History Trivia

Trivia Night
Photo © Sean Benesh

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

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History Trivia: King’s Lynn

(Last updated: 16/05/24)

1135 St James Church was built. It was converted to a Workhouse in 1680. The clock tower collapsed in 1854 killing the workman who had been sent to inspect the non-functioning clock. It was finally demolished in 1910.

1136 King Stephen grants the Bishop of Norwich the right to have a fair at Lynn.

In 1190 there was a pogrom.  A mob of seafarers (perhaps in the port on their way to the Third Crusade) rose up against Lynn’s Jews, burned down their houses, and killed many. Hillen writes: “bold and greedy men carried out the work of their own cupidity with savage joy.”

1203/4 Norwich paid £7 customs duties, Yarmouth £54, Lynn £651. In King John’s time, only London and Southampton paid more than Lynn.

In the summer of 1216 troops led by Robert Fitzwalter (who was supporting the French Prince Louis who had been invited to replace King John) attacked Lynn and took hostages. They demanded ransom payments. Once the ransoms had been paid the troops departed with their booty back to London.

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!

A hugely destructive tidal surge of the Wash took place in 1338. Marginal land was abandoned and cereal production declined significantly, though the reduction in population meant the price of many agricultural products fell.

In C14th at Lynn the Augustinian friary set a condition on the construction of their watercourse. The three pipes of the conduit would be opened to the public only within daylight hours.

In the 1340s Queen Isabella and her household lodged, on occasions in Lynn’s Franciscan house with which she had connections.

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

In around 1390 Queen Margaret of Sweden asked Richard II for permission to hire three Lynn ships to fight Baltic pirates.

In 1392 (24 July) Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV) sailed from Lynn to Danzig with about 150 retainers to assist the Teutonic Knights on a crusade.

In August 1406 Henry IV led his family to Lynn with a large retinue to witness the departure of his daughter, Princess Philippa who was sailing to Helsingborg to marry King Eric of Denmark and Norway.

At the beginning of C15th Margery Kempe tried to start two businesses in Lynn: brewing, then corn grinding. The first failed because her beer was flat. The second failed because two previously obedient and hard-working horse flatly refused to pull the grind stones.

Before setting off on the expedition to France that was to lead to Agincourt in 1415 Henry V needed money. He sent a begging letter to authorities throughout the country. King’s Lynn loaned the king £216 13s 4d (the exact same amount as Newcastle). Norwich loaned £582.

In 1446 Henry VI and his retinue stayed in Lynn at the Augustinian Friary where his host was Prior John Capgrave.

In 1470, the Lancastrian Earl of Warwick was dominating southern England and had captured London (and now controlled Henry VI). Edward IV, with a few remaining loyal followers, made their way to Lynn, where, on 2 October they commandeered a boat and escaped to Holland.

In 1531 the punishment for poisoning was death by boiling.  In that same year a maidservant (name is not recorded) was found guilty of poisoning her mistress in Lynn and sentenced to be boiled in the Tuesday Market Place.  The law was repealed in 1548 under Edward VI.

At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries there were approximately 70 men in religious office in the town. By 1539 there were 2.

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/burned? 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.

In the 1640s the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, was paid £15 for the witches he found in King’s Lynn.

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 brother, 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. The spire of St Nicholas’ Chapel was also destroyed in the same storm.

1754 Hannah Clark was subjected to the indignities of the ducking stool that was situated on Purfleet Quay.

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.

The East Gate near Kettlewell Lane was demolished in 1800.

The last public execution in Lynn was in 1802 when a soldier was hanged for forgery.

London Road was built in 1803.

1846 Railways come to Lynn.

1899 King’s Lynn gets electricity.

If you’re interested in the history of King’s Lynn, why not book a walk through 1000 years of history with a qualified King’s Lynn Town Guide?

Regular Walks are offered on most days with a variety of King’s Lynn Town Guides.

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History Trivia: Executions

(Last updated: 31/03/24)

In 1171 as part of Henry II’s visitation of Ireland, the Earl of Pembroke, Richard de Clare (known as Strongbow) ordered 70 citizens of Waterford to be thrown into the sea after their legs had been broken. His terror approach to politics was not subtle.

After the Muslim victory at the Battle of Hattin 1187, Saladin wished to purify the land and offered fees for Muslims who would bring Franks to him. A call went out to members of Saladin’s clerical entourage for volunteers to carry out the executions. Volunteers were drawn from mystics, Sufis, lawyers, scholars, and ascetics, most of whom had ever carried out such a deed in their lives before. The prisoners were beheaded in front of the sultan, some more cleanly than others.

After Richard I had recaptured Nottingham Castle (March 1194) he showed mercy when the defenders finally surrendered. However, the two leaders of John’s attempted coup were not so lucky. One was thrown into a dungeon and starved to death. The other was flayed alive.

1242 Sir William de Marisco was finally caught after being involved in a plot to kill Henry III. He was hanged until dead, disembowelled and quartered. Probably the first time this punishment was used in England.

In September 1283 Dafydd ap Gruffudd was condemned to death by an English Parliament convened in the Welsh border town of Shrewsbury. On the basis that he had plotted to kill Edward I he was found guilty of treason and was one of the earliest people in British history to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.

1314 James Molay, the last Templar Grand Master was burned to death in Paris.

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.)

In the Mongol empire ordinary people were beheaded with a sword, but distinguished officers or leaders had their backs broken so that they died without their blood being spilled. Captured royalty tended to be rolled in carpets and trampled by horses and suffocated under blankets.

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.

The Archbishop’s Palace at Lambeth was ransacked and on June 14, 1381 Sudbury himself was taken by the mob from his hiding place in the Tower of London and decapitated on Tower Hill. It was a messy execution and took eight blows of the sword. His Archbishop’s mitre was nailed to his skull and his head was placed on a pole and paraded around parts of London. His head is still preserved today in St Gregory’s Church in Sudbury, Suffolk.

In the retribution that followed the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, Flemish widows in the city of London were allowed to take part in the executions of the convicted rioters who were beheaded for beheading their merchant husbands only a few weeks before.  Flemish wives struggled with heavy axes and killed their husbands’ murderers.  The justice was chillingly biblical.

02 March, 1401, William Sawtry was the first person to be official burned alive for heresy in England under a new law.

In 1411 in the French wars between the Burgundians and the Armangnacs, the Burgundian in charge of the garrison at Soissons (Enguerrand de Bournonville) was captured when the town fell. On the scaffold he asked for a drink and then declared: “Lord God, I ask your forgiveness for all my sins, and I thank you with all my heart that I die here true to my Lord. I ask you, gentlemen, to punish the traitors that have basely betrayed me, and I drink to my Lord of Burgundy and to all his well wishers, and to the spite of all his enemies.”

1421 Philippe de Gamaches, abbot of Saint-Faro, was taken to Paris and threatened by the English with being put in a sack and thrown into the river (typical French punishment for French clergy accused of treason).  Gamaches escaped on this occasion.

1425 A notorious brigand chief, Sauvage de Frémainville attempted to assassinate the Duke of Bedford (English ruler in French territory). In Paris he was beaten at the scaffold, denied the chance to make a confession, and the executioner bungled his hanging at the first attempt. He fell from the scaffold breaking his back and leg, and was forced to remount for a second attempt.

31 May, 1431, the captured Joan of Arc (Jehanne d’Arc, La Pucelle, The Maid) was burned to death in the market square at Rouen. Her ashes were scooped up and thrown into the Seine.

During the English occupation during this period there are three recorded instances of women accused of treason being buried alive following the French fashion (quartering being considered too indecent).

1453 the Battle of Castillon has traditionally regarded as the end of the 100 years war. The English, under John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, were defeated.

In 1462 John de Vere, Earl of Oxford was tried and executed for treason by John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester. The execution was particularly brutal. Oxford was disembowelled, then castrated, and finally, still conscious, burned alive.

In 1470, after being defeated in the Midlands, rebels against Edward IV tried to get to Dover and escape to Calais. Several were captured and executed by impalement – carried out on Edwards behalf by the Constable of Southampton, John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester.

In the summer of 1535 three Carthusians were convicted of high treason for denying the King’s Supremacy. They spent the fortnight preceding their trial in Marshalsea, chained to posts by necks and legs, stewing in their own excrement. They were finally hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn.

On 27 May, 1541, Margaret Pole was executed in the Tower of London. She was a 67 year old innocent noble woman who had been held in prison for two years. Her two principal “crimes” were her close relation to the king (Henry VIII) and her suspicion of his adoption of new forms and doctrines of the Christian belief (birthright and conscience). The Tower’s ax had been entrusted to a deputy of tender years – “a wretched and blundering youth”. The first blow slammed into the old woman’s shoulders and head. The second blow missed completely. It took several attempts to dispatch her. It was cruel butchery that shocked everyone who heard about it.

