Monday, 23 July 2012

I Belong in Seventeenth Century England

I have wanted for the longest time to own a dress that would fit in at Charles II's Restoration Court but for a very long time the cost has put me off. Even when, for my sins, I was in the Sealed Knot I would gaze longingly at the dresses that were being sold at the stalls surrounded the make shift battlefield and wish I had enough money to get my grubby little mits on one of them.

And then a few weeks ago, I was derping around on the internet. And I found the perfect Restoration-Esque gown. And I had just been paid. And I just had to have it. So I brought it, for a little over £100.

And it was worth every single penny.

It took a while to arrive, but this morning there was a knock on the door and there it was.

Can I just say, I have no idea how women were able to breathe in the seventeenth century. I wasn't even wearing a shift or proper boned corset underneath and I was struggling to breathe. It wasn't even laced up to it's full potential! Plus, I can see why upper class women had maids to help them dress. It is really really REALLY hard to do the backs of these things on your own! I did the best I could but had to enlist the help of my partner when he got in from work.

The dress is just full of flounce and I adore it. And alright so it isn't made out of 100% accurate but it certainly looks the part. Obviously to go 100% accurate I would have to get out my sewing kit and start a brand new one from scratch with a seventeenth century pattern, a proper shift etc. But this one does a damn good job of making it look the part. The sleeves which can be seen above, in original dresses from the period those sleeves would have been part of the ladies undergarment but on this dress are attached. In a way I feel like I'm cheating but it really does look the business.

I'm sure many people could point out how it isn't accurate at all and blah blah blah because it's not made out of the right material and I'm not wearing a shift and a proper boned bodice and blah blah. But I love it, and it looks very similar to the gowns that the ladies were wearing around Hampton Court when I was last there aaaand the gowns worn in The Power & The Passion. And that, dear readers, is good enough for me.

I am planning on wearing this to the Kelmarsh Festival of History next year, so please do keep an eye out. That gives me a whole year to learn how to do my hair in the proper seventeenth century style. Like Minette...

Now then, if any one needs me I'll be back in 1660's Whitehall...

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Review: The Sickly Stuarts by Frederick Holmes

It's been ages since I've posted a book review on here so I thought I would delight you all and post one. I will warn you now that this review may end up with me yelling about how much I love the Stuart family and how much I want to hug them all. But I'll try not to do that.

So, this book came through my letterbox yesterday morning, and I read the entire thing in a day. Whenever this has happened previously it's because the books have been really pants. This one was however, rather good. I'd spotted Holmes' book in the shop at Hampton Court before and kept wondering whether to pick it up or not, but if I'm honest it was the price that put me off. Then I found it on amazon, nice and cheap. And so when my ex library copy arrived, I settled down to read about the medical problems of my favourite historical family. And let me tell you, I learnt a lot, especially about the Stuart monarchs who I don't know all that much about.

Holmes splits the book up into each monarch that ruled throughout the Stuart era, with one chapter that concentrated on the children of Charles I. But before Holmes gets into the nitty gritty medical history of each monarch we are given a rather good introduction to disease and doctoring in the seventeenth century. This chapter describes how rife disease was in Stuart England, London in particular, and how the ever increasing population affected said disease. We are also given a brief introduction to the various illnesses and epidemics that plagued the populace (including plague...see what I did there? lolol) as well as the various treatments that are given them. Now then, some of these treatments were a little daft, including the "hot and cold method" of treating small pox. There was one part in this introduction that really made me prick my ears up, and that was a brief mention of early methods of diagnosing diabetes (as a type 1 diabetic myself, the history of this disease is hugely fascinating to me):

"In 1694 Thomas Willis was the first to note that the urine of diabetics ‘is wonderfully sweet, like Sugar or hony’"

As I quoted on our tumblr page, this 17th century doctor really has earned my respect and I really like him (even though I don't know all that much about him) because he had the balls the taste a diabetic person's urine. Now that is pretty gross, but it really opened the door for further treatment and even (in some distant way) paved the way for the advent of insulin by Banting and Best in the 1900's. Anyway, I'll shut up about the medical history of diabetes now and get on with reviewing the book. So yeah, after this we are given an introduction to the main doctors of the Seventeenth Century, and these are the men who feature prominently as physicians to the monarchy - Theodore de Mayerne, William Harvey, Thomas Sydenham, Richard Lower, John Radcliffe, Richard Mead and John Arbuthnot.

