History Trivia

Miscellaneous and unrelated things from my reading that amused me or struck me as interesting.  I’ll update regularly, so do visit more than once.

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King’s Lynn

1355 A forty foot whale was found near King’s Lynn.

On 29 September 1331 a law was passed in Kings Lynn to stop pigs wandering in the streets (except Saturdays). If caught the owner had to pay 4d and the pig was confiscated. In 1372-3 there were 675 offences from 86 pig owners!

1587 John Wanker’s Wife and Widow Porker were carted for whoredom – that is they were publicly exposed as prostitutes and put in a cart and driven throughout the town.  “This custom was not only practised here but in Norwich and several other places …”

1590 Margaret Read was burned in the Tuesday Market Place for witchcraft.

1598 Elizabeth Housegoe was executed in the Tuesday Market Place for witchcraft.

1616 Mary Smith was hanged in Lynn for witchcraft.

In 1643 Thomas Toll, MP for King’s Lynn, escaped house arrest. He and the other MP, John Percival, had been incarcerated by the Royalist Mayor Thomas Gurlin. Toll escaped through a window into “the arm of the sea”. He almost certainly rowed the short distance across the River Ouse to the besieging Parliamentarian forces encamped on the other side.

1676 William Pearson was hanged in Lynn for shoplifting.

In June 1684, John Turner, wine merchant and MP for King’s Lynn, who built the Custom House, was knighted by Charles II who was trying to fill the next parliament with loyal supporters. Turner had also just built The Duke’s Head, named after Charles’s son, the Duke of York.

In 1710 a scolding wife was subjected to the indignities of the ducking stool that was situated on Purfleet Quay.

At about midday on the 8th of September 1741, the spire of St Margaret’s church and the top of the north-west tower came down in a storm, right into the heart of the nave, pretty much destroying it. Sir Robert Walpole and George II both donated £1,000 to help with the rebuilding of the church.

18-19/10/1790 John Wesley preaches in King’s Lynn at the age of 87, a few months before his death on 02/03/1791.

 

Henry II

In 1172 Henry wrote to the monks at Winchester Cathedral about the election of a bishop: “We order you to hold a free election, but we nevertheless forbid you to elect anyone except Richard our clerk.”

 

Richard I

In 1191 on the Third Crusade, Richard captured the Christian kingdom of Cyprus.  Its leader, Isaac Comnenus asked that his status should be respected and that he should not be put in irons.  Richard, ever chivalrous, obliged.  Comnenus was bound in specially struck silver manacles.

On 12 May 1191 Richard married Berengaria of Navarre in Limassol’s Byzantine Chapel. 

In 1199 Richard was in Limousin suppressing a revolt by the Viscount of Limoges when he was hit in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt.  The wound turned gangrenous and he died about a month later.  Before his death he asked to see the person who fired the shot.  It turned out to be a boy who claimed that Richard had killed his father and brother.  In a final act of mercy Richard forgave the boy, ordered his release, and gave him 100 shillings.  After Richard’s death, one of his mercenary captains had the boy flayed alive and hanged.

 

King John

When they received the news of Richard’s death in 1199, Hubert Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury, and William Marshall were discussing who should be king. Who had the greater claim to the throne? Was it the son of Richard’s younger brother (Arthur the son of Henry II’s third son Geoffrey) or the king’s younger brother, John.  On hearing that Marshall favoured John, Walter warned him: “This much I can tell you. You will never come to regret anything as much as what you are doing now.”

At different times in his life King John had two nicknames – Lackland (Jean sans Terre), and Softsword (Johannem molle gladium).  The first refers to the fact that his older brothers held more land than he did early on.  And then he lost large parts of France.  The second refers to his perceived reluctance to fight on a few key occasions.

In 1208 after a row with the Pope of a replacement for the Archbishop of Canterbury, John orders the seizing of church property and the harassment of clergy.  He discovered a mischievous way of gaining more money by arresting all the clergy mistresses and girlfriends and holding them to ransom.  There could be no official objection to this move as clergy were meant to be celibate.

