19th May. ‘Nice Day for a White Wedding’

On 19th May 2018, as Meghan Markle progresses along the fabulous St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, she will join Prince Harry on a most exciting adventure for the popular couple.  One wishes them every success but historically, the date 19th May has not been propitious for English citizens; in fact, for several centuries, the day has been beset by death and tragedy, affecting some of the country’s best known characters including arguably, the most controversial royal of all time. Even the foundations of the Church itself have been affected.

Archbishop Dunstan

1030 years ago on 19th May AD988, Archbishop Dunstan died in Canterbury; he was approximately 79 years old and was buried in the country’s first cathedral. He served previously as Abbot of Glastonbury, where he enlarged and developed the world-renowned religious site and he served also as Bishop of London and Worcester. He was canonised for his role in restoring monastic life in England and for his work on reforming the English Church. He worked as advisor to several Anglo-Saxon monarchs including King Athelstan and for two centuries, he was the most revered and popular Saint in the country.

But it was 482 years ago when the Grim Reaper struck the blow that changed the course of history.  At 8am on a fateful Tuesday, 19th May 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed within the grounds of the Tower of London.  This was the first execution of an English Queen and the repercussions were felt throughout England and Europe.

As a concession to her role as Queen of England and in response to her fear of the brutal axe, a skilled French swordsman was brought over to England to carry out the sentence. Anne did not place her head on the block as is often suggested: she knelt as the swordsman removed her head with one swipe. Because no suitable coffin was available, Anne’s body was crammed into a makeshift box of oak or elm that had been used for storing arrows.  The remains of Anne’s body were later buried in an unmarked ‘grave’ in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula at the Tower.

In the 19th century, as the chapel was being renovated, human remains were found under the chancel. The bones could not be positively identified but it is

Anne Boleyn. Executed on 19th May 1536

thought they were those of Anne Boleyn and her cousin Catherine Howard; they were re-interred under the altar.  Ironically, on 19th May 2018, Meghan Markle’s procession through St. George’s Chapel, will take her over the vault that contains the enormous coffin and body of King Henry VIII.

During the 20th century, England endured far too many losses as a result of two devastating, global conflicts; 83 years ago, the country suffered the passing of one of the most renowned and romanticised of those victims, but not under circumstances that one might have expected.  On 19th May 1935, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence CB DSO aka ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, died near Bovington Camp in Dorset at the age of 46. Six days earlier, Lawrence had been riding a motor cycle when he was involved in a road crash and received the terrible injuries that killed him

Lawrence of Arabia

T.E. Lawrence was a prolific writer and several collections of his correspondence have survived. His best known work is ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, which was an embellished account of his war-time experiences. He came to public attention as a result of his liaison role during the Arab Revolt against Turkish rule between 1916 and 1918. Lawrence was buried in a family plot at Moreton Church in Dorset.

T.E. Lawrence typified perhaps, English attitudes in the face of adversity and he provides us with an excellent example of our predecessors’ determination to turn the tide against overwhelming odds. In like fashion, it is appropriate that we focus on more illustrious and cheerful accounts.

England and the English have, over the centuries, enjoyed a reputation for invention and innovation; these traits have been particularly evident in the development of motor racing.  90 years ago on 19th May 1928, the car designer, inventor and builder Anthony ‘Colin’ Bruce Chapman CBE was born. In 1952, he founded the Lotus Sports Car Company and under his leadership, Team Lotus won seven ‘Formula One’ Constructors’ titles.

Colin Chapman

Fortunately, to further lighten the mood, a renowned rocker will be 73 years old on the special day and he is a man who has always known how to live on the edge and celebrate.  On 19th May 1945,  the guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend was born into a musically talented family at Chiswick in London.  He is best known of course, for his performances over 50 years with the rock band ‘The Who’. Perhaps the band should have the last word; the lyrics to their song ‘Glittering Girl’ incorporates the line “She wasn’t a fool. That glittering girl, She followed the rules, That shimmering pearl.”  Let us all wish Meghan and Harry every success…

Pete Townshend

1066 and All This

‘Wiltshire Rose’ invites you to a very special evening.  On Wednesday 16th November 2016, between 7pm and 9:30pm, the English historian Paul Wiltshire will be joined by a guest to give a presentation entitled ‘1066 And All This’, at the Richard Herrod Centre in Carlton Nottingham {NG4 1RL}.


The programme will commemorate the 950th anniversary of the Norman invasion, the battle of Hastings and the coronation on Christmas Day, of William the Conqueror.  It will incorporate photographs taken recently by Paul, at various sites in Normandy.

We are delighted to tell you that all fees and monies raised will be donated to Alzheimers Research UK.  Thus, you have an opportunity to learn much about a landmark in English history and contribute towards potential cures for a terrible disease, which affects far too many families.

Tickets for the event cost only £5 and can be obtained by telephoning 0115 940 1254 or by emailing ‘’.  The entry fee includes some light refreshment and more importantly, will allow you to try some lovely cakes !


2016 and all that…


2016 offers a veritable cornucopia of glorious and inglorious anniversaries.  Over the next 12 months, there will be timely reminders of the people, places and events, which shaped England and the English.  They include the catastrophes which led to the nadir of our Anglo-Saxon heritage, the passing of our greatest literary treasure and the victory, which epitomizes this country’s sporting traditions.


Battle of Hastings October 1066

Battle of Hastings October 1066

Ancient and Medieval History.

