Category Archives: Historical Rhymes

The lion and the unicorn

DSC_0325-3.jpgIts been a while since I heard this rhyme.

The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown; the lion beat the unicorn all round the town.

Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown; some gave them plum cake and drummed them out of town.

During the Tudor period the supporters, the creatures holding up the shield or helm, for royal heraldry tended to be the white hound of Richmond and the Tudor dragon.  It wasn’t really that much earlier that supporters had made their presence felt.  It’s usually agreed that  King Henry VI was the first king to use heraldic supporters in the form of two antelopes.  Prior to that kings used badges (e.g. Richard II and his rather famous white hart) but they weren’t officially there to support the royal coat of arms.  The English monarchy frequently used the king of the beasts on its heraldry either on the standard or as a supporter.

DSC_0326-6.jpgThe unicorn is straight forward.  It first made its appearance when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.  The Scottish coat of arms was supported by two unicorns usually in chains because a free unicorn is a particularly fearsome beast.  Having said that Mary Queen of Scots used lions on her privy seal and other folk used unicorns because of their many virtues and links to Christ.

In order to symbolise the union of the two kingdoms James combined the coats of arms and merged the supporters, the Tudor dragon was removed and the Stuart unicorn inserted.  In reality, of course, the merger wasn’t necessarily that friendly – think  of Edward I and the virtually constant warfare between the English and the Scots during the thirteenth century and fourteenth centuries.  The borders between England and Scotland had their own laws because the wars turned into sporadic raiding and feuding.  James may have abolished the marches and the wardenry (who controlled the lawless borderers with their own brand of violence) saying that from henceforth the borders would be known as the ‘middle shires’  and merged his heraldic supporters but it didn’t do a great deal of good in the long term -certainly not to the monarchy, just look at the role of the Scots during the English Civil War.  And of course in 1715 and 1745 the lion and the unicorn really were fighting for the crown when James Stuart and son tried to reclaim the crown from the House of Hanover. Hence the nursery rhyme which dates to the seventeenth century.  Albert Jack in his book Pop Goes the Weasel suggests that the  verse about bread and cake is about the populace’s support of James Stuart a.k.a. The Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie during his campaign as far as Derby.

I think there may be another verse about being beaten three times but I’m not absolutely sure.  These particular specimens come from Holyrood House.

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Henry VIII’s wives

Two posts in one day.  I’m sorry if I seem to be going slightly overboard.  However, as other folks have pointed out I’ve not really begun to scratch the surface of Henry and his spouses, not that this is even taking me beyond the veneer.  It’s more of a trip down memory lane.  I couldn’t resist this image.  I recognised it from a text book I used at school.

quick guide to h8's marriages.jpg

Of course there’s the rhyme about the wives as well:

Divorced, beheaded, died.

Divorced, beheaded, survived.

 

There’s also the mnemonic: All boys should come home please.

The first letter of each word equating to -Aragon, Boleyn, Seymour, Cleves, Howard and Parr.

 

Having got that out of my system I intend to look at each wife in more detail, or some of the key people around them over the next few weeks.  I also intend to use some of the wonderful Tudor related images that are available from Holbein to more contemporary interpretations.  Here’s one to be going on with from the Guardian.  Double click on the image to open a new window and access the Guardian’s two part guide to the kings and queens of England printed in 2009.  I still have my paper copy in the proverbial safe place.

Henry-VIII-enjoyed-gambli-008.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Historical Rhymes, Kings of England, Queens of England, Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

King John’s Christmas gift…

King_John_from_De_Rege_JohannePrince John, youngest son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine was born on or around Christmas Eve 1166 or 1167. The fact that the date of his birth is so poorly recorded reflects how unimportant he was in the great scheme of things at that time. Henry II had three other sons who had survived the perils of childhood – Young Henry, Geoffrey and Richard- John nicknamed ‘Lackland’ by his father could have little expected that he would one day become king.

