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Archive for March, 2011

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The Bishop and the beggar

Posted in Architecture, History, Philanthropy, Religion on Thursday, 31 March 2011

church, picture, image, illustration

A Bishop and a beggar in a Norman Church, by Peter Jackson

During the Middle Ages the growth of prosperity was widespread both in England and throughout Europe, with each nation state engaging in trade when not at war. For the English wool was a major source of revenue. The church also prospered by making considerable financial demands on the nobles and people, and in most countries it was by far the richest institution. Needless to say, beneath the prosperous mercantile class and the privileged prelates and churchmen, lay the undeserving poor, and many of them took to begging as their only means of survival. Beggars were often rebuked and even shunned among their own class, and there is still embarrassment and distaste where street beggars are concerned in modern times, nearly a thousand years after the Norman conquest.

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Paul, the citizen of Rome

Posted in Bible, Religion, Saints on Thursday, 31 March 2011

Paul is always at the centre of some controversy given his temperament and his faith, and when he prays at the temple in Jerusalem there are many Jews keen to cause trouble for him.

Puaul, picture, image, illustration

Paul claims Roman citizenship to prevent his whipping, by Clive Uptton

They start a small disturbance which grows larger and attracts the attention of the Roman authorities. The Jews accuse him of taking Gentiles into the temple, and to calm things down the Roman commander arrests him and takes him to the barracks where he is about to be routinely whipped as a punishment. Tied to the whipping post Paul suddenly speaks to the soldier in command, and asks him in Greek whether it is legal to beat a man who is Roman and who has not yet been tried and found guilty. This shocks the commander, and when it transpires that Paul is from Tarsus, capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, the order for his release is given, and arrangements are made with the Chief priests for his rightful trial as a Roman citizen.

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Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke

Posted in English Literature, Literature on Thursday, 31 March 2011

Fulke Greville (1554 – 1628) came from a noble Warwickshire family and was sent to Shrewsbury School where he met his dear friend Philip Sidney. After going up to Jesus College, Cambridge Greville was given an influential post in the Welsh Marches through the good offices of Sidney’s father, but both he and Philip were keen to succeed at court and went there as soon as possible with every hope of advancement and finding favour with Elizabeth I.

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Fulke Greville, biographer of Sir Philip Sidney

In fact the Queen was greatly taken by Greville, whose seriousness and intellectual cast of mind was very much to her taste, notwithstanding her sense of humour. Both young courtiers hoped to go with Sir Francis Drake to the Spanish West Indies, but this she forbade. It was only later that Greville saw some military action in a brief career on the continent under Henry of Navarre. Sir Philip Sidney, as all the world would soon know, went to fight the Catholics under the command of his uncle, Robert Dudley, and met his untimely death at Zutphen. It was this tragic end to a fearless life and dazzling literary career which moved Fulke Greville to write the biography of his beloved friend, The Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney, which though written around 1610-15 was not published until 1652. Greville was given more responsibilities by the Queen, and he continued to flourish under James I with promotion to high office including the Chancellorship of the Exchequer. He was rewarded with the gift of Warwick Castle, on which he was rumoured to have spent the vast sum of £20,000 in restoration, as well as the Barony of Brooke, a title languishing idle among his father’s forbears. Apart from his famous biography of Sidney, Greville wrote several plays and, tantalisingly, destroyed one on the subject of Anthony and Cleopatra; this would have been interesting to scholars, since some believe him to have authored Shakespeare’s plays. He also composed a sequence of sonnets, several philosophical treatises on Learning and War, and other lesser pamphlets. He was a member of the ‘Areopagus’, that exclusive literary fellowship of writers keen to introduce classical poetic metres into Elizabethan poetry. In contrast to his contemporaries, Greville’s tone is dark, his technique refined but also constrained by his fierce intellect, traits which lead some to link him with Donne.  But undoubtedly it is his memorialising of Sidney which has earned him the gratitude of posterity and fame among his equals. His own tragedy was that he was murdered by an avaricious servant in his seventy-fifth year, a cruel and painful end to a noble life.

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Thomas Wentworth: Famous Last Words

Posted in Famous Last Words on Thursday, 31 March 2011

Thomas Wentworth was a major political figure in the period leading up to the English Civil War, serving in the Parliament of King Charles II.

picture, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, execution

Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford, on his way to his execution. Illustration after Hippolyte

As Lord Deputy of Ireland, he instigated a harsh rule, and was made Earl of Strafford by the King in 1640. However, he was later impeached for “high misdemeanours” over his conduct and sent to the Tower of London. Strafford exploited the weakness of the prosecution case to make the impeachment fail.