In 1555, Robert Ferrar, who had fallen under suspicion of both the Edwardian and Marian regimes, finally faced execution. He was “burned with turves and soddes for lack of wood”, after years in prison.

In 1555 the burnings began. In three years 220 men and 60 women died in the bonfires.

1556 was a burning-year still hotter than 1555 with eighty-five executions, and a further eleven protestants dying in prison. Of these victims, most were humble artisans, and twenty-two were women.

1556 John Noyes was executed at Litchfield in Suffolk. When the Sheriff sent men to get burning coals to start the blaze, nearly all the fires in the local houses had been extinguished. The officers had to break down the doors of a house where there was a single remaining chimney which had smoke coming out. Perhaps it was a forlorn gesture of neighbourly solidarity with the local shoemaker. The authorities belatedly realised that killing people in their own parishes might be unpopular. More executions shifted to regional centres and were conducted in batches.

In 1557 the coffins of two dead Cambridge academics (Martin Bucer and Paul Fagius) were exhumed and burned in the marketplace along with copies of their “heretical books”. This was symbolically returning Catholicism to the University. There was also unease about worshipping in places were the graveyards had been “polluted” by heretics. Nearly forty years later, a privy councillor, Francis Englefield, claimed, while in exile in Spain, that Mary had asked him to exhume and burn the body of her father.

In 1569 there was a rising of the Northern Earls against Elizabeth. She executed 450 – three times the number Henry VIII had executed after the Pilgrimage of Grace.

25 May 1570 a smuggled copy of Pius V’s Bull excommunicating Elizabeth was nailed to the door of the Bishop of London’s Palace near St Paul’s. John Felton, a wealthy layman from Surrey was caught and confessed to the dead. He was later hanged and quartered in St Paul’s churchyard (near the scene of the crime). His executioner was a man named Bull.

25 March 1586 Margaret Clitherow of York was pressed to death for refusing to enter a plea to the charge of harbouring Catholic priests.

Guy Fawkes endured endless torture and his bloody and broken body was condemned to a traitor’s death. But on the allotted day (31 January 1606) he cheated the executioner by throwing himself from the scaffold and dying instantly from a broken neck.

In 1642 there was great unease about the execution of a godly Catholic priest, Hugh Green, outside Dorchester. There was a reluctance to pull the ladder from under him (they had to get a clown) and then to cut him down while still alive. The man who was to do the quartering was a timorous barber. The barber took so long that Green came to his senses and sat upright.

In 1660 when the regicide Major-General Thomas Harrison was being hung, drawn, and quartered, he managed a fight-back. While his innards were being burnt in front of him Harrison summonsed up his remaining strength and swung a punch that caught the executioner off guard. The Major-General was immediately decapitated by the embarrassed executioner.

In 1661 the bodies of Cromwell, Ireton, and Bradshaw were dug up and hung from gallows. They had previously escaped execution by dying. This desecration followed the precedent established in 1605 after the Gunpowder Plot when the bodies of Catesby and Percy were exhumed and decapitated.

When the French attacked Algiers in 1683, the French consul, Jean Le Vacher was taken to Baba Merzoug (the largest cannon in the whole of the Mediterranean), pushed into the barrel, which was then discharged. A similar fate happened to another consul in 1688. Baba Merzoug was nicknamed the ‘Consular’.

When the Siege of Vienna finally failed on 11 September, 1683, it was found that the defeated Ottoman Grand Vizier (Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa) had brought his pet ostrich to battle with him. In retreat, he had killed the ostrich.

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.

On 16 December 1830 George Davis and William Watts were hanged at the Execution Dock in London. They were the last pirates to be hanged under British Law at Wapping.

The earliest mention of a guillotine as a means of execution was in Halifax, UK in 1206. There are also records of guillotine-type machines in Ireland (1307) and Scotland (1564). In 1792 in Strasbourg and officer designed a machine and got a Paris-based Prussian harpsichord maker to make it. It was tried out in Paris and first used on a guilty victim on 25th April 1792.  It became associated with Dr Guillotine after he had a speech to the Parisienne Assembly on a code for executions.

For examples of the public executions in King’s Lynn, see HERE.

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History Trivia: Monarchs and Leaders

(Last updated: 04/04/24)


Following a pattern started by Charlemagne of having his heir crowned while he was still alive, Offa had his son Ecgfrith consecrated in 787. As neither of the two available archbishops (York, Canterbury) were willing to oblige, Offa persuaded the pope to create a new archbishopric inside Mercia at Lichfield.


In 925 Athelstan was the first English king who had a crown placed on his head rather than on the traditional helmet. This piece of Byzantine ceremonial had taken 500 years to reach England.

William I

William was sensitive about being known as a bastard. During the siege of Alençon (1049-51)  the defenders of the fortress refused to surrender and mockingly waved animal hides from the castle walls, referencing William’s lineage as the grandson of a tanner. In response to this, William had 32 prisoners of the town’s hands and feet cut off, prompting a sudden surrender. 

When William was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, the congregation were asked if they accepted him as their king.  As was the custom the Anglo-Saxon leaders present bellowed their agreement in English, but the Norman soldiers standing guard outside the abbey mistook the clamour for the launch of an uprising and started to torch surrounding buildings.

William abolished capital punishment but replaced it with castration and mutilation. A guilty of rape was “forthwith condemned to forfeit those members with which he had disported himself”.

In the summer 1087 a rearing war-horse, maddened at the touch of hot ashes from a burning church in Mantes threw the king against the iron peak of his saddle. He suffered internal injuries and lingered for 6 weeks.

By the time he was buried at the Abbey of St-Étienne in Caen (1087) he had put on a lot of weight since the stone sarcophagus had been carved for him.  When he was put to rest in the sarcophagus his guts burst open causing widespread nausea in the congregation.

William II (Rufus)

In 1094 Rufus was in Normandy. He ordered the mobilisation of 20,000 men, each to be given ten shillings for his subsistence provided by his lord. When the assembled men were ready to embark at Hastings, the subsistence money was collected from the men and sent to Normandy. The men were dismissed.

Henry I

Henry I married Eadgyth (Edith) on 11th November, 1100 (0011111100). Perhaps to appease the Norman aristocracy, Edith, with great Saxon heritage, was known as Matilda (from Scotland) after her marriage.

According to the chronicler William of Malmesbury, Henry I fathered more than 20 illegitimate children, “not from gratifying his passions” but “from a love of begetting children”. 

After the French had been defeated at the Battle of Brémule (20 August, 1119), Henry returned the captured magnificent warhorses to William Clito and Louis the Fat (VI) as humiliating gifts.

On hearing complaints that some of his coins in circulation were of inferior value (because of clipping, or because of the use of silver plating) Henry had every suspected coin minter in England rounded up. Their right hands were cut off and they were castrated.

When Henry founded Reading Abbey in 1121 it contained the alleged true relics: the hand of St James the Greater, one of Jesus’ sandals, a hair from the Virgin Mary, a piece of bread left over from the feeding of the 5,000, a sliver of the cross, and the foreskin of Christ (one of 17 being venerated around Europe at the time). The hand of St James was brought back from Germany by Matilda in 1125 after her husband, Emperor Heinrich died. Matilda had taken it from her dead husband who had stolen it from his father (who had stolen it from the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen on his death).

Henry founded the first royal menagerie at Woodstock to house the animals sent as gifts by foreign rulers – lions, leopards, lynxes, camels, a porcupine – and later, Richard I’s crocodile.

Henry II

In 1152 Henry and Eleanor were camped outside the city of Limoges, but the city failed to supply the royal kitchens. When Henry asked why, the Abbot of Saint-Martial explained food was delivered only when the Duchess was inside the city walls. Henry gave orders for the recently rebuilt walls of Limoges to be destroyed so that they could not, in future, be used as an excuse for withholding reasonable dues.

Henry didn’t become king in England until 1154. In 1147, Henry was only 14 years old and was living in Normandy. However, he decided to make an impromptu return to England to support his mother’s cause.  Matilda had been promised the English throne by her father (Henry I) and was fighting a civil war against her cousin Stephen who had claimed the throne. Henry recruited a small company of mercenaries (hired on credit because he had no ready cash), and sailed across the Channel in an attempt to relieve his mother’s hemmed-in position.  After a failed attempt to seize Purton Castle near Cricklaid, Henry’s unpaid soldiers began to desert him.  Neither Matilda nor her hard-pressed allies had the funds to bail him out of the hole he had dug for himself, so instead, the chastened teenager appealed to Stephen himself for help.  Stephen sent him money for his return crossing to Normandy.

Christmas 1154 Henry ordered the destruction of 1100 unlicensed castles.

