Thomas Cromwell – a brief summary

Like his mentor Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell came from a modest background: his father was variously a cloth merchant, fuller and blacksmith, and the owner of both a brewery and a hostelry (where he allegedly watered down the beer). Born around 1485 in Putney, Cromwell’s birthplace is now, ironically, where the Green Man public house stands. He acknowledged that he had been a ‘ruffian in his younger days’, when he left his family for the Continent and became a mercenary who marched with the French army. He later entered the household of the Florentine banker, Francesco Frescobaldi.

Thomas CromwellReturning to England, he married Elizabeth Wyckes and had three children. In 1523, he became a member of the House of Commons, and in 1524, he was elected as a member of Gray’s Inn and entered the service of Cardinal Wolsey. He served Wolsey as his lawyer and was heavily involved in the dissolution of nearly thirty monasteries, which raised the funds to found both The King’s School, Ipswich and Cardinal College, Oxford. When Wolsey fell from power in 1530 he was appointed to the Privy Council.

(Pictured: Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein the Younger, c1532).

Thomas Cromwell was possessed with genuine reforming zeal and a loathing for what he perceived to be the superstitions and corruptions of the Catholic monks. Along with his fellow Protestants, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cranmer, he was instrumental in the achievement of the break with Rome. At the height of his career, Cromwell was central to the annulment of the marriage to Catherine, the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, the execution of Thomas More, and the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1536 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Cromwell of Wimbledon, and in April 1540 he became Earl of Essex. Yet his support for the disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves led to his abrupt downfall in 1540, followed by his botched execution on 28 July 1540 and his head on a pike on London Bridge. He was 55 years old when he died.

That other famous Cromwell, Oliver Cromwell, the Parliamentarian leader during the English Civil War and later Lord Protector, was a great-great-grandson of Thomas Cromwell’s sister, Katherine Williams, whose husband assumed the Cromwell name.

Henry VIIISimon Court.

Henry VIII: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and downloadable audio.

See also Thomas Cranmer and Thomas More.

The Hidden World of World War One

When photographer Jeffrey Gusky was given exclusive access to records all but forgotten of the underground cities of World War One lying beneath private farms in France, he had no idea what to expect or the impact it would have on others. Now captured in thousands of striking images, Gusky has titled the collection The Hidden World of WWI. The beautiful art and emotionally charged inscriptions, carved in stone by WWI soldiers, have been virtually untouched for almost 100 years. They are a direct human connection between then and now.

Jeff GuskeyGusky, a Dallas emergency physician, fine-art photographer and explorer, is believed to be the first person to bring to light the large number of underground cities beneath the trenches of WWI. The Hidden World of WWI reveals the artifacts, sculptures and evocative graffiti left behind by soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Landowners determined to preserve the past have zealously protected these underground treasures for decades.

Messages to the Future

“Seeing these subterranean cities for the first time was one of the most moving experiences of my life,” Gusky says. “Finding hundreds and hundreds of messages to the future, written by soldiers in their own hand, made time seem to stand still. I feel a tremendous responsibility to the people who trusted me enough to share their secrets about these places. It was also amazing to realize that while some people knew about some of these spaces, no one knew about all of them.”

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Hannah Szenes – a summary

Hannah Szenes was one of thirty-two Jews from Palestine who parachuted into Europe as members of the British Army in the spring of 1944. Their goal was to rescue other Jews, although their British leaders emphasized that this objective must be secondary to reconnaissance tasks and enabling the escape of captured Allied airmen. After working with partisans in Yugoslavia, Hannah attempted to cross the border into her native Hungary, but was captured and executed five months later, aged just 23. A passionate Zionist and a gifted writer during her brief lifetime, Hannah is remembered as a national heroine in Israel.

