Use our images
Download images for
personal or educational
use for £2.99/US$5 each
All of these articles and images are available for licensing: click on an image to see further details and licensing options; contact us about licensing textual content.
Posted in Castles, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Shakespeare, Theatre on Thursday, 9 May 2013
This edited article about Shakespeare originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 248 published on 15 October 1966.
An early performance of ‘Hamlet’
The Danish seaport of Elsinore looks across just three miles of water to the Swedish town of Helsinborg. The solid red brick and sandstone fortress of Kronborg at Elsinore is often called ‘Hamlet’s castle’ because Shakespeare made it the setting for his great tragedy. But the fact is that the real Hamlet probably never knew Elsinore at all, and certainly not the castle, which was not built until 1580, five hundred years and more after his death.
The narrow waterway separating Denmark from Sweden made Elsinore a key port for trading countries for four centuries. Between 1429 and 1857, every ship sailing through the Sound had to stop at Elsinore to pay dues. The traffic was so great that this source of revenue accounted for two-thirds of Denmark’s annual income and made Elsinore famous whereever sailors put into port and found time to spin a tale of the places they had been.
England had close associations with Denmark during the years when Shakespeare was writing his plays, and he may have been attracted to an old folk story about a 10th century prince of Jutland named Amleth. Shakespeare’s tragedy is one among several influenced by the ancient saga.
Amleth (or Hamlet as we now call him) was an impressive figure in the Icelandic Sagas of the Danish kings. In the days when Rorik was King of Denmark, Horvendill, a prince of the northern province of Jutland, married his daughter, Gerutha, and they had a son – Amleth. But Horvendill had a jealous brother, Feng, who murdered him and married Gerutha. Amleth realised the danger he was in, and tried to avert a fate similar to his father’s by pretending to be demented. Feng’s suspicion was roused and when Amleth killed a spy, he was sent to England with two attendants who carried a letter asking the King of England to put him to death. Amleth cunningly altered the message to a request that he be given the King’s daughter in marriage – and that the attendants be executed!
After his marriage with the princess, Amleth went back to Denmark in time to attend the festivities being held to celebrate his death. During the feast, he took advantage of the drunkeness of the courtiers to set fire to the palace. Feng was slain, and Amleth made for England only to find that previously his father-in-law had made a pact with Feng, that each should avenge the other’s death. Amleth outwitted him and, after defeating him in battle, returned to Jutland to be slain in battle himself by King Rorik’s successor.
Around this ancient tale, Shakespeare wove a tragedy hailed by many as the greatest of all his plays. It was first performed at The Globe Theatre in 1602.
Posted in Architecture, Castles, Historical articles, History, Politics, Religion, Royalty, War on Friday, 1 March 2013
This edited article about France originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 170 published on 17 April 1965.
Francis I with his architect, supervising the building of a royal chateau on the banks of the Loire by John Millar Watt
The very name of the family of the Borgias was enough to send the superstitious people of France and Italy scurrying to their homes and barring their doors in the middle of the sixteenth century.
For Pope Alexander the Sixth, head of that notorious family, had frankly used his office to build up the fortunes of his family; and to gain his ambition to make the Borgias the most powerful people in Italy he had resorted to trickery, war and the dagger.
Undoubtedly Alexander and his infamous soldier-statesman son Cesare Borgia were ruthless men, but as is so often the case in history, some of the stories told about them have since been discredited.
One such well-known story concerns a meeting of cardinals that Alexander called at a vineyard in August, 1503. It is said that the Borgias had poisoned the wine that was to be drunk at that meeting in order to kill the cardinals, but that instead the Pope accidentally drank some of the poisoned wine and himself died by it.
Modern research has shown, however, that it is doubtful whether scientific knowledge had advanced enough in their day to make possible the poisonings with which the Borgias have been credited. It is in fact much more likely that Pope Alexander died in 1503 of the effects of a fever.
In the story of Europe the Borgias have an important place and we need to know something of them now because their story merges with the ambitions of King Charles the Eighth of France. When Louis the Eleventh died his son and heir, Charles the Dauphin, or Charles the Eighth as he now was, was thirteen, and his sister Anne twenty-two. So Anne ruled the kingdom for her brother until he was twenty-one – a Queen regnant in all but name.
