Why do we still care about Henry VIII?

‘How many more books can there be about Henry VIII?’ lamented a well-known seventeenth century historian.  ‘I mean, whatever next…Henry VIII’s toenail?’

Admittedly, this remark was made as part of a speech to promote his new book about a Stuart monarch, so his flippant remark may have been aimed at trying to persuade people to look beyond the Tudors for once.  But he did have a point.  Henry VIII has been the subject of more books, dramas, films and documentaries than any other monarch in British history.  Yet still we have an insatiable desire to find out more.

As joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, I see thousands of visitors flock to Hampton Court every year.  Much as we try to show them the other (larger) side of the palace – Wren’s magnificent Baroque masterpiece commissioned by William III and Mary II in the late seventeenth century – they aren’t interested.  They are here for Henry, and Henry alone.

In part, our fascination with this most famous of kings is understandable.  He married six times, told the Pope where to go, oversaw one of the most seismic religious and political revolutions in our history, and created the foundation of our national identity.  No wonder that we can’t get enough of him.

I have been a Tudor historian for over twenty years, but until recently I have skirted around Henry – mentioning him in the context of his daughter Elizabeth, exploring the life he led behind closed doors, that sort of thing.  But I had never dared to tackle a full biography.  Surely there are too many of those?

But then a thought occurred to me.  Yes, Henry has been written about endlessly, but almost always in the context of his wives.  Surely there is another side to the story?  Exploring the men in Henry VIII’s life reveals a dazzling and eclectic cast of characters: relations, servants, ministers, rivals, confidants and companions.  Some were ‘mad’ (Sir Francis Bryan, the so-called ‘Vicar of Hell’), some ‘bad’ (the arch-schemer, Stephen Gardiner), but none as ‘dangerous to know’ as Henry VIII himself. There are also the men whose stories have, until now, remained in the shadows: Sir William Butts, Henry’s favourite physician, Will Somer, his fool, and Sir Thomas Cawarden, who superintended some of the most spectacular entertainments of the later reign, reminding Henry of his glorious younger days. It is these men who helped to shape the character, opinions and image of their king, and whose influence – sometimes visible, sometimes hidden – lay behind the Tudor throne.

By the end of my research, I felt like I had met Henry for the first time.  I can’t wait to introduce Chalke Valley History Festival goers to him on 26 June!

Tracy Borman’s book, Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him, was published by Hodder & Stoughton last year.

Tracy Borman

Tracy Borman is joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces and Chief Executive of the Heritage Education Trust. She studied and taught history at the University of Hull and was awarded a PhD in 1997. Tracy is the author of a number of highly acclaimed books including The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of Britain’s Greatest Dynasty, Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant, and Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction. Tracy is also a regular broadcaster and public speaker, giving talks on her books across the UK and abroad.


How does Russia Remember The 1917 Revolution?

This article was previously published on 8/8/17 in HuffPost.

Revolution necessitates talk of insurgency and transformation – this is not the most evident narrative with which state power should wish to engage. Yet elsewhere we can see lively discussion of the potentialities of history and possibilities for change that any discussion of 1917 should evoke. Impacts of the dual revolutions can give people much pause for thought – both in Russia and elsewhere.

Armed soldiers carry a banner reading ‘Communism’, Nikolskaya street, Moscow, October 1917

The centenary of the October Revolution is nearly upon us, and with it comes a gamut of press comment, a score of scholarly assessments of varying degrees of originality, and much discussion on the blogosphere of what the events of that year mean for Russian and for world history. Some of these assessments, both from academic and lay audiences, hinge upon re-interpreting the significance of these events from ‘Western’ perspectives. These can include how the Russian Revolutions of 1917 interrupted the contemporary balance of power, what the revolutions meant for other great nations at the time, and what the revolutions can tell us, if anything, about Russia today.

What also needs to be considered are the distinctiveness of Russian responses to the revolutions of 1917. Certainly, this was a year of great significance for the entire world, with strong – indeed, transformative – influence on a variety of nations during the twentieth century. The transnational connections that shaped 1917 at the time as well as the discussions between between scholars and the public in different countries today are important for all sorts of reasons. Looking at the situation solely from a Russian perspective can throw a little light on such conversations. Briefly, I will consider what can be loosely seen as three groups: popular opinion, civil society, and an official interpretation.

