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Posted in Historical articles, History, Invasions, Royalty, World War 2 on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about Leopold III, King of the Belgians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
Leopold III, King of the Belgians
In the bitter spring of 1940, as the grim grey-uniformed German Army pushed through Northern Europe, one man made a decision that was for years afterwards, to divide a nation.
At 4 a.m. on May 28, half a million Belgian soldiers laid down their arms and surrendered to the advancing Germans. This they did not on the orders of their generals, nor on instructions from their political leaders, but at the bidding of their handsome king, Leopold the Third.
Leopold’s instructions to his countrymen – who had fought bravely and acquitted themselves well – were given after a last desperate attempt by his Ministers to make him change is mind.
The king was adamant. He saw no further use in resistance. He told M. Spaak (then Foreign Minister): “I shall stay here whatever happens. I shall ask them (the Germans) to let me live in a castle in Belgium.”
The news that the Belgian Army had stopped fighting stunned and angered the allies. Tempers, already inflamed by the passions of war, were now inflamed in turn by hatred directed at Leopold. At 8 a.m. on the morning of May 28 M. Reynaud, the Prime Minister of France, broadcast to the French people and spoke in terms of contempt of the Belgian king.
The Belgian Prime Minister, M. Piertot, denied the right of Leopold to give a surrender order without the consent of the government.
The Germans were jubilant. “Under the impression of the devastating effect of the German arms the King of the Belgians has decided to put an end to further useless resistance,” screamed the Goebbels propaganda machine.
In London Winston Churchill sucked gravely upon the inevitable cigar and exhorted the allies to greater efforts. Meanwhile the German armies swept on into France, only the Channel separating them from Britain, and Belgium was occupied and out of the war.
Why had Leopold surrendered? Was he a hero or a traitor? Had the Germans made him promises? Since that day in 1940 the arguments have raged and some, but not all, of the questions have been answered.
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Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, London, Royalty on Friday, 7 March 2014
This edited article about Edward VII first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
King Edward in his Coronation Robes
“I am fully determined to be a constitutional sovereign in the strictest sense of the word.”
Thus spoke King Edward the Seventh to the Privy Council on the day after the death of his mother, Queen Victoria. What is more, he meant it, and he meant something else as well; he was determined thoroughly to enjoy being a king, and to bring an entirely new image to that kingship and the age over which it was to reign. The occasional dreary “drawing rooms” which Victoria held when, briefly, she was at Buckingham Palace were out. The old place was given a face-lift with a new facade, and in the state rooms the champagne corks popped in an atmosphere of gaiety and glitter.
Edward was gregarious, tolerant, cosmopolitan and a seasoned citizen of the world.
“Good old Teddy,” roared the man in the street, who appreciated the unstuffiness of his new king in the new age.
When we write of this “Edwardian Scene,” we therefore have to take very good note of the man who set his seal upon it, or, at least, on part of it, because life was far from being all sunshine, parasols and roses in those first years of the new century. The poor were still very much there, and so were a number of other disagreeable things.
As the young Prince of Wales, poor Edward, had had an unhappy childhood. Both Victoria and Albert, his parents, had strong views on how a future king was to be brought up. A touch of university life? Certainly, but only under the strictest supervision of a glum old disciplinarian named Colonel Bruce, who was appointed as the prince’s “governor.” Wherever he went at Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh, it was under the eye of Bruce. Protocol forbade the prince to mix freely with other undergraduates. His companions were limited to whiskery old Bruce and selected professors.
Even at the age of twenty, when the Prince of Wales paid an official visit to Canada, there was Bruce tagging along to see that his charge behaved himself.
Was it, then, to be wondered at that, when at last both Victoria and Albert were no more, King Edward “The Peace-maker” was called by some wit, “Edward the Pace-Maker”?
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Posted in Archaeology, Castles, Historical articles, History, Legend, Myth, Royalty on Friday, 7 March 2014
This edited article about King Arthur first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 585 published on 31 March 1973.
“Then there was a great battle, and King Arthur slew many with his sword, Excalibur. By dusk the enemy had fled, and the king led his Knights of the Round Table in triumph back to Camelot . . . .”
