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Archive for August, 2013

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The Saxon and early Norman kings would not have assented to Magna Carta

Posted in Historical articles, History, London, Politics, Royalty on Thursday, 29 August 2013

This edited article about British government originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 389 published on 28 June 1969.

King and his Council, picture, image, illustration

Some subjects could take their grievances to the King himself at his formal Council in Westminster, by Ron Embleton

We may not always be satisfied with the way our country is run, but our system of government by a parliament has been described as Britain’s greatest contribution to world civilisation, and this is probably true.

The Roman rule of Britain was a military dictatorship. Only after the Romans had gone, and the Saxons had conquered England, were the seeds of Britain’s democratic traditions planted.

The fierce Saxon warriors enjoyed fighting – and making speeches. The tales of ancient heroes sung by poets at feasts and celebrations had a secondary purpose in reminding a king or leader of his duties. When the king had to make an important decision concerning the good of his people, he summoned all his warriors and wise men to a “Witan.” At such gatherings the leading men of the kingdom were free to speak their minds. And skill at speaking was so highly valued that a man’s fame could rest on his skill with words just as much as on his prowess with a sword.

The spot in London where our Houses of Parliament now stand was once known as Thorney Island. There, in the year A.D. 959, the Bishop of London, who later became St. Dunstan, built a chapel. The Church was very powerful in those days and, as one of the leading bishops in England, Dunstan was often summoned to attend the Witan of King Aethelred the Unready.

During those years, England suffered heavily from raids by the Vikings, and Dunstan’s little chapel soon fell into ruin. When peace at last returned, Edward the Confessor, England’s saintly king, decided to build a fine new Abbey on the site of Dunstan’s chapel. He named it the “West Minster.” Later it was called the “Mother of Parliaments.”

Edward the Confessor died in the year A.D. 1066, in the palace he had built beside his new abbey. Two men claimed the right to succeed him as king; Harold, Earl of Wessex; and William, Duke of Normandy.

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Captain Wilson’s routine voyage ended in an Atlantic crossing with a crew of just two

Posted in Adventure, America, Historical articles, History, Ships, War on Thursday, 29 August 2013

This edited article about the American Civil War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 389 published on 28 June 1969.

Captain William Wilson, picture, image, illustration

Captain William Wilson, of the "Emilie St. Pierre"

Silently, the three men crept into the cabin. In an instant they had grabbed the hands of the man sleeping there. They clapped irons on his wrists and pushed a gag into his mouth.

The first part of a daring plan had been accomplished. Now came the most dangerous stage, the overpowering of the American lieutenant whose men had control of the ship. . . .

When the Emilie St. Pierre sailed from the Indian port of Calcutta on 27th November, 1861, it looked like being a routine voyage. Captain William Wilson had been asked to sail to the east coast of America and find out how the Civil War there was progressing. When news travelled slowly, this was one of the commonest means of keeping abreast of world events.

Anticipating a peaceful trip, Captain Wilson did not trouble to reinforce the armament carried on his ship. But within six months of leaving India he had centred in an extraordinary adventure which became the talk of all Britain.

The war in the United States between the southern Confederate forces and the northern Federal troops had been raging for almost a year when Captain Wilson neared the coast of South Carolina. He was some 12 miles from the port of Charleston when he noticed a Federal gunboat, the James Adger, steaming towards him. Ordered to heave to, he prepared to welcome what he believed would be a friendly boarding-party.

Two boats packed with officers and men rowed across to his vessel. But as soon as the Americans had clambered on to the deck of the Emilie St. Pierre, it was obvious that they regarded Captain Wilson and his crew with grave suspicion. Orders were given to search the ship from bow to stern, and the British seamen found themselves covered by the boarders’ guns.

It was discovered that the cargo hold contained saltpetre, which is used in the manufacture of gunpowder. When the officer in charge of the boarding-party learned this he at once placed Captain Wilson under arrest. He then informed him that the ship had fallen as a “lawful prize” to the Federal Government.

Despite protests that he had not come to interfere in the war, Wilson was instructed to steer his ship towards the Federal fleet, which was anchored nearby. There he was taken aboard the flagship, Florida, and put in solitary confinement.

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Prince Charles, a Prince of Wales with royal and heroic Welsh lineage

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty on Thursday, 29 August 2013

This edited article about Charles, Prince of Wales originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 389 published on 28 June 1969.