In 1157 Frederick Barbarossa (Holy Roman Emperor) asked for the return of St James’ hand (see Henry I), Henry politely refused. Henry often sent for the hand before making one of his 28 dangerous sea crossings over the Channel.

John of Salisbury complained about the effeminate garments of the fashion-conscious nobles in Henry’s court, and the new-fangled polyphonic music introduced by Eleanor.

The king kept 25 ships on regular standby for crossing the Channel. Thomas Becket had 6, the Queen 1.

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.”

In 1188 Henry introduced the Saladin Tithe to pay for Crusading War Chest. A levy of a tenth was paid on all moveable goods on threat of excommunication.

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 the summer of 1191 Richard’s appearance at the Siege of Acre significantly helped capture the port. After Saladin’s attempts to delay Richard and not honour the terms of the truce, Richard ordered 2,700 Muslim prisoners to be slaughtered.

On his way back from the Third Crusade Richard was forced to disguise himself as he travelled through potentially hostile countries. He was finally captured (December 1192) in a ‘disreputable house’ in Vienna. His jewelled ring gave him away. He is the only king to ever be held captive by a foreign power.

After convincingly defeating the French at the Battle of Gisors in 1198, Richard adopted the motto, “Dieu et mon droit” (God and my right).  He wanted to give Philippe Auguste the message that the English king was no more a French vassal but someone who only owed allegiance to God.

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.


Queen Berengaria, Richard’s wife, is the only queen of England never to have set foot in the country.


Up until King John, Kings were known as rulers of a people rather than of a place. John’s move from Rex Anglorum (of the English) to Rex Angliae (of England) was subtle. The former implies a relationship with the people and accession to the throne by acclamation; the latter places emphasis on heredity.

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.

King John had eight baths a year.

When trying to regain Rochester Castle from rebel barons in 1215, John’s miners had failed to bring the Great Tower down.  The king 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.

24 June 1216 John arrives at Winchester and orders the suburbs of the city to be burned to the ground. The primary purpose was to deny shelter to an enemy force chasing him. It was common practice to raise areas that had defied you, but the fact that John was prepared to do it to a city that had not stood against him demonstrates his desperation at this stage. A year later the city suffered exactly the same fate when William Marshall was fleeing from Louis.

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.

After John’s death, one chronicler commented: “Foul as it is, Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John.”

Louis (I) The French Prince Who Invaded England

Between August 1216 and May 1217 England had a French King (Louis I).  Even the King of Scotland (Alexander II) rode the entire length of England to pay homage to him at Dover. If the Barons and the French had not been defeated at the Battle of Lincoln in 1217,  England would have had a Capetian King.

In 1187 the 4 year old Louis was seriously ill. His mother was dead and his father had gone on a Crusade to the Holy Land. The monks of St Denis brought out their sacred relics – a nail from the True Cross, a spine from the holy crown of thorns, and the arm bone of St Simeon. The boys stomach was touched by the relics and he was liberated that very day from imminent danger.

On 6 August 1222, Louis was crowned Louis VIII, King of France. The banquet accompanying the coronation cost one fifth of the total annual royal income.

Henry III

The disputes with the barons during Henry’s reign were largely about them trying to limit his powers. The word parliament was first used in 1235 to describe a meeting in January to get the barons to agree to give Henry money to launch a campaign in Poitu. It was later used with a capital P in 1265 when the triumvirate (led by Simon de Montfort) was ruling with/though Henry.

In 1247 Henry gave a phial of blood to Westminster Abbey, said by the Patriarch of Jerusalem to have been taken from Christ at the time of the crucifixion. In 1249 he gave a white marble stone to the Abbey in which was impressed Christ’s footprint, said to have been captured at the very moment of Christ’s ascension into heaven.

Edward I

Edward I is famous for his attempts to suppress the Welsh with the building of a set of castles in North Wales.  However, the castles were very expensive indeed, and few know how they were funded.  In 1290 all the Jews in England (the only money lenders at the time) were expelled, and Edward declared that all the money owed to the expelled Jews were now owed to him.

Edward II

In 1301, Edward of Caenarfon became the first heir to the English throne to be created Prince of Wales. It was a title that had previously been used by Welsh leaders to attempt to define Welsh autonomy and was now appropriated by Edward I for his son.

Edward had a reputation for enjoying “common” pursuits, like driving carts, rowing, and thatching.

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.

The principle, established during the early years of Edward’s campaigns against France was that taxation could only be imposed with the consent of the king’s subjects represented in parliament.

After the first outbreak of the Black Death in 1348, some of the lower classes who survived felt they had more bargaining power because of the shortage of labour and some were successful in earning a bit more money and having excess income to spend on fashion.  For some people in power, the thought that people could move upwards was a threat.  In 1363 Parliament approved a reissue of 25 year old sumptuary laws which restricted the wearing of furs, or the increasingly popular pointed shoes to nobles (who were allowed extensions of up to 24 inches), to gentlemen (12 inches), and to merchants (6.5 inches).

In 1356 Edward III had two kings captive. David II of Scotland had been captured at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346, and John II was captured by the Black Prince at Poitiers in 1356.

Edward’s law of 1363 requiring every able-bodied man (16-60) to practise at archery every Sunday and feast day ave the country a ready supply of soldiers to fight the Scots and French.

Richard II

After a period when the insecure Richard had taken revenge on citizens who had challenged him, many people were keen to send him gifts in an attempt to appease his wrath.  In 1392 he fell out with the citizens of London over the provision of a loan.  In order to be given a reconciliation with him he demanded pageantry on the scale of a full coronation.  Even months after this lavish appeasement Londoners were still sending him gifts and in 1393 Richard received a camel and Queen Anne received a pelican.

In 1390’s Richard insisted in the use of “majesty” as a term of address.

Richard is credited with inventing the handkerchief – “little pieces of cloth for the lord King to wipe and clean his nose”.

Henry IV

The scared oil that was used at Henry’s coronation had been conveniently discovered in the Tower of London by Archbishop Thomas Arundel. It had been allegedly given to Saint Thomas Becket by the Virgin Mary who had promised him that a king anointed with it would recover the lands of Normandy and Aquitaine and drive the infidel from the Holy Land. It was Lancastrian propaganda. Henry failed to fulfil the prophesy.

Unfortunately, at the sacred moment of anointing the head with oil, the Archbishop discovered that the King’s head was alive with lice.

By 1409 the King was smitten with “leprosy”. It was almost certainly not leprosy, but possibly syphilis or tubercular gangrene.

Henry V

Henry V was born in Monmouth and had a particular affinity with the Welsh harp that he learned as child. Years later his harp would accompany him on campaigns.

Two feuding knights from Yorkshire and Lancashire were brought before the kind as he was sitting down to dinner. He told them that unless they both resolved their differences before he finished his dish of oysters he would have both of them hanged. They settled and swore an oath not to cause any future disturbance.

Before going to Agincourt in 1415 Henry made his will. 30 men were to be fed and clothed for a year on condition that they prayed daily for his soul. Twenty thousand masses were to be sung as soon as possible after his death – the title and number of each one being laid down with his meticulous attention to detail.

Henry V left enough money for 20,000 masses to be said within a year for his soul and another for the Joys of Mary.

Henry VI

In the first week on November 1429, following the English collapse after the defeat at Orléans, the seven year old young king was crowned at Westminster Abbey. After the service he was taken to France for a second coronation. On 16 December, 1431 he was crowned as King of France in Notre-Dame in Paris, before returning to Rouen and then back to England. Henry VI was the first king ever to be anointed as ruler of the two realms (England and France). [It had been agreed in the Treaty of Troyes, 21 May 1420, that the descendents of Henry V would rule both kingdoms.

At his coronation in France the French were disgusted that the English had cooked the food four days earlier and it was “shocking”.

Edward IV

In 1470 Edward and the future Richard III (Duke of Gloucester) found ships in King’s Lynn and escaped to Holland, avoiding capture by hostile Hanseatic vessels. Meanwhile Warwick brought Henry VI out of the Tower of London and restored him to his long-lost throne.

Edward returned to England in March 1471 in ships hired from the Hanse after promise of commercial privileges.

In the winter of 1474-75 Edward toured East Anglia in an attempt to raise money. It was said that one Suffolk woman doubled her contribution after she had kissed him.

During Edward IV’s reign considerable attention was paid to court etiquette. Pages and sons of nobility were forbidden to drink wine while chewing food, lean over the table, pick their noses, teeth, or nails during meals, place dirty utensils on the cloth, or eat with their knives.

Henry VII

Several popes indulged the English usurper-king, graciously dispensing him to eat cheese and eggs during Lent.

Henry VIII

In 1511 Julius II sent the king one hundred Parmesan cheeses.