When trying to regain Rochester Castle from rebel barons in 1215, John’s miners had failed to bring the Great Tower down.  The kind demanded that “forty pigs, the fattest and the least good for eating” be found in order to start a fire under the tower.  Soon afterwards the pig fat was used to burn away the wooden props supporting the mine and the tower partially collapsed.  A day of so later on 30 November, the defending garrison, who had held out for seven weeks, surrendered.

On 11 October 1216, having been richly entertained in King’s Lynn, John leaves and rides ahead on a horse, but his baggage train carts get separated and are destroyed in the mud and incoming tide in the Wash. John struggles on from Swineshead to Newark where, on October 18, he dies. He almost certainly died of dysentery following a surfeit of peaches and new cider. He was immediately disembowelled (as was the custom) and his intestines were buried in the nearby Croxton Abbey. His other bodily remains were entombed in Worcester Cathedral, apparently because with the civil war going on, it needed a place of safety. It is ironic that Worcester was chosen because on least one occasion John had threatened to burn the city to the ground.

Edward II

On 19 June 1313, exactly one year after his favourite and lover, Piers Gaveston, had been murdered, Edward II paid tribute to the man by ordering  Bernard the Fool and 54 of his associates to dance naked before him. They were given £2 for their work.

In 1314 before leaving to go north to fight the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn, Edward II ordered to Mayor of London to issue a proclamation forbidding “rumpuses with large footballs” in public fields.

On 24 June, 1314 Edward II lost his privy seal somewhere on the field at the Battle of Bannockburn.  He had to borrow his wife’s (Queen Isabella’s) so that the English government could still function.  Later Robert Bruce courteously returned Edward’s privy seal and shield without demanding extra ransom. 

 

Queen Isabella

In April 1314 Isabella returned from visiting her family in France and started to make her way north to be with Edward II her husband.  At Dover she was mysteriously given a rather peculiar gift of a porcupine from an unknown donor.

 

Edward III

At the Battle of Slys in 1340, the first major maritime battle of the 100 years war, between 16,000 – 18,000 sailors on Philip VI’s French and Genoese ships were killed.  It was said that there were so many drowned French and Normans that if God had given the fish the power of speech after they had devoured so many of the dead, they would speak fluent French.

 

Charles II

The formal gardens of Versailles came to be associated in English minds with the French and Stuart absolutism. So Charles II’s attempt to lure Le Nôtre in 1661 was symbolic.

James II

1685, James II’s Coronation – An elaborate ceremony took place at Lyme Regis in Dorset, which involved the procession of 300 virgins through the town pledging ‘their Majesties healths’, followed by fireworks and innumerable bonfires as the town conduits ‘ranne with wine’.

In 1687 while at Banbury, James II was troubled by a large dog. He shot the animal with his pistol and the gunshot so startled the Earl of Abingdon’s horse that the Earl was thrown to the ground and seriously injured.

William of Orange

On 1 March 1689 William of Orange removed the hearth tax which had been re-introduced after the Restoration to support Charles II. It was assumed that the more hearths you had, the bigger your house and the richer you were. William informed the Commons that he understood ‘the Chimny mony was very grievous and burdensome to his good Subjects’ and that he was content it should be removed. The announcement was a good move at the start of his reign and was was well-received.

In Stamford the mayor sought to frustrate the celebrations for the royal coronation on 11 April 1689 by ordering the cutting of church bell ropes (to prevent ringing) and the prohibition of bonfires.

While William was riding in Hyde Park on 21 February 1702, his horse tripped over a molehill, throwing the King to the ground and breaking his collarbone. He later died. Afterwards it became popular with Jacobites to toast ‘the little gentleman in black velvet’ who had succeeded in killing the king where previous invasion attempts and assassination plots had failed.

Queen Anne

Queen Anne was taught enough basic arithmetic to be able to inspect her household accounts on marriage. She was careful about checking these and once picked up a discrepancy after noticing in 1698 that ‘the expenses of oil and vinegar were very extravagant’.

Queen Anne received guitar lessons from Henry Delauney, who was paid £50 a year. Strumming on the guitar.

In 1703 Queen Anne refused to approve a bill passed in the Scottish Parliament granting the country a choice in who might reign over them. The Scots were furious and decided to withhold the payment of taxes to the English.