 

What follows is not, by any stretch of the imagination, history. It’s a poem by A.A. Milne. However, what it does do is demonstrate the fact that popular culture is incredibly important when it comes to our perception of key historical figures.  The Victorians were not keen on John and it’s a viewpoint that has endured.  John has certainly had some bad press over the centuries. I’ve posted several accounts linked to King John and with the best will in the world he certainly did have ‘his little ways’ – with nephews, white satin, jewels, women and barons.  The fact remains though, given the behaviour of other medieval kings, that the old A level question is valid – was John a bad king or an unlucky one?

 

King John’s Christmas

King John was not a good man —

He had his little ways.

And sometimes no one spoke to him

For days and days and days.

And men who came across him,

When walking in the town,

Gave him a supercilious stare,

Or passed with noses in the air —

And bad King John stood dumbly there,

Blushing beneath his crown.

 

King John was not a good man,

And no good friends had he.

He stayed in every afternoon…

But no one came to tea.

And, round about December,

The cards upon his shelf

Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,

And fortune in the coming year,

Were never from his near and dear,

But only from himself.

 

King John was not a good man,

Yet had his hopes and fears.

They’d given him no present now

For years and years and years.

But every year at Christmas,

While minstrels stood about,

Collecting tribute from the young

For all the songs they might have sung,

He stole away upstairs and hung

A hopeful stocking out.

 

King John was not a good man,

He lived his life aloof;

Alone he thought a message out

While climbing up the roof.

He wrote it down and propped it

Against the chimney stack:

“TO ALL AND SUNDRY – NEAR AND FAR

Christmas in particular.”

And signed it not “Johannes R.”

But very humbly, “Jack.”

“I want some crackers,

And I want some candy;

I think a box of chocolates

Would come in handy;

I don’t mind oranges,

I do like nuts!

And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife

That really cuts.

And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,

Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

 

King John was not a good man —

He wrote this message out,

And gat him to this room again,

Descending by the spout.

And all that night he lay there,

A prey to hopes and fears.

“I think that’s him a-coming now!”

(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)

“He’ll bring one present, anyhow —

The first I had for years.”

“Forget about the crackers,

And forget the candy;

I’m sure a box of chocolates

Would never come in handy;

I don’t like oranges,

I don’t want nuts,

And I HAVE got a pocket-knife

That almost cuts.

But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,

Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

 

King John was not a good man,

Next morning when the sun

Rose up to tell a waiting world

That Christmas had begun,

And people seized their stockings,

And opened them with glee,

And crackers, toys and games appeared,

And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,

King John said grimly: “As I feared,

Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,

And I did want candy;

I know a box of chocolates

Would come in handy;

I do love oranges,

I did want nuts!

And, oh! if Father Christmas, had loved me at all,

He would have brought a big, red,

india-rubber ball!”

 

King John stood by the window,

And frowned to see below

The happy bands of boys and girls

All playing in the snow.

A while he stood there watching,

And envying them all …

When through the window big and red

There hurtled by his royal head,

And bounced and fell upon the bed,

An india-rubber ball!

AND, OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS,

MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL

FOR BRINGING HIM

A BIG, RED,

INDIA-RUBBER

BALL

A. A. Milne

 

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Filed under Historical Rhymes, Kings of England, Twelfth Century

Gunpowder, treason and plot

 Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

king-james1Actually there’s every reason why the plot might have been forgotten!  There were at least four plots against James I during the early years of his reign. Yet it is Guy Fawkes, a York boy, who is remembered.  This post is about two earlier plots and the wonderfully named Sir Griffin Markham.

Sir Griffin, the eldest son and heir of Thomas Markham, of Ollerton in Nottinghamshire, served as a soldier under the Earl of Essex in an expedition sent by Queen Elizabeth to the assistance of Henry IV of France. He was knighted during the siege of Rouen in 1591. He afterwards served in Ireland but there was a problem for this soldier that got worse with the passage of time. Sir Griffin was a Catholic at a time when being Catholic was a cause for suspicion and an impediment to power.