Prince Charles of Wales, picture, image, illustration

Charles, Prince of Wales

At school he had great trouble with maths, but enjoyed history. Although he was very shy, he enjoyed acting and appeared in school plays. He played football and cricket at school, but his real taste in sport was for solitary country pursuits such as riding, fishing and shooting, which he was able to enjoy at Balmoral and Sandringham during the holidays. Prince Charles was born at Buckingham Palace in November, 1948. His mother was then Princess Elizabeth, his father Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and his grandparents were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. His great grandmother, Queen Mary, widow of George V, was still living, at Marlborough House.

In the following year, Prince Charles was joined in his nursery by Princess Anne. The children had a simple upbringing, under the supervision of two nurses. Their mother, in spite of her royal duties, which increased greatly on her accession to the throne when the Prince was four, always played with them for an hour in the morning and an hour and a half in the afternoon. She also bathed them and put them to bed herself.

The Prince’s education was quite different from that of his predecessors. His parents decided that, since Charles would one day have to fit into a fast-moving, democratic world, he must not be educated in privacy. As a result, when he was eight he left his governess and went to a London day school, Hill House, where he learned to mix with boys of his own age.

The greatest problem the Royal Family has to face in our world of mass communication, where television, newspapers and radio dominate life, is their lack of privacy. Anything they do is news. People are naturally curious about them. In the past, before photography became part of news-gathering, royal personages were not so easily recognised, but nowadays they must some times feel as though they are constantly being observed under a magnifying glass.

Prince Charles has always attracted his share of interest, and both at Hill House and later at Cheam, his preparatory school, he sometimes needed protection from publicity.

It was while he was at Cheam that he became Prince of Wales. At the British Empire Games at Cardiff in 1958, a tape-recorded message from the Queen was played giving her son this title and promising that, when he had grown up, she would present him to the Welsh people at Caernarvon. Prince Charles, who was then nine years old, heard the message on television in the headmaster’s study. He recalls that this was the moment he realised how lonely his future would be.

He was thirteen when he went on to his public school. His parents chose a Scottish school, Gordonstoun, for him. It was his father’s old school. Gordonstoun’s great stress on service to the community was very appropriate for a prince whose motto “Ich Dien” means “I serve.” It also emphasised the value of outdoor pursuits, which suited the Prince’s taste.

All through his school life, Prince Charles knew the loneliness not only of a shy person, but also that brought about by his position. Many people hesitate to offer friendship to princes in case they are accused of “sucking up.” Fortunately Prince Charles’ cousin Guelf (son of one of the Duke of Edinburgh’s sisters) was at Gordonstoun at the same time, and this made life a little easier for him.

When the Prince was seventeen and had got his “O” levels, it was decided to send him to Australia. Geelong Grammar School, in the Province of Victoria, has an extension at Timbertops, out in the bush, where boys lead a very independent life, organising their own plan of study and fending for themselves pioneer-fashion with a minimum of supervision. Prince Charles was at Timbertops for two terms, and he says that he absolutely loved it. He found the Australians marvellous people and enjoyed the freedom and opportunity for adventure which Timbertops offered.

From Australia he returned to Gordonstoun to finish his “A” level studies. He was Guardian (head boy) in his last year, and passed his exams in history and French.

Since then, Prince Charles has studied history and archaeology at Cambridge, and enjoyed taking part in amateur dramatics there. This summer he has been at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and on Tuesday, July 1st, he will be presented to the Welsh people at Caernarvon.

Prince Charles is descended three times over from the original Welsh Princes; his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, traces her descent twice over from them, and Henry Tudor, another of the Prince’s ancestors, claimed to be descended from the legendary Welsh hero Cadwallader. So Prince Charles has more right than many previous princes to the title.

The unfortunate history of George Walker, commander of the ‘Royal Family’

Posted in Adventure, Historical articles, History, Ships, War on Thursday, 29 August 2013

This edited article about privateer Captain George Walker originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 388 published on 21 June 1969.

George Walker, picture, image, illustration

As the wind billowed the sails of the becalmed man-o'-war, Walker took one last precaution of hailing it; the reply was a crashing broadside, by Paul Rainer

For five hours, George Walker’s 32-gun frigate King George had pursued the huge ship which bobbed ahead of him. It was October, 1747, and Walker had forged boldly ahead of his squadron of privateers, convinced that the man-of-war he had sighted off Cape St. Vincent was laden with treasure.

