Friday, 26 February 2016

Giants of Academia & the Arts

… but, then again, nobody is perfect

Alexander Selkirk (1676 – 13 December 1721)

Perhaps not the most familiar of names to be turning up in these columns, though this is mainly because, when it comes to Academia & the Arts, our man was more your muse or model, rather than an actual Movers and Shakers (a term coined, entirely by-the-bye, in 1874 by Arthur O'Shaughnessy in his poem Ode). Mind you, what Selkirk did do certainly had plenty of – shall we say? – originality about it and the work of art he inspired is so ubiquitous and enduringly popular, even now, that there is not the remotest possibility that this will be your first encounter with it. Let it thus remain anonymous until unfolding events herein reveal its true identity. When you think you know what it is, just shout out but, have a care, it’s the complete title that we’re looking for here.

Our man was born in Fife, the son of a tanner-cum-shoemaker and, by all accounts, was much given to surly and quarrelsome behaviour in his youth – a typical adolescent, you might say – which eventually led to his being summoned to appear before the Kirk Session in August 1693 for what is enigmatically described as his “indecent conduct in church”. What form this heinous piece of devilry might actually have taken has had an impenetrable veil drawn over it, so we can but speculate, though surely it can’t’ve been anywhere near as despicable as the one committed by our own Edward VIII (he’s the Abdicator, if you recall), who scandalised society and all sense of decency when unashamedly appearing – in public, if you please – not wearing a hat. What an unmitigated blackguard, to be sure! Though it does tend to put that business of marrying the gold-digging American divorcee into the shade somewhat. Meanwhile, our Alex decided that, rather than being hauled in front of the Presbyterian beak, the wisest of action would be to head off to sea until the whole thing blew over. Which is what he did. Anything to avoid confinement and the risk of a lengthy stretch of solitary …

Life on board suited him and he did well so, by 1703, it was high time to take the next step in career progression. By engaging in a spot of buccaneering, which was all the rage just then – the word, incidentally, comes from the French, boucanier, meaning to smoke meat, as it was first used for hunters of wild oxen in the Caribbean, who would then enjoy a nice barbie of what they’d bagged, barbecue also evolving from the same root – though our jolly jack tars gave the whole enterprise a veneer of respectability by calling themselves privateers. (Which means they were in the pay of the government. And therefore not terrorists). Anyhow, on September 11 that year, he set sail with an expedition to the South Sea led by William Dampier, though their actual avowed intention was not so much your exploration as one of finding enemy ships, attacking them and then nicking their cargoes. Not just pillaging per se, you understand, but all for Queen and Country (Anne being monarch then), as the War of the Spanish Succession between England and France was just getting into top gear at this point, the French having decided they wanted their man on the Spanish throne and we most definitely didn’t. So the easiest way to settle the dispute was by having a war. One that would last thirteen years. As the voyage got underway, Dampier was captain of St George, and Selkirk serving on Cinque Ports, her companion ship, as sailing master under Captain Thomas Stradling.

William Dampier should be more famous than he actually is, being the first Englishman to explore parts of what is today Australia and the first to circumnavigate the world three times, all of which led him to being described as “one of the most important British explorers of the period between Sir Walter Raleigh and James Cook.” He’s certainly one of the most forgotten. The truth, however, is that he was every bit as thuggish as Selkirk himself and, not unsurprisingly, he had a penchant for upsetting folk – when there was no enemy around to be giving a bloody nose to, our sailors generally fell back on the old standby of bickering amongst themselves – eventually culminating in Dampier’s court martial for cruelty, for which he was fined his entire wages for the whole trip. This particular voyage didn’t get off to the best of starts, seeing they’d left it too late for going via the Cape of Good Hope and had to go round by Cape Horn instead, more than a touch choppy itself at that season, eventually getting to the Juan Fernández Islands (off Chile), where they put in for supplies. As luck would have it, a French merchantman came sailing on by, so they decided they’d have a pop at her and fill the holds that way. As luck would also have it – all bad, it seems – she was heavily armed and doggedly manned so, after seven hours of desperate fighting, our lads came away completely emptyhanded. And a bit cheesed off. 