Hannah SzenesHannah Szenes (also known as Hannah Senesh) was born in Budapest on 17 July 1921. Her father, a journalist and playwright, died when she was six, but Hannah inherited his gift for writing, becoming a talented poet and regular diarist as she matured. Although the Szenes family were assimilated Jews, Hannah experienced anti-Semitism first-hand when she enrolled at a private high school in the early 1930s and was forced to pay triple tuition fees because of her religion. An intelligent and studious pupil, she became increasingly interested in Zionism, the movement to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Emigrating to Palestine

In September 1939, the same month that the Second World War broke out, Hannah’s dream of travelling to Palestine became a reality. Despite her strong academic performance, she chose to enrol in the Nahalal Agricultural School instead of a traditional university, as she firmly believed that Jewish youth should build the new country. She became particularly interested in poultry farming and after two years of study, joined a new kibbutz near the ruins of an ancient Roman city, between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

As news of the war and the increasing persecution of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe trickled through to Palestine, Hannah grew ever more concerned for her brother George, who was studying in Paris, and for her mother, who was still living in Budapest. Despite the natural beauty of the kibbutz’s location, Hannah failed to find contentment in her new work and longed to actively assist her compatriots in Hungary. In 1943 she joined the Haganah (an underground Jewish military force) and was subsequently accepted for a British Army mission that would enable her to travel back to Central Europe. Her seemingly fearless nature, particularly when it came to parachute training, earned the respect and admiration of her fellow volunteers.

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Thomas More – a summary

A dominant intellectual force of his generation, a devout Catholic and lawyer whose interests extended to philosophy, statesmanship and humanism, Thomas More was born 7 February 1478, the son of Sir John More, himself a successful lawyer and judge. Thomas studied at Oxford and then Lincoln’s Inn before being called to the Bar in 1502. Elected to Parliament in 1504, he became increasingly influential as an adviser to Henry VIII. In 1521, he assisted Henry in writing the Assertio, a formal response to the Protestant radical Martin Luther’s attack on Catholicism. In 1523, More became the Speaker of the House of Commons, and succeeded Thomas Wolsey as Lord Chancellor in 1529.

Thomas MoreMore became increasingly worried about Henry’s leanings towards the Protestant Reformation, which he considered to be heretical. He had earlier assisted Wolsey in preventing the spread of the writings of Luther, and was later to suppress the use of William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament in churches. His spiritual life is reputed to have included practices such as wearing a hair shirt next to his skin and occasional self-flagellation.

(Pictured: Sir Thomas More painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527).

In 1530, More refused to sign a letter from leading churchmen and aristocrats to Pope Clement VII requesting the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine, and by May 1532 he was forced to resign as Lord Chancellor. After refusing to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn a year later, he was charged with accepting bribes and conspiracy but successfully defended himself. When he and John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester, refused to take the Oath of Supremacy or to acknowledge that Catherine’s marriage was lawfully annulled, he was arrested for treason in 1534 and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

God’s servant first

In July 1535, More was brought to trial. A lawyer to the last, he sought to rely on the legal precedent that ‘who is silent is seen to consent’ and he argued that he could not be convicted of high treason for failing to take the Oath of Supremacy if he did not expressly deny that the king was the Supreme Head of the Church. However, the Solicitor-General Richard Rich testified that More had made such a denial in his presence, and although this testimony was highly dubious, it took just fifteen minutes for the jury to find More guilty. Mounting the steps of the scaffold on 6 July 1535, More said ‘see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself’, and declared that he died ‘the king’s good servant, but God’s first’. In 1935, Pope Pius XI canonized both Thomas More and John Fisher.

Henry VIIISimon Court.

Henry VIII: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and downloadable audio.

See also Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell.

The Post Office Rifles Regiment of World War One

It was one of the largest conflicts in history and World War 1 claimed the lives of a vast number of military personnel and civilians. 16 million people perished with a further 20 million wounded.

To commemorate the centenary year of World War 1 the Post Office Shop blog team have been researching the General Post Office’s participation in the Great War and the lives of the Post Office employees that were involved.

The Post Office’s contribution to military operations during the war was on a scale that had never been seen before, with 75,000 Post Office employees serving in some of the most hostile environments during World War 1 and 8,500 of these employees lost their lives fighting for their country.

