Admiral John Fisher – a summary

When Winston Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, he quickly grew to rely on the services of a former First Sea Lord, by then supposedly retired: Admiral John Fisher. Between them, Fisher and Churchill were to revolutionise the Royal Navy, just in time to facilitate its successful prosecution of World War One. Fisher had predicted a 1914 war with Germany as far back as 1911.

John FisherOnce war broke out, he returned to the position of First Sea Lord in a formal capacity, though he resigned after less than a year. He and Churchill had fallen out over the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign, about which he was never an enthusiast. Fisher is regarded as one of the most influential admirals of his generation. His partnership with Churchill is an often neglected aspect of the pre-war period.

John ‘Jacky’ Fisher came from a colonial family who had fallen into debt. He therefore joined the navy at the age of only thirteen, by when his father had died. He grew estranged from his mother. He married, and had four children, three of whom were in turn to marry admirals. He was a forward thinking, sometimes impatient man, frustrated by the conservatism and patronage that was rampant in the navy. He was also extremely religious, an aspect of his make up which could sometimes affect his judgement.

First Sea Lord

His first tenure as First Sea Lord had been between 1904 and 1910. It was a period of retrenchment and transformation. Amidst much outcry, Fisher freed up resources by scrapping or mothballing dozens of elderly ships, and instead invested in new technology. Modern turreted ‘Dreadnought’ battleships and the new concept of battlecruisers were the result.

Continue reading

Randolph Churchill – a summary

Randolph Churchill, father to Winston, exerted a profound influence on his son in a number of ways which he perhaps would not have envisaged. First, their difficult personal relationship, characterised by Randolph’s high expectations and Winston’s initial failure to meet them, clearly left its mark. Second, Randolph’s political career can be summarised as one of unmet potential. This too, coupled with Randolph’s early death, influenced his son. Close to his own death, Winston was to confide to his daughter Mary that his one regret was that his father had not seen him make a success of his life.

Randolph Churchill 2Active in the Conservative Party from a young age, Randolph Churchill entered Parliament in 1874, shortly after his marriage. Within a few years he had a reputation as a trouble-maker – sharp tongued, and as critical of his own party as he was the Liberals. He was impatient with what he saw as the elitism and naivity of the Conservatives. Randolph was anxious for change, arguing that the party needed to represent the ordinary members of society or face permanent opposition. Liberal reforms should be considered on merit, rather than rejected out of hand. This series of ideas coalesced into what he termed ‘Tory Democracy’, and initially made him few friends. Arguably, his most important legacy was to shift the party’s centre of gravity in this direction.

Nadir

In 1877, however, his career was almost derailed when Churchill was implicated in a scandal involving the Royal Family. He had fallen out with the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, whom he threatened to expose as an adulterer. In those times, such behaviour from a public figure was completely unacceptable. He was marginalised by Prime Minister William Gladstone, being sent to work as Viceroy in Dublin for the next four years.

Zenith

But by 1885 Churchill could no longer be ignored. He was brought into government as Secretary of State for India. Within a year he was promoted to Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House – more or less dictating his own political terms. It seemed nothing would stop Randolph Churchill; here was a prime minister in the making.

Continue reading

Victoria and Albert’s Children

Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on 10 February 1840. Within weeks of their wedding, she was pregnant. Between November of that year and April 1857, the royal couple had nine children; four princes and five princesses.

Victoria and Albert and childrenAlthough she was besotted with Albert, maternal affections did not always come naturally to Victoria, who expected unswerving obedience from all her offspring in both infancy and adulthood. The family was nevertheless very close and the premature death of Albert on 11 December 1861 devastated all of them. Eight of the children went on to marry members of other prominent royal families and collectively they provided Victoria with forty grandchildren, earning her the nickname ‘The Grandmother of Europe’.

(Pictured: Victoria and Albert, and children, painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1846).