Following this introduction, Holmes' gets right into the thick of things and begins looking at each Stuart monarch. Of course we start out with James I (VI of Scotland) and Holmes then looks at each monarch in chronological order. The layout of each chapter is exactly the same - we start out with a brief look at their medical history, stuff that made them sick throughout their reign and their death and then goes on to look at their post mortem results to come to a conclusion as to what actually killed them. And as I made my way through each of the chapters, I learnt a lot of stuff that I didn't know about these monarchs.

Of course, Holmes is unable to come to a definitive answer as to the right diagnosis for each monarch but he does a damn good job with the information he had available. Drawing on primary sources and post mortem reports he was able to say "ok then it is super likely that Charles II had this, but not likely at all he had this other thing because the post mortem report says this". And although I'm not trained in medicine, a lot of Holmes' conclusions made a lot of sense. OK so he used some big words for various illnesses, but he also explained what they meant and what the illness was made up of. So yes, good.

Interesting stuff I learnt from this book:

James I had dementia, weak legs and his tongue was too big for his mouth so whenever he drank anything he slobbered it everywhere. He also didn't wash his hands, only dabbed the ends of his fingers.

Charles I had weak legs (inherited from his father), a speech impediment and according to Holmes was a tad delusional (mainly because he was all "lol parliament, I'm the King and I own all so shut up and let me rule on my own).

Charles II was actually pretty healthy until he made a massive derp of himself and conducted mercury experiments without safety gear (but then, was safety gear even invented then?) and gave himself mercury poisoning which killed him.

James II was also a derp, had an epic nosebleed that meant he couldn't fight off William of Orange (later William III, or actually he probably used the nosebleed as an excuse because he couldn't be bothered...maybe). And he died in exile of a stroke and pneumonia.

William III was an epic warrior who invaded England yet was pretty sickly and had asthma and died young because of bacterial pneumonia. His wife, Mary II confused everyone and no one knew whether she died of small pox or measles - at any rate she burned loads of her letters and papers before she died. And it was actually a really bad form of smallpox that killed her.

And last but not least, Anne was never really all that healthy. She survived 17 pregnancies, only 1 child surviving until he died of pneumonia at the age of 11, and eventually it was Lupus that killed her. And she was the last of the Stuart Monarchs...

All in all, an utterly fantastic book and a brilliant read. Some of it is a little complicated and I found myself having to read a few bits a couple of times before the medical terminology sunk in. This is certainly a book I would recommend for anyone interested in the Stuart family. It makes for quite morbid reading, and I won't lie, I did shed a tear at Charles II's death but it is hugely interesting and eye-opening. A good read and highly recommended. 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Did Charles II love Catherine of Braganza?

Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, a line engraving by an Unknown Artist

Before I get stuck into this post I just want to say a massive thank you to @gemgemgembird who runs the awesome fuckyeahcharlesii on tumblr and @IsSoFab for helping me out with this post, you guys are ace!!!

I've come across a few comments across various social media websites saying that Charles II did not love his wife Catherine of Braganza. But it's not just online where I have come across this, oh no, it's even crept into a few real life conversations as well. And the normal response when I ask these people why they think this is "oh well, he had loads of mistresses so he can't have loved her". Cue me almost frothing at the mouth for around three minutes, before trying not to launch myself into a massive lecture about how he did actually love her. And so today I decided that enough is enough, and thought I would sit down and write a blog about it, with lots and lots of examples that show that yes, Charles did love his wife and no, he wasn't a giant idiot to her...

So here goes!