On 24th February, 1400 years will have passed since the death of King Aethelbert of Kent on 24th February AD616.  He was the first of England’s Christian monarchs and he welcomed the group of missionaries, sent by Pope Gregory ‘The Great’ to Christianize this island of pagans.  Significantly it was Christianity which eventually united the disparate Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms and blended them into the ‘Land of the Angles’ or Angleland.

1000 years ago on 23rd April 1016, King Ethelred ‘the unready’ died, aged approximately 50, ‘after a life of much hardship and many difficulties’ according to the ancient chronicles.  Fourteen years earlier, he was married to the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, thus sparking off the claims to the English throne, which were later taken up by William the Conqueror.

950 years ago, England witnessed the momentous events of 1066.  That infamous year started badly on 5th January when King Edward the Confessor died in Westminster.  The following day, the Anglo-Saxons’ ‘Council of Wise Men’ or ‘Witan’ appointed Harold Godwinson as the successor and that started a plethora of invasions by ambitious warlords.  On 25th September 1066, at the murderous Battle of Stamford Bridge, King Harold repelled Norwegian invaders but 3 days later, on 28th September, Duke William of Normandy landed at Pevensey Bay in Sussex.  King Harold’s army completed an astonishing forced march to Sussex to confront the renewed challenge but it was defeated on 14th October 1066 at the disastrous Battle of Hastings, which brought down the curtain on 650 years of Anglo-Saxon monarchy.  950 years ago on Christmas Day 1066, 88 days after landing on English soil, Duke William was in Westminster Abbey for his coronation as King William I.

It was 800 years ago on 18th October 1216, that King John died in Newark Castle, Nottinghamshire after an unpleasant bout of dysentery; he was 49.  Ten days later, an unusual, emergency coronation was arranged in Gloucester Cathedral for the 9-year-old successor, King Henry III.  On 12th November that year, a revised and shortened version of the iconic Magna Carta was issued in the young King’s name.

550 years ago on 11th February 1466, the renowned beauty Elizabeth of York, was born in Westminster Palace.  She was destined to produce the world-renowned Tudor dynasty and in later years, gave birth to the future King Henry VIII and his 3 influential siblings, Arthur, Margaret and Mary.

Staying with the Tudors, it was 500 years ago on 18th February 1516, that Catherine of Aragon was in Greenwich Palace to give birth to the girl who became England’s first female crowned monarch, Queen Mary I.  Often dubbed ‘Bloody Mary’, she endured a stressful and damaging period as a teenager and young woman, during which time her parents separated in favour of Anne Boleyn.

King James I was England’s first Stuart monarch; the great-grandson of Margaret Tudor {elder sister of Henry VIII}, James was born 450 years ago in Edinburgh Castle on 19th June 1566.


Will Shakespeare

The Arts.

Almost certainly, 2016 will be dominated by performances and events, marking the death of England’s ‘best-known citizen’, William Shakespeare, who passed away 400 years ago on 23rd April 1616 at the age of 52, in Stratford-upon-Avon.  Widely regarded as the best poet and playwright of all time, Shakespeare is likely to be remembered and commemorated all over the world.

England’s literary traditions have been played out over many centuries.  200 years ago on 21st April 1816, the author Charlotte Bronte was born in the Yorkshire village of Thornton.  The eldest of three sisters, she is best known for her novel ‘Jane Eyre’, which was published under the pseudonym ‘Currer Bell’.

150 years ago, on 28th July 1866, the wonderfully creative, Helen Beatrix Potter, was born in Kensington.  Her beautifully crafted, anthropomorphic characters have since been transferred from her books to songs, films, ballet and theatre productions.

It will be exactly 100 years since James Alfred Wight OBE FRCVS aka ‘James Herriot’ was born in County Durham on 3rd October 1916.  He is of course renowned for his semi-autobiographical stories that are usually categorised as ‘All Creatures Great and Small’.  Likewise, it will be a century since the remarkable novelist, screenwriter and former fighter-pilot Roald Dahl was born on 13th September 1916; his books became iconic works for children and adults alike.

On 3rd January 2016, the renowned record producer, composer and musician, Sir George Henry Martin CBE will celebrate his 90th birthday.  It is appropriate that later in the year on 29th August, it will be exactly 50 years since ‘The Beatles’ were in San Francisco to perform their final live, commercial concert.


Great Fire of London

More Recent History.

400 years will have have passed since Sunday 20th March 1616, when Sir Walter Raleigh was released from the Tower of London after being confined for 13 years.  In 1603, Raleigh had been tried and convicted of treason for his alleged role in a plot against King James I.

One of the best known of all English tragedies occurred 350 years ago on Sunday 2nd September 1666; at 2am on that fateful day, a small fire started within the bakery of Thomas Farynor, in Pudding Lane near London Bridge.  The flames took hold and for the next 4 days, the ‘Great Fire of London’ gutted the medieval city, which stood inside the former Roman Wall.  It is thought that over 13,000 homes were destroyed: the social and economic consequences of that conflagration were enormous.

One of the world’s best known traders started his business 250 years ago; on 5th December 1766, James Christie, founder of the fine arts auction house, conducted his first sale in London.  Today, ‘Christie’s’ operates from around 53 offices in 32 countries.

