3 August 2009
This week a bit of blood is going to be spilt, but we will cheer ourselves up with a great comfort snack straight from the nursery. We also meet a man with the strangest of names and pay homage to a couple of extremely old men.
In the last letter I gave you a bit of a taste of what life was like for Samuel Pepys during his childhood. I told of how foul and filthy London was, I also mentioned that there was a civil war brewing. This week we will find out more.
One of the things that I guess you think about when England is mentioned is the monarchy. But, if you are not from these shores, maybe you will not be aware that we once had a successful revolution and executed the king.
The reasons for such momentous events are not straightforward, and are open to interpretation so I will keep it simple and hope that I spread a little bit of light.
On the throne was Charles I, a couple of expressions that sum him are "a fool to himself" and "did himself no favours". The King managed to alienate a large proportion of the population. He married a Catholic and there were fears that he may reinstate Catholicism in the country. At the time Parliament could be summoned and dismissed by the monarch. One of its primary functions was to raise taxes to help in running the country, finance war and of course keep the royal household. When Parliament met it gave the members an opportunity to air their concerns and discuss their disagreements, which were often critical of the king.
Charles solution for much of his reign was to dispense with Parliament. This meant that he could not rely on it to help raise funding. So he resorted to creative accounting, resurrecting old laws and fines. This again did not endear himself to his subjects.
Charles was also pressing ahead with foreign wars. He was acting more and more like a dictator. Charles strongly believed in the "divine right of kings" and as far as he was concerned only answered to God.
"Kings are not bound to give an account of their actions but to God alone".
At the time the Puritan movement was growing. It saw the leaders of the Protestant church as corrupt and in the pay of the king. They were also fiercely anti-Catholic.
The scene is now set. Charles started pressing his religious High Anglican views on the already angry populace, and then made the mistake of trying to implement it in Scotland.
This provoked a rebellion. Charles was now in a dilemma, he did not have the money to fund a force to deal with this. So reluctantly he called a Parliament to help him raise money by taxation. Well, as you might have guessed this gave the disgruntled Members of Parliament a chance to voice their concerns.
Charles sent in forces to arrest 5 of their number for treason but they were chased away by an angry mob. Things are not going well for Charles.
Civil War had broken out; on one side there were the supporters of Parliament and on the other side supporters of the king. Today we often refer to them as the "roundheads" and "cavaliers". Named after their dress sense! The "roundheads" were supports of Parliament and a large proportion were puritans who often had a short hair style, the cavaliers followed courtly fashion with long ringlets. The eventual leader of the roundheads was Oliver Cromwell.
To cut a long story short the roundheads were more organized and won.
Really the Civil War was made of 3 smaller wars,- but we don't need too go into that. The Parliamentary forces captured the king and tried to negotiate with him. They wanted a change in the order of things. Charles escaped and tried to regain power. When he was recaptured it was evident that there was no way of finding a common ground. So rather reluctantly he was put on trial for treason.
We will now take a little break and meet a minor character of the time.
I will be honest I have only introduced him because of his name, Praise-God Barebone. He sounds like a character from some gothic horror or maybe a character from Spongebob Squarepants.
If you think that a strange name, it is said that he was christened "Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone". From this I guess that his parents might have been a little bit religious.
He was a puritan preacher who later joined the Fifth Monarchists.
The Fifth Monarchists were only active for a few years (1649-61).
Their name came from a belief that a returning Jesus would rule the world. He would reappear in 1666. The number 666 is taken from the Book of Revelation and is the ultimate human despot who would be replaced by the second coming of the Messiah.
Well, as we know they were a little bit wrong on this count.
We are now back with Charles and he is in court. He is accused of being a:
"tyrant, traitor and murderer; and a public and implacable enemy to the Commonwealth of England."
"out of a wicked design to erect and uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will, and to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people of England."
As usual Charles refuses to cooperate saying:
"I would know by what power I am called hither, by what lawful authority?"
At the end of the trial the verdict is read out:
"he, the said Charles Stuart, as a tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy to the good of this nation, shall be put to death by severing of his head from his body."
Charles I's death warrant
The 30th January 1649 was a very cold day. Charles wore two heavy shirts to his execution in the hope he would not shiver and appear afraid.
Not suprisingly there was some difficulty finding someone to cut the kings head off. One never quite knows what the future holds!! The executioner and his assistants wore masks.
The picture here shows the scene but is inaccurate in at least one respect as the executioners are unmasked.
Now there is a slight conflict in accounts, but off went the kings head! As was the custom the head, streaming with blood was held up to the crowd and the words "Behold the head of a traitor!" may or may not have been spoken.
Also it is said that spectators were allowed to dip their handkerchiefs in the blood, either as a souvenir or as a cure for disease.
What we do know is that Oliver Cromwell allowed the King's head to be sewn back onto his body before burial.
On the 6th February 1649 the monarchy was abolished by Parliament as:
"the office of the king in this nation is unnecessary, burdensome and dangerous to the liberty, society and public interest of the people."
In the crowd that day cheering the king's death was a young schoolboy, his name Samuel Pepys.
Before I start this little article I have to give a warning.
"Soft-boiled eggs are not recommended for people who may be susceptible to salmonella, such as very young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems."
It would appear very strange to any child here, that there might be people who did not now what "eggy soldiers" are. It is the original nursery comfort food.
So, if you have not had them I will explain and also tell you how to make this simplest of snacks.
Eggy soldiers are bits of bread that are cut into small finger sized slices and then dipped into a soft boiled egg. No one knows why they are called soldiers it is assumed that the bread fingers look a bit like soldiers on parade.
Quite amazingly whilst writing this page I found a product that helps you cut the bread into soldiers. I think this takes automation to a new lever, as a knife more than suffices!
Dip your bread in and enjoy!!
Henry Allingham - 1896
This week saw the ending of a generation with the funeral of Henry Allingham and the death of Harry Patch.
They were the last two Britains to fight in World War I. Henry Allingham was also the world's oldest verified living man.
Henry Allingham in uniform 1916
Henry Allingham was born on the 6th June 1896 and Harry Patch a comparative youngster on the 17th June 1898. Just to put this in perspective when the Wright brothers first flew in 1903 Allingham was 7, when the Titanic sunk in 1912 he was nearly 16 and he was 72 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969. At their deaths Allingham was 113 years and 42 days old and Patch was 111 years and 38 days old.
Both men didn't talk of their war experiences until they were over 100. Allingham described one incident.
Henry Allingham in 2006
"I fell into a shell hole. It was full of arms, legs, ears, dead rats - a lot of dead, rotten flesh. I was up to my armpits in water. I can't describe the smell of flesh and mud mixed up together. I turned to my left, and that's what saved me. It got shallower to the left, and I was able to lift myself out of the water. I lay there in the dark, not daring to move, cold and with my uniform stinking. I was frightened. I was scared. I was so relieved when it finally got light and I could move."
Patch described the dead and wounded "it wasn't a case of seeing them with a nice bullet hole in their tunic, far from it, and there I was, only 19 years old. I felt sick"
I will leave the last words to Harry Patch who said that the:
"politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organizing nothing better than legalized mass murder".
Well that's all for this week. I hope you were entertained and learnt something new.
I hope you have a good week!