“Midnight Blue is a vibrant blend of mystery, drama and romance. Light on the history but heavy on the twists. A book as emotional, intriguing and mysterious as the colour of the pottery it takes its name from.” Continue reading “Book Review: Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt.”
The Glorious Revolution.
James, Duke of York went public with his conversion to Catholicism around 1677. Almost immediately a movement was started to exclude him from the line of succession. Charles II narrowly managed to save his brother, but when he died James was on his own. It soon became apparent that the new monarch intended to have his son baptised a Catholic, and was planning to lift oppressive anti catholic laws. James was also seen to be very fond of standing armies and there were two things that were calculated to put the fear of God into the English Parliament, it was Catholicism and Regular Soldiers. Faced with these prospects ministers took the step of asking William of Orange to come and rescue them. The Protestant Hero knew a good thing when he heard it and eagerly accepted. In 1688 a Dutch army landed at Torbay on that most propitious Protestant day, 5 November, and advanced on London. James, plagued by faction, sloth and debilitating nosebleeds was at Salisbury, ready to fight potentially the biggest battle since the Civil Wars. But it never happened. The defection of key commanders, like the Earl of Marlborough and the resulting desertion rates of the ordinarily soldiers scuppered the Royal effort. James fled and was instructed by William to leave the kingdom soon after. The state had been saved and now Parliament moved to ensure that the King played by the rules. In order to preserve the true line, William was asked to rule in partnership with his wife, Mary Stuart. He also had to sit through readings of the different laws and bills that made up the English constitution and swear to uphold them, they made it law that no Catholic could ever rule as monarch of England and Scotland. James fled to France, where Louis XIV set him up in his palace at St Germain en Laye where he would die in 1701. The Protestant Succession was saved, but Jacobitism was born.
The Act of Union.
In Scotland, the first of the Highland risings take place lead by the charismatic Viscount of Dundee, but the campaign fizzles out after he is killed at the moment of victory at Killiecranckie in 1698. Later in 1690, King William’s troops wade to victory across the bloodstained waters of the Boyne in Ireland. William however did not have long to savour his success, he died in 1702 after being thrown from his horse which had stumbled on a molehill. Toasts passed over water bowls across the country were heard to give health to the “Gentleman in the black velvet Coat”. A long term project of William’s was to unify political power with Scotland and at his death, the last Stuart, Queen Anne took up the banner. In 1707 she instructed her parliaments to agree on a treaty that would join the two kingdoms forever. In Scotland there was much political, manipulation, jockeying and gamesmanship. Eventually a nobility that had been starved of a head of state since 1603 pushed the treaty through, but it was much against the will of the Scottish people, especially when it was learned that the big promises about taxes and trade were found to be worthless. The open wound of the act of union would remain raw right up to 1746, Scotland had given away her sovereignty and independence for an eventual and distant long term gain, “bought and sold for English gold” as Burns put it but that was in the future. For now the promises of the treaty seemed as empty as the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
The Hanoverian Succession.
You’d have thought that with a Stuart on the throne things might have been quiet. But although Anne had the name, she was still an upholder of the constitution of 1688, the architect of the hated act of union and a staunch Protestant (under her reign Catholics couldn’t even inherit property). Significantly she had also been at war with the Stuart guardian Louis XIV since 1703. Under Charles II, France had been an ally rather than an enemy, but William had sucked Britain into his own duel with Louis, and Anne had been happy to renew the hostility when Carlos II of Spain died without an heir and had named Louis grandson as his successor. The Protestant powers would have much preferred the Habsburg claimant, as would the Holy Roman Emperor, the War of the Spanish Succession thus ground onwards until 1713, and offered Jacobites the best chance of fighting for their cause. It so happened that London had levied a Malt Tax on the Scottish, and the resulting discontent seemed to offer an opening for James III. He issued a highly liberal manifesto, promising to uphold the constitution of 1688, pardon anyone who had fought him, give freedom of religion and repeal the act of Union if he was proclaimed King. At this point his religion was the only real bar to his being a wholly acceptable claimant and except for an abortive attempt in 1708 to land the young Prince James Francis Stuart in Scotland nothing really happened. Yet something had occurred, a shift in the dynamics of the cause. It was becoming increasingly clear that a Jacobite Restoration was now as much a Bourbon mandate as a Stuart one and the Kings over the Water dancing to a French tune. Before Anne died in 1714, having outlived all of her numerous children, James had written to her, pleading to be named her heir but it was not to be. Instead the crown was offered to the George, Elector of Hanover, a dour Protestant conservative, likely to toe the line, keep the boat steady, and also a firm opponent of France. If James III was denied chance to succeed peacefully, at least the ascension of this German nobody opened the door to a real shot at the throne. In 1715 the disaffected Earl of Mar raised the Stuart standard at Braemar and James hurried with the Duke of Berwick to join the rising. He arrived too late. Mar had not lost the battle of Sheriffmuir, but he had not won it either, and his army had all but melted away. James, more of an organiser than a heroic leader, returned to France, never to see Scotland again.