In Henry’s “Reformation” after 1537, the story of England was retold.  The great shrine of Thomas à Becket, who had dared to resist a king, was destroyed and his bones personally burned by Cromwell “so that no more mention shall be made of him never” (1538).

At the end of March 1538, Paul III handed Reginald Pole a powerful piece of spiritual weaponry: a bull granting the benefits of a crusading indulgence to anyone taking up arms to return Henry VIII to the faith.

Despite appearances to the contrary Henry VIII had a passionate hatred of divorce and never divorced a wife. He merely declared that certain of his marriages never existed and should therefore be annulled (and Cranmer obliged – Cathrine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleves).

Henry died on January 19 1547. Despite his own writings stating that there was no certainty about how individual memorials and prayers might benefit the dead, he stipulated there were to be plenty for him: two priests to say daily masses “as long as the world endures”; four solemn annual obits; 1000 marks for distribution to paupers with instructions to recipients that they are to pray for Henry’s soul.

Edward VI

Just before Edward VI died in 1553 three Londoners who had been overheard saying that the king was dying had their ears cut off in punishment.

Elizabeth I

The Act of Settlement (1559) and the 39 Articles (1563) left things so vague after the previous years of religious uncertainty, that even today there are Anglicans who might be scarcely distinguishable from either Baptists of Catholics.

In 1561, in an order dashed off while in Ipswich, Elizabeth declared: “wives and children to be obstacles to the quiet and orderly profession of learning and study”. No wife or “other women” were to be permitted within the precincts of cathedrals or university colleges. Elizabeth was unwilling to give clergy marriages a renewed statutory basis.

James VI of Scotland, I of England

In 1603 when James was making his progress from Scotland to the English throne, he spent the day of Elizabeth’s funeral near Huntingdon being entertained in the house of Sir Oliver Cromwell. In less than 50 years, Sir Oliver’s nephew would hasten James’s son to the executioner’s block with all the trappings of legal process.

Oliver Cromwell

After Charles I’s defeat at the Battle of Naseby in 1645 the New Model Army boasted of slaughtering 100 women (“harlots with golden tresses”).

Charles I

On the night of 20 March 1648, when in prison in Carrisbrook Castle, Charles tried to reach the horses and the boat that were waiting for him by climbing between two iron bars in his cell. His head went through comfortably, but his body was stuck for a while. Eventually he had to retreat.

In 1649 when being tried in Westminster Hall, Charles, who customarily had a stammer, spoke with great fluency. He also refused to take off his hat as a sign that he would show no respect for the court.

After his execution, Charles I’s head was sewn back on to his torso so that his corpse could be displayed in an open coffin in St James’s Palace to foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries to prove that he was in fact dead. Charles I’s body later lay in state in a lead coffin under a black, velvet pall.

Louis XIV

Louis hardly ever washed as bathing had been banned by the church on the grounds that nakedness provoked excessive sexuality (not that Louis needed baths to encourage him in that direction).

Charles II

Late in 1648, on learning that his father was about to be executed, Prince Charles was determined to have his father released, whatever the cost. He sent a blank sheet of paper to Charles I’s captors, to which he had applied only his signature and seal. This “carte blanche” signified that there were no terms that he would reject in return for his father’s liberty.

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.

In July 1690, when in Dublin facing a force led by William, James fled the field, earning himself the Irish nickname ‘Seamus an chaca’ – ‘James the shit’.

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.

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.

George II

At7:10 a.m. on 25 October 1760. Georege II sat on the “closet stool” in his apartment in Kensington Palace ans suffered a heart attack, cutting his face on some furniture as he fell to the floor.

George III

While Prince of Wales in the 1750’s, George wrote an essay arguing that a high wage rate encouraged the poor to buy “unnecessary things” – which included brandy, sugar, foreign fruit, strong beer, printed linen, tobacco, snuff, and tea.

George believed in supporting intellectuals. In 1762 he gave Samuel Johnson a pension of £300 a year. He also granted pensions to David Hume and to Jean-Jaques Rousseau – the latter payment being unusual in that the £100 a year continued after Rousseau’s death in 1778, to be paid to his mistress.

Almost half of today’s Royal Collection of Art (over 30,000 pictures) was bought by George III.

After the death of King James II’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart (the Old Pretender) on New Years Day 1766, Pope Clement XIII finally recognised George III as the rightful King of Englands, rather than Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) the Young Pretender, who was to live on in Rome until his death in 1788. Twenty years after Culloden, the Jacobite threat was finally extinguished.

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.

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History Trivia: Inventions and Advancement

(Last updated: 23/09/22)

During the C12th the linguist and scientist Adelard of Bath introduced Arabic innovations in mathematics into England and France.

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.

After the end of the English Civil War Sir Kenelm Digby invented a salve that was supposed to prevent wounds from becoming infected. Unfortunately his idea was that the salve had to be applied to the blade that had caused the wound.

In the C18th vessels started to have extended bowsprits to increase the size of the jib-sails.  This gave them extra speed.  This development was outlawed for all vessels other than those in the service of the Royal Navy.  Smugglers just ignored this regulation.

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.

Robert Hervey, the physician who discovered the circulation of blood, fought as a Royalist in the English Civil War.

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 were a must.

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History Trivia: Military

(Last updated: 16/05/24)

In the late C4th CE the Huns arrived on the banks of the Volga carrying composite large and powerful bows which could shoot arrows to 150m and pierce armour at 100m. This expertise was unknown to the contemporary nomadic people.

In 678 the Byzantine Emperor, Constantine IV used Greek Fire for the first time defending Constantinople from attacks by Muslim ships.

Pope Urban II (1035-1099) promised, alluringly, that going on a Military Crusade could be substituted for all the penances the church had imposed on an individual for their sins – the eternal consequences of an entire lifetime of wrongdoing could be theoretically wiped out in a single journey of slaughter of religious enemies.

In 1080 Robert Curthose was returning from defeating a raid by Malcolm of Scotland into Northumbria, he halted on the Tyne and built a great fortress. The town which grew up around it became known as Newcastle.

During the successful siege of the city of Nicaea in 1097 the crusading army used severed heads as ammunition for catapults. The Frankish knights gleefully wielded Turkish scimiatars they had prized from the dead hands of Qilij Arslan’s dead soldiers.

15 July 1099 the First Crusade captured Jerusalem. Jews and Muslims were massacred. Many of their beheaded bodies left in the streets had their stomach slit open so that the Christian conquerors could retrieve the gold coins their victims had swallowed in a bid to hide their possessions.

15 July 1099 in Jerusalem Greek Orthodox priests were tortured until they revealed the location of some of their finest relics, including a fragment of wood from the True Cross.

In 1136 Baldwin of Redevers was being besieged in Exeter by King Stephen. After three months the castle wells dried up and the towns garrison was forced to use wine to make bread and put out fires. Eventually the wine ran out.

Because it was the only weapon capable of penetrating armour at the time, the Pope, in 1139, tried to get the use of crossbows against Christians banned. 

Imad al-Din Zengi (1085-1146) was a Turk who ruled Mosul, Alepo, Hama, and later Edessa. He was a vicious individual whose military success sprang from his reputation as a butcher. He crucified his own troops for marching out of line and for trampling crops. He killed or banished his military commanders and castrated their children if the commanders irked him. He subjected one of his wives to a public, multiple rape.

In 1142 Louis VII of France was at war with Stephen’s brother Theobald IV of Blois-Champagne. At Vitry Louis ordered the burning of the church where 1,300 people were seeking refuge. The village became known as Vitry-le-Brulé. In a strange accident of history, the town’s Jews had not sought sanctuary in the church, survived and were spared.

At the time of the Third Crusade, as war fever swept across Europe, men who did not join the Crusade were susceptible to accusations of cowardice. Some were publically humiliated by being sent gifts of wool and distaff (the tools for spinning) intimating that they were only fit for “women’s work”.

Part of Richard’s success during the Third Crusade was down to the discipline he was able to impose on his troops. Soldiers guilty of murder on the sea voyage would be tied to the body and thrown overboard. Those guilty of murdering their own on land would be tied to the body and buried alive.

During the Siege of Acre (1190) Philip IV of France used a big catapult against the city he had nicknamed Malvoisine (Bad Cousin).

To modern eyes the medieval sacking and burning of captured towns may seem unpalatable. However, in the C13th the wealth and power of nobles were based on their lordship over lands or towns and the people who laboured. In order to hurt an opposing noble you had to damage his wealth producing resources and limit his chances of raising money to equip an army against you.

Just before the Battle of Lincoln Fair on May 20, 1217, Guala, the papal legate, absolved the Royalist army of all their sins committed since birth and excommunicated the Anglo-French troops under Louis. It is thought that this excommunication justified the later looting and sacking of the city as a just punishment from God for those who had supported the rebels.