Still, plenty more fish in the sea. Or, better still, slow little Spanish ships laden down with tempting loot that would make easy pickings for a scurrilous band of vicious cut-throats like our lot happened to be and, indeed, they came across no end of them. Though, for some reason, Dampier let them all go after having only taken a fraction of their cargoes, the reason being that he thought they “would be a hindrance to his greater designs.” Which turned out to be the possibility of a highly lucrative raid on Santa María (Panama), a town supposedly awash with vast stockpiles of gold that it was simply itching to be relieved of and Dampier the very fellow to help them out on that score. Alas, however, the best laid plans of mice and mariners … Mind you, the plans weren’t really all that well laid, as it turns out, and the mice would’ve probably made an altogether better fist of it in the end. Besides which, the way this voyage had been progressing, they surely must’ve suspected that it wasn’t exactly going to be plain sailing. Actually, the sailing part all went off rather tickety-boo – it was once they got ashore that matters took a decided turn for the worse when they discovered that the townsfolk weren’t about to meekly surrender and hand over all their bullion to an ill-disciplined rabble, but were about to give them a darn good spanking before sending them on their way with not even so much as a groat to show for their efforts. They were cheesed off about that one too. 

Captain Dampier was turning out to be appositely named – apart from the Captain bit, of course – being a complete wet blanket and a third rate damp squib. Needless to say, at this point some highly uncharitable opinions were expressed amongst the crews, all of which led to an acrimonious parting of the ways, with Dampier heading off in one direction and Stradling, along with Selkirk, taking a different one altogether. By now, it was September 1704 and, after a year at sea, during which time they had been mercilessly pummelled by elements and enemies alike, the Cinque Ports had developed more leaks than your average government department. High time to put into port for some downtime and to replenish. Which is precisely what they did next. As luck would have it – and, given the state of theirs, which couldn’t’ve been any worse if they’d spent the entire voyage shooting down every last passing albatross, something was bound to go horribly wrong for all concerned – an uninhabited island lying a good four hundred miles off Chile and known as Más a Tierra (to the Spanish, anyhow, who could be sarky blighters when they wanted to be, seeing it means Closer to Land – closer than what, precisely?) happened to beckon to them with open arms at that fateful moment. 

Having stocked up, Selkirk, first and foremost the sailor, thought it might be a wise idea if they took this chance to undertake some much-needed repairs, having grave concerns about the apparent seaworthiness – or lack of it – of their vessel and its continuing ability to carry them across the ocean rather than straight to the bottom of it, so he said as much to his Captain. Alas, however, Stradling was more your committed armed robber, so his chief concern was with giving the gold-laden Spanish and French further opportunities to help those less fortunate than themselves (ie Stradling and his brigands) by parting with their cash. Thoroughly alarmed now, Selkirk expressed himself somewhat more forcefully this time, saying that he would rather be left behind than take to sea again in such a jalopy as the Cinque Ports had now become.

Have you ever, in the heat of the moment, allowed the red mist to get the better of you, from behind which you suddenly hear yourself blurting out a volley of particularly ill-chosen words, only to find yourself thinking, the very second they’re irrevocably uttered, something very much along the lines of, “I really wish I hadn’t said that now”? Just such sentiments must have passed through our man’s mind, first when Stradling readily granted his request, then when they dumped his gear on the beach, and all the while he was watching his erstwhile ship become a dot on the horizon and finally disappear. He couldn’t even console himself with the thought that he now knew exactly how Robinson Crusoe must’ve felt, because that hadn’t actually been written yet, though he might well have derived some sardonic amusement had he known that the Cinque Ports did indeed go down not long later, all hands who didn’t drown ending up being rescued by the unforgiving Spanish and treated to some harsh imprisonment for their trouble.

