This website uses cookies to provide a rich user experience. Please consult our Cookie Policy to learn about what cookies this website uses, or to control the cookies you receive. You need do nothing if you are happy to receive cookies.
Look and Learn History Picture Library Image from the history picture library

Subject: ‘Religion’

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.

The true origins of the Renaissance lay in scientific enquiry

Posted in Art, Historical articles, History, Religion, Science on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about the Renaissance first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 599 published on 7 July 1973.

Gallileo on the tower of Pisa,  picture, image, illustration
Gallileo on the tower of Pisa by James E McConnell

New Year’s Eve in the year A.D. 999 was not the most joyous festival in the story of our world. In the churches men and women crowded the pews, weeping and lamenting. In the streets outside, crying sinners flayed each other with birch branches.

In the churchyards crowds on their knees waited for the graves to burst open, and for the skeletal dead to rise and beckon them with bony fingers to their everlasting fate.

For, said the knowledgeable, on the morrow, the first day of the year A.D. 1000, the world would come to an end. On that day Jesus would return to Earth to judge all men, to send them off to heaven or hell.

The appointed day, discovered by the sages in their study of the stars, approved by the Church and accepted by the gullible multitude, had for long been anticipated. Famines and plagues, sent by the Lord as advance warnings of His wrath, had been steadily increasing in number. In an attempt to counteract their evil effects, pilgrimages had multiplied. As the day of doom drew nearer, all Europe was gripped by a paralysis of fear.

On New Year’s Eve that fear turned into an hysterical panic. Those who dared to go to bed, closed their eyes never expecting to open them again. Those who stayed up, watched the sky and waited in wonder for the descent of Christ.

But He didn’t come. And when the cock crowed and the restless sleepers awoke, and first light streaked the dawn sky, men all over Europe rubbed their reddened eyes and looked at each other saying. “It’s just like any other day. We’ve been fooled!”

The dawn of the eleventh century, however, was not perhaps quite like any other day. For it may well have been the first day in history when a large number of people realised that what they had been taught to accept for centuries was not necessarily true. As such, it may have been the first birth pang of the glittering epoch that we call the Renaissance.

Like the middle ages and the industrial revolution, the Renaissance is an era which cannot be confined between dates marking a beginning and an end. It touched many countries and was about many different things, and most of those things were happening in different places at different times.

But in the broadest sense we could say that it began in Florence about the end of the fourteenth century and that the major changes associated with it went on for two hundred years, until the early years of the seventeenth century.

Read the rest of this article »

Old St Paul’s Churchyard in London around the year 1600

Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Religion, Trade on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Old St Paul's Churchyard
Old St Paul's Churchyard next to Old St Paul's Cathedral in C17 London by Peter Jackson

Old St Paul’s Cathedral was a Gothic church which dominated the City of London and the skyline of the capital. Its fabric, however, was in a dire state of repair and during the 16th century various depredations took place, including a wholesale stripping of the cathedral’s interior ornaments after a mob was incited by evangelical Protestants, who preached a ranting sermon from St Paul’s Cross in 1549. Many subordinate buildings were demolished and the stone sold off to developers, including the builders responsible for Cromwell’s new London palace, Somerset House. Other properties were sold or rented out as commercial premises, and booksellers colonised the formerly sacred site.

Many more pictures relating to St Paul’s Cathedral, London, can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

Queen Victoria died in the crook of the Kaiser’s perfect arm

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, London, Religion, Royalty on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about the death and funeral of Queen Victoria first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 585 published on 31 March 1973.

Funeral cortege of Victoria,  picture, image, illustration
The funeral cortege of Queen Victoria by Richard Hook

It was in the frosty early-evening darkness of a January day in 1901 that, in her bedroom at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, Queen Victoria prepared to leave this life to join, as she devoutly believed, her beloved Consort, Albert, in the next.

Albert’s portrait was, as always, beside the bed of the Queen. Waiting, as it were, in the wings, was the Court Painter, von Herkomer, whose early task it would be to paint the tiny image of Victoria as she lay in the misty gauze of her burial clothes. The Queen was 81-years-of-age and she had sat upon the Throne of England for 63 of them – the longest reign in English history.

Osborne House was filled almost to overflowing with the family as the end drew near, children and grandchildren. Among the latter was the grand old lady’s hot-headed grandson, the Kaiser, Wilhelm the Second of Germany, whose country was to be at war with Britain in thirteen years’ time. The Kaiser, by all accounts, had a deep and genuine affection for his grandmother, though his feelings for her son, Edward Prince of Wales, soon to be King, were far from cordial. The Kaiser despised “Uncle Bertie” for his worldly frivolity and affection for the French, and feared for the pure power of his presence. But there at Osborne, keeping discreetly out of sight, was the German Emperor, saying that his deepest wish was to see grandmamma before she died, but if that were impossible he would quite understand.