The biggest thing that always, always gets to me and really points out how much he loved her is when she was unwell, and Charles got up to get her a bowl but she was sick in the sheets before he got back. Charles ended up cleaning her up himself and changing the sheets. Now, I am going to say something here - Charles could have just called for Catherine's servants but no, he did it himself. And you don't clean up someones sick unless you really love them surely? There is a fantastic quote about this incident in "The Mistresses of Charles II" by Brian Masters:

“On one occasion, she (Catherine) felt ill during the night when he was in bed with her. He got up to fetch her a basin, but she was sick in the sheets before he returned. Not until he had himself cleaned and dried her, and changed the sheets, did he call her women to help, and repaired to his own room, even then returning three times to see how she was before he finally went to sleep.”(Masters 1979, 75-76)

Another incident took part in 1663, when Catherine became seriously ill. So ill in fact that everyone thought she was dying. Charles sat by her bed for hours, in floods of tears, begging her not to die. Even when she sank into delirium he stayed by her side, and she imagined they had three children together. She also told him, when she had come around a bit, that he should take a more agreeable wife once she was dead. Yet Catherine recovered (HUZZAH!), and Charles' minister started to demand he divorce her because she was barren. Yet he refused and had a go at his ministers for even suggesting the idea, saying that he had treated her so poorly (i.e. with rubbing mistresses in her face) that he could now never abandon her. So the rumours that were flying about the court that Charles should marry Frances Stuart, who he was rather enamoured with at the time and spent his time chasing after her, were chucked out.

Charles also mentions Catherine A LOT in his letters, especially to his sister Minette and he also rather enjoys pointing out how much time he spent with his wife. And it was a lot of time...

“I have been all this afternoon playing the good husband, having been abroad with my wife, and ‘tis now past twelve o’clock, and I am very sleepy.” (Norrington 1994, 78)

 Charles II by Sir Peter Lely

There is also a rather moving letter written from Charles to his sister after his wife's illness. And although he does mention other women, and the fact that he's off to see another play, the majority of the letter is spent talking about Catherine:

My wife is now so well, as in a few days, she will thank you herself for the concern you had for her in her sickness. Yesterday we had a little ball in the privy chamber, where she looked on, and, though we had many of our good faces absent, yet I assure you, the assembly would not have been disliked for beauty, even at Paris itself, for we have a great many young women come up, since you were here, who are very handsome. Pray send me some images, to put in prayer books. They are for my wife, who can get none here. I assure you it will be a great present to her, and she will look upon them often, for she is not only content to say the great office every day, but likewise that of our Lady too, and this is besides going to chapel, where she makes use of none of these. I am just now going to see a new play, so I shall say no more, but that I am entirely yours, C.R.(Norrington 1994, 72)

 Catherine of Braganza by Sir Peter Lely

"Later that spring, Charles told Minette that he had been playing the good husband, going out with Catherine all afternoon: soon he would banish Edward Montagu from court for spending too long with the queen and even daring to squeeze her hand" (Uglow 2009, 267). This quote never fails to bring a smile to my face. I can imagine a rather red faced Charles facing off against Montagu, demanding that he leave court for daring to touch his wife. 

Another big incident in which Charles showed his loyalty, dedication and love for Catherine was during the Popish Plot of 1678. The Plot, completely fictitious, had been engineered by Titus Oates. It was said that it was a plot in which the Catholics would kill King Charles, and on 24th November 1678 Charles listened to Oates as he revealed that the Queen would poison her own husband! Charles of course knew that his wife would never ever try to poison him and throughout his entire meeting with Oates maintained a cool head. When Oates said he overheard the conspirators in the queens bedchambers (which he could even describe when asked to by the king!), Charles has him thrown into prison. Unfortunately Parliament had him released soon after. Antonia Fraser, in her biography of Charles II states that Oates made a big mistake in trying to implicate Catherine; "Yet Oates, in concentrating on the Queen, had touched on one of the King's few sensitive spots: he might have let Clarendon go without too much regret, and sacrifice Danby perforce, but as he had already shown over the prospect of divorce, Catherine was another matter" (Fraser, 1979, 363)

Titus Oates by an unknown artist

Catherine wrote a letter to her brother, the King of Portugal, which is really rather moving and said of the recent incident: "the care in which he (Charles) takes to defend my innocence and truth. Every day he shows more clearly his purpose and goodwill towards me, and thus baffles the hate of my enemies...I cannot cease telling you what I owe to his benevolence, of which each day he gives better proofs, either from generosity or compassion" (Fraser 1979, 363).

