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