The Birth of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Although it never seems to have occurred to James II and his son, 26 years of living as the guests of the most powerful catholic monarch in Europe was not inclined to remove suspicion in Britain. The long absence of the Kings over the water, the multiple rebellions and plots over the years and their associations with popish autocrats had if anything worsened their position in their former kingdom. The Peace of Utrecht in 1713 had ended the War of the Spanish Succession, it had gone against France, but it was not a total loss. Louis had been forced to disinherit his grandson but a Bourbon was at least on the throne of Spain. A condition of the peace was that he had to expel the Stuart court and thus was done. James III, was now twice an exile. The bookish James Francis found a new home as a guest of the Pope, who recognised him as the official King of Great Britain, and set him up in the Palazzo Del Rey in Rome. It was not a move that would be inclined to lessen suspicion amongst his Protestant subjects. Yet it was here that his lovely Polish wife gave birth to a Prince who would be able to carry on the struggle to restore their fortunes. He was named Charles Edward, to use the shortened form of half a dozen names which included Casimir and Maria. James affectionately called him Carluccio but had him raised as an Englishman, surrounding him with fawning Jacobite exiles. Charlie grew up to be an exceptional athlete and a young man of exceptional charisma, in short he was the hero that the House of Stuart needed to win back the throne.
The War of the Austrian Succession.
The coming of age of the Stuart Prince of Wales coincided with another pan European war about the succession of a ruling house. The French and Prussians objected to a woman succeeding to the throne of Austria, the two greatest military powers in Europe now prepared to face off against a powerful coalition headed by Austria and Britain. Louis XV like his father before him was not above using the Stuarts like a torpedo to sink the British ship. A letter arrived in Rome cordially inviting Prince Charles to come to court to join a planned invasion of Britain which promised to plant him on the throne. Thus Bonnie Prince Charlie began his adventure, for no one invited him to Scotland, indeed the French project was vetoed in 1744. But Charles was not going to be dictated to by Versailles and pressed on regardless believing he would find support in Scotland. It was to be an uphill struggle. The French mandate had infected the old Stuart support base, clan chiefs had promised support, but it was conditional on French assistance. Charles animated the hesitant spirit of Stuart resistance in Britain like a dynamo. Ironically the early success enjoyed by the rebels was almost entirely down to the long odds against them and the audacity of the Prince in challenging them. Likewise however events during 1745 moved with such alarming speed meant that Charlie made Versailles dance to his tune, sadly however he could not sustain himself long enough to reap the benefits. Out of date information reaching Paris in dribs and drabs first made Louis wait and see if Charlie’s long shot paid off (as did many clan chiefs), then when London seemed ripe to fall, frantically muster troops, but by the time the French mustered enough men the news of Jacobite Successes were also out of date with current events and Charles, having exhausted his reserve of charm and persuasion, with no word from France and no rising in England was retreating from Derby on the road to Culloden.
The Politics of Britain, 1688-1800 By Jeremy Black. A Year in the life of Stuart Britain. Andrea Zuvich. Marlborough. Richard Holmes. Time Travellers Guide to Restoration Britain. Ian Mortimer. The 45′. Christopher Duffy.
Jacobites. Jacqueline Riding. The Making of the British Army. Allan Mallinson.
The crisis of 1745 is often thought of as the greatest threat to the union of Britain before present times. But that rather assumes that the objective of the Jacobite rebellion was to return the nation back to what it had been in 1640. Continue reading “What was Culloden really about?”
This is a Dramatic reconstruction of the General course of events that occurred on Culloden Moor 271 years ago.
Spring had come late to the Highlands. Across the slate grey waters of the Moray Firth snow caps coated the peaks of the distant mountains beyond the Black Isle. By midday on the 16th of April 1746 a cold westerly wind was blowing an icy shower of sleet over two armies standing on an upland plateau formed by the valley of the River Nairn and the ground sloping down to the Firth. For the most part it was a common stretch of grazing land, dotted with some crofters cottages, five miles east of Inverness, and forming part of the Culloden estate that abutted the larger Drumossie Moore which stretched south and west towards Nairn. Long trunk lines of red marked one army while the other, a line of dark and varied tartans blended with the grass and heather. Continue reading “The Battle of Culloden 1746.”
Author: Jacqueline Reiter
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Published: 11th January 2017
“a confident, elegantly written biography, rooted in iron clad fact… a much needed spotlight of unbiased scholarship to a fascinating and tragic life.” Continue reading “Book Review: The Late Lord by Jacqueline Reiter.”
Length 336 Pages including full colour image section..
Published: 15 March 2017, Amberly.
Arthur and the Kings of Britain is principally about breaking a code. In the 12th Century a scholar named Geoffrey of Monmouth penned a book called Historia Regnum Brittaniae, the History of the Kings of Britain heretofore referred to as HRB. A mammoth compilation of names and events purporting to chronicle the rulers of the land all the way back to their Trojan roots.