In the Parish Register of Mansfield it is stated that Griffin Markham was at the Market Cross in Mansfield and other gentlemen of the region for the proclamation of the accession of James I (pictured at the start of this post). Catholics had every reason to hope that persecution, which they faced during Elizabeth’s reign, might ease – after all, James’ mother and wife were Catholic. Yet, it appears that within a very short time of James’ accession Sir Griffin wasn’t a happy man. Four months later he was arrested on a treason charge – he’d become involved in a plot that history knows as the Bye Plot or the Treason of the Priests. (Ironically, Jesuits who were concerned that the Bye Plot was a harebrained scheme that would result in major difficulties for English Catholics revealed the conspiracy to Cecil.)

During the course of investigations into the Bye Plot a second plot, which became known as the Main Plot, was uncovered. The two were separate but involved many of the same people!

Sir Griffin Markham, Lord Grey (a radical puritan), Lord Cobham and George Brooke found themselves incarcerated in the Tower along with a couple of catholic priests- William Watson and William Clarke. They were charged with a plot to kidnap James and his Privy Council and then force them to make concessions to the Catholics including the repeal of anti-Catholic legeslation…like that was going to happen and with only three hundred men – not that there is any evidence of Sir Griffin being able to round up a posse that size. This was the Bye Plot.

arbella_stuart_15881At the same time Sir Walter Raleigh found himself under arrest on account of a slightly different plot called the ‘Main Plot’ to depose James (‘the kyngge and his cubbes’) and replace him with Arbella (Arabella) Stuart, the grand-daughter of Bess of Hardwick through her daughter Elizabeth Cavendish and Charles Stuart Earl of Lennox – who was the son of Margaret Douglas who in turn was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of King Henry VII of England.

It is probable that Raleigh was caught in the net of the Main Plot because of his friendship with Lord Cobham who’d been travelling around Europe have shady chats with Spanish types looking at bankrolling the venture. The problem for Raleigh was that Cobham travelled home via Jersey where Raleigh was governor and clearly stopped off for a chat with his old friend. Cecil put two together, or so it would appear, and found an opportunity to rid himself of a political adversary. There’s another theory that says that Raleigh played his old friend along playing the role of agent provocateur and then managed to get caught in Cecil’s net – whichever way you look at the Main Plot it seems hard to believe that Raleigh would plot with the Spanish. There’s a third view that Raleigh himself spoke of at his trial which was that he thought that he was being offered a pension – not treasonable and something that Cecil was in receipt of himself!

The common denominators between the Main Plot and the Bye Plot were George Brooke and Lord Cobham who were, incidentally, brothers.

The Bye Plot conspirators including Lord Cobham were tried in Winchester and found guilty. A scaffold was built especially for the occasion in Winchester Castle. The warrant was signed on the 7th December and Sir Griffin went to his fate on the 9th complaining bitterly that his confession had been given on the promise of leniency. It was only as he was just about to lay his head on the block that a member of the King’s household arrived with another warrant from James I giving him an extra two hours of life. The same grisly process awaited Lord Grey who prayed for half an hour before the sheriff issued the stay of execution and then Lord Cobham. All three mounted the scaffold, thought their last moments had come only to be given a short reprieve at the last moment – sounding suspiciously like someone somewhere had a very nasty sense of humour or someone in authority wanted to entrap Raleigh through a pre-execution confession from his fellow conspirators.

Each of the three men also believed that the other two men had been executed until they were all bought back to the scaffold for a piece of Jacobean theatre contrived by the king for the news that they were to be spared death but banished from the kingdom. Brooke was the only one to be executed in Winchester, even though he might have reasonably expected leniency being married to Lord Cecil’s sister (talk about a family embarrassment).

Raleigh spent the next thirteen years in The Tower and Parliament passed an act called the ‘Statute Against Catholics’ banishing Catholic priests from England was passed into law as a result of the Bye Plot. Sir Griffin ended his life in continental poverty. According to some stories it is said that he often donned disguise and returned home, and that he assisted in the attempted escape of Arabella Stuart.

Fraser, Lady Antonia. (2003). The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605. London: (Phoenix) Orion Books

Orange, James. (1840) History and Antiquities of Nottingham Vol II. London: Hamilton, Adams and Co. pp733-745

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Filed under Historical Rhymes, Seventeenth Century, The Stuarts