Measuring popular attitudes to the revolution is no easy matter, and there is nothing close to unanimity of opinion on the subject. As Tony Barber has described in a recent article for the Financial Times, what data we do have shows that popular attitudes, so far as we can judge, are mixed. This is in contrast to other major events of the twentieth century, such as the Great Patriotic War, which have tended to generate more of a consensus down the years. Citing the Levada-Center, a Russian pollster, Barber pointed to a survey carried out in March this year among 1600 people from 137 localities within Russia. The Russians polled were split on the meta-historical questions posed by 1917, including whether the revolution was a good thing, the legality of the seizure of power, the inevitability of the revolution, and what its root causes were. Indeed, looking through the results in depth, the only trend was the lack of consensus amongst respondents. For example, 48 per cent considered that the October Revolution was inevitable, but 32 per cent saw that it could have been avoided. One could extrapolate on the basis of comparing the March 2017 results with those of past polls that attitudes are becoming more mixed: on the question of whether the October Revolution was historically inevitable, the number of respondents claiming it was ‘difficult to say’ crept up from 15 to 21 per cent from between March 2017 and when the question was posed in April 2006.

Turning to civil society, it is easy to find those for whom the revolution does generate significant interest. One of the most interesting contributions is Project 1917, a daily evolving social network based on primary documents that is designed to acquaint visitors with what happened on a certain day one hundred years ago. Unlike many resources available, Project 1917 does not project forward. The website is designed to provide a real time focus, exploring events as they unfolded at the time from a huge variety of perspectives: everyone from the main revolutionary actors such as Lenin and Trotsky, to liberals such as Petr Struve and Sergei Bulgakov, and foreign observers such as the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour and German writer Thomas Mann. What Project 1917 manages to do successfully is to demonstrate the enormity of the number of people involved in the revolution, and the diversity of views on the panoply of events covered. Project 1917 is scrupulously maintained by a diverse team which includes journalists, historians, animators and illustrators, the great majority of whom are working within Russia. The website is generating a huge number of hits, millions of which are coming from within the Russian Federation. If there is a measure that 1917 continues to attract domestic attention, the care with which specialist resources are being constructed and their ability to engage the public are perhaps the best evidence of it.

Finally, what is the official stance towards 1917? Major media outlets are saying relatively little about 1917. Russia’s rulers have not traditionally been slow to grasp that major commemorations may have political uses, which makes the lack of activity marking the centenary of an event that changed the course of world history all the more conspicuous. In a break from his typical approach to pronouncement on historical matters, President Vladimir Putin has left such discussion to others. Looking to history the reasons for this are obvious. Revolutions aren’t just singular events: they pose a thorny and intractable problem about the stability of social and political orders. A mass revolution where power to the people was truly in evidence – if only for a short time – is a difficult topic. History is certainly a subject of serious interest to the current regime, but there is not one approach to interpreting the past that is currently predominating. Instead, what we have is something new that picks and chooses bits of both the imperial and Soviet pasts as desired, in the service of an ideology furthering the ends of resurgent Russian empire. It is in this context that both the official ideology of Russian conservatism and approaches to 1917 from on high need to be seen.

Revolution necessitates talk of insurgency and transformation – this is not the most evident narrative with which state power should wish to engage. Yet elsewhere we can see lively discussion of the potentialities of history and possibilities for change that any discussion of 1917 should evoke. Not only in this year, but in those to come the impacts of the dual revolutions can give people much pause for thought – both in Russia and elsewhere.

Dr George Gilbert is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Southampton and will be speaking at Chalke Valley History Festival for Schools about the 1917 Russian Revolution.

The Woman Who Saved the Children 

100 years ago this May, a courageous Shropshire-woman was arrested in Trafalgar Square. Eglantyne Jebb had been protesting about the starvation facing thousands of children inside Austria and Germany, countries that had been at war with Britain just a few months earlier. Appalled to learn that after the armistice, around 800 children were dying every week in Germany alone, Jebb was distributing hundreds of leaflets and posters, and some accounts mention her chalking up the pavements, a traditional suffragette tactic, with slogans such as ‘End the Blockade’, and ‘Fight the Famine.’ Anxious to avoid attention being drawn to their policy of continuing the economic blockade to Europe as a means of pushing through reparations, the British government had Jebb removed. This, it would turn out, was a strategic error. Jebb was not a woman to be hushed up.

Jebb knew that technically she had broken the law, yet she insisted on conducting her own legal defence. Focusing on the moral case, she gave the court reporters plenty to fill their columns with. The crown prosecutor is perhaps the only person in this story with a name to rival Jebb’s own. Sir Archibald Bodkin did not spare her in his condemnation. Once the guilty verdict had been passed, however, Sir Archibald handed Jebb at £5 note, the sum of her fine. Clearly, even for the prosecution, Jebb had won the moral case. 

The next morning the story was all over the papers. Capitalising on the publicity, Jebb and her sister, Dorothy Buxton, held a public meeting at the largest venue they could find, the Royal Albert Hall. Unfortunately, a sizeable number of the crowd brought rotten vegetables to throw at the ‘traitor sisters’ who wanted to give succour to ‘the enemy.’ Jebb silenced them all. ‘Surely it is impossible for us,’ she called out, ‘as normal human beings, to watch children starve to death, without making an effort to save them’. Immediately a collection was taken up around the hall. Together with the court prosecutor’s £5, this donation launched what Jebb called, the ‘Save the Children Fund.’ 