That entrepreneurial spirit has seen England extend its influence to most parts of the world; a good example concerns the birth 150 years ago of Lord Herbert ‘Pa’ Austin KBE, on 8th November 1866.  He founded the Austin Motor Company and in 1905, Herbert took over a former print works at Longbridge in the West Midlands, which he developed into one of the most productive manufacturing sites in the world.

Without doubt, 80 years ago on 10th December 1936, England was at the centre of global attention after King Edward VIII signed instruments of abdication at Fort Belvedere in Virginia Water, Surrey.  The following day, the former King was in Windsor Castle where he delivered an emotional and difficult speech to the nation: he had reverted to the title ‘Prince’ and explained that he had abdicated in order that he could marry Wallis Simpson.

Not all history is ‘good history’ and to prove the point, it will be 50 years since 6th May 1966, when the ‘Moors Murderers’ Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were convicted of killing five children aged between 10 and 17.  After a 14-day trial, Mr. Justice Atkinson described the infamous couple as ‘two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity’.  They were undoubtedly the most hated people in Britain at that time.


Battle of the Somme

Two World Wars.

Understandably, much of the summer will be taken up with thoughts of the First World War.  On 1st July, it will be 100 years since the 7am whistles, launched soldiers into the terrible ‘Battle of the Somme’.  The futile slaughter continued until mid-November by which time the British had suffered approximately 400,000 casualties and advanced a maximum of 8 miles.

During that awful conflict, on 15th September 1916, the military tank made its debut.  The British had high hopes that their secret weapon would break the deadlock between the trenches.  Whilst the tank was impervious to barbed wire, rifle and machine gun fire, it was mechanically unreliable and prone to getting bogged down in mud.

In the same year, on 5th June 1916, the famous recruiting icon, Field Marshal Horatio Herbert ‘Lord’ Kitchener died on board HMS Hampshire, which sank after hitting a German mine. Kitchener and 643 crew members drowned or died of exposure; it is now known that prior to his death, Kitchener was on route to Russia for a secret, diplomatic mission.

Furthermore, 100 years ago on 21st November 1916, HMS ‘Britannic’, the sister ship of RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, was being used as a hospital ship to convey casualties of war, when the vessel struck a mine and sank off the Greek island of Kea.  Several people lost their lives in the tragedy.

Moving on to the Second World War, it will be 75 years since the prototype aircraft ‘BT 308’, better known as the Avro Lancaster bomber, made its maiden flight on 9th January 1941; the test pilot Bill Thorne, flew the iconic machine around Manchester’s ‘Ringway Airport’.


1966 World Cup Final

Sporting Heroics.

This country’s greatest sporting moment was watched by millions 50 years ago at Wembley stadium.  On 30th July 1966, England beat West Germany 4-2 to lift football’s ‘Jules Rimet World Cup’.  It seems unlikely that England will repeat this remarkable achievement.

Football is one sport, which we ‘gave’ to the world, another is cricket and 100 years ago on 23rd June 1916, the cricketer Sir Leonard Hutton was born at Pudsey in Yorkshire.  He played for his home county and England and is widely regarded as the greatest batsman the world has ever seen.  In 1938, Hutton set a record for the highest individual score in an innings when he struck 364 runs against Australia.


The Royals.

England and the English can truly be proud of their heritage and to round off 2016, the nation will honour the oldest and longest reigning monarch in its history, when the Queen attains yet another landmark.


On 21st April, Britain and The Commonwealth will join Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to commemorate her 90th birthday.  Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on 21st April 1926, at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London; she succeeded to the throne at the age of 25, following the death of her father in February 1952.

Her Majesty is now the world’s most experienced Head of State, yet in some ways, this remarkable Lady’s 64-year reign has been typical of many other monarchies.  Like several of her predecessors, from the 1400 years of Anglo-Saxon and English history that will be remembered in 2016, Queen Elizabeth has overseen war, domestic conflicts, civil disasters and tragedies, and of course royal births, which offer hope for the continuation of the world’s richest and most influential culture.

Her experience will be crucial to her successor, whoever that may be, but for now, perhaps we should celebrate the fact that we are witnessing the closing years of an epoch, the likes of which, may never be seen again.

Happy and glorious, Long to Reign over us….

A Good Day for Death, Poetry, War & Suicide

Oh what an illustrious date for England and some of the country’s best known ancestors.  25th October has been one of the most celebrated days in English history but it has also seen the passing of a literary giant and mass slaughter during two inglorious battles.

My historical briefing begins in the middle of the 12th century with the passing of a King, whose monarchy was bedevilled by the most horrific, anarchic violence imaginable.

King Stephen861 years ago on 25th October 1154, King Stephen, the grandson of William the Conqueror, suffered an agonising death at Dover Castle; he was 50-54 years old.  It is thought that he had suffered acute appendicitis, which was aggravated by bleeding haemorrhoids.

King Stephen was buried alongside his wife at Faversham Abbey, an institution which he founded in Kent.

This man’s 18 year reign is often referred to as ‘the anarchy’; it was marred by a power struggle between his supporters and those allied to his cousin Matilda, who was the daughter of Henry I and thus, the legitimate heir to the throne.  During the civil war which ensued, England witnessed murderous conflict and appalling atrocities, as documented in the Peterborough manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Most of King Stephen’s problems stemmed from his inability to lead men; he was amiable but weak and politically inept. After his death, England’s first Plantagenet monarch, King Henry II, succeeded to the throne.




