Nice image of an English Cathedral

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Keeping the English oout

Even the mighty Roman army knew you cannot beat a Scot in a fight so they build a wall or two to keep them out.

But the English well they just never learned.
So the Scots assimilate them and make them Scots. Even George  4 thought he had Scots blood how’s that for Scottish reason.

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It seems to me and Mark Twain would have said.

As we are living at the dawn of the  computer age we have made huge advances.

Everybody and their dog has a gmail or free mail account.
Our Google drives can be used to host our own personal websites.

Continue reading “It seems to me and Mark Twain would have said.”

Playing King Henry VIII
From muscled Adonis to disease-ridden tyrant, Henry VIII presents a challenge to any actor. Eric Ives looks at portrayals of Henry on screen and on canvas…

This article first appeared in the September 2007 issue of BBC History Magazine.

Monday 14th March 2016 Submitted by Ellie Cawthorne Share
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Robert Shaw as Henry in ‘A Man For All Seasons’ in 1966. (Ian Miles/Flashpoint pictures/Alamy)
Londoners flocked to the Fortune Theatre north of Cripplegate in 1604 to see Henry VIII portrayed on stage for the first time. The title of the play was When you see me you know me, but Henry had been dead for almost 60 years. So how could the author, Samuel Rowley, be so confident? The illustration on the title page of the 1613 edition gives the answer. There is Henry in heroic pose, arms akimbo, feet astride, the iconic image painted by Hans Holbein the Younger in 1536–37. Copies and derivatives of the Holbein portrait circulated widely and we still recognise it. Actors chosen to play the king start with Holbein. His formula dominates film and television, from Charles Laughton in 1933 to Sid James in Carry on Henry in 1971.

The 1613 title page from Samuel Rowley’s play of Henry’s life ‘When you see me, you know me’. (British Library)

But the 21st century has taught us to distrust images. Every portrait – paint as much as photography – is posed for a purpose. Very few sitters echo Oliver Cromwell’s call to be painted warts and all and artists who insist on that risk their work going the way of Graham Sutherland’s portrait of Winston Churchill, destroyed by Clementine Churchill in 1956. Holbein was required to paint royal majesty. Indeed, where his first effort depicted Henry in quarter profile, subsequent versions have the king full face, so producing the maximum impact on the viewer and, perhaps minimising Henry’s prominent nose.

But Holbein’s Henry is Henry at the age of 46 in enjoyment of his supreme achievement – having gathered into his hands all authority in England, both secular and religious. In later years the king – and his likenesses – aged rapidly. Portraits repeat the Holbein face, but the body is of an old man huddled in a great coat and leaning on a staff. By then his waist measured 50 inches or more and he needed a mobile stretcher to get him round his palaces. The last extant likeness, by the Antwerp engraver Cornelis Metsys, is of a king in terminal decline.

How different he had been. A chubby child, by his mid-teens Henry had put on real muscle – “his limbs are of a gigantic size”. Soon after becoming king in 1509 at the age of 18, he was described by one diplomat as “the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on; above the usual height [6 feet 2 inches], with an extremely fine calf to his leg; his complexion fair and bright with auburn hair and a round face so very beautiful that it would become a pretty woman, his throat being long and thick”. Six years later another reported: “He speaks French, English, Latin, and a little Italian, plays well on the lute, sings from book at sight, draws the bow with greater strength than any man in England and jousts marvellously. Believe me, he is in every respect a most accomplished prince and I have now seen all the sovereigns in Christendom”.

With a 32 inch waist and a 42 inch chest Henry was very much the athlete. Even at 28 he still drew admiring glances, as a contemporary noted: “Extremely handsome. Nature could not have done more for him. He is much handsomer than any sovereign in Christendom”. Henry was as concerned to set off his assets as any fashion model. He bought cloth of gold and silks from far-away Florence and jewels from everywhere.