To mark the centenary of Save the Children, in May 2019 a new bronze bust of Eglantyne Jebb will be unveiled at the Royal Albert Hall, before being moved to Save the Children’s London head office. Award-winning sculptor Ian Wolter has donated his work for free, and the cost of the bronze is being covered by a generous private sponsor. My biography of Jebb, The Woman Who Saved the Children, winner of the Daily Mail Biographers’ Club Prize, is also being republished with a new introduction, and all author royalties are donated to the charity. 

Eglantyne Jebb was a brilliant woman, passionate and compassionate in equal measure. Happy to defy convention and break the law if required, she also wrote romantic novels, worked in a European war zone, and embarked on passionate affairs. 

When she set up Save the Children and later pioneered the concept of children’s human rights, which has since evolved into the UN Convention, Jebb permanently changed the way the world regards and treats children, yet she was never particularly comfortable around them, and never had any children of her own. Perhaps partly as a result, her remarkable story has been all but forgotten, yet her inspiring vision, decisions and actions still speak as loudly today as they did 100 years ago.

Award winning author, Clare Mulley will be at Chalke Valley History Festival 2019 to talk about Eglantyne Jebb, bringing to life this brilliant, charismatic, and passionate woman, whose work took her between drawing rooms and war zones, defying convention and breaking the law, until she won support from everyone from Welsh coal miners to the British aristocracy, and from the Pope to the Communist regime in Moscow. Tickets go on sale 30th April 2019.

Follow here @claremulley
Book trailer: Clare Mulley, Author of The Woman Who Saved the Children – YouTube

History’s Epic Warning

When Hitler’s death was announced on German radio in May 1945, it was accompanied by the fanfare of ‘Siegfried’s Death’ from Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungen. No wonder – Wagner was Hitler’s favourite composer, and the legends he poured into the Ring Cycle, that magnum opus of raven-winged warriors, fiery gods and Valkyries with long golden plaits, were the ‘national myth’ of Germany. Their most complete form is contained in the medieval epic known as the Nibelungenlied (composed around 1200AD), a tale of fierce warriors, prophetic river-maidens, a vengeful queen, a female warrior who cannot be defeated except by trickery and knights who slake their thirst with human blood. It’s a book of blood and thunder that makes Game of Thrones read like the adventures of Noddy. When I first read it, swiping the last page in a Rhineland eckkneipe with a glass of beer on the counter, I struggled to hold my drink because my hands were shaking. 

 These days, the Nibelungenlied has a growing resonance. Sidelined for decades, ‘relegated to the ivory towers of Germanic studies’ as the scholar Jan-Dirk Müller puts it, this powerful tale has been resurging in popular consciousness. Not only has it been re-claimed by right-wingers in Germany, cited in speeches by the Alternativ für Deutschland, it has also been re-imagined by poets and playwrights, examining the crises of today through its episodes. The epic’s climactic battle in the hall of Attila the Hun has a particular resonance for readers in 2019 Britain, with its breakdown of diplomatic protocol, its depiction of a disaster driven by a failure to negotiate: ‘The conflict could not reach a happy resolution,/ And so out of this breach there flowed blood-drenched pollution.’ Neither the obstinate German councillor, Hagen, nor his enemy, the grieving widow, Kriemhild, will allow themselves to bend. And so they surrender themselves and all their followers to catastrophe.

There is a lesson here. Hitler and company failed to heed it: they misread the Nibelungenlied as a stirring celebration of macho men-at-arms, the ‘heroic song’ cited by Goering to inspire the Wehrmacht at Stalingrad. But this mercurial, often disturbing tale is far more complicated than its political abusers appreciate. As the German playwright Albert Ostermaier told me, ‘it’s reflecting the madness of war… But a lot of people misunderstood it and they used it for their own purposes.’ This is a dark tale chipped out of the bitter rock-face of history, by an anonymous poet who lived through a deadly period of gory battles, court assassinations and diplomatic breakdowns. 

Characteristic of this epoch was Wolfgar von Erla, Bishop of Passau at the end of the twelfth century, who is speculatively cited by many scholars as the epic’s patron. He was a diplomat who campaigned for the release of Richard the Lionheart and petitioned the Pope to approve the Teutonic Knights, as well as a lover of poetry who favoured skilled minnesingers like Walther von der Vogelweide (author of the iconic song ‘Under the Linden Tree’). But he was also a ruthless wager of battles. One grisly siege he orchestrated, at Graben am Main in 1199, resulted in mass burnings, drownings, maimings and, according to a contemporary chronicle, choppings of noses and lips. This is the world depicted in the Nibelungenlied: juggling courtly graces with the savagery of battle.