At first, Selkirk remained close to the shoreline, constantly scanning the ocean for any sign of possible rescue, feeling thoroughly miserable and desperately alone. Mind you, he didn’t want for company very long. Just as he was resolving himself to his situation and – quite possibly – as the very thought was entering his head that, “You know what, there’s something to be said for the serenity of solitude after all, being master of all one surveys, the peace and tranquillity of island life, that the only thing that could spoil it now would be if that massive great crash (or rookery) of sea lions out there decided to come ashore and hold a cacophonous mating party right here on the beach” – he found himself inundated with sea lions in a particularly frisky mood. So he made a swiftish dash for the inland, which was no bad thing, as it turned out, because there he found tribes of feral goats waiting to provide meat for the barbie, a drop of milk and a new outfit for when it turned nippy. There were also cabbages and turnips growing wild, plus pepper berries to spice up the old goat-and-cabbage stew a tad. The downside – there had to be one, didn’t there? – was that, whenever he got his head down for the night, colonies of peckish rats would come swarming all over him to give him a good nibbling. Mind you, on the upside, there also happened to be clowders of feral cats hanging about the place, so he got matey with them and, bingo, rat problem sorted. Plus, he was also getting to know most of the collective terms for the wildlife hereabouts – the big pity being that there were no schnauzers in the vicinity, otherwise he might’ve had a stench on his hands also. Though, for a supposedly uninhabited island, it was starting to get mighty crowded …

Finally, at long last, some good news when two ships could be seen approaching his little island fastness. Accompanied rapidly, and as always, by some bad news when these turned out to be Spanish and, therefore, packed to the gunwales with Spaniards who, understandably enough, were none-too-keen on Scottish privateers who’d spent their former careers robbing the very eyes out of ‘em and then leaving them for dead. The situation called for some subterfuge. So he hid in a tree. Which turned out to be enough to fool the Spanish all ends up and so they sailed away again, defeated. By a tree. Though they’d known someone was in residence as they’d come across his two huts, property that made him the biggest real estate owner for hundreds of miles around. One was used for cooking and the other for sleeping at night and reading his Bible by day or singing psalms. Seems our man had turned religious now and had found peace of mind. 

Quite clearly, there has to be a happy ending to all this – or a rescue, anyhow – otherwise nobody would have heard of him and his story, and the book could never have been written. (Yes, it’s a book). This came on 2 February 1709, when the privateering ships the Duke and Duchess hove into view and, having learned from the previous Spanish debacle, Selkirk climbed up his look-out tree to make sure they really were British this time and, finally convinced and utterly overjoyed, he lit a fire on the beach to attract their attention. Which did the trick. In came a landing party. At last, after four years and four months, his luck had finally changed. Nothing could go wrong this time. Unless – no, Fate could never be so cruel, could she? – unless the Duke happened to be being piloted by that utter cad and bounder of the first water (and every water, it would seem, including Selkirk’s own little patch of private ocean), his old adversary and erstwhile Captain, William Dampier. Which it was. Would you Adam & Eve it? In the end, Selkirk had to be persuaded to come aboard. 

You’d think that, after all his tribulations and having found God, he’d give life on the ocean waves and the privateering lark the old heave-ho, but not a bit of it. It was God that got the elbow and our man was soon indulging in his former anti-social habits. He led a boat crew up the Guayas River (Ecuador) to where a murder (if that’s the correct collective term) of wealthy Spanish ladies had fled in an attempt to secrete their jewels. Alas, they weren’t much cop when it came to hiding booty and our man found it easily enough, and still warm, whilst rifling through their clothing. Next up, he helped to capture the treasure galleon, the Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación y Desengaño, which, by all accounts, means something like Our Lady of the Incarnation and Disappointment. Quite what she had to be so disappointed about remains a mystery – Selkirk should’ve known, what with all his Bible-bashing – but, whatever, not being able to get their laughing gear around that mouthful, and with wonderfully sardonic irony, they renamed her Batchelor. Following a jaunt around the Cape of Good Hope, he completed his around-the-world voyage and arrived back in England on 1 October 1711. He had been away for over eight years. Our poacher would eventually turn gamekeeper and, whilst he was engaged in anti-piracy patrols off the west coast of Africa, he succumbed to yellow fever and died, aged about forty seven, on 13 December 1721 – it would have to be the thirteenth with his luck wouldn’t it? He was buried at sea.