During the Popish Plot we see Charles come to the aid of his wife as her knight in shining armour. His actions drew them together and not only that, showed that he really did care despite his liaisons with his mistresses. And it seems that Catherine had fallen head over heels in love with Charles, as he had with her it seems, so much so that Lady Sutherland stated that the queen was "now a mistress, the passion her spouse has for her is now so great".

There are, I am sure, many other examples that show just how much Charles loved his wife and it's going to require a lot more research and reading to get to the bottom of this one. But before I conclude about how much I adore this pair and how I'm sure they were perfect for each other (just go with me here OK...?) there is just one last thing I want to quote regarding Charles' last meeting with Catherine before his death:

"There were a series of farewells. Catherine came. Charles greeted her lovingly. But her distress, both at the King's tenderness and at his suffering was too great. Tears overcame her. She was carried back to her own apartments, half fainting. She sent back a message to her husband to beg his pardon if she had ever offended him.
"Alas! poor woman", said the King. "She beg my pardon! I beg hers with all my heart" (Fraser 1979, 456)

As can be seen, I hope, from these few examples; Charles II really did love his wife. He may not have shown it in their early years of marriage and he may have rubbed his relationships with his mistresses in her face (I should mention the Bedchamber Incident here but that is a whole other post for a whole different day) yet they still grew incredibly close. Charles grew to love her, respect her and trust her intimately. He stayed by her side during her terrible illness, he begged her not to die, he wrote of her often to his sister Minette, he protected her and stood up for her during the Popish Plot, he spent vast amounts of time with her which was commented on a lot by other courtiers and he even conducted business in her chambers. Not to mention of course his final meeting with her which makes me cry every single time. So you see, is it any wonder when people turn around and say that Charles didn't love his wife because he had mistresses that I and so many others end up giving epic lectures on the subject? You only have to read of how he stood by her when Oates accused her of plotting the King's death to understand how he felt about her, you only have to read of how he refused to divorce her despite parliament trying to badger him into doing so to understand how he felt about her. 

Plus he cleaned up her vomit, and you don't do that for someone unless you really love them.

Sources and Further Reading

Sunday, 15 July 2012

15th July 1685 - The Execution of James, Duke of Monmouth

Plate showing the execution of James, Duke of Monmouth

I've written a lot about the Duke of Monmouth recently, and I have to say that I find him absolutely fascinating. This young man who believed so wholeheartedly that his mother had legally married his father and he was the legitimate heir to the throne, this young man who believed in his claim so much that he rebelled against his uncle James II. His story is exceptionally sad and his end exceptionally brutal.

Monmouth, by William Wissing

On 15th July 1685, after his defeat at Sedgemoor, James Duke of Monmouth was executed on Tower Hill. He was condemned to death by act of attainder and automatically found guilty of high treason against his uncle James II. Whilst imprisoned in the Tower, Monmouth had begged for mercy and written to the King - but of course the King never received the letter. And James II, in his exile admitted "I never saw the letter, nor did I ever hear of it till within these few days" - if he had seen the letter, would he have pardoned his nephew? James had at first said that Monmouth was to suffer a full traitors death of hanging, drawing and quartering but later decided that he should be beheaded upon Tower Hill and that the date of execution would be St Swithun's Day, 15th July. The King wanted as many people as possible to see their hero die, and according to J.N.P Watson chose the date as a lesson to his nephew "for giving credit to so vain a prediction; for 'tho Almighty God permits such divinations to fall out some times according as they are foretold, yet never to the benefit or advantage of those that believe them".