He often dressed according to the role he was to play 
that day. At the launching of The Great Harry he was a sailor with a bosun’s whistle made of gold, nine inches long. Welcoming ambassadors from the Habsburgs of Austria, he dressed Hungarian fashion one day and on another like a 
Turk, with the scabbard of his scimitar embroidered with pearls and jewels.

The many ages of Henry

The modern theatre can easily counterfeit the clothes and jewels, but what of the man inside? What age is Henry to be, or if the script extends over many years, can one actor age realistically? Charles Laughton could safely base his Henry on the Holbein likeness because The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) only begins in 1536 when Henry was in his mid-forties, and the black-and-white format meant that he did not have to adopt Henry’s ginger colouring.

In A Man for All Seasons (1969) Robert Shaw was convincing as Henry in his late thirties, as was the 41-year-old Keith Michell when playing Henry in the BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970) for which he won an Emmy. His Henry also aged convincingly, but despite a valiant attempt he had been less happy as Henry the bridegroom: Annette Crosbie was credible as Katherine of Aragon, the 24-year-old bride, but no viewer would have guessed that Henry was 18, a six-year age-gap that was to become massively significant in later years.

So the problem is the young Henry, as tackled by Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the BBC series The Tudors. The temptation is to take him at face value. Outdoors, the life of the king and his courtiers focused on substitutes for war – hunting and sports – but inside on the game of courtly love, and it is easy to interpret Henry’s high spirits in these years as the king sowing his wild oats. But courtly flirtation was a stylised ritual, nothing like “a summer of love”. Henry was no stud, however much he bragged that “he’d never spared a man in his anger or a woman in his lust”.

Europe was, as always, agog to discover the sex secrets of royalty, but only two brief affairs can be documented. Henry was prudish, sexually insecure and on occasion impotent – and for that we have both his own admission and the word of Anne Boleyn, the woman he loved beyond reason. The artificiality of courtly love protected the king from having to deliver. Significantly he preferred the safe course of paying court to mature women.

An anxious young man

Insecurity may also explain why his early portraits are less than impressive. It is very difficult to see signs of an emerging Holbein image. One must also remember that during these years, anxiety was being fed first by the failure of his sons by Katherine to live for more than a few weeks and then by the blocking of his marriage to Anne. The only pre-Holbein portrait which suggests relaxed confidence can be dated to 1535 when Henry and Anne were in tearing good spirits together and, one guesses, sexually fulfilled. Certainly, by autumn of that year, she was pregnant.

One can also detect in Henry VIII 
a wider insecurity which he masked 
by extrovert behaviour and cordiality. He was intensely suspicious: “if I thought that my cap knew my counsel, I would cast it into the fire and burn it”. He was also totally self-centred.

Personality traits are often accentuated by age, so perhaps the most revealing image of Henry is the truth engraved by Cornelis Metsys from the safety of Antwerp. Face puffy, cheeks fallen, mouth pursed, the 53-year-old king huddles in furs, rubbing his podgy fingers together, egoism and suspicion personified.

Portrait of Henry VIII by Cornelius Metsys, c1544. (Hulton Archive/Getty images)

The real challenge for any actor portraying the younger Henry is not to exemplify the Olympic athleticism and apparent bonhomie of the king at 20. It is to reveal the Metsys latent within the youthful Adonis.

Eric Ives is emeritus professor of English history at Birmingham University.

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A murder of crows: 10 collective nouns you didn’t realise originate from the Middle Ages
From a ‘pride of lions’ to a ‘misbelief of painters’, many of the terms we use every day have roots in the distant past – specifically, the medieval period. Here, Chloe Rhodes investigates the origins of 10 collective nouns that have survived to become a curious feature of today’s everyday language

Thursday 4th December 2014 Submitted by Emma Mason Share
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Aesop’s fables: The Fox and The Crow. Illustration after 1485 edition printed in Naples by German printers for Francesco del Tuppo. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images
Why are geese in a gaggle? And are crows really murderous? Collective nouns are one of the most charming oddities of the English language, often with seemingly bizarre connections to the groups they identify. But have you ever stopped to wonder where these peculiar terms actually came from?