1704 Bishops and richer clergy had to pay taxes and Anne succeeded in getting this diverted to the poorer clergy. However, the total sum was small – c.£16,000 a year – and most of the money was already accounted for paying Charles II’s mistresses and illegitimate children. Queen Anne’s Bounty didn’t add up to much.

On one occasion Godolphin chided commissioners at the Board of Trade for spending too much on stationery; another time, when issuing a warrant for a new silver trumpet for Marlborough’s bugler, he wanted to know what had ‘become of the old one?’

In her letter to the Parliament 1706, Anne was positive of the enormous benefits inherent in ‘entire and perfect Union’, which would not only provide ‘the solid foundation of lasting peace’, but would ‘secure your religion, liberty and property, remove the animosities amongst ourselves and the jealousies and differences betwixt our two kingdoms’.

When trying to settle succession to the English throne after the death of William or Anne, there were 57 candidates who had a good claim. However, these were disallowed on grounds of their Catholic religion. This law still applies today.

 

Queen Mary II

James II always trusted Mary more than his second daughter Anne. When Anne once asked him why James always paid Mary’s gambling debts, but never her own, James replied because he was never sure that any money paid to Anne would not be used against him. Ironically it was Mary who was to indirectly play a part in his downfall, not Anne.

Robert Walpole

Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), MP for King’s Lynn, First Prime Minister, (known in satires as ‘Bob of Lynn’) employed over 50 women, men, and children to weed his gardens at Houghton Hall.

One reason for Walpole’s maintenance of power was his closeness to the kings – his position in the Closet. George I had stopped attending Cabinet Meetings since 1717 – partly because his son had acted as the king’s interpreter, and George I didn’t want his son passing information to his critics and enemies. He frequently showed dexterity in dealing with deficits in the Civil List.

Louis XVI

December 1775 Louis XVI killed 1564 items of game, bringing his total for the year to 8424 despite the limitations imposed by C18th musketry. To live as a king you had to hunt regularly.

Execution

In 1326 Hugh Despenser was treated in the way he had previously treated a friend of Roger Mortimer. He was dragged by four horses to his place of execution, briefly hung, eviscerated (removal of genitals and entrails, while still alive – and finally of the heart), beheaded, and quartered. His head was sent to London and the remaining parts of his butchered body were displayed for four years in Newcastle, York, Dover, and Bristol. (See Castle Rising’s She-Wolf Revisited.)

On 19th March 1330 the Earl of Kent was led out to be executed by beheading for the crime of trying to rescue his imprisoned brother, Edward II. But the people didn’t agree with the verdict or the punishment and the executioner refused to do the deed. While the earl waited they unsuccessfully tried to find a Sergeant-at-Arms willing to fulfill the role. After several hours they promised pardon to a latrine cleaner who was facing execution himself if he would use the axe. The cleaner agreed and the deed was done. When the severed earl’s head was raised the crowd was silent.

In the 300 years before 1782, when there was the last officially sanctioned execution in Switzerland of someone accused of being a witch, it is estimated that perhaps as many as 40,000 Europeans had been executed or lynched for a similar “crime”. In Scotland the last major outbreak was in 1662. Last execution in England was 1684.

Despite paying his executioner well, the Duke of Monmouth was literally butchered on the scaffold in 1685. It took the executioner five strokes of the axe to sever the head from Monmouth’s body; after the first stroke, Monmouth was purportedly seen to lift his head in anguish.

Elizabeth Gaunt was the last woman to be executed for treason in England on 23 October 1685. She was charged with assisting rebels in the Monmouth rebellion. As she was brought to her execution, Mrs Gaunt reportedly picked up one of the faggots ‘and kissed it’, saying ‘it was of little consideration to her, whether she dyed in the fire’ or ‘in her bed’. All the while, she protested her innocence of treason, claiming that she had merely given charity to the wife and children of the rebel she was deemed guilty of helping, who had come to her ‘ready to perrish for want of bread and cloathing’. She was not strangled first, as was often done out of mercy, but instead left to be consumed alive by the flames.

Inventions/Advancement

We say “o’clock” when naming time to indicate that that is the time given by the clock (the measuring instrument). Prior to the invention of mechanical clocks in the Middle Ages, time was estimated by the position of the sun in the sky. This was often proclaimed through the town by the ringing of a church bell. There was a time when it was possible to take your time from the sun/church bell or from the clock. If you chose the latter, you added “o’clock” to make your source clear.