From a distance, Walker had been unable to make out the other ship’s colours, but the uncanny instinct of a hunter for its prey had urged him to the chase. To do this without the full support of his squadron against such a mighty ship was perhaps a reckless gamble to take, but it was just such disregard for his own safety and contempt for unfavourable odds that had already won Walker renown.

This time, however, it seemed he had gone too far and that his luck had run out. As he drew alongside the man-of-war, the wind unexpectedly dropped and both ships were becalmed. As they swayed gently on the sea’s mirror-smooth surface, the gun ports of the larger ship opened and her guns poked provocatively towards the frigate.

Walker was certain now that she was a Spaniard and that she was warning him to leave her alone. This convinced him that she was brimful with treasure which she did not want to risk in battle, and that, if she did have to risk it, she would fight grimly.

As soon as the wind rose, she was obviously going to make a run for the coast, and Walker had to make up his mind whether or not to engage her. His spirit of daring gave him no doubts about the answer. With the first puff of breeze, he was going to attack!

The wind came at last. As a final precaution, Walker hailed the stranger in English and Portuguese. He got no answer.

Then he called out his own name and did receive a reply. Once more the gun ports opened, and this time the guns delivered a crashing broadside into the King George from close range.

The most memorable battle of Walker’s naval career had started.

* * * *

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Robert and Clara Schumann briefly shared a creative life of intense happiness

Posted in Historical articles, History, Music on Thursday, 29 August 2013

This edited article about Robert and Clara Schumann originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 388 published on 21 June 1969.

Robert Schumann, picture, image, illustration

Music teacher Friedrich Wieck shouts at Robert Schumann while his daughter, Clara Wieck, looks on

Robert Schumann was 18 when he gave up the law as a career and began to study music under a stern piano teacher named Friedrich Wieck. Robert found that his instructor was “sometimes as wild as a boar,” and at first he almost dreaded going to Wieck’s music shop.

There was, however, one calm and gentle person in the Wieck household – the teacher’s gifted young daughter, Clara.

Clara had always been something of a puzzle to her parents. She did not speak a word until she was almost five. Then, when in the following year (1825), she started playing the piano, she showed such brilliance that by the time she was nine she had given a successful public performance. Four years later she went on a highly-praised concert tour.

Everyone agreed that Clara was a “musical genius,” and as a pianist she certainly far outshone her new friend and fellow-pupil. Dissatisfied with his own progress, Robert cut the webbing between his fourth and fifth fingers to increase the stretch of his hands. But it was soon clear that his real talent lay in composing rather than playing music.

To escape the distractions of student life, he moved into a room at the top of the Wieck’s house, in the German city of Leipzig, where he could work in peace. He looked upon Clara as a younger sister, and shortly afterwards became engaged to one of her friends. Despite this, the bond between him and Clara grew stronger still.

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The brilliant playwright and passionate Parliamentarian, Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Posted in Actors, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Politics, Theatre on Thursday, 29 August 2013

This edited article about Richard Brinsley Sheridan originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 388 published on 21 June 1969.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan, picture, image, illustration

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

So greatly did the House of Commons admire Richard Brinsley Sheridan that members offered to adjourn a debate when they heard that his theatre was on fire. Sheridan wouldn’t hear of it. His personal disaster was a small thing, he said, compared with the importance of national affairs: “Pray continue,” he told the House.

Sheridan’s unusual dual role of politician and playwright is commemorated on a blue plaque at No. 10 Hertford Street, where he lived for several years.

Born in Dublin, Sheridan was the son of a schoolmaster. The family later moved to London, so the boy said goodbye to his native city at the age of eight, and never saw it again.

Instead, he soon found himself in the very English surroundings of Harrow School, where he took fencing and horsemanship as “extras.” He had need of both these accomplishments when he eloped with a young singer. Elizabeth Linley, the daughter of Thomas Linley, a composer and singing-master. Her outraged fiance, an army major, denounced Sheridan publicly as a liar and a scoundrel and a duel followed. The unfortunate major was disarmed, forced to beg for his life and to publish an apology.