Many of them were first recorded in the 15th century in publications known as Books of Courtesy – manuals on the various aspects of noble living, designed to prevent young aristocrats from embarrassing themselves by saying the wrong thing at court.

The earliest of these documents to survive to the present day was The Egerton Manuscript, dating from around 1450, which featured a list of 106 collective nouns. Several other manuscripts followed, the most influential of which appeared in 1486 in The Book of St Albans – a treatise on hunting, hawking and heraldry, written mostly in verse and attributed to the nun Dame Juliana Barnes (sometimes written Berners), prioress of the Priory of St Mary of Sopwell, near the town of St Albans.

This list features 164 collective nouns, beginning with those describing the ‘beasts of the chase’, but extending to include a wide range of animals and birds and, intriguingly, an extensive array of human professions and types of person.

Those describing animals and birds have diverse sources of inspiration. Some are named for the characteristic behaviour of the animals (‘a leap of leopards’, ‘a busyness of ferrets’), or by the use they were put to by humans (‘a yoke of oxen’, ‘a burden of mules’). Sometimes they’re given group nouns that describe their young (‘a covert of coots’, ‘a kindle of kittens’), and others by the way they respond when flushed (‘a sord of mallards’, ‘a rout of wolves’).

Many of those describing people and professions go further still in revealing the medieval mindset of their inventors, opening a window into the past from which we can enjoy a fascinating view of the medieval world.

1) “A tabernacle of bakers”

Bread was the mainstay of a medieval peasant’s diet, with meat, fish and dairy produce too expensive to be eaten any more than once or twice a week. Strict laws governing the distribution of bread stated that no baker was allowed to sell his bread from beside his own oven, and must instead purvey his produce from a stall at one of the king’s approved markets.

These small, portable shops were known in Middle English as ‘tabernacula’, which were defined by Dutch lexicographer Junius Hadrianus in his Nomenclature, which was first translated into English in 1585, as ‘little shops made of boards’.

2) “A stalk of foresters”

The role of a forester in medieval society was respectable and well paid. Geoffrey Chaucer held the position in the royal forest of North Petherton in Somerset, and records from 1394 show that he was granted an annual pension of £20 by Richard II – a sum that reflected the importance of the role to hunting-mad noblemen.

A forester’s duties included protecting the forest’s stock of game birds, deer and other animals from poachers. From time to time they also stalked criminals, who took to the forests to evade capture.

3) “A melody of harpers”

Depicted in wall paintings in Ancient Egyptian tombs, the harp is one of the oldest musical instruments in the world, and by the medieval period – the age of troubadours and minstrels – was experiencing a surge in popularity.

This was an era defined by its emphasis on knightly tradition, and the harp often accompanied songs about valiant deeds and courtly love. In great demand at the estates of the upper classes, travelling harpists often moved from town to town performing instrumental accompaniment at banquets and recitals of madrigal singing. There were high-born harpists, too: both Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were keen players.

4) “A sentence of judges”

Up until the 12th century, the law was deeply rooted in the feudal system, whereby the lord of the manor could charge and punish perpetrators of crime – often poaching from his land – as he saw fit. But in 1166, Henry II sought to shift the power away from individual landowners and bring it more directly under his own control.

He established the courts of assizes, where a national bench of judges travelled around the country attending quarterly court sessions. These judges based their decisions on a new set of national laws that were common to all people, which is where we get the term ‘common law’.

Though more egalitarian than the manorial system, assizes judges could be harsh in the sentences they delivered, which ranged from a stint in the stocks to public execution.

5) “A faith of merchants”

Merchants lived outside the rigid structure of feudalism, and their growing success in the 15th century had an enormous impact on the structure of society. They formed guilds of fellow traders, which eventually bought charters directly from the king, allowing the towns to become independent of the lord of the manor.