Victoria, Princess Royal
Born: 21 November 1840
Married: Prince Frederick William of Prussia
Died: 5 August 1901

Writing about the birth of her first child, Victoria remarked that she and Albert were ‘sadly disappointed’ to have a girl rather than a boy, though they were grateful that the child was in good health. Known as Vicky, the Princess Royal’s full name was Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise. She was highly intelligent and her father doted on her. Vicky married Frederick of Prussia (Fritz) at the age of 17, an alliance that was by no means without political motivation, though the couple were very much in love. Both Vicky and her mother were prolific letter-writers and exchanged around 8,000 letters in their lifetimes. Vicky and Fritz had eight children, the eldest of whom became Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Albert, Prince of Wales
Born: 9 November 1841
Married: Princess Alexandra of Denmark
Died: 6 May 1910

King Edward VII as a boy

Unlike his older sister, the Prince of Wales was not endowed with superior intellect as a child and was often unfavourably compared to her. Bertie, as he was called, had a brief affair with a prostitute called Nellie Clifden in 1861, a scandalous occurrence which subsequently led his mother to blame him for the death of his father later that year. Nevertheless, a match was made with Alexandra of Denmark and the young couple married in 1863. They had six children, five of whom survived infancy. Bertie undertook numerous foreign tours as the heir apparent to the throne and was widely praised for his diplomacy. Following the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901, he ascended the throne as King Edward VII.

Continue reading

Galeazzo Ciano – a summary

In 1930, the dashing and rich 27-year-old Galeazzo Ciano married Edda Mussolini, daughter to the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. Six years later, he became Mussolini’s foreign minister. Yet, on 11 January 1944, on his father-in-law’s orders, he was executed.

© Copyright 2012 CorbisCorporationGaleazzo Ciano’s father had made a name for himself as an admiral during the First World War. An early supporter of Benito Mussolini’s, he built his fortune through some unethical business deals. Thus, Galeazzo, born 18 March 1903, was brought up in an environment of wealth and luxury, and inherited his father’s love for fascism. Father and son both took part in Mussolini’s 1922 ‘March on Rome’.

Diplomacy and Marriage

Ciano studied law before embarking on a diplomatic career which took him to South America and China. In between postings, on 30 April 1930, he married Edda Mussolini, hence becoming Mussolini’s son-in-law – facilitating a rapid rise up the promotional ladder. The couple were to have three children although Ciano, like his father-in-law, had numerous affairs. He was certainly disliked by his mother-in-law who, understandably, thoroughly disproved of his womanizing.

In 1935, Mussolini made Ciano his minister for propaganda. The same year, Ciano volunteered for action in Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, serving in a bomber squadron and reaching the rank of captain. He returned to a hero’s welcome and in June 1936, aged only 33, Mussolini appointed him minister of foreign affairs, replacing Mussolini himself. (Ciano’s father, meanwhile, was serving as the president of the Chamber of Deputies, a post he held from 1934 to shortly before his death in 1939).

Continue reading

The Surprising History and Influence of Town Criers

In the days long before mass communication, bombastic town criers with hand bells were the best way to get the latest news and announcements to the general public in Medieval England.

Town Crier At a time of general illiteracy, one of the few ways for towns to spread information (such as Royal proclamations, market day announcements, local government bylaws, adverts, etc) to their inhabitants were via town criers. A gentleman, traditionally dressed (by 18th century standards) in a rather fetching red and gold robe, white breeches, black boots, with a distinctive tricorne hat, would bellow out to the crowds and ring a hand bell, drawing people’s attention.

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez

Town criers would shout the words “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!” in the street before making their announcements. The word “Oyez” (which is the Anglo-Norman word for listen) is translated as “hear ye,” a cry for silence and attention amongst the masses. However, early 19th century records documented that town criers also called out “O Yes, O Yes!”. Due to the eye-catching style, shouting, and loud bell-ringing, you can imagine that criers would quickly gain the attention of the public.

Don’t shoot the messenger

Coincidently, due to town criers often bringing bad news, protection was also needed – which was given via the ruling that the crier was working under the name of the ruling monarch and any harm sustained by a town crier was considered treason. This spawned the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” (which was an actual command during the period), an expression that is still commonly used today.

The Post

This is not the only influence of the work of our town crier friends, as the common newspaper title ‘The Post’ was also spawned from their work. The term “Posting A Notice” comes from the crier, having read his notice to the public, attaching it to the doorpost of the local inn. Hence media titles such as the Birmingham Post, Bristol Post, New York Post, the Washington Post, and the other Post-inspired newspapers that are still currently running right across the world, were inspired.

Of course, town criers are still used today by towns and cities, usually at special events and festivals, across the UK, as a proud nod-to-the-past and a celebration of a unique occupation with a rich and surprisingly influential history.