Anne was called Madame la Grande, and her eight years of wise and firm rule were good years for France. She had her troubles, though, and one of them was her sister’s husband, Louis Duke of Orleans, who was the heir of Charles the Eighth. When this Duke joined the Duke of Brittany in an invasion of Anne’s territory her army defeated the invaders and captured the discontented Orleans, whom Anne promptly imprisoned.
Then she showed her political sense by severing young King Charles’s betrothal to a princess from Burgundy and marrying him instead to Anne of Brittany – a wedding which united Brittany and France and stopped any further trouble from that quarter.
Charles now took the reins of office from his big sister and straightaway showed that he had very little of her good common sense by making a plan to capture Naples.
To effect this Charles had to make a number of complicated preparations to isolate Naples from the states around it. What was needed, and what was gained, was an alliance with the Borgia family against Naples. Then off went Charles to his war.
The mission was a success in that Naples was captured – and a disaster in that Charles made an army of enemies as his soldiers plundered their way through Italy.
Four years after his return to France the King was walking through a low archway on his way to watch a game of tennis when he bumped his head severely. It was a death blow, and when Charles expired a few hours later at the age of twenty-seven France mourned a King who had shown gentleness and fair promise in his short reign.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in British Countryside, British Towns, Castles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Scotland on Saturday, 16 February 2013
This edited article about Kincardineshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 136 published on 22 August 1964.
Dr. Barbara Moore and the Aldermaston marchers pale to comparative insignificance beside the pride of Kincardineshire, the one and only Captain Robert Barclay from Ury.
What a walker he was! In tight-fitting suit, top hat and cravat his exploits at the turn of the nineteenth century are nothing short of remarkable.
In 1809 he covered 1,000 miles in as many hours around a measured track at Newmarket. This was probably his finest and most footsore hour, although in 1801 he covered 110 miles in 19 hours 20 minutes around a muddy park and a year later managed sixty-four miles in ten hours.
Captain Barclay could lift huge weights as well as walk. When he was twenty it is said he raised an eighteen-stone man standing on his right hand from the floor to a table.
In Stonehaven, Kincardineshire’s county town, many streets are named after members of his family, but they do not see these days such feats of endurance. Violent physical activity in Kincardineshire is now confined mainly to Hogmanay, the celebrations of the New Year.
Stonehaven has a distillery, though its chief industry is fishing. In the old days every Highland laird had his own simple still but in 1814 stills of less than 500 gallon capacity were prohibited. Now the distillation of whisky – no “e” for the Scots’ brand – is of course a very carefully regulated and controlled industry.
Kincardine itself is a rugged, beautiful county, with the Grampians arching their lofty backs across it, and the sea leaping into its coves and caves along a dourly magnificent coastline.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in British Countryside, British Towns, Castles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Scotland on Friday, 15 February 2013
This edited article about Clackmannanshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 134 published on 8 August 1964.
Castle Campbell is perched on a pinnacle at the head of Dollar Glen
What a story-book county is Clackmannanshire, the smallest shire in Scotland and filled to the very brim with tradition and legend. Why, there is even a tale told about how the county came by its name.
One day King Robert the Bruce was out riding and stopped for a while to rest upon a large blue stone.
He continued his journey and had gone a little way when he found he was missing one of his gloves and ordered one of his men, Sir James Douglas “to the ‘clack’ (stone) to fetch my ‘mannan’ ” (Gaelic for glove).
The soldier replied: “Sire, if ye’ll just look about ye here I’ll come back wi’ it directly.”
So, it is said, did the county get its name and also its motto “Look About Ye.” An ingenious story – but one lacking in authenticity for the name is certainly older than the fourteenth century in which this incident is said to have taken place.
Although Scotland’s smallest shire, Clackmannanshire is also one of the wealthiest, having a wide variety of industries.
Coal-mining is a major source of Clackmannan’s wealth, and until the early eighteenth century silver was also mined on the Erskine estate near Alva. It was an extremely rich lode when the precious metal was first mined but eventually the amount of silver found became less and less until the owner, Sir John Erskine, lost nearly all of the £50,000 fortune he had acquired from it through sinking another useless mine in the hope of finding more silver.