Now, hands up all those who’ve guessed that it was Robinson Crusoe we were talking about herein? Well, it’s a big fat raspberry for you lot, we fear. We wanted the full title, if you recall. So, did anyone have down The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe at all? Still no awarding yourself a Jammy Dodger for that one either, we regret to say. What we were really after was (and get a load of this little lot):

The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who Lived Eight and Twenty Years all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; having been cast on shore by Shipwreck, where-in all the Men perished but Himself. With An Account how he was at last strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.

Which was first published on 25 April 1719, only a decade after the rescue and while Selkirk was still alive and robbing. It was a clearly recognisable portrait, with Defoe’s (his name was actually Foe and he only bunged the De in to make himself sound more aristocratic – he also spent three days in the pillory, though that was for something else) with Defoe’s eponymous hero still kitted out in the goatskin togs, even though his island was based on Tobago, which would’ve made them a touch on the warm side for beachwear in such a tropical climate, and he also somehow manages to spot penguins and seals there, meaning he must’ve had remarkable eyesight, seeing they never get any closer than the Galapagos. Still, not altogether a bad little literary effort when you think about it and how it’s lasted so well. Even William Cowper decided to get in on the act and have his own bash at the story – he might not’ve been so hot at spelling Cooper but he was a dabhand when it came to the knocking out poetry caper. In fact, it was he, in his The Solitude Of Alexander Selkirk (no lights under bushels with that title) who gave us the immortal line (which opens it), “I am monarch of all I survey.” A fine and noble sentiment indeed, though not much consolation if all that you do survey happens to be nothing but a vast rabble of sex-crazed sea lions, is it?


Edward VIII: By National Media Museum from UK [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Privateer (Kent battling Confiance): Ambroise-Louis Garneray [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

William Dampier: Thomas Murray [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Buccaneer: Howard Pyle [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Albatross (engraving for Rime of the Ancient Mariner): Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Alexander Selkirk Statue: By SylviaStanley (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sea Lions: By Brocken Inaglory (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Selkirk Reading His Bible: By Anon. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Being taken aboard the Duke: By Robert C. Leslie [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Robinson Crusoe (Book Cover): By Unknown Gilberton Artist (Gilberton) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Defoe in the Pillory: By James Charles Armytage (died 1902) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 12 February 2016

Today's the Day

Anniversaries & Events in Academia & Elsewhere

February 12

The first thought that will have leapt into most people’s heads at the mention of that date is the Battle of the Herrings, fought in 1429. For the benefit of any not quite so clued up on the Hundred Years’ War, this wasn’t some skirmish involving rival gangs of Clupeidae at all and, in fact, no herrings came to any harm whatsoever that day. Alas, however, this is mainly down to them all having been dispatched and pickled sometime earlier, in order that they might supply the English forces with a bite to eat throughout the meatless days of approaching Lent, during which they would be pretty much tied up with the siege of Orléans, a business that had been occupying them since 12 October 1428. Along with the barrels of herrings, the three hundred wagons rumbling inexorably Orléansward also contained crossbows, cannons and cannonballs, so the cunning French decided it might be an idea if they stopped that little lot from getting through. You can’t blame ‘em really. After all, bad enough having the English camped around your city walls without the blighters making the whole place stink of fish into the bargain.

Since setting out from Paris, the cargo of herrings had been under the beady eye of Sir John Fastolf, a Knight of the Garter who had been to Jerusalem with Henry Bolingbroke (so he claimed) and had fought with Henry V at Harfleur, though he missed Agincourt through injury. Now, if you happen to be thinking, “why does the name John Fastolf sound so familiar?” well, it’s because, if you screw your eyes up and squint at it, it looks almost exactly the same as Sir John Falstaff, who turns up as a dissolute coward in various works by Shakespeare. The Swan of Avon may well have had our man in mind when he used the name, though Fastolf was only second choice for the role, that having originally been occupied by Sir John Oldcastle, who made it into the stage premier of Henry IV, Part 1, until some disgruntled descendant of the good knight took umbrage with the portrait and demanded the name be changed. Rather than think up a suitably three-syllabled alternative, Shakespeare simply bunged in Falstaff instead, which is why the Iambic pentameters in both Parts don’t scan as they should, as you’d no doubt noticed. And, if you’re at all up on your Shakespeare gags, there’s the one in The Merry Wives of Windsor, where Oldcastle incriminates himself when his fingers are singed with candles by calling out the first letter of his name: “O, O, O!” Which tends to fall a bit flat if your name at that point is Falstaff.