Andrew Parker

Andrew is a freelance writer for Davis & Hill Bells, who have been making high quality hand bells since 1893.

Richard Burbage – a summary

Richard Burbage was the pre-eminent stage actor of the late Elizabethan era. He was also a successful theatre impresario and a long-time friend of William Shakespeare.  The two men were founding shareholders in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men theatre company, which would become the King’s Men following James I’s ascension to the English throne in 1603.  Burbage was the first person to play a number of Shakespeare’s now-iconic roles, including Lear, Hamlet, Othello and Richard III.

Born 6 January 1567, Richard Burbage was the son of James Burbage, an actor and theatre manager, and his wife, Ellen Brayne.  He was the younger of two surviving children, his older brother being Cuthbert Burbage, who also became an actor of some renown.

Acting

Richard BurbageIt is thought that Richard began his acting career in 1584, just as London’s theatre scene began to flourish.  Initially, he worked mainly for The Theatre, one of London’s first purpose-built playhouses, which had been built and was managed by his father.  Such was the power of his performances, he had gained widespread popularity by the age of 20.

When Burbage Senior died in 1597, a dispute arose between his sons and the owner of the land on which The Theatre was built.  When no resolution was forthcoming, Richard and Cuthbert dismantled the playhouse in 1598 and, having transported any salvageable materials across the Thames, they set about building The Globe theatre on a site known today as Bankside.  Construction was completed in 1599.

It was around this time Richard Burbage married Winifred Turner.  Winifred bore eight children, including one born after her husband’s death in 1619, only one of whom would live to see adulthood.

The Bard’s Will

Richard Burbage was mentioned in William Shakespeare’s will – the playwright left a small sum with the instruction that his friend buy a memorial ring in his honour.

Burbage would not long outlive Shakespeare, however – he died 13 March 1619, and is buried in St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch.  He was memorialized in an anonymous poem, part of which reads:

He’s gone and with him what a world are dead.
Which he review’d, to be revived so,
No more young Hamlet, old Hieronymus
Kind Lear, the Grieved Moor, and more beside,
That lived in him have now for ever died.

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.

Famous Writers that Predicted the Future

Science fiction, often known as ‘speculative fiction’, gives authors free rein to imagine anything they choose.  While a gripping science fiction yarn needs plausible, complex, three-dimensional characters, a tight and well-structured plot, and a smooth narrative arc, it also needs sound science underpinning it.

Years ago, in a meeting of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, George Scithers, the longtime editor of Asimov’s Magazine, and grand old man of SF editing generally, gave a most reassuring piece of advice to the assembled authors, fans, and wanna-bes.  He said (more or less – this was back in the 1970s) that if there was sound science at the base of a story, then almost any sort of superstructure, consisting of proposed extensions to that science, would seem believable.  It has been in the extension of existing science that SF authors have managed to occasionally hit on a prediction that actually comes to pass.  In some cases, the hits seem to have outnumbered the misses.  Let’s look at a highly selective sampling of these prescient authors and the inventions, trends, and events they predicted.

America’s storyteller – a bit off-kilter

Ray Bradbury Ray Bradbury never even thought of himself as primarily a science fiction author, preferring to consider himself a commentator on the world around him.  This fine raconteur has mined the rich vein of his childhood memories to create evocatively lovely images of the American landscape.  Along the way, in amongst goose-pimpling stories like The Martian Chronicles, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, he envisioned seductive virtual reality environments.  The privileged children in The Veldt inhabit a room that generates a 360 degree, full-sensory world, complete with patricidal lions.  While we are a few years away from virtual large carnivores capable of eliminating inconvenient parents, just yet, how many kids are currently submerged in Saint’s Row, or Assassin’s Creed?  They are enjoying a virtual reality, for the maximum time between bathroom visits!

Continue reading

Rutka Laskier – a summary

Rutka Laskier was born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1929, the eldest of two children. Her exact date of birth is unknown, but is generally considered to be 12 June 1929, the same date as Anne Frank. Her father was a prosperous banker and Rutka enjoyed a relatively carefree childhood in the 1930s, learning to ski on family holidays and making many friends at her private school. Like millions of Jews in Europe, however, Rutka’s life was irrevocably altered with the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939, when Nazi troops invaded Poland.

