Empress Matilda. She was the English princess, daughter of Henry I, his only legitimate child, and named his heir (there being no Salic Law in England in 1127). She was called ‘Empress’ because she married the Emperor of Germany.

Henry died after a reign lasting thirty-five years and Matilda should have become Queen but her relative Stephen, a grandson of William I (‘the Conquerer’) seized the throne. Stephen was married to a girl with the popular but confusing name of Matilda. Henry I’s first wife was also called Matilda. Stephen had a daughter called Maud, but she was drowned in The White Ship incident; also drowned in this accident was William the Atheling, heir to Henry I – and married to another girl called Matilda! (more…)

The Merchant Adventurers

MerchantThis early fifteenth century name was coined to cover English merchants engaged in the export/import trade. The first of these was made official in 1407. After this, internationally-based English companies flourished throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The idea derived from a haphazard collection of merchants in the major British ports, mostly selling wool and cloth to the continent of Europe, but specializing in business with Antwerp in the Netherlands. Some of these acquired royal charters in ports like Bristol (1467) and the Port of London (1505) as well as settlements (which would eventually transform themselves into Consulates) in the foreign ports, always concentrating on business.

With this kind of organization at full speed, the merchants became dominant in foreign trade, which did nothing to increase their popularity or that of England. Their rivals were ousted, especially merchants in the Hanseatic League (Cologne, Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen etc.). The Merchant Adventurers’ ships began arming themselves with cannon, and arming the sailors themselves. In the reign of monarchs such as Elizabeth I, some other European states started calling the Merchant Adventurers by a different name – pirates. It is certainly accepted that the Queen encouraged her Adventurers to be adventurous, and this sometimes involved armed attacks on foreign ports, especially Spanish ones.

In 1611 the Merchants made Hamburg their centre of operations, but their base had always been London. They were the forerunners of the great chartered companies, but declined in importance in the eighteenth century.

State theft or The Dissolution of the Monasteries

Rievaulx - 'one of the ruins that Thomas Cromwell knocked about a bit' / walkingenglishman.com

Rievaulx – ‘one of the ruins that Thomas Cromwell knocked about a bit’ / walkingenglishman.com

In civilized society there is a multitude of ways used by ‘the authorities’ to extract money from citizens like squeezing pips from a lemon or orange. Clever people, versed in these ways,  invent new names for new taxes every day, and equally astute parliaments in democratic countries shovel them into a hat and out roll new Acts or Orders perfectly phrased – and the citizen reaches into his fast emptying pocket to pay, again, for something he has certainly already paid for. Charging  direct tax on income, for instance, and then charging indirect tax on everything sold including services, means duplication or triplication of the same tax. As far as I know only the State of New Hampshire USA charges no income tax but maintains indirect taxation on goods and services. (more…)

The Middle Ages

Historians disagree about exact dates, but I believe it is generally accepted that the phrase ‘Middle Ages’ denotes the period in Europe from around 700 A.D. to around 1500. Before 700 were ‘The Dark Ages’ – dark in many senses but mainly because professional historians did not exist after the decline of the civilised Roman Empire in the west, and countless barbarian invasions/occupations in the 5th and 6th centuries after Christ. (more…)

The first Hanoverian King of Great Britain


The British King who spoke no English / gameo.org

The British King who spoke no English / gameo.org

   The Hanoverian dynasty got its name from the city of Hanover, capital of Lower Saxony in Germany. In 1658 the grand-daughter of James I of England (and VI of Scotland), and daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia, by name Sophia, married Ernst Augustus. He was the Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg, and became an Elector (Prince of the Holy Roman Empire with the right to elect the Emperor) of Germany in 1692. He took Hanover as his princely title and capital city.

It was Sophia and Ernst’s son (born 1660) who became George I, the first of the House of Hanover to be King of England (actually Great Britain and Ireland). Hanover as a territory contained important towns like Göttingen and Hildersheim. The defence of these places was to become a serious factor in British foreign policy during the eighteenth century.

So how was it that a full-blooded German ascended the throne of England?  The answer is because George’s mother Sophia and her issue were recognised as heirs to the throne by the Act of Settlement in 1701, which excluded the Roman Catholic Stuarts. George moved to England to become king in 1714 on the death of Queen Anne – herself a descendent of Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. (more…)

Berlin: City, Congress, Airlift & Wall

Berlin was the capital of Germany from 1871, though it was also the capital of Prussia. When the capital moved from Bonn after the Second War, Berlin became again the capital and hub of Germany, but after the War the city found itself 110 kilometres inside the Russian Zone of a Germany divided (at various hideous conferences) into four: Russian, American, British and French sectors. The city itself was divided into West Berlin (480 sq.km.) and East Berlin (403 sq.km.). West Berlin was administered and governed by the United States, Great Britain and France, each having their Sector and military HQ. East Berlin was governed by the Communist GDR, under the military eye of around 200 divisions of Russian troops. West Berlin could probably muster a division and a half, and had its own (American) military commander. There was a complete military imbalance in all the post-war period. (more…)

A Seymour and a Dudley, not exactly saints

Edward VI, sickly son of Henry VIII / nndb.com

Edward VI, sickly son of Henry VIII / nndb.com

Seymour (pronounced ‘Seemer’) is a name that rings bells throughout British history. There is still a Seymour Marquess of Hertford living at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire. One of the best-known from that brood of planners and plotters was Edward, Ist Earl of Hertford (pronounced ‘Harfod’) and Duke of Somerset. He was born around 1500 and managed to survive to fifty-two, something of a miracle in the sixteenth century, for reasons of health or politics. (more…)

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