So for years the hero-king has ridden through the story books, ruling with the help of a band of fearless knights pledged to the task of keeping the peace and seeing justice done. But was there ever such a man? And if he is fact, not fiction, when did he reign? And where was Camelot?
The search for Arthur and his Camelot has been keeping historians busy for the last hundred years, although only recently has the pace quickened to a full scale exercise in historical detection.
At first, the doubters claimed it was easy to dismiss the whole story as a fairy tale. After all, the Knights of the Round Table all wore armour and spent their spare time jousting, which clearly set their period at around the 14th century. And whoever heard of a King Arthur the First living then? Equally suspect was the point that many of his knights’ adventures had been told and retold in France since earliest times with absolutely no mention of any English king and his castle at Camelot.
The facts certainly seemed to support the non-believers. The story of the Knights of the Round Table came to us from the pen of Sir Thomas Malory, a rather shadowy figure who died in 1471. His book was printed by Caxton 14 years later, and the great printer himself seems to have had his doubts, for he wrote in the preface “Sir Thomas Malorye did take out of certyne bookes of frensshe and reduced it to Englisshe.”
And if that was what Caxton believed, what was the point of trying to prove otherwise? Obviously, the good Sir Thomas had written one of the first best-sellers, a kind of medieval James Bond. And that was that.
After several hundred years scholars suddenly woke up to the fact that the name of Arthur and his followers kept cropping up in the most unlikely places. In the 11th century Black Book of Carmarthen, for instance. In the History of the Britons, compiled in the 9th century by the Celtic monk, Nennius, and in William of Malmsbury’s Acts of the English Kings. Someone even found a 12th century carving in an Italian church that showed Artus de Bretani (Arthur of Britain), Galvagnus (Gawain), Che (Kay) and others storming a castle where Mardoc, or Mordred, held Guenevere a prisoner. All of which dated back to long before Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur was written.
The evidence pointed to only one explanation: that although Malory had undoubtedly collected his stories from a number of sources and knitted them all together within the framework of the Round Table, the stories themselves were the products of ancient romancers. But the people in the stories were a different matter. Certain statements were repeated so often that it seemed probable that they had really lived.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Revolution, Royalty on Friday, 7 March 2014
This edited article about Oliver Cromwell first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 585 published on 31 March 1973.
Oliver Cromwell refusing the Crown of England, 1657 by Thomas Maguire (after)
Oliver Cromwell was well aware, when he came back to London after fighting all his battles in the Civil War, that the crown of Britain was his just for the asking.
But did he want to be Britain’s king?
We shall never really know, for some people say that Cromwell privately schemed to get himself crowned, but never took the crown because he wasn’t sure of keeping it, while others say he scorned any desire to become king. Whatever was in his mind, Britain must have been very near to having a King Oliver the First!
For a long time Cromwell urged the feeble Rump Parliament to dissolve itself and call an election. One day, however, a messenger came to his house and told him about a debate being held in Parliament.
Cromwell hastened along to the House of Commons and found to his astonishment that far from disbanding itself, the Rump was discussing ways in which it could keep itself in office indefinitely!
Cromwell rose to speak. For a time his speech was calm. Then he became angry.
“I will put an end to this prating!” he burst out suddenly. “Heavens! It is not fit that you should sit here any longer! You shall now give place to better men. Call them in!”
At this command a body of musketeers entered the House and stood there by Cromwell with their muskets loaded.
Bitterly Cromwell went on: “How can you be a Parliament for God’s people? Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God – go!”
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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.
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.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Royalty on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about the Edwardians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 582 published on 10 March 1973.
Debutantes 'coming out' at Royal Henley when the river was packed with punts by Richard Hook
Let’s take a look at Edwardian ‘High Society,’ those so-called ‘idle rich,’ whose life, far from being idle, was truly more exhausting, nerve-wracked and fraught with anxiety than that of Mr Average – say, a schoolmaster jogging comfortably along on £350 a year, or even a skilled artisan who managed to keep up appearances and the wolf-from-the-door on a few pounds a week.