Shortly before his execution, the Bishop of Ely and Dr Ken visited him to hear his confession. He shook off his fear, realising that St Swithun's day would indeed be his day of judgement and became very sincere and dignified except on the matter of his mistress Henrietta Wentworth. He refused to admit that he had been living in sin with her, saying "I have heard it is lawful to have one wife in the eye of the law and another before God". When he was challenged for saying this he replied, "Well, but if a man be bred up in a false notion, what shall he do when he has but two hours to live?".

He told the bishops he would die a true Protestant, and he was then refused the sacrament. But he signed a paper renouncing his allusions to the throne for the sake of his children and also declared that his father Charles II had told him he was illegitimate although he was very careful not to admit it himself. He also asked that the King did not make his children suffer on his account.

On the morning of his execution he dressed carefully, wearing clean stockings, a fresh skirt and lace scarf, as well as a grey suit lined with black and a long periwig. His wife visited him that morning for a final farewell and fell to her knees begging his forgiveness if she had done anything to offend him but he told her she had been a good, dutiful wife. He also instructed his children to be dutiful to the King and to respect their mother.

He approached Tower Hill and the scaffold was heavily defended, and James II had given special permission for the scaffold to be draped in mourning cloth. As he climbed the steps and spied Jack Ketch he said "do your work well". The crowd was huge, and thousands of people had flocked to see their hero die. It is said that Monmouth spoke very little on the scaffold, only to yet again defend Henrietta Wentworth, stating that he had not lived in sin with her and that she was a virtuous woman. He also stated that he said he would die "very penitent". He was also asked to address the soldiers in front of the scaffold, as he ,  had been a soldier himself and he refused, saying he would take no speeches, but the men accompanying him on the scaffold kept badgering him saying that just 10 words would be enough. Some have said that at this point he made his "Martyr of the People" speech that he wrote in the Tower, but official reports deny this.

Monmouth now turned to Jack Ketch and addressed him, handing him a bag of six guineas, "Here are six guineas for you. Pray do your business well. Do not serve me as you did my Lord Russell. I have heard you struck him three or four times. If you give me two strokes I promise I will not stir".

Following this he removed his waistcoat and periwig. He refused a blindfold and knelt, laying his head on the block. After a moment, he turned back to Ketch and asked if he could feel the axe. After he had done so he expressed his fear that the axe was not sharp enough. Ketch then stated that it was both sharp enough and heavy enough. The executioner himself had been unnerved by Monmouth's mention of Russell, and he botched the execution completely. The first swing caught the side of Monmouth's neck, making him heave up and look at Ketch in shock. The second made a slightly bigger gash and the third he missed all together. Ketch then threw the axe down crying, "God Damn Me, I can do no more. My heart fails me, I cannot do it!". The crowd became angry, threatening to kill Ketch if he did not do any better. Ketch was ordered to pick the axe back up and finish the job, taking 3 more blows to kill Monmouth, though the head was still attached. He resorted to using a butchers knife that hung at his belt to finally remove Monmouth's head. The crowd was still so indignant at the executioner that he had to be lead away by armed guard.

Portrait said to be of James Duke of Monmouth after his death, artist unknown (though possibly by Kneller)

James, Duke of Monmouth, was buried in the chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula inside the Tower of London alongside other noble and royal victims of the executioners axe.

The diarist John Evelyn wrote of his death, "Thus ended the quondam Duke, darling of his father and the ladies, being extremely handsome and adroit, an excellent soldier and dancer, a favourite of the people, of an easy nature, debauch'd by lust, seduc'd by crafty knaves...He was a lovely person"

I'm not going to lie, as I have been writing this I have been crying a little...actually that's a lie because I am sobbing as I write this. Monmouth's end was very grizzly, and such a horrible way for such a popular figure to die. Because he was popular, and he was loved. And no one deserves to suffer such a terrible death.

Tonight I shall be raising a glass to James, Duke of Monmouth.