Three centuries later on or around 25th October 1400, Geoffrey Chaucer died; he was approximately 56 years old.  The best evidence for the date of his death comes from an engraving on Geoffrey’s tomb, which was erected more than 100 years after he died.  He was buried in Westminster Abbey, which was his right because he had lived as a tenant of the Abbey ‘Close’.

Geoffrey Chaucer is considered by many to be the ‘Father of English Literature’; he was certainly the country’s most successful and best known poet of the Middle Ages.  He was a much travelled man with an international outlook and enjoyed or endured a busy career as a bureaucrat, a courtier and a diplomat; he was sent to Florence and Genoa on government missions so he would have been exposed to the dazzling brilliance of the Italian Renaissance.  Chaucer worked in the households of King Edward III and Richard II and he would have been known to the usurping successor, Henry IV.  He played a vital role in promoting and developing the legitimacy of vernacular ‘Middle English’ at a time when French and Latin were the dominant literary languages in England.

In 1556, Geoffrey’s remains were transferred to a more ornate tomb, making him the first writer to be interred in the area known as ‘Poets’ Corner’ in Westminster Abbey.


600 years ago on St. Crispin’s Day, Friday 25th October 1415, the Battle of Agincourt {known by the French as ‘Azincourt}, was contested in northern France.

AgincourtThis brutal and ferocious struggle was the latest in the series of conflicts that we know as ‘The Hundred Years War’ between England and France.  On this occasion, King Henry V led an army of 6-9000 men comprising mostly English and Welsh soldiers, against numerically superior French knights and men-at-arms.  King Henry had intended to leave the Continent via Calais but as he attempted to find a crossing of The Somme, his path was blocked by the huge French army and Henry had little choice but to give battle.  It has been estimated that the French force was between four and six times larger but Henry V secured a spectacular and unexpected victory after his opponents got themselves bogged down in wet mud before being cut to pieces by a devastating avalanche of arrows, delivered by the renowned English and Welsh longbowmen.

It is thought that approximately 7-10,000 Frenchmen were killed in the bloody affair.  The heavy defeat crippled the French military effort for many years and allowed King Henry to take full political advantage; Henry recovered French territorial possessions, which he believed ‘belonged to the English Crown’.  The astonishing victory established Henry V as a national hero both for his own time and in subsequent, popular tradition.  The ‘Ballad of Agincourt’, composed in 1606, gives a feel for the national psyche.

Upon St. Crispin’s day
Fought was this noble fray
Which fame did not delay
To England to carry.
Oh when shall English men
With such acts fill a pen,
Or England breed again
Such a King Harry ?


George IIIt was not such a good day for one of our Georgian monarchs.  On 25th October 1760, King George II died in Kensington Palace, London at the age of 76.

Arrogant and indifferent, King George’s first language was German.  He learned to speak English but his guttural accent made him appear very foreign to British subjects. He was perhaps fortunate that his 33 year reign coincided with a period of great prosperity at home and abroad.  In 1743, George II took to the field of battle, the last British monarch to do so: he led his army to victory against the French at Dettingen.

George had a taste for music and continued royal patronage of Handel; he is said to have been so moved on hearing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ in ‘The Messiah’, that he spontaneously rose to his feet, starting the custom which has been observed ever since whenever that piece of music is performed.

George II was buried in Westminster Abbey.  He sired 8 children but it was his famous grandson who succeeded him as King George III.


Charge of Light

My final historical account describes an unintended but nonetheless, heroic charge, which had terrible consequences for the British participants.

It was on 25th October 1854, that the renowned or perhaps infamous ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ took place on the south Crimean coast in Ukraine.

This terrifying charge, led by Lord Cardigan, was part of the much wider Battle of Balaclava.  In short it followed miscommunication in the heat of conflict and resulted in the Light Brigade of the British Cavalry attempting a more difficult military objective than was intended by the overall Commander, Lord Raglan.  673 men rode straight into a ‘Valley of Death’ and the fire from heavy Russian guns.  There was massive loss of life: the army suffered 278 casualties and 335 horses were also killed.

Alfred Lord Tennyson encapsulated the futility of this war and others that followed.

..”Their’s not to make reply
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die.
Into the Valley of Death
Rode the six hundred”…

Leaders of The Royal League

HM Queen Elizabeth II

HM Queen Elizabeth

1.   On 9th September 2015, in the twilight of England’s second, ‘Elizabethan Age’, the old guard was changed and we witnessed a royal event that may never by repeated.  Elizabeth Alexandra Mary is the most successful of a very illustrious league comprised of 53 crowned monarchs.  Elizabeth was born on 21st April 1926 and at the time of writing, she is 89 years old which makes her the oldest person to sit on England’s throne.  Moreover, since her succession on 6th February 1952, HM Queen Elizabeth II has survived more than six decades of immense change to become the longest reigning Sovereign in England’s history.

To date, this remarkable Lady has served Britain and the Commonwealth for 63 years and 229 days {or 23,239 days}.  Without doubt, Elizabeth II has witnessed and absorbed more changes than any other King or Queen of England/Britain.  Her monarchy has been exposed to the most intense, microscopic scrutiny but she has always responded with dignity and resolve.  Elizabeth has four children and her eldest son, Prince Charles, has served or perhaps endured, a longer term than any predecessor as heir to the throne.


Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

2.  Alexandrina Victoria was born in Kensington Palace on 24th May 1819 and she succeeded to the throne on 20th June 1837, following the death of her Uncle who was King William IV; she was just 18 years old.  Victoria’s remarkable tenure continued for 63 years and 216 days {or 23,226 days} and when she died on 22nd January 1901, Victoria was 81 years old.  She was interred in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, within sight of Windsor Castle.  Victoria had nine children and most of them played significant roles in shaping European monarchies.  Two of her grandchildren, Britain’s George V and Germany’s Wilhelm II, were on opposing sides during the First World War.


King George III sits third in this test of longevity

3.    The long reign of George III was notorious for the King’s occasional bouts of insanity, which were probably a symptom of porphyria.  George came to the throne on 25th October 1760 when he was 22 years old.  His son the Prince of Wales, with whom he was often in conflict, served as Regent during the incidents of ‘madness’ but George III remained in power notionally until his death on 29th January 1820 when he was 81 years old, a feat that seemed highly unlikely during the early part of his life.  His reign of 59 years and 96 days puts him third in this list of elite rulers.  George survived several attempts to assassinate him and in 1762, he purchased Buckingham House {now Buckingham Palace} in St. James Park for £21,000.  Despite his German antecedents, George was the most patriotic monarch imaginable, which perhaps explains his extreme disappointment at the loss of the American colonies after 1781.


Tomb effigy of Henry III

Tomb effigy of Henry III

4.    One has to regress nearly 800 years for the fourth longest reign in England’s history.  Henry III was the son of King John; he was born on 1st October 1207 and he came to the throne nine years later on 19th October 1216, following the sudden death of his father.  Henry was more suited to the religious life than that of a king but his troubled reign continued for 56 years and 29 days.  His greatest legacy is undoubtedly Westminster Abbey, which he had rebuilt in the form that we see today.


Tomb effigy of Edward III

Tomb effigy of Edward III

5.    Next comes the great medieval Warrior-King Edward III who was born in Windsor Castle on 13th November 1312.  His succession, which was a rather clumsy, political affair, occurred on 25th January 1327 when Edward was 14 years old and his reign continued for 50 years and 147 days until his death at the age of 64 on 21st June 1377.  King Edward’s monarchy was quite extraordinary.  He led England into the early stages of the ‘Hundred Years War’ against France and in 1348, his country experienced the first devastating outbreaks of Bubonic Plague.  In the same year Edward founded the ‘Order of the Garter’ and he nominated Saint George as its Patron Saint; it is now the oldest order of chivalry in the world.


Coronation portrait of Elizabeth I

Coronation portrait of Elizabeth I

6.    Sixth place goes to England’s most illustrious and celebrated monarch, Queen Elizabeth I who was born on 7th September 1533.  She was 25 years old when she came to the throne on 17th November 1558, following the death of her much troubled half-sister Mary I.  During an incredible tenure of 44 years and 127 days, Elizabeth survived numerous attempts on her life and plots against her monarchy.  She rejected all offers of marriage, defied Catholic Europe and defeated the huge Armada sent by Philip II of Spain.  The Court of Elizabeth I is still the most famous and prestigious in world history.


Henry VI

Henry VI

7.    During the 15th century, the English crown changed hands five times as the Wars of the Roses ripped the country apart.  The turbulent and interrupted reign of King Henry VI was symptomatic of this violent era.  Henry was only 8 months old when he succeeded to the throne on 31st August 1422, making him the youngest Sovereign in English history.  He was later deposed for a short period by Edward IV and his reign of 38 years and 347 days was brought to a violent end on or around 21st May 1471, when he was almost certainly murdered in the Tower of London.  Henry’s greatest legacy is his twin foundation at Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge.


Aethelred 'the Unready' taken from the Chronicle of Abingdon

Aethelred ‘the Unready’ taken from the Chronicle of Abingdon

8.    It may surprise you to know that eighth position is taken by a monarch who died nearly 1000 years ago.  The reign of Aethelred ‘the Unready’ began on 18th March AD978 and continued over 38 years and 36 days until his death on 23rd April 1016.  His kingship was disrupted and bedevilled by Viking raids and wars; it was interrupted in 1013 when Aethelred fled to Normandy for a while.


Henry VIII

Henry VIII

9.    Next in line is a giant of a man in every sense.  Born in Greenwich Palace on 28th June 1491, Henry VIII was 17 years old when he came to the throne on 21st April 1509.  His grandmother Lady Margaret Beaufort served as Regent until Henry reached his 18th birthday, later that year.  During a phenomenal reign of 37 years and 281 days, Henry made more changes to England’s political, geographic and religious landscapes than any monarch before or since.  Henry VIII was 55 years old when he suffered a rather ignominious death on 28th January 1547.


King Henry I ' {Bleauclerc'}

King Henry I ‘ {Bleauclerc’}

10.    King Henry I, the youngest son of William the Conqueror, was nicknamed ‘Bleauclerc’, meaning fine scholar.  He was born at Selby in Yorkshire in September 1068 and was thus, the first Norman King to be born in England.  He came to the throne on 2nd August 1100 at the age of 31 following the ‘accidental’ death of his elder brother William II.  Henry’s tenure lasted 35 years and 120 days.  When Henry I died at the age of 67, reportedly after eating lampreys {eel-like fish}, England erupted in a civil war between supporters of his daughter Matilda and his nephew Stephen.