In a second duel Sheridan was not so lucky. He was seriously wounded. At this point his father stepped in and insisted that Richard took life a little more seriously. He sent him away to study at Waltham Abbey, where Sheridan worked hard, and in 1773 he was admitted to the Middle Temple to practise law. Within a week he celebrated his independence by marrying Miss Linley. His father was disgusted!

He had been writing anonymously for some time. Now, as his confidence grew, he started using his own name in 1774, it appeared on the billboards of Covent Garden Theatre.

The Rivals has since become a classic of the theatre, and an established favourite of repertory companies. In 1774, however, it was a disaster. Within a few days, new posters were appearing.

Sheridan rewrote his play. It was put on again some months later and this time it was an immediate success. The revised version played to packed houses week after week.

Hurriedly, Sheridan wrote more plays, and by the end of 1775 he was accepted as an established playwright.

In the following year, he became manager of the Drury Lane Theatre and there, in 1777, he staged his crowning triumph, The School for Scandal, although the play was very nearly suppressed by the Lord Chamberlain.

In 1780, Sheridan became a Member of Parliament. He was accused of bribery by his unsuccessful opponent and his maiden speech was a defence against that charge.

In the House, Sheridan opposed the harsh game laws of the time, defended the freedom of the Press and fought the idea of union with Ireland.

After the theatre fire, he could no longer afford to buy his votes (which was then customary) and he retired from political life in 1812. He died, five years later, heavily in debt.

Edward, Prince of Wales was destined to become the exiled Duke of Windsor

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Thursday, 29 August 2013

This edited article about originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 388 published on 21 June 1969.

HRH Edward Prince of Wales, picture, image, illustration

HRH Prince of Wales wearing the Investiture Robes

Not many people know that our last Prince of Wales was “executed”. Luckily it was only a mock execution, carried out by the Prince’s fellow naval cadets – to remind him of what happened to his ancestor, Charles I!

The prince was born in 1894 and was christened Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, the last four names being those of the patron saints of the British Isles. At this time his grandfather was Prince of Wales (he later became Edward VII) and his father was the Duke of York (George V).

Prince Edward is still alive today, and his lifetime spans six reigns. Queen Victoria was 75 when he was born, and he was carried at his christening wrapped in a cloak made from her own wedding veil by the old queen herself.

Prince Edward enjoyed a happy childhood with his sister and four brothers. Becoming king seemed only a remote possibility because both his grandfather and his father stood between him and the throne.

Edward VII died when Prince Edward was 16. Edward became Prince of Wales, and did homage at his father’s coronation, wearing his Garter robes.

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The Biblical Medes and Persians exemplified implacable inflexibilty

Posted in Bible, Interesting Words, Language, Law, Religion on Thursday, 29 August 2013

This edited article about the language of the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 388 published on 21 June 1969.

Traffic warden, picture, image, illustration

Traffic wardens have become stereotypes of rigid inflexibility where the law is concerned

A motorist has pulled up on the side of the road marked with a yellow band. A Traffic Warden asks him politely but firmly to move on, and points to a vacant meter space nearby. The motorist tries to stay where he is. He only wants to stop a few minutes. The Warden insists that he can’t stay there, because if he does, he will be breaking the law.

“All right, all right!” mutters the driver. “But surely it’s not the law of the Medes and Persians, is it?”

Some laws are not always rigidly enforced. This strange phrase about the “Medes and Persians” refers to ones which are, and which allow no latitude at all.

The Bible, where the phrase is found, refers to “the law of the Medes and Persians which altereth not.” Once the king’s seal had been set upon any law in the ancient Persian kingdom, no one had the right to vary it in any way, nor to make exceptions to it.

The Jewish people had good reason to remember the rigidly severe laws of the Persian Empire, because for many years they were exiles from their homeland, forming what today we call a “minority” in the land of Babylon, which the Persians conquered. (The Medes, incidentally, were a people closely associated with the Persians.)

Under Persian rule, the Jews suffered many trials, particularly when one king tried to set himself above the invisible God to whom all the Jews were accustomed to pray. It was for continuing to pray to God instead of asking favours from the Persian king that the Jewish hero Daniel was imprisoned in a den of lions (from which he, nevertheless, emerged unharmed). The phrase in fact comes from the Book of Daniel (chapter 6, verses 8 and 15).