Rutka LaskierRutka’s hometown of Bedzin was occupied within days of the invasion and the family would have been quick to realise the danger they now faced. On 8 September, members of Bedzin’s Jewish community were burned to death while praying in the local synagogue. Such anti-Semitic brutality was commonplace and the Nazis soon began forcing Jews throughout Poland into areas of towns and cities where they were segregated from non-Jewish society.  The Laskiers were no exception: they were moved from their comfortable home into a house that the Nazis had repossessed from a Catholic family to be part of Bedzin’s new Jewish ghetto.

Ghetto Life

Conditions in the ghettos were overcrowded, unsanitary and demoralizing. Several generations often dwelled in one small room and indeed Rutka, her parents, her brother and her grandmother all shared the same cramped living space. Over three years after the start of the war, in January 1943, the teenage Rutka began writing a diary, chronicling her life in the Bedzin ghetto in sixty pages of a notebook. Among the horrors she witnessed under the Nazi occupation was the brutal murder of a Jewish baby by a German soldier. She also recounted an ‘action’ that had taken place in August 1942, when Bedzin’s Jews were herded into a local sports stadium and subjected to a selection. Rutka had been selected for hard labour on this occasion; however, she escaped by jumping from a first floor window and returned to her family.

Continue reading

Writings of Nelson Mandela

Writing has the ability to lay a person’s soul bare.  It reveals things the public – and often times, the author – failed to recognize.  It sheds light on both inspirational moments and devastating personal setbacks.  In general, it exposes a world we might not have known if the author didn’t choose to put pen to paper.

FW de Klerk and Nelson MandelaNelson Mandela was one of the greatest political leaders of our time.  He dedicated his life to the fight against racial oppression in his homeland.  While his actions benefited millions – and earned him recognitions like the Nobel Peace Prize, which he won jointly with F W de Klerk in 1993 (pictured) – they came at great personal sacrifice.

Writing that Reveals a Man’s True Feelings

Throughout his life – his 27 years in prison and his time of political leadership – Nelson Mandela chose to document his major life events.  Many people would expect these documents to contain rich details of historic events.  The compositions are brimming with exquisite details and often reference significant happenings, but the insight they provide is just as noteworthy.

Letters

It is safe to assume Mandela had plenty of time to write during his quarter-century in prison.  Ever the family man, he spent quite a bit of that time writing letters to his wife and children.

Two particular letters he wrote in 1989 shed light on the things that were occupying his time.  First, Mandela wrote a letter to his wife, Winnie.  His first priority was to lament recent health problems that had been plaguing her.  He went on to rejoice at her restored health and then moved on to encouragement.

He referenced two books, The Power of Positive Thinking and The Results of Positive Thinking. Mandela wrote, “It is not so much the disability one suffers from that matters but one’s attitude to it.”  Surprisingly, he wasn’t referring to his own “disability”  Instead, he was seeking to bolster poor Winnie.

Continue reading

Victor Emmanuel III – a summary

On 29 July 1900, the king of Italy, Umberto I, was assassinated. The throne passed to his 30-year-old son, who, as Victor Emmanuel III, would reign until 1946, a period which saw both world wars and the rise and fall of Benito Mussolini’s fascists.

Victor Emmanuel IIIBorn in Naples on 11 November 1869, the future king was so short, the German kaiser, Wilhelm II, nicknamed him the dwarf, and, in private, Mussolini called him the ‘little sardine’. He ruled over an Italy that had been in existence as a unified nation only since 1871. Despite unification, Italy was a deeply-fragmented society, steeped in poverty and corruption, and ruled over by a succession of weak coalition governments. But, as a figurehead king, Victor Emmanuel III chose to ignore the affairs of state, preferring instead to focus on his vast collection of coins.

World War One

With the outbreak of war in July 1914, Italy initially adopted a position of neutrality despite having been in alliance, the Triple Alliance, with Germany and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire since 1882. Victor Emmanuel favoured participation in the war, partly as a means of enhancing Italy’s reputation on the international stage. Italy duly entered the war in May 1915, not as allies of Germany and Austria-Hungary, but on the side of the Triple Entente allies – France, Russia and Great Britain.

Mussolini

After 1918, Victor Emmanuel again retired to the sidelines as Italy struggled to cope with the post-war instabilities of demobilization, unemployment and inflation. Socialists, communists, anarchists and the newly-formed fascists fought on the streets and on the farms in a vicious cycle of ever-increasing violence.

Continue reading