An idealistic portrayal of the killing of Lady Jane Grey

An idealistic portrayal of the killing of Lady Jane Grey

At the other end of the scale, we should not forget the least influential of all English monarchs, Lady Jane Grey whose story is perhaps the most tragic in our history.  On 10th July 1553, Lady Jane was pronounced Queen, a situation brought about by her own father and her wicked father-in-law.  After nine days only, Jane’s ‘reign’ was terminated after the appointment of the legitimate heir, Queen Mary I.  After being confined in the Tower of London for the next 7 months and despite being innocent of any known offence, Lady Jane was executed in order to preserve the status quo; she was 16 years old.

The price of monarchy has always been high.  Whilst our current Queen has been forced to endure intrusions that were unthinkable less than a century ago, her predecessors suffered more from the machinations of resentful and over-ambitious subjects who craved ultimate power.

Glorious Centennials

Articles of Barons

Magna Carta comes of age: 800 years ago, nobody envisaged the manuscript’s influence on world history.

What a year for English and British citizens to celebrate and reflect on their illustrious and occasionally troublesome past: 2015 promises so much with a cornucopia of unique milestones and anniversaries.  The events that will be commemorated span 8 centuries and are not linked in any way, except perhaps by a recurring theme of determined resistance to autocratic rule at home and abroad.

Without doubt, the most significant celebrations will be those marking the 800th birthday of Magna Carta.  Between 6th January 1215, when the opening round of negotiations between the King and his magnates failed and 15th June when the charter was given the royal seal of approval at Runnymede by King John, England was a hot bed of mistrust and violence as self-seeking Barons struggled to overcome the more extreme excesses of the Plantagenet dynasty.  Although the agreement was annulled by Pope Innocent III on 24th August 1215, just 10 weeks after it had been bestowed, the tenets of that ancient manuscript inspired later generations to baulk at the prospect of absolute rule, wherever and whenever it occurred.  Arguably, for 800 years Magna Carta has proved its worth as the most influential document ever bequeathed to humankind.  Whilst celebrations will centre quite understandably on Runnymede, the events of 1215 will be marked in other parts of England.

A romantic depiction of the bloody battle at Waterloo

A romantic depiction of the bloody battle at Waterloo

Several appalling conflicts will be remembered this year.  Two centuries ago on Sunday 18th June 1815, the Battle of Waterloo was fought in a region that now forms part of Belgium.  Napoleon attacked the combined Anglo-Dutch-Prussian armies led by the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal von Blucher.  The slaughter was terrible; approximately 25,000 Frenchmen were either killed, wounded or reported missing and the allies suffered similar casualties.

It was 600 years ago on St. Crispin’s Day, {Friday 25th October 1415} that the Battle of Agincourt was contested in France.  This ferocious conflict formed part of the struggle that we know as ‘The Hundred Years War’.  On that occasion King Henry V led 6-9000 men against a much larger force of French knights and men-at-arms.  Henry V secured an unlikely and spectacular victory during which 7-10,000 Frenchmen were massacred but the successes and territorial gains were over-turned during the life of  the King’s son who was Henry VI.

We will perhaps remember some of the characters associated with well-known battles and equally celebrated commanders.  It may come as a surprise to learn that 200 years ago on 15th January 1815, Emma Lady Hamilton died in ‘reduced circumstances’ after suffering amoebic dysentry at Calais in France.  Emma was 49 years old and she died in abject poverty.  Her birth name was Amy Lyon and she went on to become a ‘mistress’ of the heroic naval commander Horatio Nelson.

Mary Tudor Q of F

The beautiful Mary Tudor, sister to King Henry VIII

In 2015, BBC Two will broadcast their six part adaptation of Dame Hilary Mantel’s novels, which focus on aspects of the Tudor age.  The era features also in my calendar of unique anniversaries.  500 years ago on 13th May 1515, the renowned beauty Mary Tudor, younger sister of King Henry VIII and dowager Queen of France, married Charles Brandon in a ceremony at Greenwich Palace.  This was Mary’s third ‘wedding’ in 7 months and it ended tragically with her early death at the age of 37 in 1533.  Mary was a maternal grandmother of the equally tragic Lady Jane Grey.

5 centuries ago on 22nd September 1515, Anne of Cleves was born at Dusseldorf in Germany.  Thomas Cromwell, Chief Minister of Henry VIII, secured the treaty which betrothed Anne to King Henry.  They wed in January 1540 but the marriage only lasted 6 months: nevertheless, the couple stayed on good terms.  Anne of Cleves outlived King Henry and the remainder of his six wives.

The famous war poet Rupert Brooke

The famous war poet Rupert Brooke whose sonnet ‘The Soldier’ lives on.

The traumas of the First World War will be remembered through individuals who paid the ultimate price for their involvement.  100 years ago on St. George’s Day {23rd April 1915}, the war poet Rupert Chawner Brooke died on a French hospital ship, moored off an island in Greece: he was just 27 years old and was on his way to the slaughter at Gallipoli.  Brooke is renowned for the wonderful war sonnets that he composed, including the iconic work ‘The Soldier’, {see below}.

At 6am on 12th October 1915, Nurse Edith Louisa Cavell from Norwich, was executed by a firing squad at Schaerbeek in Belgium.; her only crime was to shelter British soldiers and funnel them out of occupied Belgium into the Netherlands, which was neutral.  Edith’s death outraged the civilized world and her demise sparked a large increase in recruitment to the Armed Services.  After the war, her body was taken to Westminster Abbey for a service and that was followed by a well-attended burial ceremony outside Norwich Cathedral.