The Penny Post is often thought of as a nineteenth-century development – not so. In fact a countrywide postal service had existed since 1635, when on the orders of Charles I the official General Post Office was established by Thomas Witherings, a merchant and entrepreneur. Witherings’ instructions were to set up a regular postal service between London and Edinburgh, guaranteed to complete the return journey in six days. To speed things up, new roads were built, including the Great West and Great North roads, and post offices were opened at regular intervals along the routes; here horses and men were kept in readiness for each change-over, supervised by the postmaster. A network of minor roads branching out from the main routes ensured that mail could also reach outlying towns and villages, and postage was paid by the recipient.

One of the benign achievements of the French Revolution was the declaration that one ten millionth of the distance between the equator and the North Pole would be called a ‘metre’ and would be the country’s basic measurement.

Thomas Telford’s 1200 miles of new roads in the Highlands required no fewer that 1100 new river crossings.

In 1752 Benjamin Franklin flew a kite into a storm to test a hypothesis about electricity. Pre-modern man rang church bells and prayed to God to avert lightning strikes: post-Franklin man installed a lightning conductor.

The ducking stool at Leominster was last used in 1809.

In 1810, Bryan Donkin, an entrepreneur from Northumberland, discovers you can preserve food by heating it slowly in a sealed tin can. Unfortunately nobody has yet invented the can opener, so a hammer and chisel are a must.

Military

A caltrop is made of two or more sharp nails or spines arranged in such a manner that one of them always points upward from a stable base. Historically caltrops were part of defences that served to slow the advance of troops, especially horses, chariots, war elephants, and camels. In the Middle Ages they were particularly effective against charging armoured knights on shire horses and were used by the Scots in the Battle of Bannockburn 23/24 June 1314.

In 1610 the Berlin militia refused to carry out orders to conduct a training exercise on the unheroic if sensible grounds that firing muskets with real gunpowder would frighten their pregnant wives.

In previous centuries, when prisoners of war were taken, officers were not incarcerated. They were asked to give their word of honour (their parole) that they would not escape.

In the American Civil War a reasonably efficient soldier with a rifle and magazines could fire sixteen shots per minute. By the end of the nineteenth century the machine gun, which could fire hundreds of bullets a minute, had made its appearance. As a French general reportedly said after the long-drawn-out Battle of Verdun in the Great War, ‘Three men and a machine gun can stop a battalion of heroes.’ Today the famous Kalashnikov rifle can fire 600 rounds a minute to a distance of well over half a mile.

Before the First World War German staff officers studied everything from forts, to understand their strengths and weaknesses, to American circuses, to learn ways of moving quantities of people, animals and equipment across great distances. The plans that emerged were tested, modified and tested again year after year.

While the details of the Wars of the Roses are obscure to most people today, Towton (1461) stands out as the bloodiest and biggest battle ever fought in England. It has been estimated that as many as 28,000 may have died there and many more were wounded or executed after the battle. Given that the population of England was probably around 2 million and is now around 56 million, a similar proportion of dead today would be around 784,000.

Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, was composed in 1749 to mark an English triumph, in this case the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 at the end of the War of the Austrian Succession.

During the Second Hundred Years War in C18th there was a link between increased deforestation in the UK and the rise of the navy. Just one ship of the line needed 4000 trees.

Publications

The first atheist tract in the English language (The Necessity of Atheism) was published in 1811 by the 19-year-old poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. He was sent down from Oxford University in disgrace.

Quotations

Lenin said that if Germans wanted to seize a railway station as part of a revolution they would first feel obliged to buy platform tickets.

“The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there.” L.P. Hartley in The Go-Between

Miscellany

The kings of England had obtained suzerainty over Ireland by the terms of a papal grant of 1155, but it was not until Henry VIII’s reign that they assumed the title of king of Ireland: by the terms of an act of 1541, Ireland was established as a separate kingdom in its own right, though one where the ‘imperial crown’ was ‘united and knit to the imperial crown of England’.

In 1353 England exported over 40,000 sacks of wool per annum – fleeces of 10 million sheep.