The French may well have caught the unmistakeable whiff of herring on its way but, it seems, they had learnt nothing whatsoever from their recent walloping at Agincourt (1415), having eyes only for the fact that they had some three to four thousand men and the English far fewer. Mind you, our lads were doggedly determined to hang onto their fish at all costs, so they swung the wagons into a circle and surrounded them with sharpened spikes to prevent a cavalry attack. Exactly as at Agincourt, in fact. Things got off to a fairly promising start for the French, who opened up by letting the enemy have a taste of their new-fangled gunpowder artillery but then the Scots (who, it seems, would go to any lengths to stop us English winning – even by fighting for the French) got fed up with hanging around and, despite “message after message forbidding an attack” – they attacked. Bad mistake. For one thing, the French had to stop their gunnery for fear of hitting them and, for another, the Scots didn’t have armour on, so the English archers simply mowed them down. Understandably enough, the French then weren’t all that keen on following in their footsteps and hung back rather, at which point our lads counter-attacked, putting them to unceremonious flight. Another English victory. Though not one to rival Crécy or Agincourt, by any means. In fact, a mere footnote that would’ve been forgotten altogether, were it not for one small matter …

Over in Vaucouleurs, on the very day of the Battle of the Herrings, Robert de Baudricourt was getting his lugholes well and truly bent – for the third time, we should add – by some young peasant girl who kept insisting that angels had told her it was her mission in life to deliver the Dauphin to his coronation in Rheims. Having already pooh-poohed her claims twice as the ramblings of a balm-pot, Robert was about to do the same again until she told him that the Dauphin’s forces had taken a darn good licking only that afternoon near Orléans and, if he didn’t let her get cracking soon, a whole lot more would follow. When news did filter through that the French had indeed come a very poor second in the herring debacle, with not so much as a single fish to show for it, you might say the “scales” tipped in her favour. (Though it’d probably be best not to). Anyhow, on 23 February, off she went. Nine days after her arrival there, on 8 May 1429, the Siege of Orléans was finally lifted, setting the English into terminal decline as far as the Hundred Years’ War went. Joan of Arc – for it was she, the Maid of Orléans – would later meet Sir John Fastolf face to face (well, ish) at the Battle of Patay (18 June), though she’d’ve needed to keep her eyes well peeled, even to catch a fleeting glimpse of our hero for, by all accounts, his strategic manoeuvring that day amounted to little more than legging it out of there at top speed, earning him the reputation of a lily-livered skunk and a highly unflattering characterisation at the hands of Shakespeare. 

12 February 1554 brings us to another young woman destined to come to a sticky end – you’ll recall that Joan of Arc, following on from her nine glorious days at Orléans, ended up being captured by the Burgundians, abandoned by an ingrate Dauphin and then handed over to the English who, on 30 May 1431, burned her at the stake? Well, here too, we have nine days writ large into her fate and sometimes even into her name as well, seeing she is also known of the Nine Day Queen, though History will remember her best as Lady Jane Grey who, having been given an excellent humanist education which included the mastering of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most learned young women of her day.