Post Office RiflesThe Post Office actively encouraged their staff to join in the war effort. Of the 75,000 men who left their jobs with the Post Office on our home shores 12,000 of these brave men joined the Post Office Rifles Regiment which had been in existence since 1868. (Pictured: The Post Office Rifles marching in London, 5 July 1919. Click to enlarge).

During the Great War the Rifles fought at many of the major battles including Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele which were fought with the intention of strategically restricting the supply of munitions to the army of the German Empire.

Many stories of the individual soldiers who fought these battles will have been sadly lost in the carnage of these hostile battlefields. However, one of these soldier’s stories made it home and is still remembered today due to the kind deed of a German soldier. During a battle near the town of Longueval, 300 Post Office Rifles were killed. The wife of one of these men by the name of Captain Home Peel, was sent a letter by the German Soldier E.F Gayler informing her of his death so his fate was not left unknown on the frontline.

One member of the Rifles, Alfred Knight was awarded the Victoria Cross for a series of brave maneuvers. One of these maneuvers included the daring act of capturing an enemy machine gun position by taking on 12 German soldiers, killing three of them and causing the rest to flee the melee.

These brave soldiers who contributed to winning the Great War and their stories are being commemorated by the Post Office with a series of blog posts on the Post Office Shop blog and a range of commemorative products.

Brook Chalmers

Frederick Lindemann – a summary

Professor Frederick Lindemann was one of Winston Churchill’s closest advisors during World War Two, one of the very few people who had access to him on a daily basis. Many have queried exactly how Lindemann, who was widely disliked, managed to exert such a hold over the prime minister. As a scientist, he was capable, if not brilliant. It was in this area that he was to serve Churchill, as his chief scientific advisor at the Admiralty and then at Downing Street.

Primarily a physicist, Lindemann often had unconventional ideas. One of his main areas of interest was air defence. This subject and indeed offensive air operations, were those on which he was to be the most influential.

During the late 1930’s he worked with Churchill on the Air Defence Committee and furnished him with some of his best ideas. He is also notorious, however, for his famous assertion that bombing German cities would knock Germany out of the war – supported by reams of statistical analysis. He made complacent and inaccurate predictions about the V2 rocket as well; but his research could be valuable – including fields such as anti-tank weaponry.

German-born

Lindemann was actually born in Germany, in the spa town of Baden-Baden, though educated in Britain and, like Churchill, an admirer of an Anglo-American culture. He was arrogant, opinionated and racist; he was also precocious and courageous. Famously, he learnt to fly during World War One where he was able to prove his theory as to how to recover an aircraft from a spin. He had associated with Marie Curie and Albert Einstein and indeed, undertaken work to validate some of Einstein’s theories.

Churchill met him through his uncle, the Duke of Marlborough: Lindemann enjoyed mixing with the aristocracy. By the time they met, Lindemann was a professor at Oxford. Churchill gave him a peerage and the position of Paymaster General. After World War Two, he went back to academia, but served Churchill again during the 1950s, when he headed up Britain’s nascent atomic energy programme. Lindemann has been called the ‘one man think tank’, although Churchill himself always referred to him as ‘the prof’. Lindemann died on 3 July 1957 at the age of 71.

ChurchillAndrew Mulholland

Winston Churchill: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and downloadable audio.

Thomas Cranmer – a brief summary

In 1503, at the age of 14, Thomas Cranmer was sent to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was later ordained and named as one of the university’s preachers, and became an admirer of the humanist Desiderius Erasmus. From 1529 onwards he was involved in advising Thomas Wolsey on the theological issues surrounding the ‘King’s Great Matter’, Henry VIII’s need to find a better wife than Catherine of Aragon to provide him with a son and heir.

Cranmer and Anne Boleyn

Thomas CranmerIn 1532 Cranmer was appointed the resident ambassador at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, but unsurprisingly he was unable to persuade Charles to support the annulment of his aunt Catherine’s marriage. Despite this failure, Cranmer was appointed the new Archbishop of Canterbury, a promotion secured by the family of Anne Boleyn, whom he had served as family chaplain. In June 1533 it was Cranmer who crowned Anne as queen.