‘High Society,’ had, as its figurehead, the jovial King himself, and it was as different from the rather stuffily restrained upper-crust of Queen Victoria’s long reign as might be the spirit of champagne from that of heavy and befuddling port. It was as though most of the 19th Century had been blotted out and the flavour of Charles the Second or the Prince Regent put in its place. It was to be a short life, this Edwardian decade, and, for the socialites, one devoted to an unrelenting pursuit of so-called pleasure. Pleasure-seeking was hard work!
The “London Season” was the starting point for each new year of the social grind, and King Edward in his newly gilded, marbled and chandeliered Buckingham Palace fired, as it were, the “starting gun” by the introduction of “Courts,” at which the daughters of “High Society” who had, as they said at the time, “let down their dresses and put up their hair” were in an atmosphere of daunting splendour and formality “presented” to their Sovereign and his Queen Alexandra. And what an ordeal this was for all concerned, most of all for the debutante, the girl who was “coming out,” in society and whose “presentation” by some titled lady already acknowledged by the Lord Chamberlain as one fitted to “present” was the launching-pad of her mother’s aim to get her successfully married.
Either just before, or just after, the presentation was the visit, in court dress, to the Court Photographer. A Mr Bassano was the prince of Court Photographers, and very expensive he was. Expensive, too, was the debutante’s presentation dress – three ostrich plumes on the head, fan or flower-posy, flowing gown of silk or satin, wasp-waisted, making the young lady stick out like a pouter pigeon in front and like the hindquarters of a pony behind. All down the Mall, leading to Buckingham Palace, the carriages of these nervous young ladies and their ‘presenters’ waited in line, glassed in like tropical fish in bowls, to be gawked at – and often jeered at – by the common people.
At long, long last, after she had queued in corridor after corridor with others like herself, came the great moment – some thirty seconds of it, as, surrounded by satin-breeched court officials and braided flunkeys, she made her deep curtsy to Their Majesties, and prayed to heaven that she would not catch her shoe in her train and fall.
For the mammas of these young girls every moment of the long day’s ordeal had been worth it. The girls had “come out” and the marriage-market was launched – London “coming out balls,” packed with eligible young men; fruit-and-flowered hats at Royal Ascot; Royal Henley when the river was packed from booms to bank with punts and launches; chickens’ wings and champagne; the fashion parade of Henley’s famous Phyllis Court – what a world! Then came Goodwood Races, slightly less formal than Ascot, and finally; Cowes, with the Royal Yacht,’Victoria and Albert’, dressed overall, and very possibly the Kaiser’s yacht as well.
Some of it still goes on, but it is not the same as the twittering splendour of Edwardian upper-class Britain. It had, apparently, not a care in the world, but at heart it was afraid. There was the sense that this butterfly dance was to be the last.
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Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Pierre Bayard first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.
Watching from a hilltop the fierce battle raging below him, King Charles the Eighth of France nudged an aide at his side.
“There is a young knight of our army who is forever in the thick of the fight,” he observed. “You see him yonder, covered with blood. What is his name?”
Following the King’s outstretched arm, the aide replied, “He is Pierre Bayard, sire, a knight of Dauphine.”
The scene was the Battle of Fornovo in Italy; the month and the year, July, 1495. Charles had set out for the southern country determined to win back for France the city-state of Naples, which had been taken by the Spanish. He had succeeded in the task but now, on the way back, the people of northern Italy were standing their ground at Fornovo and fighting the invaders. They wanted to make the French army pay for the looting they had practised on their outward journey through Italy.
Right was on the Italians’ side, but might was with the French. They swept the Italians aside at Fornovo in a bloody day of fighting. And of all the brave men who performed deeds of valour on that field, none was braver than the 20-year-old knight Pierre Bayard, whom King Charles himself had noticed.
Twice Bayard had a horse killed under him and each time he vaulted on to a fresh mount and plunged anew into the fray. His zeal took him into the core of the Italian army; there, flailing with his sword, he uprooted an enemy banner. At the end of the day he presented the trophy to the King. Impressed, Charles gave his loyal young knight a reward of 500 crowns.