The world of sport and entertainment has its share of anniversaries: some very famous names and events will be recalled.  100 years ago on 1st February 1915, Sir Stanley Matthews CBE was born at Stoke in the East Midlands.  He was without doubt the best known sportsman of his era and he remains the only footballer to be knighted during his playing career.  He was the first man to be awarded both ‘European Footballer of the Year’ and ‘Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year’.  On 23rd October 1915, the renowned cricketer Doctor William Gilbert ‘WG’ Grace MRCS LRCP passed away at Mottingham in Kent at the age of 67.  This remarkable man scored a huge number of runs during a record 44 seasons.

On 4th February 1915, the comedy actor Sir Norman Joseph Wisdom OBE was born in Marylebone, London.  Arguably, England’s greatest clown, he could sing well and was a fine actor.  Moreover, 100 years ago on 22nd September 1915, the legendary Arthur Lowe was born in Derbyshire; between 1968 and 1977, he portrayed the popular character ‘Captain George Mainwaring’ in the BBC sitcom, ‘Dad’s Army’.

HM Queen Elizabeth II

HM Queen Elizabeth II

The celebrations will reach their zenith in the autumn when HM Queen Elizabeth II acquires another unique and rare title.  On 10th September 2015, Elizabeth will surpass Queen Victoria and become the longest reigning monarch in English/British history.  This remarkable woman was born in London on 21st April 1926 and she succeeded to the throne following the death of her father, in February 1952.  She is ‘Head of the Commonwealth’ and ‘Supreme Governor of the Church of England’.  In September 2015, when she overtakes Victoria, Elizabeth’s reign will stand at 63 years and 217 days {or 23,227 days}.

It is worth considering that during her monarchy, Queen Elizabeth will have been served by twelve British Prime Ministers and she has seen twelve American Presidents take office; it is quite possible that those numbers will increase in the near future !  Although Her Majesty rarely comments on political matters, she is undoubtedly, the world’s most experienced leader; she has seen it, done it and got the T-Shirt !

Many of the issues and conflicts just described, have taken place on European soil.  It seems fitting to conclude my humble tribute with the first eight lines of ‘The Soldier’, composed by Rupert Brooke in 1914.

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England.  There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England’s, breathing English air,

Washed by the rivers, blest by sons of home.

A Bridge Too Far…


On many occasions, the future of English history has turned on the result of a medieval battle: this was very much the case, nearly 1000 years ago, when an Anglo-Saxon force engaged in the bloody slaughter of Norwegian invaders at a crossing of the River Derwent in Yorkshire.

On 25th September 1066, Harold Godwinson {King Harold II} of England attacked a force of Norwegians led by King Harald Hardrada, who were intent on taking the English throne.  The invaders had been joined by the English king’s disaffected brother, Tostig Godwinson.

It seems that the Norwegians were taken completely by surprise and massacred in what has become known as the ‘Battle of Stamford Bridge’: the English killed approximately 8000 men including Tostig.  The exact location of the decisive conflict has not been established: indeed it remains the subject of much debate.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reported that 300 ships had brought the foreigners to England but only 24 were required to carry the survivors home.  This battle was hugely significant because it detained King Harold in the north of England, which enabled Duke William of Normandy to land unopposed on the south coast at Pevensey Bay in Sussex.

It is worth noting that the Norwegian’s King Hardrada, was perhaps the most infamous and feared warrior of his day: the Anglo-Saxons’ victory says much about their ferocity and capabilities.  The Battle of Hastings followed just over 2 weeks later, after the Anglo-Saxons had completed a remarkable forced march over 200 miles to confront the Norman invasion force; one wonders how things might have turned out if they had been fresh, when they faced Duke William ‘The Conqueror’….

The Yorkshire monument to the Battle of Stamford Bridge

The Yorkshire monument to the Battle of Stamford Bridge

Battle of Britain Day – 15th September

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

In a divisive world, it is so easy to forget the men and women at home and abroad, who sacrificed so much to keep safe, the domestic and international freedoms that made Britain the country that it is, or perhaps was…

15th September is Battle of Britain Day: why ?  Because on that hugely significant day in 1940, the most decisive aerial confrontation of the war took place in the skies above South-East England.

RAF Fighter Command claimed victory over the Luftwaffe after large numbers of enemy aircraft were destroyed.  Allied losses were much lighter than usual.  Two days later, it was clear that Adolf Hitler had abandoned his ‘Operation Sealion’.  The Germans continued to attack England from the air, but their raids were never again on the same scale.

Many of you may recall the wonderful voice of the BBC commentator Raymond Frederic Baxter OBE.  It is fitting and poignant to report that he passed away at the age of 84, at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, on this day 15th September 2006.  Raymond presented BBC Radio coverage for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation as well as the funerals of King George VI, Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Mountbatten.  It is perhaps less well known that during the Second World War, Raymond Baxter was a fighter pilot and flew Spitfires.  Here he is describing the magnificent machine which was an intrinsic element of the Battle of Britain.

Heroes and Heroines

The most renowned of English monarchs, Richard 'The Lionheart'.

The most renowned of English monarchs, Richard ‘The Lionheart’.

Historically, 7th September has been one of the busiest and most impactive days of the year. Let’s start with a famous victory secured over 8 centuries ago….

On 7th September 1191, during the Third Crusade, the 33 year old King Richard I of England defeated the Moslem warrior Saladin, at the Battle of Arsuf, about 15km north of Tel Aviv.