When Thomas Cromwell accused Anne of various sexual infidelities in 1536, Cranmer expressed his doubts as to her alleged guilt in a letter to Henry, but it went unheeded. On 16 May he saw Anne in the Tower of London and heard her last confession before pronouncing her marriage to Henry null and void the following day.

In 1539, Cranmer wrote the preface to the new Great Bible in English. He also officiated in the wedding ceremony of Henry and Anne of Cleves, and led the synod which quickly annulled the marriage.After Thomas Cromwell’s execution, Cranmer assumed a prominent political position, being delegated the tricky task of telling Henry about the marital indiscretions of Catherine Howard. When several conservative clergymen plotted against him in 1543, Henry showed total support for Cranmer and the plot failed. Cranmer acted as an executor to Henry’s final will, and grew a beard, partly in mourning for the king and partly to signify his rejection of the old Catholic Church.

Burnt at the stake

Mary Tudor (queen)When the death of Edward VI, in 1553, ushered in the Catholic ‘Bloody Mary’ (pictured) as queen, the conservative clergy were restored to power. Cranmer was arrested (along with fellow Protestants Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley) and was left to languish in prison in Oxford for two years awaiting trial for heresy, during which Rome deprived him of the archbishopric. Despite a full recantation that should have led to a reprieve under Canon Law, Mary was determined to see him executed, as Latimer and Ridley were.

On 21 March 1556 Cranmer was expected to make a final humiliating recantation from the pulpit of the University Church, Oxford, but he deviated from the prepared script and renounced all his previous recantations, saying, ‘And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy, and Antichrist with all his false doctrine.’

He was pulled from the pulpit and burned at the stake.

Henry VIIISimon Court.

Henry VIII: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and downloadable audio.

See also Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell.

Thomas Middleton – a summary

Thomas Middleton was another leading dramatist and poet of the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean period. Active from about 1597 onwards, he collaborated with William Shakespeare on Timon of Athens,and recently there has been some speculation that he also had a hand in the writing of All’s Well That Ends Well. Macbeth and Measure for Measure are also believed to have heavily involved Middleton, possibly after Shakespeare’s death.

Thomas MiddletonBorn in London to upwardly mobile parents in April 1580, Thomas Middleton was the first son of William Middleton and his wife, Anne. William’s trade as a bricklayer allowed him to join one of London’s trade guilds, the Honourable Company of Tilers and Bricklayers, which brought him prosperity. By 1568 he enjoyed that status of ‘gentleman’ having been granted a family coat of arms. When William died five years after Thomas’s birth, his estate was valued at £335.

Unfortunately for the young Thomas and his sister, his mother remarried hastily. His new stepfather, Thomas Harvey, made a claim on a trust which had been established for the siblings, and a fifteen-year legal battle ensued. Middleton’s plays would later feature biting satires of the legal profession, probably coloured by this experience.

Masterpieces

Middleton enrolled at Queen’s College, Oxford, in April 1598, leaving without attaining a degree. By February 1601, he was in London and writing for the theatre. A prolific and diverse writer, he wrote or co-wrote over thirty plays, as well as fourteen masques, poetry and numerous prose works. Apart from Shakespeare, he is the only one of his contemporaries who is considered to have written masterpieces in every genre of drama – history, comedy and tragedy. The best-known of these works include Women Beware Women, The Revenger’s Tragedy and The Changeling. But unlike Shakespeare, he had no allegiance to a particular playing company, preferring instead to work on a freelance basis.

In 1603, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s death and the ascension of James I to the throne of England, Middleton married a fellow Londoner, Mary (or Magdalen) Marbeck, the granddaughter of the famed musician John Marbeck, and niece of Roger Marbeck, one time chief physician to the queen. The couple had only one child, Edward. Although the exact date of the child’s birth is unknown, he is believed to have been born between November 1603 and November 1604.

Thomas Middleton died at the relatively young age of forty-seven on the first or second July 1627, and is buried in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church in Newington. Despite achieving widespread popularity, Middleton left little money behind to look after his widow. She died, impoverished, a year later.

