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

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