During the Battle of Evesham (1264) Simon de Montfort was killed. His hands, feet, and testicles were cut off, and the genitals hung around his nose.

1296 Edward I had at least 11,000 killed at the Battle of Berwick.

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.

Misericordes (mercy-givers) were originally long, thin-bladed knives that could be thrust between armour plates, into unprotected armpits or through visor slits, to pierce a knight’s heart or brains. They were used after battles to mercifully kill those left alive but who were not rich enough to be held for ransom, or too severely wounded to be taken prisoner.

While sometimes used in hunting, the longbow was chiefly a popular, not an aristocratic weapon. It was cheap to manufacture but difficult to master. The national importance of archery was such that it became subject to legislation. In 1357 and 1369 prohibitions were placed on the export of bows and arrows; in 1363 regular archery practice became compulsory; in 1365 archers were forbidden to leave England without a royal licence.

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.

At the Siege of Caffa (on the Black Sea) 1345 the Mongol besiegers catapulted plague-infected bodies into the city. However, as the plague spread through the Mongol army they had to abandon the siege.

The cost of naval warfare was formidable. During the 1340s and 1350s thousands of “arrests” of merchant vessels were made so that the ships could be requisitioned for the fleet.

At the Battle of Crécy, 1346 the Genoese crossbowmen found out to their cost that the pouring rain soaked their bow-strings, shrinking them and seriously limiting their firing capacity. The English had learned to keep their strings dry by putting them under their hats.

Edward III’s tactics at the naval Battle of Winchelsea (1350) against a Castilian force sailing home, have been likened to a “demented ten-year-old at the dodgems”, such was his fondness for ramming the opposition.

At the Battle of Poitiers, 1356, the French King John II had arranged for nineteen identically dressed doppelgängers of himself to be on the battlefield. Despite this tactic he was still captured by the English and kept prisoner in London for four years.

Whereas the castles built in the C13th were designed to withstand sieges of a year or more, in 1415 it took Henry V just a month to smash through the fortified defences of Harfleur with 12 great guns.

During the English occupation of France following the second invasion after Agincourt, Friars were often active as spies because they could move about across political boundaries without raising suspicion. Charles VII regularly used one whose code name was “Samedi passé” (Last Saturday).

In C15th archery was looked down on on the Continent as the preserve of the lower ranks. In England, hunting deer on foot with a bow and arrow was the preserve of the aristocrats. The consequences of the English familiarity with the longbow were felt at Agincourt.

At Agincourt in 1415 many of the English had been affected by dysentery caught at the siege of Harfleur. Many of the archers were reduced to cutting off their soiled breeches and undergarments in an attempt to let nature take its course more easily as they awaited the French attack.

10 February 1417 Henry V ordered 6 wing feathers to be plucked from every goose in 20 counties. A few months earlier parliament had prohibited making clogs and overshoes from ash. It was 2 years since Agincourt, and Henry was about to launch a second invasion of France and needed hundreds of thousands of arrows for his archers.

In the early C15th cannons were still in their infancy and were notoriously slow and inaccurate. One gunner who managed to hit three targets on the same day was assumed to be in league with the devil and was sent off on pilgrimage to redeem himself.

12 February 1429 a heavily outnumbered English force managed to defeat a superior French force at the Battle of the Herrings. The English force were escorting a convoy of several hundred wagons containing flour, herrings and other food for the forthcoming season of Lent. The wagons were to resupply the English force at the siege of Orléans. 400 Armagnacs were left dead, whereas the English only lost 4.

At the Battle of Jargeau on 11–12 June 1429, the Earl of Suffolk managed to knight his French captor (a lowly soldier rather than a nobleman) before formally surrendering, thus avoiding the utter chivalric humiliation of having to give his lordly person up to a man of mean status.

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. Accounting for population differences, a similar proportion of dead today would be around 784,000.

In January 1558 the French regained Calais, the last English held territory in the France.

7 October, 1571 The Ottomans were defeated at the Battle of Lepanto. 12,000 galley slaves were freed.

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.

At the start of the English Civil War Richard Baxter saw all the armies as vanity. In the middle of the war he came to see the Parliamentarians as God’s chosen people. After the war he saw them as deluded idiots.

In 1642 the first lord general of the Parliamentarian army, Lord Essex, was so unsure about fighting the king and so full of trepidation that he took his coffin in tow on campaign.

The red coat uniform worn by the New Model Army was so inspirational that it served as the standard dress for the British soldier long after the New Model Army had been abandoned.

In 1643 the use of rape by both sides was well-known and proclaimed in propaganda. The “virgins of Norwich” fearing the arrival of Cavaliers, gave money and raised a godly troop of horse for their defence – the so-called “Maidens’ Troop”.

The Soldier’s Pocket Bible was created especially for the Parliamentarians in 1643. Civil War bullets were fired so feebly that quite small bibles could stop them, and Richard Baxter said that this happened so frequently that it was hardly worth comment.

The Drogheda massacre took place 3–11 September 1649, at the outset of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The captured garrison was literally decimated with the survivors being sent to Barbados as slaves. All the officers were bludgeoned to death. At Wexford 200 women were bludgeoned to death.

Dunkerque (Dunkirk) had three owners in one day on June 25th, 1658. In the morning it was under Spanish control; it surrendered to the besieging army of French; in the evening Louis XIV gave the town to Oliver Cromwell.

In June 1685 Lord Feversham left John Churchill to suppress the Monmouth Rebellion. Feversham’s appearance on the battlefield was delayed as he insisted on eating his breakfast first. He was further delayed by the need to adjust his wig and cravat.

6 July 1685 – The Battle of Sedgemore was the last pitched battle on English soil.

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.

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.

After France declared war on Britain in 1793 a new law was passed  obliging every able-bodied single French man to join the Revolutionary Army.  There was a predictable rush for marriage licences.

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.

An American living in Paris, Robert Foulton, offered to build the French a submarine for use against the powerful British fleet. In 1776 one of his pedal powered submarines had attempted to drill a hole in a British ship in New York harbour.

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.

July 3rd, 1940, the French fleet was in Algeria at the Mers-el-Kebir naval base near Oran. Britain was worried that the Germans would capture the ships and sent a fleet to the base inviting the French to sail to Britain or scupper their ships. When the French refused the British guns opened up disabling three ships and killing over 1,250 French sailors.

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History Trivia: Publications

(Last updated: 21/09/22)

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.

In 1644 John Bunyan served as a soldier in the Civil War and gained experience that would inspire him to publish Pilgrim’s Progress in 1678.

Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665), was an English courtier, philosopher, diplomat, and scientist of the reign of Charles I. His cookbook, composed from notes by a servant in 1669, The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, is the first English cookbook to recommend bacon and eggs for breakfast.

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History Trivia: Quotations

(Last updated: 16/05/24)

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

After King John’s death, one chronicler (Matthew Paris) commented: “Foul as it is, Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John.”

“The past is never dead.  In fact, it’s not even past.” William Faulkner talking about the Southern USA.

“Treason is a matter of dates.” Napoleon’s Foreign Minister, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord.

“Our greatest hereditary enemy was not Germany, it was England. From the Hundred Years War to Fashoda, she hardly ceased to struggle against us … she is not naturally inclined to wish us well.” Charles de Gaulle

“History is a series of lies on which we agree.” Napoleon

“Princes are often no more than crowned donkeys.” Gerald of Wales (1190), On the Instruction of a Prince.

Valentinian III of Attila the Hun: “A universal despot who requires no reason for battle, but thinks whatever he does is justified. … He deserves everyone’s hatred.”

“So now you have committed yourself to the rule of Fortune, you must acquiesce to her ways. If you are trying to stop her wheel from turning you are of all men the most obtuse.” Boëthius

“There are three things of such a sort that they produce merciless destruction when they get the upper hand. One is a flood of water; another is a raging fire, and the third is the lesser people, the common multitude; for they will not be stopped, either by reason or discipline.” John Gower, The Mirror of Mankind c.1375

“War without fire has little to recommend it – like sausages without mustard.” Henry V

“Like all violence, iconoclasm could become a way of having a shamelessly good time doing something shocking while patting oneself on the back for holiness.” Diane Purkiss

“Periodic quarrels between the King and the Pope, like rain on a Scottish holiday, were things to be expected, and they would always pass.” Peter Marshall

“Heresy, like beauty, resides in the beholder’s eye. It is possible to regard it as no more than a ‘construct’ – an artificial category created by self-proclaimed policemen, with their own reasons for identifying, or inventing, a convenient criminal enemy.” Peter Marshall

“Philip, belching from daily excess came hiccuping to the war.” William of Malmesbury on Philip I joining William Rufus in his actions to suppress problems in Normandy in 1089.