It occurs again in the strange and little-known Book of Esther (chapter 1, verses 19). This is another story of the time of the Jewish exiles in the Persian kingdom of the 6th century B.C.

Esther, a Jewish orphan, became the Persian king’s favourite. In order to save her people from a savage law which the king had been deceived into signing, and which permitted the massacre of all the Jews in his kingdom, she had to show great courage.

Risking the king’s displeasure, and her own punishment, she caught his attention and talked him into a plan by which she hoped to convince him of the evil intentions of his advisers.

By charm, tact – and a splendid dinner-party – Esther succeeded in persuading the king that the law against her people was unjust. The man responsible for advising him was punished, and the Jews were given the right to defend themselves against anyone who dared to attack them.

This was as far as even the king could go in altering a “law of the Medes and Persians” to which he had already put his official seal!

The frightening fairytale world of the scholarly Brothers Grimm

Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature on Thursday, 29 August 2013

This edited article about the Brothers Grimm originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 388 published on 21 June 1969.

Little Red riding Hood, picture, image, illustration

" 'What big eyes you have, grandmother!' said she"; an illustration for Little Red Riding Hood by William Henry Margetson

In 1809, a magistrate in the small German town of Hoxter received an unusual letter from a little-known scholar and librarian named Jacob Grimm. In the letter Grimm asked the magistrate, who was an old friend, if he would “pick the brains” of the thieves and criminals who came before his court. What he wanted to discover, said Grimm, was the rogues’ knowledge of fairy-tales and folk-songs. If enough material was gathered, it might be turned into a unique and fascinating book.

At first the magistrate, Paul Wigand, did not take the letter very seriously, and although he instructed his secretaries to keep their ears open for such yarns, and told them to quiz the local peasants and charcoal-burners, he soon forgot all about the matter. He thought that the songs might make an interesting book, but he didn’t believe anyone would want to read a collection of fairy-tales.

Then, in 1811, Jacob’s brother Wilhelm paid the first of two visits to Hoxter. He interviewed the nurse-maid employed by Wigand, and on his return to his home in the German city of Cassel, he and Jacob spoke to as many peasants as they could.

For the next few months, the brothers worked furiously at assembling and writing the stories which were to become world-famous as Grimms’ Fairy-Tales.

They got many of their best stories from an apothecary’s housekeeper called “Old Marie.” She told them the tales of Little Red Riding-Hood, the Robber Bridegroom, and Godfather Death.

But by far their most extraordinary collaborator was Johann Krause, a former sergeant-major in the Dragoons.

When the Grimm brothers asked Krause to supply such stories as The Three Snakeleaves, and The King of the Golden Mountain, the hard-up old soldier asked for some cast-off clothing by way of payment.

Despite the difficulties involved, the brothers pressed on with their painstaking labour of love. A “Flemming woman” brought forth the story of Snow-White; a stubborn old invalid reluctantly revealed her store of folklore; friends and relatives joined in the search, even though the people they questioned looked at them “in amazement.”

The fairy-tales, or Children’s and Household Tales as they were originally called, were published shortly before the Christmas of 1812. The volume of stories was enthusiastically received, and the Grimm brothers felt justified in congratulating themselves. They had defied the fashion of the time, which decreed that fairy-tales were out-of-date and too “romantic.”

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The whale family is one of Nature’s most intelligent groups of species

Posted in Animals, Nature, Sea, Wildlife on Thursday, 29 August 2013

This edited article about the whale family originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 387 published on 14 June 1969.

White-sided dolphin, picture, image, illustration

White-sided dolphin

By tradition, most members of the whale family (together with the Sturgeon) are called “Royal Fish” and belong to the Crown. This means that when, for instance, a whale is found stranded on a beach, it usually has to be reported to the British Museum which uses the information to plot the movements of the different species.

Of course whales are not fish – they are mammals of the sea. Many people think of them as rare animals, and this is true of those which have been hunted almost to extinction. Fortunately, whaling is now controlled in most countries and the threatened species are likely to survive, at least for a few more generations.

Many species of whales and dolphins (which are really small whales) are not rare, but unless you spend a great deal of time at sea or live near the coast, you are unlikely to see them.

Dolphins have become better known to the general public since the discovery was made in Florida that they could be kept in captivity. The high intelligence of the whale family has now been proved beyond doubt by American scientists.

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