Parliament then passed a bill of attainder which in effect meant that Strafford could be executed simply because Parliament wanted him to die. Strafford was unpopular with the public and this helped sway the House of Lords (of which Strafford was a member) to pass the attainder. The final hurdle was the King to whom Strafford had been extremely loyal. Strafford, in a final act of loyalty, absolved the King of any guilt over signing his death warrant, saying it was necessary in order to reconcile the King and his people.

On the scaffold, before a crowd of 200,000, Strafford said:

I know how to look death in the face and the people too. I thank God I am no more afraid of death, but as cheerfully put off my doublet at this time as ever I did when I went to bed.

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The Battle of Selby

Posted in Anniversary, Famous battles on Thursday, 31 March 2011

11 April marks the anniversary of the Battle of Selby in 1644.

Selby, on the River Ouse, was a strategic town during the English Civil War as it commanded the routes to York (a stronghold of the Royalists) and the port of Hull, making it an important town for the movement of troops and provisions.

picture, Sir Thomas Fairfax, Roundhead, English Civil War, Battle of Selby

Sir Thomas Fairfax, victorious at the Battle of Selby

The town had been fortified by the Royalist commander John Belasyse with barricades and the flooding of the Dam Fields to one side. Opposing the Royalists were the Roundhead forces led by the Fairfaxes: Lord Ferdinando Fairfax, 2nd Lord Fairfax of Cameron, and his eldest son, Thomas Fairfax. The Roundheads attacked all three remaining sides – a dangerous strategy as it split their forces – but, in this case, it worked. The Roundheads penetrated the Royalist defensive barricades and the town quickly fell.

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The coronation of William and Mary

Posted in Anniversary, Royalty on Thursday, 31 March 2011

11 April marks the anniversary of the crowning of William and Mary as King and Queen of Britain in 1689.

picture, WIlliam III, Mary II, William and Mary, William of Orange, coronation, royalty, monarchy

The coronation of William and Mary

William of Orange was Stadtholder of Holland and nephew and son-in-law of England’s king, James II. The Catholic James (also James VII of Scotland) was overthrown during the Glorious Revolution and his daughter, Mary, a Protestant, came to the throne, ruling jointly with her husband, whom she had married in 1677.

The two ruled jointly until Mary’s death in 1694. William died eight years later and was succeeded by his sister in law, Anne.

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Battle of Ravenna

Posted in Anniversary, Famous battles on Thursday, 31 March 2011

11 April marks the anniversary of the Battle of Ravenna in 1512.

picture, Battle of Ravenna, Gaston de Foix, Italy, France, Spain

The death of Gaston de Foix, leader of the French forces at the Battle of Ravenna

One of a series of battles known as the War of the Holy League or the War of the League of Cambrai, it was part of the Italian Wars fought between 1508 and 1516 between France, the Papal States and the Republic of Venice, although many other European powers were involved. The League of Cambrai was an anti-Venetian alliance, created by Pope Julius II to curb Venetian power in northern Italy.

In 1511, Julius proclaimed a Holy League against France (who were supporting the Venetians), drawing into his alliance Spain, England and the Holy Roman Empire. Gaston de Foix was appointed to command French forces in Italy and besieged Ravenna, the last papal stronghold in the Romagna region.

De Foix was killed during the melee but the Spanish forces ranged against them fled.

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Robert Greene

Posted in English Literature, Literature on Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Robert Greene (c.1558 – 1592) was one of London society’s great characters in the 1580s and 1590s, and perhaps the first truly professional writer to live by his pen. It must be acknowledged that he was certainly more acquainted with low life than high life, but therein lay his charm, and some historians think that he may have been a model for Shakespeare’s Falstaff. He went up to St John’s College, Cambridge and after taking his MA at Oxford made his way to London to start his remarkably prolific career.