It is not possible to establish the scale of the losses incurred by either side, but certainly, Richard’s victory was important because it destroyed Saladin’s reputation as an invincible warrior and proved Richard’s skill and courage.  The result allowed England’s King to take Jaffa, the nearest port to the prized Holy City.  Now we shall move to the birth of an illustrious Queen….

At 3pm on Sunday 7th September 1533, Anne Boleyn was in her private chambers at Greenwich Palace when she gave birth to a healthy, red-haired girl: the infant developed into the woman we know as Queen Elizabeth I.

This proved to be Anne’s only live child.  Henry VIII had been reassured by physicians and astrologers that the child would be a boy and he was comparatively disappointed; he need not have worried of course. During the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign, a fabulous treasure was captured….

It was on 7th September 1592, that the Portuguese vessel , ‘Madre de Dios’ was towed into Dartmouth harbour, after being captured during a ‘privateering’ expedition led by Sir John Burrows (Burroughs).

The ship, made in Lisbon in 1589, was huge by contemporary standards and was packed full of treasure, jewellery, silks, porcelain and spices.  It has been estimated that the ship contained approximately 900 tons of valuables.

Much of the treasure was either stolen or smuggled away immediately after it docked.  Queen Elizabeth I appointed Sir Robert Cecil and Sir Walter Raleigh to recover the spoils and protect what remained.  Eventually, Raleigh and Cecil retrieved small packages and sold the cargo for £13,505; the profits went to the Treasury. Three centuries later, renowned heroes their names….

On 7th September 1838, the remarkable 22 year old Grace Horsley Darling became a heroine after performing incredible deeds off the north-east coast of England.  In the early hours, she was with her father in Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands, when she saw the wreck of a ship, the SS Forfarshire, on a nearby rocky island.  The weather was atrocious and the couple could see that the ship had broken in two so they set off in a rowing boat, over a distance of one mile, to rescue the survivors under very dangerous conditions.  Together, Grace and her father saved the lives of 13 men.

On 7th September 1910, the painter William Holman Hunt died in Kensington at the age of 83.  He stayed true to the principles of the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’ and produced some of the most outstanding work of his generation. He was buried in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral….A few years later saw the birth of a man who witnessed the worst of all disasters…

On 7th September 1917, Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire VC OM DSO DFC was born at Chester.

When the Second World War broke out, he joined the RAF and flew bomber aircraft; he was the youngest Group Captain in the service.  He completed over 100 missions and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his continuous courage.

On his 103rd mission, he served as an official observer on board a B-29 bomber over Nagasaki and witnessed the dropping of an atomic bomb.  After the conflict, he became a tireless charity worker and together with his wife Sue Ryder, set up ‘Leonard Cheshire Disability’ and other philanthropic organisations. On that theme…..

It was in the later afternoon of 7th September 1940, that approximately 300 German Luftwaffe bombers unleashed the first of dozens of intense raids against London, on a scale not previously seen in world history.

Hundreds of civilians were killed, thousands injured and many people lost their homes. This was the beginning of the ‘London Blitz’ which claimed the lives of about 43,000 civilians and injured approximately 140,000….When Europe moved in the Cold war, the violence continued…

On 7th September 1978, George Ivanov Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, was murdered as he walked across Waterloo Bridge in London.

Markov was a writer, journalist and broadcaster and worked for the BBC World Service.  He was an outspoken critic of the Bulgarian regime.  Whilst walking over Waterloo Bridge, it seems that he was injected, probably via an umbrella, through the back of the leg, with a tiny pellet containing the deadly toxin, ricin.

Finally, on 7th September 1978, the wildly eccentric drummer Keith John Moon died at 9 Curzon Place in Mayfair after taking 32 tablets of Clomethiazole.

Moon and his girlfriend had spent the previous evening dining with Paul and Linda McCartney in Covent Garden.  The address where he died, was the same property where the singer Cass Elliot had died four years earlier.  Keith Moon was cremated and his ashes scattered at Golders Green.

Coronation portrait of Elizabeth I who was born on 7th September 1533.

Coronation portrait of Elizabeth I who was born on 7th September 1533.

The Last of Six


On 5th September 1548, the former Queen, Catherine Parr died at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire after contracting puerperal fever.  Six days earlier, she had given birth to her only child.

Catherine had outlived her former husband Henry VIII by a year, one month and eight days.  Within five months of King Henry’s death, Catherine was re-married, this time to Thomas Seymour, a poor choice by anybody’s reckoning.

Catherine’s funeral was at Sudeley Castle and Miles Coverdale, the translator of the Bible, officiated in one of the country’s first Protestant funerals.  The diminutive 10-11 year old Lady Jane Grey was ‘Chief Mourner’.

Catherine was buried in the Chapel of St. Mary within the grounds of Sudeley Castle {see photograph below}.  The property later descended into ruin and in the summer of 1782, Catherine’s lead coffin was found, less than one foot below the surface in the chapel.  The coffin was opened and Catherine was found in a good state of preservation, wrapped in six or seven cloths of linen; her flesh was described as ‘white and moist’.

Eventually, after a series of degrading exposures to visitors, the body was returned to a tomb beneath a Victorian marble effigy designed by Sir George Scott and carved by Sir Bernie Philip, who was responsible also for the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, London.


The tomb and final resting place of Catherine Parr

The tomb and final resting place of Catherine Parr