Now, this next part is going to get a trifle complicated, even rather incestuous (pretty much par for the course when it comes to life within the Tudor court), so you’re going to have to pay attention, if you want to make any sense whatsoever out of who was doing what to whom, with whom or against whom as we introduce the leading characters in this tragic cameo. Jane Grey was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, whose wife (Jane’s mother), Lady Frances Brandon, herself just happened to be eldest daughter of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary, making Jane and her sisters (Mary and Catherine) first cousins of Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth. About February 1547 time, Jane was sent to live in the household of Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s favourite wife, Seymour being the sort of chap who lost no time in marrying the widowed – and stinkingly wealthy – Catherine Parr (Henry’s sixth and final wife) before the dead king was barely even cold (Catherine had outlived three husbands already, which should’ve given Seymour an inkling things weren’t destined to work out any too well for him in the end). She died in childbirth in September 1548, meaning Seymour got her loot. Not to mention also helping himself to the title of Baron Seymour of Sudeley while he was at it. Both he and his brother, Edward, were members of the Regency Council, now that Henry was gone and his son was too young to be running the country, and they proved to be especially open-handed when it came to dishing out rewards. Particularly amongst themselves, Edward making himself Duke of Somerset and rising to become Lord Protector. Though the pair were still chiefly interested in any trough-snouting opportunities the work would present them. Thomas is even supposed to have gone in for “daily romps” with the fourteen year old Elizabeth (Henry’s daughter and thus his own step-daughter now), coming into her room in his nightclothes to “tickle” her and slap her backside. His wife was pregnant (fatally so) at the time.

On 25 May 1553, Jane was married off to Lord Guildford Dudley. Not that she wanted to, mind, but she was given no choice. He was a younger son of a fellow trough-snouter in the shape of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland (a title he’d awarded himself once again), who was leader of the government just then and also the most powerful man in England, as well as being a son of Edmund Dudley, a much-hated minister of Henry VII, who Henry VIII had executed the minute he got his head under the crown. So, Jane might well have been marrying into money and power, though not exactly the luckiest of families when it came to ultimate fates. Mind you, the wedding itself was, by all accounts, a real rip-snorter of an affair, including jousts, games and masques but sadly, thanks to a cook not knowing nettles from nightshade, also a nasty bout of food-poisoning, which must’ve taken the edge off, especially at the business end of proceedings.

By the very next month it had become apparent that the sickly young King was dying, which didn’t bother any of them too much per se. What did worry the Seymours, and Northumberland in especial, was the fact that Henry VIII’s will had stipulated that the staunchly Catholic Mary was next in line to the throne and, if she got to be Queen, then it’d be a swift farewell to power, position and riches for the lot of them and maybe even an invitation to lay their necks on the block whilst this nice masked gentleman with the axe gets in some target practice. Something had to be done. Getting the will changed for a start off. Particularly that bit about the succession. But who could they get to be monarch instead? Luckily, Northumberland knew someone who might just do and who also chanced to be in line to the throne, albeit on a branch line, but a fully legit claimant nonetheless for that. The happiest part about the whole arrangement, as far as the good Duke was concerned, would be that the person he had in mind just happened to be his own daughter-in-law, Jane Grey. Which would then elevate him all the way up to official Royaldom. Everyone’s a winner. Well, except for the hapless King Edward, of course, who conveniently expired on 6 July 1553. By the tenth, Jane was Queen. Though she didn’t want to be, any more than she’d fancied marrying that wretched Dudley boy.

The big snag in Northumberland’s plan was that it left Mary still knocking about like a loose cannon, so that was going to need sorting on the lively side, if the whole thing wasn’t going to go belly-up. She would eventually earn the nickname Bloody Mary, so you couldn’t be any too careful. Meanwhile, the happy couple, who had moved into the Tower (where there were some grand apartments as well as the grimmer ones) were really starting to get to grips with this marriage lark and, by this point, had got as far as the tiffing stage. All because the ghastly Dudley youth had decided he wanted to be King, while his wife would only assent to making him Duke of Clarence. Understandably enough, young Guildford didn’t quite fancy the idea of spending the rest of his natural being addressed as “Clarence,” so matters got a bit heated. Then the Duchess of Northumberland got involved – just what Jane needed right then: the mother-in-law from Hell poking her nose in – forbidding her lad to sleep with Jane and ordering him to leave the Tower and go home. Jane promptly told her to push off and, being the good wife she now was, told Dudley to belt up and stay exactly where he was. Which was firmly under the thumb.