Further Reading

Coward, B, 2012, The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714, Pearson: Harlow
Watson, J.N.P, 1979, Captain General and Rebel Chief: The Life of James, Duke of Monmouth, George Allen & Unwin: London

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Storming of the Bastille

Storming the Bastille

On 14th July 1789, the fortress of the Bastille in Paris was stormed. The fortress itself held prisoners who had been imprisoned with royal indictments that could not be appealed and thus the Bastille had become the symbol of absolute monarchy to citizens who thought the monarchy needed to be brought down a couple of notches. I haven't read a huge amount on the French Revolution, which saw the downfall of Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, but that is something I am planning on changing - a bunch of books have been downloaded onto my kindle to read at some point - and I had been reminded that today is the famous Bastille Day because it is my grandfather's birthday...which funnily enough is on said Bastille day. I'm rambling now.

So why did the populace of Paris storm the Bastille? And this will very likely end up in bullet points again as there is just so much stuff that happened with this event.
  • On the 11th July, Louis XIV dismissed his finance minister Jaques Necker. Necker was very sympathetic to the Third Estate (i.e. the 'revolutionaries' who wanted rid of the monarchy). The news of Necker's dismissal was recieved with an uproar in Paris, and it was assumed that the dismissal was the start of a coup on the part of the monarchy - and indeed the King and Queen thought that the dismissal would be the end of things. It wasn't.
  • On the 12th, the people of Paris began to roam the streets in demonstration for the dismissed minister, and a journalist encouraged the crowds at the Palais-Royale to arm themselves. 
  • On the same day a crowd attacked the Tullieres but were charged by a military regiment. Several people were injured and panic spread. The people of Paris were scared that they would be faced by a massive royal army so began to riot, looking for arms.
  • The people were still roaming the streets on the morning of the 14th. They stormed the Hotel des Invalides and looted firearms. Troops under the command of Besvenal were waiting for them, but ended up joining the rioting Parisians. These troops got their hands on over 40,000 guns from the cellars of the Hotel but were still without gunpowder and shot. And guess where that stuff was...?
  • Yep, the Bastille.
  • When the mob reached the fortress they found that it had been reinforced by the Marquis de Launay (the governor of the Bastille).
  • After several hours of violent acts and besieging the fortress, the mob broke into the Bastille. They took significant losses, but they freed the seven prisoners who were locked up inside, got their hands on all the gunpowder and bullets and took the governor Prisoner who they decided to take to the Hotel de Ville.
  • Except on the way to the Hotel de Ville, Launay was brutally assassinated and his head cut off with a knife. Several of Launay's soldiers also suffered the same fate and the day ended in a carnival of severed heads mounted on spikes. Nasty.
  • The King and Queen remained relatively ignorant of these matters for quite a long time and even when the news was broken to Louis of the fall of the Bastille it didn't seem to bother him too much. He didn't know that the army had joined the other side, and thought that said army would restore order as they always had before. 
  • After the gravity of the situation finally dawned on Louis, he addressed the Assembly, stating that he definitely had not ordered a show of force and he had even ordered the troops out of Paris. His speech was greeted by the Parisians very well and for a short time he regained some popularity. He was greeted with shouts of "Long Live the King" an "Long Live the Nation". 
  • Louis even agreed to recall Necker after a long meeting with his council. They also decided it would be best for the King and Queen to stay in Paris despite the Queen wanting to leave. Louis even admitted he had missed his chance to leave, and that he should have left on 14th July.
  • On 17th July Louis went to Paris, and his wife despaired that he would not return. But return he did. And he had agreed to support the revolutionaries. He was even wearing the symbol of the revolutionaries, the tricolour cockade...
Jaques Necker by Duplessis

The fall of the Bastille was a very important event in the French Revolution. And of course we know how the revolution ended, with the death of many prominent aristocrats and royalist supporters and of course the death of both the King and Queen.

Yet every year, the French celebrate Bastille Day on 14th July. And it has been celebrated every year since 1790 when Louis XIV swore his allegiance to the new constitution. The first celebration was seen as the end of the revolution, and a happy end too. It has been celebrated every year since as a mark of the start of a new era, and in 1880 a law was passed making it an official public holiday every year.