“The Englishman always has in his hands an accurate pair of scales in which he scrupulously weighs up the birth, the rank, and above all, the wealth of the people he meets in order to adjust his behaviour towards them accordingly.” Jean Rouquet (Swiss Painter) 1755

“If slavery be thus contagious, how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” Samuel Johnson 1775, Taxation No Tyranny

As Nietzsche one wrote: “Merchant and pirate were for a long period one and the same person.”

“In England since the Norman Conquest there have been no less than eight civil wars and nineteen rebellions.” Thomas Paine 1776, Common Sense

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(Last updated: 04/06/24)

In the early years of the Roman Empire there were  perhaps 10,000,000 slaves at any one time, which was between one fifth and one sixth of the entire population.

The Huns populated the Asian steppe in C3rd AD. The Chinese scribes described them as ‘Xiongnu’ (Howling Slaves). The name stuck and was transliterated as Xwn or Hun.

Roman writers despised the Huns for their chubbiness and their rank habit of greasing their hair with sour butter.

It was rumoured that the Roman Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena found the timber used in Christ’s cross when she visited Jerusalem in AD 327.

According to legend, Attila died in 453 CE apparently choking to death on his own blood thanks to the combination of a massive drinking binge and an equally massive nosebleed on the night of his wedding to a beautiful woman called  Ildico.

541 – 543 Bubonic plague raged throughout parts of the world. (Plague of Justinian)

At the turn of the C8th a nun who taught at the School for Girls at Wimborne Minster died.  Her students jumped up and down on her grave.

In 828 two Venetian merchants stole St Mark’s bones from the Egyptian city of Alexandria, smuggling them through customs inside a barrel of pork, which they trusted – rightly – that the Muslim inspectors would not examine too closely.

The English word ‘lord’ derives form the Old English hlaford meaning ‘bread giver’.

After Berno’s death in 927 the monastery at Cluny was passed to an abbot called Odo. He harshly punished the brothers for failing to gather up and eat the crumbs from their plates at mealtimes.

The etymology of “papal bull” comes from the Latin word “bulla” meaning “lead”.  The pope would issue a statement or a judgement and this was then sealed in lead with the papal seal.

Chess originated in C6th India and arrived in Western Europe via Persia, the Islamic World, and Spain at the end of the C10th.

Between 1066 and 1100, 500 castles were built.

At the time of the Norman Conquest a tenth of the people in England were slaves.

In 1068 William I introduced a curfew law to prevent groups of Saxons meeting to plot to overthrow the Normans.  Fires were forbidden after darkness and a bell was rung at 8:00pm every night.  Matilda of Scotland persuaded her husband, Henry I, to repeal this hated law.

Of the 93 royal children born to 15 of England’s 20 medieval queens, 27 died in childhood – nearly 30 per cent.

Queen Matilda (William I’s wife) was given 40s a day for food.  Her servants were allocated 12s.

Henry I married Eadgyth (Edith) on 11th November, 1100 (0011111100). 

After 1066, Archbishop Lanfranc testified that he approved of women wearing the veil in an attempt to avoid the common practice of them being raped by the Norman invaders.

William I deposed Abbot Thurstan of Glastonbury after the latter ordered archers to shoot the monks at the altar who refused to abandon their Georgian chants in favor of the abbot’s Norman innovations. Thurstan was later readmitted by Rufus to the abbey after the payment of 500 pounds of silver.

In 1102 Archbishop Anselm attacked the drunkenness, slovenly dress, and sodomy that he found to be prevalent amongst the English clergy. 

1102 Archbishop Anselm published decrees against homosexuality, slavery, and married clergy.  In 1128 the Church authorities were authorised to sell the wives of married priests into slavery – an act which violated one canon of 1102 while purporting to uphold another.

In 1102 there was a dispute over whether Canterbury of York had the supremacy in the Church. At an ecclesiatical council in Westminster, Archbishop Gerald of York threw a tantrum because Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury had a chair that was raised higher than Gerald’s. Gerald refused to sit down until chairs were on the same level.  Later that year the Pope censured Gerald and ordered him to swear an oath to Anselm.

When Henry I’s first wife (Edith – Matilda of Scotland) died in 118 he paid for 47,000 masses to be said and for 68,000 poor people to be fed.

Geoffrey of Anjou (son-in-law of Henry I, second wife of Matilda) fought for his wife’s territory in Normandy in the civil war against Stephen riding into battle with a  Planta Genista as his talisman.  It was said that this was the root of the nickname of Plantagenet.  Henry II referred to himself as “FitzEmpress”. It was first used as a surname by Richard Duke of York in 1460 when as Richard Plantagenet he claimed the throne from his mentally unstable cousin, Henry VI.

At the Council of Troyes, 13 January 1129 a 68 point code of Templar Conduct was drawn up. A particularly violent proscription was made against trendy footwear. “We prohibit pointed shoes and shoes with laces and forbid any brother to wear them … for it is manifest and well known that these abominable things belong to pagans …” [Edward III also proscribed certain shoes. See Monarch and Rulers above.]

In 1154 Nicholas Breakspear was elected Pope Adrian IV – the only English pope (so far) in history.

While Chancellor Thomas Becket was famous for his hospitality.  On one occasion he provided his guests with a dish of eels from Paris which cost over £100 – more than enough to keep whole families of labourers in comfort for a lifetime.

Thomas Becket had his favourite punishers.  When he was in London, Ralph the prior of St Trinity would whip him.  In Canterbury he visited Thomas, priest of St Martin for the same purpose.

29 December, 1170. While Becket’s body was lying cold on the cathedral slabs people brought bottles to gather up as much blood as they could to keep or sell.  Inexhaustible supplies of watered-down blood known as “water of Canterbury” was available for sale.

In the 1180s, in the reign of Henry II, there was a court jester called Roland the Farter.  He earned particular renown because he could leap in the air, whistle, and pass wind at the same time.

In 1182 there was a lot of anti-western feeling in Constantinople.  Thousands of Italian merchants were murdered.  The papal legate’s head was cut off and dragged through the streets tied to a dog’s tail.

In 1186, it was agreed that Sibylla of Jerusalem would become queen of Jerusalem on the condition that she divorced her husband, Guy de Lusignan. She agreed to the divorce, on condition that she alone could choose her next husband. Once crowned, she promptly chose Guy.

Fish was incredibly important in the medieval diet.  The Catholic Church banned meat eating on at least 135 days a year.

After convincingly defeating the French at the Battle of Gisors in 1198, Richard I adopted the motto, “Dieu et mon droit” (God and my right).  He wanted to give Philippe Auguste the message that the English king was no more a French vassal but someone who only owed allegiance to God.

In the C12th as many as one in eight women died in childbirth.  A conservative estimate of infant mortality would be that 15% – 20% of babies died within the first year (many within days of the birth), and that a third of all children did not reach the age of fifteen.

In the late C12th and early C13th, the law code (the Jasaq) imposed by Genghis Khan on his territories forbade rape, sodomy, urinating in water sources, and washing clothes in thunderstorms.  Urinating inside a tent was punishable by death.

To supply a single knight for one year cost approximately as much as sustaining ten peasant families for the same period.

Since the C12th, those who could afford it paid to be buried in two or three places – body separated from the heart, and possibly from other organs.  Being prayed for in two or three places was thought to be better than being prayed for in one place.

From March 1208 to May 1213 nobody in England could receive the sacraments or bury their dead with the correct rites in consecrated ground because of John’s dispute with the pope.

At the start of the C13th Falkes de Breauté, a lowborn mercenary from Normandy, rose to prominence under King John. Vauxhall or ‘Faulkes Hall’ in London is named after him and his heraldic griffin appears on Vauxhall cars. Apparently the Russian for ‘train station’ is вокзал (voksal) after Vauxhall station.

In the early C13th the city of Damietta (Egypt) was a large supplier of alum used in the production of Western textiles.  It was also the only place in the world where pharmaceutical traders could obtain ground mummy dust – a prized ingredient in some medieval medicines.

Cleanliness became a mark of gentle birth.  King John provoked astonishment when he had as many as eight baths in six months.

In 1215, in order to avoid having to keep to the terms of the Magna Carta, King John declared himself a vassal of the pope and agreed to pay the pope 1,000 marks a year. The last time this was paid was in 1333, and further attempts by the Papacy to obtain the money were bitterly rejected by both king and parliament.

Between August 1216 and May 1217 England had a French King (Louis I).  Even the King of Scotland rode the entire length of England to pay homage to him at Dover. If the Barons and the French had not been defeated at the Battle of Lincoln in 1217,  England would have had a Capetian King.

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’.

John Bale (late C13th) mocked the sacred clutter (the supposed religious relics) in monasteries as eccentric and obscure, “a dram of the tord of swete saynt Barnabe … a lowse of saynt Francis … and a fart of saynt Fandingo”.