The unhappy Boer War was still on, though drawing towards its close. The Kaiser had incensed his grandmother by sending a congratulatory telegram to President Kruger of the Transvaal. Now it was that same President Kruger who sent to Osborne House a warm-hearted wish for the Queen’s “prompt recovery.” Victoria seemed immortal, both to friend and foe.

But immortal she was not. She whispered faintly that Turi, her Pomeranian dog, be brought to her. Turi came and went. Then, as the Prince of Wales hovered nearby, the old Queen uttered her last word. “Bertie”, she whispered, and her 60-year-old son who had lived in almost mortal terror of her all of his life, buried his face in his hands and wept. The Edwardian age was only a couple of hours away.

Oddly enough it was the German Kaiser who, having been admitted to his dying grandmother’s bedroom, was allowed to share with the Queen’s doctor the privilege of supporting her on her pillow. This he did for over two hours, unable to change arms since his left arm was withered. In the crook of the Kaiser’s arm, Queen Victoria died.

Read the rest of this article »

Corsairs sold captive Englishmen in the slave markets of Algiers

Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Religion, Ships on Wednesday, 5 March 2014

This edited article about Muslim slave traffickers first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 579 published on 17 February 1973.

The bombardment of Algiers,  picture, image, illustration
The bombardment of Algiers by Lord Exmouth in 1816


Seconds after the quarter-master’s command, flame belched from the cannons’ mouths. A cannon-ball whistled through the black sail of one of the pirate ships which was closing in on the English vessel Mercy.

The Mercy, bound for Jamaica with a cargo of wool, had little chance against the sleek Algerian Corsairs. These pirates were the terror of the Mediterranean and the seas off the African coast. Sometimes they even raided the English Channel, carrying off the crews of French and English fishing-boats to sell in the slave markets of Algiers.

During the Napoleonic Wars they had become even bolder, because the ships of Christian Europe had been too busy doing battle with each other to worry about the Muslim raiders.

Now the Mercy was to become another victim. For an hour she had held the pirates at bay with her six guns, but now they were bearing down for the kill.

As they swept alongside, grappling hooks were thrown into the rigging of the Mercy and a wave of yelling Moors clambered aboard the merchantman. In vain the English seamen fought them with their cutlasses. Within minutes they were overwhelmed. Half the crew were killed, and the other half locked in chains.

Five weeks later, the survivors of the attack were herded into the slave market of Algiers. In those days Algiers had a population of 80,000, of whom 25,000 were slaves.

“Before the bidding begins, you have a chance to win your freedom,” said the master of the market. “If you give up your religion and turn to the true faith, your chains will be thrown away.”

There was no response from the little band of captives. The master gave the word for the selling to begin.

The highest price that day was paid for a tall Englishman called John Oakley. He had been a carpenter aboard the Mercy, and his fine physique made him a good investment in the eyes of the Moorish merchants.

Oakley was bought by an Algerian nobleman, and in the weeks that followed he had to toil in the gardens of a palace. Often he felt the burning pain of the overseer’s whip across his naked back. But he did not cry out. Only one thought filled his mind. Somehow he was going to escape. . .

Read the rest of this article »

Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was the apotheosis of Britain’s Empire

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, London, Religion, Royalty on Wednesday, 5 March 2014

This edited article about Queen Victoria first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 578 published on 10 February 1973.

Diamond Jubilee 1897,  picture, image, illustration
The Queen’s open landau paused outside St. Paul's Cathedral, where a "Te Deum" was intoned and "All People That On Earth Do Dwell" enthusiastically sung, by Andrew Carrick Gow

On a summer day 76 years ago, London blossomed with bunting and banners, six miles of its Thames-side streets clattered with the hoofs of hundreds of horses, and from the pavements, the balconies, the roofs and the specially constructed stands, thousands shouted and sang and cheered, and brandished so many Union Jacks so vigorously that the scene seemed awash with a brilliant, flashing tide of red, white and blue.

Military bands thumped out their stirring music, celebratory salvoes thundered from guns in Hyde Park and piercing out above the joyous din, came cheeky cries of “Go it, old girl!” as well as more decorous shouts of “God Bless Your Majesty!” and “Long Live the Queen and the Empire!”