In February 1355 two students started an argument with the innkeeper about the quality of the wine at the Swindlestock Tavern in Oxford.  After three days of rioting 20 townsmen and 63 students were dead, and at least 20 student halls of residence had been destroyed by fire.

In 1384 the Bishop of Exeter refused to let the Archbishop of Canterbury enter his diocese. Three of the bishop’s men forced the archbishop’s messenger to eat the wax of the letter seal he was carrying. Members of the archbishop’s household later exact revenge by seizing one of the bishop’s men and making him eat his own shoes.

0n 30/09/1688 a priest, Charles Peter, spoke disparagingly of the King James Bible. A large crowd gathered, pulled Petre from the pulpit, smashed the altar, and would have gone on to demolish his chapel completely had not the Lord Mayor taken swift action to restore the peace.

In 1691 the Tower of London, filled with prisoners, was almost blown up by accident when a floor collapsed under the weight of hundreds of barrels of gunpowder.

While no wild animal was ever found at Versailles, unless imprisoned in the menagerie, in England, the invention of a concealed ditch (or ha ha) allowed the illusion that the park and its livestock formed an integral part of the house and garden.

In England, government licensing of printed material for officially came to an end in 1695.

Between 1689 and 1715 there were twelve general elections: in 1689, 1690, 1695, 1698, 1701 (two), 1702, 1705, 1708, 1710, 1713 and 1715.

On 26/11/1703, southern England was struck by a devastating hurricane. At sea, 15 warships and numerous merchant vessels were lost, and c.2000 seamen drowned. No candles, torches, or clapping, but a general fast was proclaimed and was ‘strictly observed’.

1703 Daniel Defoe published a tract called The Shortest Way ironically advocating the extermination of Dissenters. Lots of people failed to see the joke and he was put in the stocks at Cheapside and then imprisoned. While in the stocks crowds gathered to protect him rather than pelt him. After his time in prison he was recruited as a spy.

In April 1710 four Native American chiefs visited England. Fed up with French incursions on their hunting grounds, local tribes in North America were willing to ally with the British to drive the French out of Canada and so, at the prompting of the Governor of Virginia, four of their chieftains sailed to England to urge that an amphibious expedition be mounted to capture Quebec. An expedition was mounted and failed on 6 October.

1701 There was an act prohibited the wearing of cotton prints imported by the East India Company (to protect the English wool trade).

1732 American Colonies were forbidden to send beaver hats to the UK – skins only for UK manufacturers to work with.

1737 Playhouses Act – restricting the building of theatres and attempting censorship wasn’t finally removed until 1968.

Coffee houses first appeared in London in the early 1650s, and by 1663 they numbered about eighty. The first one in Europe was in 1645 in Venice. Charles II disapproved of them because of the freedom of expression that prevailed there. In 1739 there were 551 in London alone.

In 1695 the suspension of the Licensing Act, which until then had greatly restricted the activities of printers, led to the expansion of newspapers which so far had not been much different from pamphlets. This expansion came too late to cover the events of 1688–89, but newspapers such as the London Gazette or the Flying Post made up for it in their vigorous examination of the policies and events that marked the later years of King William’s reign.

In 1714 King George I had reinstated the Duke as commander of the army, an honour that had not deterred Marlborough from insuring himself against a Jacobite restoration by sending £4,000 to the Pretender in 1715. Simultaneously, however, from his base in London he directed operations against the rebel forces, ensuring the 1715 rising’s failure.

Frederick William I of Prussia. His idea of cabinet government (Kabinettsregierung) was rule from his private office (royal closet) without interference from anyone else.

Europe has had far fewer periods of unity than China but it has moved by fits and starts from some 5,000 independent political units (mainly baronies and principalities) in the fifteenth century to 500 in the early seventeenth century, 200 at the time of Napoleon in the early nineteenth and fewer than thirty after 1945.

In June 1787 the central government in Mainz despatched 300 troops to Rüdesheim to quell a disturbance that had erupted because the Electorate of Mainz had ordered people to sing hymns in German rather than Latin!

In 1797 Pitt the Younger introduced income tax to help pay for the war with France that started in 1793.

It wasn’t compulsory to drive on the left in the UK until the Highways Act of 1835.

Edward III