France was to hear much more of Pierre Bayard for, as some men grow up with a single-minded ambition, Bayard’s aim from his earliest boyhood was to become a famous soldier – to make himself a legend of chivalry and honour in the Renaissance times in which he lived.
We often say of well-born people that they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. In the case of le Seigneur de Pierre Bayard it was not a silver spoon so much as a sword of honour. For in the two centuries before his birth nearly every head of his noble family at their magnificent chateau in Dauphine had fallen in battle.
Like all his famous ancestors, Pierre’s father had the scent of battle in his nostrils. He belonged to the fast-dying medieval school of knightly chivalry and each day he indoctrinated young Pierre with the chivalric code of honour: “Serve God. Be kindly and courteous to all men of gentle breeding. Be humble to all people. Be neither a flatterer nor a teller of tales. Be faithful in deed and in speech. Always keep your word.”
The great passion of chivalry, symbolised in tournaments, parading ladies and sumptuous banquets, was fast ebbing away when Pierre Bayard was born into a family that would not let it go.
At the last of the great tournaments young Bayard spurred his horse and broke his lance several times by driving it into the ground – a favourite trick of jousting knights to show the strength of their arm. The ladies clapped and cheered shrilly. When the day came for him to leave the family castle to seek his fortune we are told that “finding himself astride his well-bred roan, he deemed he was in Paradise.”
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Norman England first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 580 published on 24 February 1973.
The order was given for Waltheof's immediate execution because the Normans feared that the English would rise to save their hero, by John Millar Watt
If William the Conqueror had written his memoirs, like so many old soldiers do today, he might have had a resentful thing or two to say about the English subjects whom he conquered. For 20 years they made life as unpleasant for him as they could. Throughout his reign many of them never gave up hope that they would drive out the Norman king and replace him with an Englishman.
Always willing to help them rebel were the Danes. Their interest, of course, had nothing to do with aiding a neighbour; they simply hoped that in the furore of a rebellion they could sail quickly and pick up some booty while no one was looking!
Three years after the Normans came, the English in the north rose up against them and the Danes hurried to their ships to see what was in it for them. Landing, they joined the English in their march on York, where William had built two castles and filled them with Norman soldiers.
Learning of the vast numbers of the rebels, the Norman commander at York decided to burn the city. The fire, he thought, would at any rate hamper their attack and keep them away from the castles.
The plan did not work. For with the English that day in 1069 was a man who was fearless of both Normans and fire. He was Waltheof, the great Earl of Northampton and Huntingdon and he was as tall and strong as a giant, with arms like a blacksmith’s.
Unflinching, mocking the angry flames, Waltheof led his men through the fire and forced the Normans to come out at him. And as they rushed out he stood by the city gate striking at them with his battleaxe.
With each stroke a head rolled from its body and, it is said, by the end of that day the great Earl, his face glistening with sweat, his clothes scorched by the fire, had killed a hundred of the hated Normans. Their bodies were then fed to the wolves of Northumbria.
The Battle of York was a sorry defeat for the Normans. Altogether that day they lost 3,000 men, and the English burned their two castles to the ground.
By the time William, convulsed with rage, had hurried up from London to the scene of the outrage, the Danes had sailed away with their ships filled with plunder, and the English had scattered silently far and wide. The Conqueror entered a city in ruins, where the stench of acrid smoke still hung in the air and the charred embers still blistered the hardest hands.
Retribution against the common people was swift and devastating, but it was the testy retribution of an enraged man who knew he could not win an argument and lashed out at everything he saw. When he left York he left a ruined county behind him. For nine years no fields were tilled, no corn was grown in Northambria. Where once all was full of life and joy, only the blackened ruins of homes and villages could be seen.
William made sure there would be no more northern risings to trouble him, and, his anger satiated, he returned to London exhausted and eager to forget, even perhaps to forgive.