I have to say that, even in my little reading on the revolution, it must have been terrifying. I am a royalist through and through and reading of how Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were treated during this period always makes my stomach turn and makes me tear up a little. As I said at the beginning of this post, I haven't read a lot about the period and it's something I need to read more about, however it is a very very interesting period in history.

Also as a random piece of useless knowledge: when I was younger and doing a piece of homework on family history, my grandad told me a story of how our ancestors had fled France during the revolution as they were pro-royalist aristocrats who feared becoming victims of the guillotine. I have no idea if it's true, but it was a pretty cool story. One day I'll do some research and find out if it's true or not.

Further reading

Fraser, A, 2002, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, Phoenix: London
Lever, E, 2000, Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France, Piatkus: London

Also swing by and read Madame Guillotine's fantastic blog, and check out her posts on the French Revolution. In fact read all of it, because it is ace.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

James II Vs William III

James II by Sir Peter Lely

I'll admit now that I haven't done as much reading on James II as I would like and don't know anywhere near enough about him. Other than the fact that he was Catholic and had his nephew Monmouth executed. And I'll admit also that I have done even less reading on the deposition of James in favour of William III and his wife Mary (who was actually James II's daughter!) Now then, I don't know whether it's the fact that I have this rather unnatural love of the Stuart family that has put me off reading much on William (and before you say it, I know he was a relation, and married a Stuart but shhhhhhhh!) or the fact that I have gotten it into my head that William was well...rather dull...but I have been avoiding anything after James II for a while.

Until now!

William III by Kneller

So yesterday, in 1690, William III who had come over to England and invaded in 1688 which lead to him becoming King in 1689, utterly trounced James II at the Battle of the Boyne over in Ireland. The Battle itself was actually fought on 1st of July but in the Julian Calendar - which works out as the 11th July in today's Gregorian calendar. Today however is the date in which the battle is 'celebrated'

So anyway, what lead up to the battle? And why did William win? Here, have some bullet points...

  • James was catholic, and parliament were a tad fed up with him.
  • So Parliament invited William over for an invasion, and invade he duly did, landing in November 1688 at Brixham.
  • As William landed with thousands and thousands of troops, James began to loose support and refused to fight his nephew's armies deciding it would be much more sensible to run away.
  • He tried to run away to France but was captured in Kent. William really didn't want to make his uncle a martyr though and let him escape in December.
  • In 1689 a Convention Parliament met to discuss what to do and William really wanted to rule in his own right, even though his wife was higher in the succession. A lot of Parliament wanted Mary to be queen in her own right but she refused, being loyal to her husband.
  • On 13th February Parliament decided that because James fled to France he had abdicated his throne and offered the joint crown to William and Mary because they were protestant - it was deemed safer for the English monarchy to remain Protestant. After this, so English monarch has ever been catholic.
  • In 1690, the Irish people thought they would help James get his throne back, mainly because they were Catholic too and hoped he would allow them to keep practising their religion. James obviously thought this was a marvellous idea and joined up with the Irish to try and take back his throne.
  • William however thought this was a bad idea, and wanted Ireland to remain protestant so he got an army together and marched off to Ireland.
  • To cut a long story short (again because I haven't done very much reading on the subject), the battle went very badly for James and he lost and ended up taking himself back to France. He knew he was defeated.
  • So William stayed King until 1702.
  • And James died in France in 1701 - though up until his death some people kept trying to reinstate him, and there was this one episode where his supporters tried to assassinate William in 1696. It didn't work very well.
I have to say I feel really sorry for poor James II. He'd never been popular, and less so after his conversion to Roman Catholicism...and having a Catholic King of England didn't go down too well. Yet, at least William didn't have his uncle executed - which let's be fair, he probably could have - and allowed him to pretty much retire in peace.

I am hoping to do a lot more reading in and around this part of Stuart history because I think about it, William probably wasn't all that dull, and I love battlefield history. So whilst this post may not be hugely detailed, expect more on James II, William & Mary and the Glorious Revolution in due course.