The principle had been established in England in 1254 that a tax of all the people had to have their common consent and could no longer be approved solely by an assembly of lords. In 1297 English nobles opposed Edward I’s demands for military service when he was not campaigning in person.  Thus at Ghent on 5 November Edward was forced to reissue Magna Carta confirming the need to have parliamentary approval to levy taxation.  A major turning point in history.  In 1407 it was further accepted that only the House of Commons had the power to grant taxation.

When the King of Scots arrived in London in 1274 with 100 knights on horseback to attend the coronation of Edward I and Queen Eleanor, the horses were given as a gift to anyone who could capture one.  Not to be outdone, the earls of Gloucester, Pembroke, and Surrey and 100 English knights gave away their horses as well.

1278 The date of the first recorded shipment of alum arriving from Turkey using the new route – on a ship actually sailing out of the Mediterranean (thought to be impossible) rather than using the Carcassone – Bordeaux land route.

18 November, 1302 Pope Boniface VIII issued a bull known as Unam Sanctam in which he stated that kings owed obedience to Rome and that it was altogether necessary for salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff.

1307 Philip VI of France wanted to put Boniface VIII on trial for heresy, sodomy, sorcery, and murder.  The pope had died in 1302.

1315-17 These years were plagued by atrocious metoriological conditions – endless rain causing crop failures, famine and widespread starvation which killed as much as a tenth of the population in England.

In the 1330s a number of English knights went to war against France wearing eye patches, having sworn to ladies at court that they would not open one of their eyes until victory had been achieved. Most died as a result.

In 1332 the House of Commons formed after sitting together for the first time in a separate chamber to the lords and the clergy.  The Commons were made up of country representatives – knights of the shire and burgesses from the towns and cities.  They were elected locally, whereas the lords received direct summons from the king.  By 1341 the Commons were independent of the lords and clergy.

In 1333 Edward III took Queen Philippa north on a campaign against the Scots.  One night she was staying at Durham Cathedral Priory, but she had to leave in her nightclothes and decamp to Durham Castle.  The Priory Monks were convinced that St Cuthbert would be horrified at the thought of a woman sleeping beneath their roof.

In the medieval period Lincoln Cathedral was the third largest in England and was said to house two very important objects – a finger that belonged to St Katherine and a chain that had been used by a saint to bind up the devil.

English kings did not drop the title “King of France” until 1801.

1343 Pope Clement VI formalised the sale of indulgences. 1476 Pope Sixtus IV stated that indulgences could be bought on behalf of the dead.  The sale of indulgences eventually forbidden in 1567.

In 1348 the death toll in Avignon from the Black Death was so high that the Pope Clement VI consecrated the River Rhone so that corpses could be flung into the river rather than buried.  People were allowed to give their last confessions to non-clergymen and “even to women”.  An English bishop gave permission for laymen to make confessions to each other, adding that if no priest could be found to administer extreme unction ‘then faith alone must suffice’.

1349 the Black Death was perceived as god’s judgement.  Around the end of September 600 Flagellants arrived in England from Flanders.  They chanted and marched and whipped themselves drawing blood.  They passed through the streets twice daily, barefoot, and wearing only a piece of linen.

The term ‘Black Death’ was first coined in a medical text of 1631 and widely used from the nineteenth century.  In 1348 it was known simply as ‘The Pestilence’ of ‘The Great Mortality’.

In the C14th there were many things blamed for the Plague (The Great Mortality).  Included in the list were: the tightness of women’s clothing, too much sex, sodomy, Jews, overindulgence in bathing, and eating under-ripe vegetables.  According to the chronicler John of Reading, the plague manifested divine wrath brought on by those who wore their hose so tight they could not kneel to pray.

The Jacquerie of 1358 lasted just two weeks and is the best known uprising in French history before the Revolution of 1789.  The failure of the French nobility in battle (Poitiers 1356), the inability of the government to contain and restrain the depredations of the mercenary companies, and the increasing demands of taxation all played a part in bringing about the rising.

1366 The Statute of Kilkenny  – the most famous official condemnation of the Irish way of life. It sought to prohibit interpersonal and intercultural links between the Gaelic-Irish and the Anglo-Irish. Inter-marriages were banned, as was the use of the Irish language, clothing, hairstyles etc.

Charles VI of France (1380-1422) suffered from mental illness and sometimes believed himself to be made of glass.

In the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 the rebels broke into the Tower of London and into the bedchamber of the king’s mother, Joan of Kent.  According to Thomas Walsingham they jumped up and down on her bed and waved “their filthy sticks” at her.

1394 The Bishop of Salisbury visited his diocese which covered Berkshire, Dorset, and Wiltshire – 39 clergy were reported for fornication with unmarried women or adultery with the married.

In 1415 Jean Duke of Bourbon formed a new order of chivalry – the Order of the Fer du Prisonnier (Prisoner’s Shackle). He swore to wear a golden chain and shackle on his left leg every Sunday for two years.  The aim was to find a number of knights in that time who would form a brotherhood with him to fight together.  Daily masses would be said for the knights.  They were revered an image of Our Lady of Paris.

In 1421 during the Anglo-Burgundian occupation of Paris, following a series of brutal winters, wet springs, and poor harvests, starving wolves often dug up the bodies of the starved Parisiennes to feed.  An Act of 14 December 1421 appointed wolf-hunters in Normandy because of the increase in their attacks.

During the Anglo-Burgundian occupation of Paris the English were often referred to as “Goddons” (God-damns) because they swore so often.

In 1427 English soldiers were recorded as shouting at the French inhabitants of Rouen demanding that they speak English.

Despite the evolution of artillery during the Hundred Years War its effectiveness remained far from fool-proof.  In 1431 the Duke of Burgundy fired 412 cannonballs into the town of Lagny and succeeded in only killing a chicken.

In the early C15th a nakerer was a drummer – often depicted with two small round drums, slung from a belt, carried at groin level.  Perhaps the origin of “knackers”.

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.

27 January 1365,the first born son (Edward) was born to the Black Prince and Joan  at the castle of Angoulème. On 27 of April celebratory tournaments were held on a scale not seen before. 154 lords, 706 knights – and their horses were stabled at the Prince’s expense.  The entertainment lasted for 10 days.  The cost of candles alone was over £400.

In 1376 in the so-called “Good Parliament” under Richard II, Peter de la Mare was the first named Commons “Speaker”.

When some of the rebels broke into John of Gaunt’s palace in the Strand in the summer of 1381, some of them tried to steal (rather than wreck) his property.  They were swiftly seized and executed by other rebels.  The revolutionaries had sworn that they were not there to steal from the rich, but to destroy them.

In 1380 Wycliffe was ordered not to preach and his teaching on transubstantiation was condemned. By 1382 he had retired and died, but in 1410 his bones were exhumed and burned under a new heresy law.

It was common for men to wear hats in church and for them to be raised as a matter or respect to a superior lord when the host was raised.  Because followers of Wycliffe (and Lollards) questioned the Real Presence in the bread and wine, they didn’t raise their hats.  They became known as the “hooded knights”.

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.

The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance, sealed with the Treaty of Windsor (1386) married John I to John of Gaunt’s eldest daughter, Philippa, is often cited as the longest-standing peace deal in history, since England and Portugal have remained at peace ever since.

In 1391 a man named William Mildenhall is accused (as reported in the St Alban’s Chronicle) of hiding the fact that his father had spoken disrespectfully of the king (Richard II). The father had said that “the king was unfit to govern and should stay in his latrine.”

In 1402 English laws forbade Welshmen from owning property, holding royal office, convening public meetings, or wearing armour on the highways.

When Catherine de Valois returned to Windsor from France in 1421 to give birth to Henry VI she brought with her a treasured relic – the foreskin of the Holy Infant.  This was known to be a valuable aid to women in labour.

In 1425 in Paris on the Rue Saint-Honoré, on the last Sunday in August, four blind men were suited in armour and put in a ring with a large pig.  Whoever killed the pig would be allowed to keep the carcass.  Without armour they would have certainly killed each other.

During the Battle of Jargeau (1429) Sir John de la Pole was captured by the Armagnac army.  Before he surrendered the earl insisted on knighting his captor to avoid the humiliation of being taken prisoner by a man of lesser rank.  (Such punctiliousness had not prevented him fathering a daughter on a French nun, Malyne de Cay, the night before his surrender.)

Joan of Arc was examined on three occasions (1427-1431) to see if she was a virgin (before her first meeting with the king at Chinon, before her first military battle, and during her trial for heresy). You can’t have a woman doing god’s will if she isn’t a virgin; and if she isn’t a virgin but claims she’s doing god’s will, you can be fairly confident she’s a heretic.