For this stern, iron-willed man could sometimes forgive, and in the fullness of time he forgave Waltheof. He gave the earl back his lands and to make his friendship more sure, he gave him his niece Judith as a wife.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty, World War 1 on Wednesday, 5 March 2014
This edited article about King Edward VII first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 580 published on 24 February 1973.
Edward VII was coolly received by the Parisians, but they soon warmed to him and Queen Alexandra, by Clive Uptton
Towards the end of King Edward the Seventh’s reign – he died in 1910 – a London couple, sensitive and intelligent, found themselves in the small hours of the morning, standing on a balcony of a great house where a splendid ball was all but over. There was a hush over the city and stars were bright in the sky. They stood in silence for a while, and then the wife said: “Do you feel something dreadful is going to happen?”
Her husband took her arm. “Yes,” he said. “What it will be I don’t know, but it’s coming.”
The “it” turned out to be the most senseless and meaningless holocaust in history. They called it The Great War. But, in the meantime, there upon the throne, growing paunchier month by month and smoking more and more cigars, sat Edward the “Peacemaker,” “Good Old Teddy.” The men and women in the streets could almost be heard chanting: “There’ll be no war as long as we’ve a king like good King Edward.”
Edward, of course, like all constitutional monarchs since earlier rougher days “reigned but did not rule.” And he reigned in a most human and humane manner. One of his very first acts was to turn one wing of Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s marine residence in the Isle of Wight, into a convalescent home for officers. The King Edward’s Hospital Fund called into being both a hospital for officers in London, and, at Midhurst in Surrey, the famous sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers. By these things is he remembered, and for his declaration, “My greatest ambition is not to quit this world until a real cure for cancer has been found.”
An ambition which, alas, he did not achieve.
What he did achieve was to make Britain reasonably well respected, if not actually loved, in the eyes of most of the world after the end of the Boer War. Although this whole miserable business was virtually over just before Edward came to the throne, and the main Boer armies defeated, handfuls of those annoying Dutch farmers just wouldn’t give in. Like angry hornets, the Boer “commandos” under their brilliant guerrilla leader, General de Wet, went on harassing the military might of Britain. Only by dividing the country into areas, and studding them with over 8,000 block-houses, did Lord Kitchener finally prevail.
But Britain had become almost the laughing-stock of the civilised world. Most of Europe was pro-Boer, and, what was even more embarrassing quite a multitude of British people were as well. It was not the happiest of situations which Edward inherited.
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Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War, Weapons on Wednesday, 5 March 2014
This edited article about the Battle of Crecy first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 579 published on 17 February 1973.
Battle of Crecy
The day after the battle of Crecy King Edward III of England walked with his sixteen-year-old son, Edward, between the bodies of the French and English dead on the battlefield and said:
“What think you of battle, eh? Isn’t it a grand game?”
Strange question! But this was the year 1346, the medieval age of chivalry, and niceties like disliking the act of killing at sixteen years of age were unheard of.
And young Prince Edward, despite his age, had certainly killed plenty on that battlefield. The Black Prince they called him, from the black armour which he always wore. At Crecy Frenchmen learned to hate this tall, handsome youth, Englishmen to admire him.
As no other battle belonged to one man, Crecy was the Black Prince’s battle. . . .
It began on July 11, 1346, when the king sailed to France with an army of 12,000 men, most of whom were bowmen. The object was to protect English possessions in France which King Philip of France was threatening, although pretty soon it degenerated into an English plundering expedition across the north of France.
At this a French army, four times as strong as the English, not unnaturally began to give chase. At one point they nearly got close enough to pull the English tail as the impertinent invaders just scraped across the River Somme in the nick of time. Then the English marched to the village of Crecy, a tiny place with a windmill.
“We will wait for them here,” said King Edward simply.
The king’s scouts soon reported that they were waiting for a huge army – an army at least four times as big as their own. And that Philip of France had hoisted above his banner the notorious Oriflamme flag.
The Oriflamme was a French standard that signified that no prisoners would be taken and that no conditions of surrender would be accepted – in short, that the enemy could expect no mercy. Philip of France evidently felt that he was in a position to dictate thus.
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