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The title page for A Quip for an Upstart Courtier by Robert Greene

He is best remembered for a handful of miscellaneous publications and one brilliant and immensely successful play, as well as for making the first mention of Shakespeare in any contemporaneous literature, albeit for plagiarism and pretension. Like Thomas Nashe, he was an energetic pamphleteer and cultivated the enmity of the Harvey brothers assiduously, with lively language and relentless satirical jibes. He fell so out of sorts with friends and debtors that for a time his survival depended entirely on a handful of alehouses and tolerant landlords. His numerous prose romances were popular successes and provided his most reliable source of income, but the Coney-Catching pamphlets are more genuine productions, being loosely autobiographical sketches of an all too familiar rascal’s life, duping respectable people and drinking and wenching. There are vivid portraits of theatrical folk, players and backstage business, which give an invaluable picture of the Elizabethan theatre. Greene is thought to have contributed to several well known plays, and some even see his hand in Titus Andronicus. Whatever the truth of such assertions, he is the indisputable author of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, a play whose only equal for depicting the wit, merriment and social comedy of everyday Elizabethan life is The Merry Wives of Windsor by one William Shakespeare. Greene has an unruly tendency to dress up his language with classical decoration, and this detracts from the quintessential breeziness and easy flow of his characters’ voices. But characters they are, and although none is so memorable as to have entered the popular imagination, such people are drawn from reality by one who knew intimately many of the most colourful rogues of London’s seamier side. That rascally fellow Thomas Nashe wrote that he died from “a banquet of Rhenish wine and pickled herring”, but not before he had written Greene’s Groats-Worth of Wit in which that first ever mention of Shakespeare is made.

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Saint Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans

Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Legend, Miracle, Religion, Saints, War on Wednesday, 30 March 2011

To describe Joan of Arc as a national heroine in France is something of an understatement. Indeed, almost any account of this remarkable young woman’s life seems superfluous, so lodged is she in the popular imagination of people right across the world.

Saint Joan, picture, image, illustration

Saint Joan, by James E McConnell

Born to peasant farmers in Domremy in Eastern France, she would come to dominate the entire European political landscape within a handful of years, and all because she was sent revelatory visions by God which instructed her to save France from the English and restore its nationhood and independence. It was this mission and her overriding love for her homeland which determined the course of her destiny, and led to her victories in the Hundred Years War which prepared the way for the coronation of Charles VII at Reims, thus solving the self-destructive question of the French succession. She was captured by the Burgundians, and Charles VII could by rights have ransomed her, but for various lamentable and despicable reasons he did not. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, equally despicable, sold her to the English, and for political reasons she was famously tried for heresy in Rouen, pronounced guilty and burnt at the stake on 30th May, 1431 at the age of only nineteen. She was only canonised as recently as 1920. Her life and martyrdom have inspired many great artists, composers, writers, poets and cinematographers, but among their brilliant operas, plays and canvases it is perhaps Carl Dreyer’s silent film classic, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), which best captures the visionary beauty of Joan’s translation from headstrong young girl and heroic warrior to transcendent saintly martyr.

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Claiming sanctuary

Posted in Architecture, Historical articles, History, Law, Religion on Wednesday, 30 March 2011

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A man being given sanctuary at Durham Cathedral after grasping the door knocker, by Peter Jackson

There are many misconceptions regarding sanctuary, largely because the mediaeval church and state recognised different levels of protection. The basic concept of safety from arrest on sacred ground is not quite the same as successful avoidance of trial and sentencing. Once granted, sanctuary, which was subject to common law, lasted for forty days, during which time the felon, thief, murderer or whatever had to surrender and stand trial, or confess to their guilt and go into exile. If the latter, the guilty surrendered their property to church and state, had their heads shaved, and were given a wooden cross-staff as a symbol of church protection as they were escorted to the nearest port town or city. Many, of course, escaped at this point, and simply disappeared back into the community. The first laws to define and regulate sanctuary were made by King Ethelbert in 600, and further modifications led to a two-tier system which was firmly in place after the Norman Conquest. Smaller churches could only offer sanctuary in the church buildings proper, but larger churches and the great minsters and cathedrals offered sanctuary within their surrounding lands. To avoid confusion the tradition of boundary stones or markers was soon adopted by the authorities, and many of these can still be seen in parishes throughout the land. For criminals it was often a desperate race against time to reach a particular roughly hewn stone and claim sanctuary. Larger churches were given charters underpinning their legal position, and numbered well over twenty, including Beverley Minster, the sees of Ripon, Durham, Norwich, Wells, Winchester, York Minster and Westminster Abbey. In some places specific rituals obtained, and there might be a special bell to ring or door knocker to grasp before safety was assured. At Durham Cathedral one such knocker still exists. There were many changes made to the laws of sanctuary in the next few centuries, and the vestigial mediaeval system was finally abolished by James I in 1623.

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