The focus of all this was a plump, rather melancholy old lady of 78 who sat in a horse-drawn carriage waving rather stiffly to left and right, and smiling only very slightly as she did so.

In her outfit of black and grey, frosted with a little white, she seemed a rather sombre figure, the antithesis of the outpourings of joy that surged all round her. Yet, unprepossessing though she looked, Victoria, Queen of England, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India, ruler of the British Dominions beyond the Seas was, as her resplendent title suggests, a monarch of enormous power and the living symbol of the greatest, most far-flung, most influential empire the world has ever known, an empire on which, it was said, the sun never set.

In this context, the Londoners who so vociferously lined the streets on 22nd June, 1897, were celebrating something more than the 60th anniversary of Victoria’s accession to the throne. The Diamond Jubilee of that year was in many ways a vehicle for the British to publicise their pride and pleasure at their dominant position in the world, and what they saw as their superiority over every other nation on Earth.

Today, in an era of more equality, when independence movements have made sovereign states out of many former colonies, this is a view which seems both arrogant and presumptuous. Generally speaking, the idea is no longer valid that, as Thomas Carlyle put it, the strong have the right to rule the weak or, as Queen Victoria herself believed, that Britain bore a “white man’s burden,” a God-given mission to civilize savage peoples.

However, in 1897, only the least susceptible or the most revolutionary were likely to reject such notions. For the vast majority, the facts were incontrovertible. Britain obviously had a destiny to rule when the Queen held sway over 10,200,000 square miles of territory, one quarter of the globe, and over 387,400,000 people, one quarter of the world population. Britain was indubitably superior when she possessed the world’s most powerful navy, richest trade, most widespread system of communications and when the presence of the mighty British Empire had helped prevent large-scale international conflict for over 80 years.

Read the rest of this article »

Rev. Hawker fought against the callous wreckers and smugglers

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, Ships on Tuesday, 4 March 2014

This edited article about Rev. R S Hawker first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 577 published on 3 February 1973.

Cornish wreckers,  picture, image, illustration
Wreckers at work on the shores of Cornwall by Pat Nicolle

It was a September morning in 1842 and the day had dawned grey and bleak over the vicarage of Morwenstow, an isolated parish on the north coast of Cornwall.

Wide-eyed with fright a young lad raced up to the vicarage and hammered on the stout door with his fists. “Come quickly Sir, there are dead men on Vicarage rocks!”

The vicar was roused and dressed within minutes and followed the boy out into the howling wind. Past the old Norman church of Saint Morwenna across the glebe to the cliffs then a steep descent of some 300 feet to the beach.

The scene that greeted the vicar was one of horror. The bay was strewn with a tangled mass of rigging, sails, and broken timbers from a ship. The surging Atlantic breakers rolled in yellow with corn and wheat – the cargo of the wrecked vessel.

The vicar’s manservant was already on the beach, two dead sailors at his feet. Another corpse was sighted when a human hand and arm appeared in the surf.

“Is there no one alive?” was the vicar’s first question.

“Perhaps there is, Sir, for just now I think I heard a cry.”

Hastening in the direction where his servant pointed, the vicar was shown the body of a man in seaman’s garb. Realising the man who leaned over him was a clergyman, the sailor gasped, “O mon pere mon pere.”

The exhausted seaman was taken to the Vicarage where he remained for some weeks, the only survivor of the wreck.

His name was Edward Le Daine, a Jerseyman, and he was later able to tell the tale of the ship which had been wrecked. She was the Caledonia, a splendid brig of 200 tons from the Scottish port of Arbroath, carrying grain from Odessa to Gloucester, intending then to sail home to Arbroath after a two-year absence.

Read the rest of this article »

The Castle of La Mota could not hold ruthless Cesare Borgia

Posted in Castles, Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Religion, War on Tuesday, 4 March 2014

This edited article about the Borgias first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 577 published on 3 February 1973.

Cesare Borgia in battle,  picture, image, illustration
Cesare went to war again, this time fighting for the King of Navarre by Angus McBride

The heavily armed Spanish soldiers rode close beside their richly dressed prisoner and his few servants, but there was scarcely need for so strong a guard. The prisoner lolled on his horse, still weak from his recent illness. He was barely able to grasp the saddle, and one of his servants had to hold the reins of his horse. Certainly, he had not the strength to give spur to his horse and make a last desparate bid for escape.