As for the Mary situation, Northumberland decided that the best thing all round would be for him to ride into Hertfordshire, clap her in irons and that would be that so, on 14 July, away he went. Unhappily, there were a couple of minor flaws in his plan. For one thing, Mary had slipped away to East Anglia and assembled an impressive force of supporters there. For another, as soon as his back was turned, all the folk at home in London realised they were so fed up with the bullying self-important Duke that they’d do a swift about turn and join the other side, just to be rid of him. On 19 July, they proclaimed Mary queen and booted poor Jane out of office and into prison. Northumberland now learned the truth of the old saying that you really can’t trust anyone and, on 22 August, found himself once again following in his father’s footsteps – up the scaffold ladder and onto the block.

Jane, who had never wanted marriage or monarchy in the first place (so she would insist), now discovered that neither had done her much good. Very much the opposite, in fact. On 13 November 1553, she was put on trial for high treason, along with hubby Guildford and two of his brothers, plus they also managed to drag Thomas Cranmer into it somehow, seeing Mary was determined to get even with him one way or another for his role in the Katherine of Aragon Divorce Scandal (she was Mary’s mum). In the Tudor legal system, there was never any hanging around wondering what the verdict might be, seeing it was always “Guilty As Charged,” so they could move swiftly on to the sentencing stage. Which, in those days, also had a strange sense of inevitability about it: death all round, with Jane to “be burned alive or beheaded as the Queen pleases.” For once, however, Bloody Mary proved uncharacteristically soft-hearted – well, they were family, when all said and done – so she let them off with prison instead. Sighs of relief all round this time.

Now, when you are banged up in a ticklish situation with the axe still hovering unnervingly close to the neck department, the last thing you need is for some ass to come blundering in and rocking the boat. Alas, Thomas Wyatt proved to be just such a fellow, whose main beef was Mary’s avowed intention to marry Philip of Spain, meaning he had to go round Kent pointing out to people, in true UKIP style, that something had to be done “to prevent us from over-running by strangers.” He meant “foreigners.” Who should, no doubt, all be sent back to “Bongo-Bongoland”. Sadly, though unsurprisingly, he found enough other asses willing to listen and to join him in a little caper to be called “Wyatt’s Rebellion,” whose number happened to include, disastrously, Jane’s father and two of her brothers. To cut a short story even shorter – the whole affair lasting about as long as Jane’s reign had – it all started well but quickly descended into ignominious defeat. At which point out came the knives (and axes) for a spot of sharpening …

On 12 February 1554 – it was going to be the ninth but they wanted time to convert the wicked to Catholicism – Guildford Dudley was dragged off to Tower Hill and beheaded. His remains were then loaded into a cart and, in appallingly bad taste, driven below the window where Jane was gazing out into her last morning. Despite his role in her downfall, she is supposed to have cried out, “Oh, Guildford, Guildford!” They then escorted her to her own execution within the Tower. Much like Joan of Arc, she was about eighteen years old.


Battle of the Herrings: By The original uploader was Durova at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Falstaff: Eduard von Grützner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Morning of the Battle of Agincourt: By Sir John Gilbert (1817–1897) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Siege of Orléans: By Jules Eugène Lenepveu (French, 1819-1898) - uploaded by Tijmen Stam (User:IIVQ) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Streatham Portrait of Lady Jane Grey: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Seymour: By Nicholas Denizot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Crown Offered to Lady Jane Grey: By after C. R. Leslie [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Edward VI: Attributed to William Scrots (fl. 1537–1554) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Tudor: Antonis Mor [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Joan of Arc at the Stake: Hermann Anton Stilke [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Thomas Wyatt the Younger, circa 1540–42: Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498–1543) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey: Paul Delaroche [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Book Display for Valentine's Day... for the Unromantic

Can't handle any more red roses and fluffy pink hearts? See our book display on Level 1 for some alternative reading or viewing for Valentine's Day (14th February).

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Library workshops - book your place

Did you miss our Library workshops at the end of Jan? 
Don't worry, there's another chance to improve your Library skills on Feb 27th - see the programme and book your place on one or more of our workshops at the link below. 
Learn to make effective use of the Library catalogue and our Discover search service, improve your search techniques and get to grips with Mendeley, a reference managment tool.
We look forward to seeing you!