In those days mines were a favourite place for consigning criminals serving life sentences, and one such unfortunate was sent to work for Erskine, complete with a metal collar round his neck on which was inscribed his name, his crime, and the name of his owner.
It was a grim fate to be condemned to perpetual slavery.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in British Countryside, Castles, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Scotland on Sunday, 10 February 2013
This edited article about Nairnshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 126 published on 13 June 1964.
The fearsome Picts came from Nairnshire and attacked Britain relentlessly, by Peter Jackson
On days when thunder and lightning beats and whips the skies over Hardmuir Heath in the Scottish county of Nairnshire you can almost imagine the three witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth croaking and cackling there.
For this heath, between Brodie and Nairn, is reputedly the spot where Macbeth met the witches, and six miles away at Cawdor Castle, Shakespeare tells us that Macbeth murdered Duncan. The murder is supposed to have taken place in 1040, and as the earliest part of the castle dates only from 1236, and as there is no sign that a building stood there previously, the Bard’s story is clearly not very accurate!
Neverthless Shakespeare’s Macbeth has invested Cawdor Castle with a rich glamour which it may not entirely deserve from the historical viewpoint, but which it certainly does merit from its sheer physical appearance.
It is a full-blooded “real” castle, complete with drawbridge, portcullis and dungeons, and is inhabited to this day. Standing on the rocky bank of Cawdor Burn, a tributary of the River Nairn, it is sometimes open to the public, and visitors pass eagerly beneath the portcullis.
These days all who go in come out again – but it was not always so!
The town of Nairn – it has a harbour constructed in 1820 by that great Scots engineer Thomas Telford – was at one time also protected by a castle, but the course of the Nairn has altered and the sea has eaten into the land so that it has gradually disappeared beneath the waters.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in British Countryside, British Towns, Castles, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Scotland on Saturday, 9 February 2013
This edited article about Berwickshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 124 published on 30 May 1964.
Dryburgh Abbey where Sir Walter Scott and Earl Haig are buried, by A F Lydon
The wind that blew damp and cold off the North Sea howled and swirled round the stone battlements of Dunbar Castle on the coast of East Lothian. The gate sentry, who had propped his spear against a wall and was now desperately trying to keep warm in the shelter of the postern gate, suddenly saw a stranger, his cloak folded close about him, hurrying towards the castle.
The soldier seized his spear hastily, and came to attention. The stranger spoke to him in a low voice, and was escorted inside.
In the castle courtyard a manservant hurried forward to relieve the visitor of his cloak. “Ye may tell your earl that Thomas Rhymour is here,” said the stranger as he unbuckled his short sword.
In the Great Hall, Patrick, Earl of Dunbar, rose to greet his guest.
“You are welcome, Thomas of Erceldoune,” said the nobleman as the man they called Thomas the Rhymer, the poet, the prophet from Berwickshire, moved to warm himself at the fire.
The conversation ebbed and flowed like the tide of the North Sea on the foreshore of Dunbar. Then the Earl, who could no longer contain his curiosity (and his disbelief) about Thomas’s prophecies, said with a sly smile, “Today is the eleventh day of March, in the year of Our Lord twelve hundred and eighty six. Tell me, Thomas from Berwickshire – what will tomorrow bring forth?”
“Alas for future days!” replied True Thomas. “Alas for the day of calamity and woe! Before the hour of twelve has struck will be heard such a violent wind in Scotland as will not be seen for many a year to come!”
Ask for a prophecy, ask for a sign, and all you get is a treatise on the weather, thought the Earl glumly.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in British Countryside, British Towns, Castles, English Literature, Historical articles on Friday, 8 February 2013
This edited article about Westmorland originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 122 published on 16 May 1964.
Helm Cragg in Westmorland was immortalised by William Wordsworth in The Prelude
The year was 1485. The terrible Wars of the Roses had ended with the victory at the battle of Bosworth of Henry of the Red Rose, Henry Tudor. In the House of Lords in London, the great men of England were assembled in their finery when into the Chamber trudged a man in ragged clothes whose hands were scarred with toil.
Henry Clifford, of the Great House of Clifford, who could neither read nor write, had come to claim the Barony of Westmorland that was his birthright.