22 October 1454 – the earliest surviving, dated, western document printed with moveable type was a papal letter of indulgence given to Margarethe Kremer.   In 1476 Pope Sixtus IV had issued a bull extending the benefits of indulgences to souls already in purgatory.

The Humanist Scholar, Erasmus, visited the shrine at Walsingham Priory twice (1512, 1524).  You can tell what he thought about it by his dry remark: “Templum est nitidum et elegans verum in eo non habitat virgo.” (A brilliant and elegant temple for the non-residence of the Virgin.)

Before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, at Fairleigh Hungerford Church they were drawing crowds with the legendary chain of St Peter.  This was said to ease the pain of women during childbirth.

In Medieval Catholicism St Apollonia was said to be able to help with toothache and St Loy with diseases for horses.

Popular attachment to the shrine at Walsingham resurfaced early in 1540 when a “pore woman” of Wells proclaimed a new miracle for the image of the Blessed Virgin, taken down almost two years before. After an examination in London she was returned to the custody of the constable and “sett in the stokkes … wyth a papire sett aboute her hede” declaring her “a reporter of false tales”.

In May 1527, Georg von Frundsberg (leader of the landsknechte – the Lutheran troops fighting for Charles V) took part in the sack of Rome was said to carry a golden noose on his person, in case he ever had the chance to capture and hang the pope.

In 1530 William Tracy achieved the unusual distinction of being punished for heresy after his death.  His corpse was exhumed and burned by the chancellor of the Worcester diocese.  Tracy’s will began with an unambiguous assertion of his belief in justification by faith.  Copies of the will began to be circulated.

Interesting historical attempts to deal with the growing problem of unemployment due to rising number of enclosures. Henry VIII – 1531 Act of Parliament ordered whipping for all unlicensed beggars. 1536 First conviction of vagrancy = whipping, second conviction = mutilation, third = hanging. This was rigidly enforced.  Edward VI – 1547 Unemployed were sold into slavery for 2 years after being branded. A further conviction resulted in hanging.

Between 1532-40 329 people were executed on treason charges.

At the start of the English Reformation it was believed that one clerical privilege that was being abused was “the benefit of the clergy” – the right of clerics to avoid punishment by secular courts.  The range of who qualified as “clergy” was extensive.  If you could demonstrate the ability to read – a defining characteristic of a ‘clerk’ – you might be able to remove yourself from the secular courts for punishment.  Clerical courts could not impose the death penalty as they were forbidden from shedding blood.

A law passed in 1539 made it a capital offence for a priest to marry a woman (while keeping her as a concubine resulted only in confiscation of property). A late amendment allowed married priests three weeks to “put away” their wives without penalty. Archbishop Cranmer sent his wife and children to Germany.

The Act of Uniformity 1549 outlawed the mass.

26 September, 1575, Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote, was taken as a Barbary Slave and spent the next 5 years in captivity.

From 1606 – 1859 (thirty years after Catholic Emancipation) the Anglican Calendar marked November 5th with services and sermons reminding people of the Catholic threat and of the divine providence that had delivered the country from popery.

In October 1623 (5 November under the Gregorian Calendar used in Catholic Europe) 90 Catholics secretly attending a sermon in Blackfriars fell to their deaths when the floor collapsed.  The London mob were convinced that divine judgement had been delivered and stoned survivors as they crawled from the wreckage. Protestant authors rushed into print to explain what had happened at the “Fatal Vesper”.

In 1640 in the lead up to the Civil War it was proposed by Pym that Roman Catholics should wear distinctive and recognisable dress, as if they were prisoners.

In 1642 during the English Civil War wearing sprigs of rosemary in your hat and sea-green ribbons pinned to your clothes was a sign of support for the Levellers.

During the Siege of Oxford 1644 there was an outbreak of the plague and cats and dogs were killed as it was thought they were responsible for the spread.  All this did was increase the local rat population.

During the Civil War, when it was feared that London would be attacked, and when Charles was preventing coal from the North reaching the city, Londoners took to visiting the royal palaces to help themselves to stored coal, kindling, and beer.

In 1649, Thomas Chaloner, a Puritan on the committee for arranging the trial of Charles I, was a hard-drinking womaniser with a reputation for practical jokes.  One of his favourites was to go early to Westminster Hall and drop a ridiculous rumour into conversation, before returning later on the same morning to see how far the rumour had spread.

in 1650 the Puritan leadership wanted to make the republic more devout.  They passed a law condemning those guilty of incest, adultery, and fornication.  The incestuous and adulterous could expect the death penalty without clergy being in attendance at their end.  Fornicators received a three month prison sentence for a first offence.

Many of the defeated Scots soldiers who had supported Prince Charles (Charles II) and been defeated at the Battle of Worcester (1651) were sold as indentured workers to a company called Gentlemen Adventurers and were used to help drain the Fens.

In 1661 Charles II wanted to reward those who had helped him in his escape and exile following his father’s execution.  However, there were some spurious claims.  One man wanted to be rewarded claiming that he had been in charge of Charles’ socks and tennis shoes as a young man. 

Catherine of Braganza landed in 1662 to marry Charles II and asked for a cup of tea. Tea had been drunk in England before this time, but she did a great deal to popularise the beverage.

Rock salt was not discovered in England until 1670.

In 1686, Charles-Francois Felix, a 50 year old barber surgeon from Avignon, was invited to operate on Louis XIV’s anal fistula.  He made the king wait 6 months and in the meantime practised his technique (and developed new instruments) on 75 guinea pig fistula sufferers (mostly expendable prisoners and peasants). Despite being handsomely rewarded by the king after the successful operation, he had to retire as he was no longer able to hold a scalpel without trembling.

0n 30/09/1688 a priest, Charles Peter, spoke disparagingly of the King James Bible. A large crowd gathered, pulled Peter 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.

Up until the Toleration Act of 1689 churches were places were every adult was expected to attend for baptism, marriage, and burial, to visit for worship on Sundays and festivals, and to support by helping maintain the buildings and furnishings.

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).

In 1720, the year of the South Sea Bubble, a whole multitude of copycat schemes grew up. There was a company for “carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is”. The director offered 5,000 shares at £100 each with a guaranteed income of £100 per annum per share. All he was asking at the outset was a deposit of £2 per share.  He opened his office door in London at 9:00am to find crowds waiting and by 3:00pm had taken 1,000 deposits.  He disappeared at 3.01pm having made £2,000.

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.

Robert Walpole’s Norfolk residence at Houghton Hall was frequently visited by a smuggler, James Swanton, with fine imported linen and wines.  Even while Walpole was Chancellor of the Exchequer he was still known to be receiving smuggled goods. 

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.

Having the 1st of January accepted as the first day of the New Year was not adopted in England until 01/01/1752.

People are familiar with Beaumarchais as the author of ‘The Barber of Seville’ and ‘The Marriage of Figaro’.  However, few people know that he was recruited in the 1770s to act as a go-between for the French and American governments, in an attempt to keep the French support for the Americans a secret.  Beaumarchais set up secret false companies and sold military equipment to the Americans.  He had two wives, both of whom died in mysterious circumstances.

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!

George III introduced the Royal Marriages Act 1772 on response to the “scandalous” behaviour of his three brothers.

The pubic burning of publications (carried out by the hangman in both the Old Palace Yard at Westminster and at the Royal Exchange) had been going on since the fourteenth century.  Just over 300 were committed to the flames between 1541 and the end of the practice in 1775.

On 13/03/1781 the astronomer William Herschel discovered a new planet, which initially he wished to name Georgium Sidus (George’s Star).  Sadly for the King is was instead given the classical name Uranus.

John James Hamilton, 1st Marquess of Abercorn, July 1756 – 27 January 1818, wore the blue riband of his Order of the Garter even when shooting and insisted that his maids wore gloves while making his bed.

After France declared war on Britain in 1793 a new law was passed obliging every single able-bodied French man to join the Revolutionary Army.  There was a predictable rush for marriage licences.

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

Though the practice became increasingly rare, the right to trial by battle wasn’t legally abolished in England unti 1819..

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

Lady Warwick was one of Edward VII’s many lovers.  She was a London socialite called Daisy Greville.  She was the woman who inspired the song ‘Daisy, Daisy’, the chorus of which refers to her looking sweet on a bicycle made for two.  The songwriter had clearly heard about the furniture Bertie had had made in Paris to support his large frame during sex.

1918 France cared so much about protecting the name of Champagne that it had a clause about it inserted into the Treaty of Versailles.  Production had been affected by the war and France was concerned that sparkling wines from other country might step in to fill the gap in the market.  America was a signatory of the treaty, but never ratified it, and now produces American Champagne.

In the years after De Gaulle’s return to power in 1958 he survived over 30 assassination attempts.

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The information on this page has been gleaned from reading history books.  For a list of the main ones, click HERE.






90 Catholics secretly

History Trivia: Miscellany