Shakespeare IAHSinead Fitzgibbon

William Shakespeare: History In An Hour by Sinead Fitzgibbon, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and downloadable audio.

See also article on John Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s father, Richard Burbage, a pre-eminent stage actor of the late Elizabethan era, and Christopher Marlowe.

William Marshal – History’s greatest Knight?

William Marshal lived from 1147-1219, from the reign of King Stephen through to Henry III. He was born into the anarchy of the civil war between Stephen and Matilda and died after the First Baron’s War and the establishment in 1215 of the Magna Carta. But just being there between these two huge events in English history is not enough to merit importance, so just why is William Marshal so significant?

William MarshalMost of what we know about his life derives from L’Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal or ‘The History of William Marshal’, a poem commissioned by his eldest son and written in 1226 by a man who claimed to have known Marshal in his prime, and believed to be the first medieval biography of a layman who was not a King. It depicts the two extremes of medieval society, for forty years William was a landless knight who frequented tournaments and he who died as the Earl of Pembroke and the regent of the whole of England.

He served five Angevin kings and is arguably responsible for saving the Plantagenet dynasty which would survive for another 250 years. Yet he was not popular with chroniclers. Was this due to his low birth or because of the gaps in his life that have still not been filled? Despite being close to so many kings during some very big moments in medieval history, the story of William Marshal is a curiously neglected source. It is however a great source for well-informed aristocratic opinion and sheds light on chivalry, tournaments, warfare and more, making them real institutions for us to see.

This article will examine William’s life and lead to the understanding that William Marshal was unique in his time and an important player in English history. Much more important than historians of the medieval period have given him credit for.

The uneventful early life

Empress MatildaWilliam was born in 1147, the fourth son to John FitzGilbert, Marshal of King Stephen’s court. John Marshal was of no importance in the political structure and had no notable land. It is possibly one of these reasons that made him turn his back on Stephen and take sides with Matilda (pictured). This betrayal is certainly not condemned in the biography and should not be seen as unique during the time of the anarchy. But all of this led to John Marshal being besieged by Stephen and forced to surrender his five-year-old son, William, as hostage. John Marshal told Stephen that he did not care for his son’s safety and that he could easily make other sons. John then broke the truce, directly endangering his son’s life. William was only saved by his youthful innocence; King Stephen admired the young boy and spared him his life.

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Sarajevo and the resonances of Franz Ferninand’s assassination

The conspirators who spread out along Sarajevo’s Appel Quay on the morning of 28th June 1914 – trying not to fiddle with the pistol and the bomb under their jackets, wondering about the cyanide dose that they had been given – have become tokens of world politics. One token, in fact, as we only remember the one who fired the successful shots, and not the other angry young men like Cabrinovic and Cuprilovic. (Does it help that it was the one with the short name who got lucky? Would our memory of twentieth century history be different if the Archduke’s car had happened to stop instead in front of Mehmedbasic – who was also, incidentally, the Muslim among the conspirators?)

Gavrilo PrincipGavrilo Princip’s father was a peasant rebel whose neighbours laughed at him because he refused to drink and swear, and who didn’t want Gavrilo (pictured) to go to primary school. Photos of him in traditional peasant dress seem more than a generation away from the cheap urban sophistication of Gavrilo in his suit.

Young Princip almost went to Austro-Hungarian military school, but took a different path, perhaps prompted by the epic poetry he’d been given as a school prize. He was 18 when he was expelled from school for threatening other students who didn’t want to go on a protest with him. He was still a teenager as he stood by the Miljacka river, waiting for destiny to come chugging round the corner, and watching for the police agents he’d so far avoided during his weeks in Bosnia.

Nedeljko Cabrinovic was doubted by his fellow-conspirators; his bomb was taken away from him the day before the assassination attempt. Walking to his assigned position during the morning of the 28th he met a friend, had his photo taken, flirted with some girls. But he’d also given away his possessions to his family; money to his grandmother and to his sister. Teenagers; idealists – recruited and fired up by older, wiser men who stayed in the shadows and were not risking their lives that morning.

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