His father John Clifford had been killed by the Yorkists in 1461, and soldiers had been sent to Westmorland to put Clifford’s heirs to the sword. But Henry, then a boy of seven, was forewarned, hurried away, and for 24 years lived with shepherds in the wild northern hills.
Restored at last to his father’s lands, and the castles which today are among the gaunt ruins of Westmorland, Henry Clifford learned to read at the age of thirty, studied astronomy, acquired courtly graces and served the king well. He lived to be seventy, and four centuries later his story inspired the pen of another great inhabitant of Westmorland, William Wordsworth.
In his poem “Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle” Wordsworth celebrated the homecoming of Clifford the Shepherd Baron and included these words:
“In him the savage virtue of the Race,
Revenge, and all ferocious thoughts were dead;
Nor did he change; but kept in lofty place
The wisdom which adversity had bred.”
Henry Clifford may have stayed wise, but certainly he did not lose all ferocious thoughts, for he fought at the Battle of Flodden. He came, after all, from a family of soldiers, and Westmorland in his day was not the home of gentle Lakeland poets but of great lords and dour peasants ever ready to defend themselves.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in British Countryside, British Towns, Castles, Historical articles, History, Industry, Music on Thursday, 7 February 2013
This edited article about Carmarthenshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 120 published on 2 May 1964.
The siege of Carmarthen Castle in 1145, when a large force of Normans, English and Flemings attempted to retake the castle from Rhys, son of Grufydd, by John Harris Valda
The moon came suddenly from behind a cloud to light a deserted stretch of winding road. A poacher, putting his ferret to a rabbit hole, shivered slightly in the night air, and kept a wary eye on the toll-gate keeper’s house a field away. The lights were out, Evans the Gate should be asleep, but you could never be too careful. . . .
Then, in the distance, came the click of a pebble on the road – and the chinking sound of a horse with a loose shoe. The poacher vanished into the shadows, and watched.
Up the road to the toll-gate came a strange procession. At its head a huge carthorse bore a grotesque figure in a bonnet, bundled with petticoats, and behind came a gang of men, dressed in scraps of women’s clothing, carrying axes, billhooks and bales of straw.
The poacher’s mouth dropped open in surprise as the “woman” on the carthorse came to the toll-gate, and demanded in a deep voice, “What is this that bars my way?”
“It is a gate across the public road, Mother Rebecca!” came the reply.
“We cannot have such barriers across the roads of Carmarthenshire! Break it down, my daughters!”
As the axes cut into the wooden gate, the poacher saw the figure of the toll-gate keeper appear. With a coat flung hastily over his nightshirt, he stood helpless as “Rebecca” and her “daughters” piled straw around his cottage – and set it alight.
Then the mob, shouting and jeering, passed by on the road, and the sound of their laughter died in the distance. The poacher left his ferret and his nets, and slipped quietly away in the other direction.
Such was a common scene on the Carmarthenshire roads in 1843. All over southern Wales the country people rose in rebellion against the system of paying tolls in order to use what they considered to be public rights of way.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Architecture, British Countryside, British Towns, Castles, Famous Inventors, Famous landmarks, Farming, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Royalty on Saturday, 26 January 2013
This edited article about Berkshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 111 published on 29 February 1964.
In the green and wooded county of Berkshire a noble range of chalk downs overlooks the sweeping curves of our most historic English river – the Thames.
It was in the Thames valley, where the town of Wantage stands today, that England’s first great king was born in 849. He was the son of Ethelwolf, King of the West Saxons, and Queen Osburh. He was named Alfred.
When he was seventeen, the Danes began their terrible invasions of England. Alfred, under the kingship of his brother Ethelred, fought the Danes many times, and in 871 won a brilliant victory at Ashdown. The great White Horse, cut into the chalk hills at Uffington, is said to have been carved to celebrate that great battle.
In 871 Alfred became king, and in a space of seven years so utterly defeated the Danes that they sued for peace. Wessex was free again.
Berkshire still owes much to Alfred for saving many of its ancient remains from destruction, and the memory of him is strong throughout the county.
Alfred the Great is not the only king associated with Berkshire, for Windsor has been the home of our kings and queens for nine centuries.