The party journeyed across the barren, windswept plain towards the walled city of Medina del Campo. But, instead of entering the city gates, they turned off and climbed the steep rocky slope that led up to the high outer walls of the Castle of La Mota. The password was given and the drawbridge lowered. The party clattered across it, past the guard house and into the inner courtyard. The prisoner and his servants were bundled from their horses and across to the great door. They were pushed inside and the door was slammed shut.

The infamous Cesare Borgia was a prisoner of the Castle of La Mota, a place whose great tower and high walls prevented all hope of escape.

The Borgias were a Spanish family who had come to Rome from Valencia. Rodrigo Borgia, himself the nephew of a Pope, was appointed Pope in 1492, styling himself Alexander VI. In those days, it was not uncommon for Popes to have families, and Rodrigo was no exception. He had four children. He was a man of great ambition not only for himself but for his family as well. He wanted them to have power and estates. His eldest son, Juan, was given the Dukedom of Gandia. For his second eldest son, however, Rodrigo had other plans. He wanted him to enter the Church, and so he made him a Cardinal. This son was Cesare Borgia, a man who had little liking for the Church, but who shared his father’s greed for power. Because of this, he greatly resented the wealth and possessions that were being bestowed on other members of his family, and he was particularly jealous of his older brother, Juan.

Cesare’s brother had married into the royal house of Spain. His sister, Lucrezia, had married to become an Italian princess. And all Cesare had was the position of Cardinal. But Cesare Borgia was making his plans.

It was a Wednesday evening in June. Cesare and his brother, Juan, had attended a banquet. They left together. That was the last time Juan was seen alive. A few days later his body was taken from the river. He had been stabbed nine times. Cesare was now the eldest son. His father was forced to release him from his position as Cardinal and let him take his place in the outside world.

But Cesare Borgia still yearned for power. For a while he went to France and stayed at the court of King Louis XII. Here the King agreed to arrange a wealthy marriage for him if, in return, Cesare Borgia would help him by leading a French Army to regain the regions of Naples and Milan, which had previously belonged to France. Cesare agreed and so married Charlotte, sister of the King of Navarre.

Read the rest of this article »

John Milton – the greatest English poet since Shakespeare

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Politics, Religion, Revolution on Monday, 3 March 2014

This edited article about John Milton first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 576 published on 27 January 1973.

Christ's College Cambridge,  picture, image, illustration
Christ's College, Cambridge, which Milton entered in 1625

The coach rumbled on endlessly through the afternoon sun and young John Milton scanned the horizon anxiously. It had been a long journey from Bread Street in London, a full day of travel that declined from being exciting to monotonous as the miles passed by. Now he wanted to catch sight of his destination and as they breasted a slight rise he suddenly exclaimed with joy.

The coachman grinned at him and pointed to the distant spires and towers which dominated the flat expanse of countryside, “Ay master,” he said. “That’s Cambridge, sure enough.” Half an hour later, the coach rolled to a stop amid a clatter of hooves, the barking of dogs and the scurry of children. John Milton climbed stiffly down and looked about him with satisfaction. He had come to this ancient city to go to University and, dusty as he was, he meant to find his College straight away. It was something he had waited and longed for until now, at the age of seventeen, he could realise his ambition at last.

As a schoolboy at St Paul’s school he had displayed an astonishing memory and an enormous appetite for learning. Indeed, he later said, “From the twelfth year of my age I scarce went to bed before midnight.” This night study proved disastrous to his eyesight but for the moment youthful enthusiasm was still strong and a whole new world of learning lay open before him. The work was hard; rising at five in the morning and lectures and exercises until seven. Then a quick plain breakfast and more work until early afternoon.

Then the undergraduates were free to take part in other diversions. The bear pits, where huge matched bears wrestled with each other, were always popular. So too, were boxing, fishing, swimming and riding, but John Milton chose fencing as his chief sport. He would spend an hour or so each day with the skilful master of the foils and the gymnasium would soon resound to the lithe footsteps and clash of blades as John became more expert in the art.

He was a rebellious youth with an independence of mind that shocked and annoyed his tutors. In 1625 it was usually sufficient for students to do as they were told, but John Milton became an outspoken critic of the University and at one stage he was suspended because of his views. Eventually he spent seven years at the University, taking his degree but refusing to enter the Church as most of his contemporaries did. It was an age when religious conflict was always present and John Milton was a Puritan at a time when it took some courage to keep to these beliefs.

Read the rest of this article »

The growth of travelling quacks came with the upsurge of Plagues

Posted in Historical articles, History, Medicine, Religion, Superstition on Saturday, 1 March 2014

This edited article about medicine first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 575 published on 20 January 1973.