‘Faith’ as it is used here was a reference to the trustworthiness of a person, and is meant ironically, since merchants were rarely trusted. Court documents from the time record the various tricks of the trade that were used to con the public, including hiding bad grain under good, and stitching undersized coal sacks to disguise small measures of coal.

All offences were officially punishable by a stint in the pillory, but because the guilds were self-regulated, most perpetrators got off with only a fine – to the inevitable anger of the masses.

6) “An abominable sight of monks”

Monks weren’t particularly popular during the 15th century. Bede’s Life of Cuthbert, dated around AD 725, is the story of a party of monks who almost drowned when their boat was caught in a storm on the River Tyne. Cuthbert pleaded with the peasants on the bank for help but “the rustics, turning on him with angry minds and angry mouths, exclaimed, ‘Nobody shall pray for them: May God spare none of them! For they have taken away from men the ancient rites and customs, and how the new ones are to be attended to, nobody knows.’”

By the 15th century this resentment of the trampling of pagan traditions had been exacerbated by a perception of monks as being well fed and comfortable while the general population starved. ‘Abominable’ is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “causing moral revulsion”, which is a fairly accurate description of the reaction this image provoked.

7) “A superfluity of nuns”

Superfluity can be interpreted in two ways – the first is as historical fact. There were around 138 nunneries in England between 1270 and 1536, many of which were severely overcrowded. The convent was seen as a natural step for the daughters of the nobility who had passed marriageable age, and lords put pressure on prioresses to accept their daughters even if they were already full.

Alternatively, though, the excess of nuns referred to here could have been a comment on the emerging view among agitators for church reform that the days of the monastery and convent were over. Some 50 years after this noun appeared in print in The Book of St Albans Henry VIII ordered their closure, and the Protestant Reformation was in full swing.

8) “A stud of horses”

Horses were at the absolute centre of life in the Middle Ages. Rather than the breeds we’re familiar with today, medieval horses were classified by the role they played in society. There were destriers, stallions that were used as warhorses by royalty and lords; palfreys, bred for general-purpose riding, war and travel, usually owned by the wealthy; coursers, steady cavalry horses; and rouncies – common-grade hack horses of no special breeding.

During the Middle Ages, monasteries often ran breeding centres called stud farms – ‘stud’ has its roots in the German word ‘Stute’, meaning mare. State stud farms also existed: the first was established under Louis XIV of France in 1665, by which time ‘a stud of horses’ was already established as the proper collective.

9) ‘A pack/cry/kennel of hounds’

Hunting dogs were important members of the medieval household. Every noble family kept kennels for their dogs, and these were looked after by a team of dedicated servants.

‘A cry of hounds’ is thought to derive from the hunting cry that instructs the hounds in their pursuit. The traditional English hunting call ‘Tally Ho!’ is a shortening of ‘Tallio, hoix, hark, forward,’ which, according to an 1801 edition of The Sporting Magazine, is an Anglicized version of the French terms ‘Thia-hilaud’ and ‘a qui forheur’, which appear in La Vénerie by Jacques du Fouilloux, first published at Poitiers in 1561.

This was adapted into English by George Gascoigne under the title The Noble Arte of Venerie, and became one of the pillars of a young gentleman’s hunting education.

10) “A richesse of martens”

The European pine marten was considered a top prize for hunters in the Middle Ages. Of all the ‘vermin of the chase’, which included foxes, wild cats, polecats and squirrels, the marten was the most sought after because of its valuable pelt.

Tudor ‘statutes of apparel’ – strict laws governing the amount of money the people could spend on clothing – dictated the colours, cuts and materials that could be worn by each level of society, and stated which furs could be worn by which tier of the aristocracy. Only those of or above the rank of duke, marquise and earl were allowed to wear sable fur, while ermine, the white winter coat of the stoat, which could only be obtained for a few months of the year, was reserved for royalty.

Chloe Rhodes’ An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns is published by Michael O’Mara. To find out more, click here.

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7 of England’s best medieval buildings

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India: a land of contradictions

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