The magnificent castle is unequalled anywhere in the world. It looms regally above the town and the Thames – if you come into Windsor from Eton across the river, the first sight of the high Round Tower, framed by the houses of Eton High Street, is an unforgettable one.
The great walls rise nearly 100 feet above the river, enclosing almost thirteen acres, to make it a town within a town. The giant flag that flies from the battlements is eight yards long and 3 yards wide, and its mast weighs two tons.
When on July 17, 1917, King George the Fifth declared that in future the Royal House of Britain would be known as “The House and Family of Windsor,” he cut the last remaining ties of the Crown with a foreign dynasty, and linked it with Windsor Castle – an embodiment in stone of all our history.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Castles, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Industry on Tuesday, 15 January 2013
This edited article about County Antrim originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 103 published on 4th January, 1964.
A picture history of Carrickfergus Castle by Pat Nicolle
From the pounding, humming mills of Belfast city, linen centre of the world, the weaving towns of Antrim stretch northwards across the hills and fields of Ulster to the coast of the North Channel.
Antrim is the “Irish linen” county of Ulster. From this county comes most of the famous linen of Northern Ireland.
Go anywhere in the world, and you will probably find that the tablecloths or the sheets and pillowcases in your hotel are made from Irish linen, woven from flax in Antrim.
Every year enough linen comes off the looms of Belfast mills to cover the city’s area of twenty-five square miles three times. Handkerchiefs, dishcloths, sheets, the stitching round cricket balls and boots are just a few of the things made from Irish linen.
Ulster has been a centre of spinning and weaving since the thirteenth century, for the mild, moist climate is particularly suitable for growing flax, the vegetable fibre from which linen comes.
Originally, the long stalks of flax were left soaking (retting) in the ponds of Antrim farmyards, to separate the fibres of the stalks before combing them into long lengths (hackling).
The lengths were spun into yarn by the farmers’ wives, spread out on the grass to dry and bleach in the sun. Later the yarn was woven into lengths of linen by cottagers, often after their day’s work in the fields or barns. The finished lengths of material were sent by packhorse to Belfast and other ports.
When it was discovered how strong and fine a material linen was, the industry grew so fast that in 1698 King William III gave a refugee Huguenot weaver from France called Louis Crommelin the job of organizing the Irish linen workers and improving their methods.
Crommelin, a skilled craftsman, toured Antrim teaching farmers how to increase their flax yield and how to use water power to drive the looms. When Crommelin died he was buried at Lisburn, today one of the chief linen towns of Antrim.
During the Industrial Revolution Belfast, partly in Antrim and partly in County Down, became the main centre of the thriving Irish linen industry, using steam-driven looms, and it has remained the hub ever since.
Retting is done in special tanks at the spinning mills. The best yarns are woven into fine damask cloths and handkerchiefs, while coarser yarns are used for towels. One Belfast firm makes not only damask cloths for the Admiralty from complicated century-old patterns, but also weaves tea-cloths for Buckingham Palace.
Apart from linen, Antrim has another great industry – farming. Acres of prosperous farmland cover the hilly countryside, and vast quantities of Antrim eggs and bacon are sold to the rest of the United Kingdom each year.
The little port of Larne, north from Belfast, has grown from a mere ferry-station at the beginning of the century into an important trade centre. Through here farm produce and also tobacco and textiles from the county can be shipped in containers or driven aboard ferries by lorry to be sent to England and Scotland. Today Larne is Ulster’s second-biggest port, with fourteen acres of dockside reclaimed from the sea since 1952.
The Antrim Coast Road, one of the finest in Europe, winds northwards for sixty miles from the old Norman castle of Carrickfergus near Larne.
Fifty million years ago the whole county was a mass of seething, bubbling lava, after a great volcanic explosion threw up rocks, burned vegetation and turned the area into a red-hot inferno. During this time the strangely-shaped “stairway” of stone in the north called the Giant’s Causeway was formed, although Ulster people will tell you it was built by a giant called Finn McCool to reach Scotland and settle a quarrel with another giant there.
Slemish mountain (1,457 ft.) in the centre of the county, was one of the chief outlets for the molten lava. Today its slopes are covered in fertile farmland where sheep are grazed and pigs are bred for bacon.