Quack Hunters,  picture, image, illustration
John Halle, a leading Elizabethan surgeon, was bad for the Quacks’ business; he had many a quack whipped out of town by Angus McBride

Medicine is now one of the most specific and delicate of the sciences. All of us owe our very existence to some aspect of the modern doctor’s skill. Yet, how many of you have ever stopped to think about how the healing art – and it used to be called an art, not a science – began? It’s a long way from the clean, polished operating-theatre of a contemporary hospital to the dim, distant ages of magic and folk-lore, when the practitioners of medicine were little better than the most primitive of jungle witch-doctors.

To give you some idea of how long medicine has been established and how methods have improved, let’s go back for half a million years – back to Neolithic Britain. It’s a hard, dark time, with small groups of men fighting for a meagre existence in a tough and brutal environment.

One member of the tribe has been ill with the ‘falling sickness’ – probably what we would call ‘epilepsy’-and has been brought to the healer. He knows that this illness is caused, as are most ailments, by a devil being trapped somewhere in the patient’s body. In this case it is in the skull. So the simple and obvious answer is to release it. Using only sharpened flints, the healer would cut away the skin and saw a small hole in the skull of his patient. Once this was done, it was assumed that the devil would flee through the hole and the patient might recover. What is quite astounding, is that archaeological evidence points to the fact that some men actually did survive this savage operation. It was a fore-runner of the modern operation called ‘trepanning’ and must have called for extraordinary fortitude from the patient, when you remember that there was no kind of anaesthetic in those days. Just a few sympathetic friends or relations to hold one down.

Medical skill progressed fast during the rise of the Greek and Roman Empires, though there was still a deal of religious mysticism connected with the art. Then came the surge of the Goths and Visigoths which plunged the civilised world into the Dark Ages.

During the Middle Ages things improved and it is during this period that we first notice the emergence of the breed of men who concern us here. The rather mysterious group of medical dealers who operate somewhat beyond the fringes of recognised and organised medicine. Men whose living is tainted with the stigma of disrepute – the “Quacks.”

Nobody seems too sure about how the word “quack” originated, but the most common and likely suggestion is that the word is an abbreviation for quacksalver. Originally it was a Dutch word, meaning a person who “quacked” or sold salves, patent medicines and cure-alls.

Read the rest of this article »

Savonarola – the Dominican friar who suffered an ordeal by fire

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, Sinners on Friday, 28 February 2014

This edited article about Savonarola first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 574 published on 13 January 1973.

Savonarola at the stake,  picture, image, illustration
Savonarola, about to be burned in 1498 by Tancredi Scarpelli

The crowd of several thousands hurrying towards the Piazza della Signoria in Florence were buzzing with excitement. They had been waiting for weeks for this spectacle and they jostled and shoved to be there first, to get the best vantage points.

For in the Piazza della Signoria that day two priests had volunteered to burn themselves alive in an ordeal by fire.

In the piazza workmen had built two banks of inflammable material, 40 yards in length with a narrow space between them, in front of the palace of the ruler of the city state. Five hundred soldiers formed a wide circle to keep back the jostling crowd. Thus was the scene set for one of history’s most curious “trials.”

At the appointed hour the two priests – one a Dominican, the other a Franciscan – flanked by their supporters, came out into the open guarded circle. The crowd hushed expectantly as they took their places before the two great unlit pyres.

The ordeal by fire was to be the climax of the amazing career of Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican friar whose preaching had shaken the complaisant people of Florence to their roots. That day, the Florentines hoped, God would judge by fire whether Savonarola was a saint, which was how half of them saw him, or a fool, the view of the other half.

Ever since the puritanical priest had arrived in their city, no one had been spared from the lash of his tongue. “Florentines!” thundered Savonarola from his pulpit in St. Mark’s. “You have lapsed into paganism and you will surely perish for it in the fires of hell, unless you repent at once!”

Then he had switched his attack to the city’s feared ruler, the all-powerful Lorenzo de’Medici, until Lorenzo’s smile tightened on his lips and his hand began to shake with anger. Next the Pope himself was denounced, until the Holy Father’s patience broke into vengeful wrath and he ordered the noisy Dominican friar to be excommunicated.

On one thing all the bemused Florentines were agreed: there had been nothing like Father Savonarola since the Old Testament.

The wisest of them had plenty of sympathy for the Dominican friar’s viewpoint. Sixteenth century Florence might be the centre of that brilliant explosion of art and culture that was later defined as the Renaissance, but in spiritual matters it had gone sadly adrift and its morality could rightly be described as depraved.

Read the rest of this article »