Further Reading

Coward, B, 2012, The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714 (Fourth Edition), Pearson: Harlow

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Oliver Cromwell - I can't believe I am admitting this...

Oliver Cromwell by Robert Walker

Let's make on thing quite clear:

I am not a fan of Oliver Cromwell.

There, I admitted it. In my rather embarrassing days in the Sealed Knot I was a member of a Royalist regiment and as we faced the Parliamentarian army in front of the crowds we would shout insults such as "A POX ON PARLIAMENT!!". And it was those months spent in the Royalist 'army', sleeping in muddy fields and having my tent flooded on each and every occasion that I began to develop a serious interest in the Seventeenth Century.

And a serious dislike for Oliver Cromwell.

During my time reading up on the Seventeenth Century and researching the English Civil War for my Uni dissertation (the one that is going to published!) that I realised that had I lived back then, and been a man, I would have fought on the side of the King. Why? Charles I was a bit of a stubborn derp, but he believed fully in his divine right and fought to keep the traditions of England going. Oliver Cromwell on the other man was harsh and banned everything fun - including mince pies at Christmas!

That's not to say I don't respect him historically because of course I do. He tried his best to keep the country running during the Interregnum and was pretty successful. It's just the people got bored, and after Oliver died his son Richard just sort of shrugged his shoulders and left, leading Parliament to bring back the Monarchy.

Oliver Cromwell looking at the body of King Charles II

Anyway, I am currently reading "Oliver Cromwell: Our Chief of Men" by Antonia Fraser on my Kindle. It's a little weird for me, reading about the English Civil War from his point of view, and even weirder for me to be enjoying what I'm reading about him and dare I say it...

I actually feel sorry for him. And I am growing to like him.


Yes, you heard me correctly. The man is growing on me. It seems he was a bit of a tearaway as a child and loved getting into trouble and stealing apples from farms. Just that makes me like him more than I did before. And yes, I feel sorry for him - why? Because in the early 1630's he was suffering badly from depression and spent much of his time in bed feeling pretty useless, but he did get treatment from the best doctor in the country for it.

Now, Cromwell will never overtake Charles I and Charles II in my affections but let's just say that branching out and reading more about Cromwell has really helped me develop a new kind of respect for the man. And dare I even say it, I have developed a liking for the man. And I am very much looking forward to reading more about him

Friday, 6 July 2012

6th July 1685: The Battle of Sedgemoor

James Duke of Monmouth, Rebel Commander by Jan Van Wyke

On this day in history, 6th July 1685, James Duke of Monmouth was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor by the army of his uncle King James II. I have written briefly about James Duke of Monmouth before, but due to the fact that I am finding Monmouth more and more fascinating as the days pass, I thought I would mark his defeat at Sedgemoor with a blog post. After all, this was his final defeat and 9 days later he lost his head upon Tower Hill.

The battle itself started early in the morning at around 2am, and lasted for around 3 hours. The previous day Monmouth and his army had been cornered in Bridgwater, even though his army was bigger than that of his uncle, they were much less experienced. And in the end, this lack of experience was what lead to Monmouth's loss. Monmouth, in a last desperate bid to escape the Royalist army thought it would be a good idea to launch a surprise attack.

James Duke of Monmouth

Unfortunately, Monmouth's army was discovered as they crept their way towards the Royalist camp, and his small troop of horse were unable to locate the river crossing in the darkness. The surprise element was gone, and James II's army was much more well drilled and disciplined. Monmouth's own army was, of course, not so disciplined and his horse fled the field leaving the foot soldiers as sitting ducks on the open battlefield.

Monmouth's army was utterly destroyed. In around three hours Monmouth lost over 1000 men compared to 80 losses for the Royalists.

Monmouth and another of his captains, a man by the name of Grey, managed to escape the field of battle and they escaped to the town of Ringwood dressed as peasants. They were captured a few days later and Monmouth was taken to the Tower of London where he was condemned to death by Act of Attainder for committing treason against King James II. He was beheaded upon Tower Hill on 15th July by the notorious Jack Ketch where it took 8 blows and a butchers knife to remove his head.