Today they the HRB is sneered at by many writers and scholars who argue that it is just an impressive work of medieval propaganda designed to please Geoffrey’s Norman overlords. But perhaps it is merely that these learned folk have not broken the code. Hidden within the foreshadowing, bias and propaganda there are elements of ancient histories dating back to the 1st Century BC.
Miles Russell sets out to find out once and for all if the HRB, and other similar histories are indeed the load of hokum they are cracked up to be. He does not defend the HRB as a work of history. Instead he argues that it is full of hints and allusions that can help flesh out this obscure time in British history. In so doing might be the first expert to attempt to present a formulaic method of using what many consider as unreliable primary sources.
The first two chapters read like a masterclass in historical detective work. Using a sort of reverse filtration system, Russell shows the reader that by viewing the HRB in the spotlight of preceding chronicles and histories the truth behind the legend begins to gleam. By using earlier books like infra red lenses or the keys to a cypher, we can see what accords, and the unreliable padding gets stripped back to reveal something approaching plausible.
This is the methodology of the book, starting with Caesar and Nennius to name two, the HRB undergoes a rigorous reevaluation, convincingly showing that there is more to the work than meets the eye. It’s not therefore light reading, it is just as much historiography as it is history, and some of the theories put forward are supported by paper thin evidence. Yet it is thought provoking in even it’s most daring assertions.
An investigation of the list of Kings is essentially the aim, using the method of comparing previous chronicles, retellings and histories to find similarities and then compositing that with archeological evidence, especially names inscribed on coins. This allowes the author to surmise that Geoffrey of Monmouth, while skewing and garbling almost everything he touched, probably didn’t just get his information out of thin air.
In that sense it is a revealing glimpse into the medieval mindset as it is fascinating to read about the historical possibilities of HRB’s King list. Geoffrey of Monmouth for instance might well have appropriated the 1066 story, and projected it backwards onto a less significant but similar event. Something calculated to appeal to his Norman masters, and make sense to a 12th century mind. More queer, (apart from the whole Trojan thing) is the confident assertion of medieval writers that Rome did not conquer Britain.
The Romans had a simplified view of nations. The Britons therefore seem quite clear cut. Indeed it’s enlightening to read the possible relationship between the still independent Britons and the Romans between the great invasion of AD 43, not least how the empire changed the fabric of “British” life. Yet when the Saxons come things get complicated and it’s not because the Romans are now considered the good guys, (unless your a Pict), because although the Britons lived in what is now England, lowland Scotland & Wales, it was the invading Saxons who took the name English, and branded their indigenous Romano-British arch enemies “foreigners” or Welsh.
Medieval muddling, back projecting and massaging of facts into neat narratives are things not calculated to inspire much confidence, and to use any of the sources this book investigates without the aid of others, to break the code, would be a great mistake. Russell’s achievement here is to have convincingly argued that no source should be ignored because it appears flawed. Indeed much about the the HRB retold here makes plausible and well reasoned sense.
Now in such a work, it’s very hard to present an invincible narrative. I suspect critics of Geoffrey will have been quick to condemn assertions, and scoff, perhaps heartily at some of the interpretations. I myself always raise an eyebrow when I read about the Njnth Legion being wiped out by Boudicca, such as is briefly mentioned here, but no matter which parts one might disagree with, debates about how to read ancient documents are never ending, and Arthur and the Kings of Britain offers a new argument.
Interesting theories are posed. Saxon kings might have been in fact appropriated British warlords. To demonstrate what the author is asking us to consider, take the case of Aelle. Russell suggests that this King might actually be a reflection of a long lost part of the story of Ambrosius, which was adopted by the Saxons & changed for political ends. In this way the Author searches the ancient writings for coincidence & similarity, he finds surprising similarity in many stories leading him to postulate wether indeed they are one and the same.
And so to Arthur, who headlines the book but as is usually the case forms only a part of it. It seems uncharitable to refer to such a title as a lure, but we should remember that academics use Arthur as shorthand for the final decades of the Romano British kingdom. What of this mystery man? Well by know, having read how the writers of the various histories composited so much into well hammered narratives, it should come as no surprise that Russell Arrives at the decision that Arthur was a man of many parts but little reality, in so far as being an actual man. Rather he decides the man known as Arthur was in fact many men, representing almost a codified history in miniature of some of Britain’s greatest heroes
In his conclusion Russell highlights three facts, derived from this close study of these hitherto derided histories. First that they contain elements of demonstrable fact, second that Arthur cannot have existed, and third, the HRB contains aspects that are historically verifiable, all summing up to say that these should be regarded as respectable source material. And while some may not agree with everything here, this is a undeniably true assertion. With so little out there about the early history of Britain, can we afford to just throw away accounts that don’t fit modern academic standards?
In the end, though we might scoff at new movies and books that fantasies and twist history into different shapes, one does have to at some point shrug and point out, people have been hiding away ancient history in legends for a very long time, and this book proves it.