It was a period of violent instability, and this is reflected in the epic. After the death of Frederick Barbarossa, en route to the Holy Land in 1190, a dispute emerged over the imperial crown, pitting the leading candidates Philip of Swabia and Otto of Brunswick against each other and culminating in the assassination of the former. Issues about hereditary rule, vassalage and feudal structures came to the fore, and these are reflected in the narrative of the Nibelungenlied, where the dominating crisis is initiated by a breach of protocol. As the scholar Edward P. Haymes has written, ‘Where does the way lead when the functions of order are turned around? The Nibelungen epic answers: to destruction.’

The Nibelungenlied was lost for centuries, rediscovered in the late eighteenth century in an Austrian library. It rapidly became a ‘national epic’, satisfying a need for stories to yoke together the disparate German-speaking principalities, duchies and states. A field edition was issued to soldiers in the Napoleonic wars, it was used as a recruiting tool for the First World War, and exploited in many different ways by the National Socialists. Yet still, for all the exploitation, there’s a thrilling story to be read, full of stark and powerful truths about human nature: a warning from history that shows what happens when political leaders fail to find the middle ground. Lessons, surely, that are worth us all heeding.

Nicholas Jubber moved to Jerusalem after graduating from Oxford University. He’d been working two weeks when the intifada broke out and he started travelling the Middle East and East Africa. He has written three previous books, The Timbuktu School for Nomads, The Prester Quest(winner of the Dolman Prize) and Drinking Arak Off an Ayatollah’s Beard (shortlisted for the Dolman Prize). He has written for the Guardian, Observer, and the Globe and Daily Mail.

Nicholas will be at Chalke Valley History Festival on Tuesday, 25th June to take us on a fascinating adventure through our continent’s most enduring epic poems to learn how they were shaped by their times, and how they have since shaped us, in ‘Epic Continent: Adventures in the Great Stories of Europe). Tickets go on sale 30th April!



Audio from Chalke Valley History Festival 2016.
Anna Keay tells the extraordinary story of Charles II’s adored bastard son, James Duke of Monmouth. Handsome, dashing, and both dissolute and daring, his was a tumultuous life, and one that culminated in the last battle fought on English soil and one of the most brutal and botched executions ever witnessed. In this talk, Anna Keay brings both new research and insight into one of the most fascinating characters of the Stuart Age.

The Patient Assassin

In February 2013, David Cameron became the first serving British prime minister to visit Jallianwala Bagh, a stone’s throw from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The dusty walled garden was the site of a brutal massacre on 13 April 1919 and, for Indians at least, it has come to represent the worst excesses of the Raj. On that day, a British officer, Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, hearing that an illegal political meeting was due to take place, ordered his men to open fire on around 20,000 innocent and unarmed men, women and children. The youngest victim was a six- month- old baby; the oldest was in his eighties.

The lieutenant governor of Punjab, a man named Sir Michael O’Dwyer, not only approved of the shootings, but spent much of the rest of his life praising the action and fortitude of his brigadier general. Sir Michael’s attitude, coupled with the behaviour of British soldiers in the weeks that followed, created a suppurating wound in the Indian psyche. The scar is still livid in the north of India to this day.

The number of people killed at Jallianwala Bagh has always been in dispute, with British estimates putting the dead at 379 with 1,100 wounded and Indian sources insisting that around 1,000 people were killed and more than 1,500 wounded. By his own admission, no order to disperse was given and Dyer’s soldiers fired 1,650 rounds in Jallianwala Bagh that day. He instructed them to aim into the thickest parts of the crowd, which happened to be by the perimeter, where desperate people were trying to scale walls to escape the bullets.

The configuration of the garden and the position of the troops meant civilians were trapped, much like fish in a barrel. The bloodbath, though appalling, could have been so much worse. Dyer later admitted that he would have used machine guns too if he had been able to drive his armoured cars through the
narrow entrance to the Bagh. He was seeking to teach the restive province a lesson. Punctuated by bullets, his message was clear. The Raj reigned supreme. Dissent would not be tolerated. The empire crushed those who defied it.

Ninety- four years later, laying a wreath of white gerberas at the foot of the towering red stone Martyrs’ Memorial in Amritsar, David Cameron bowed solemnly as India watched. In the visitors’ condolence book he wrote the following message: ‘This was a deeply shameful event in British history – one that Winston Churchill rightly described at the time as “monstrous”. We must never forget what happened here. And in remembering we must ensure that the United Kingdom stands up for the right of peaceful protest around the world.’
Though sympathetic, Cameron’s words fell short of the apology many Indians had been hoping for. The massacre was indeed monstrous, and I have grown up with its legacy. My grandfather, Ishwar Das Anand, was in the garden that day in 1919. By a quirk of fate, he left Jallianwala Bagh on an errand minutes before the firing started. He remembered Brigadier General Dyer’s convoy passing him in the street. When he returned, my grandfather found his friends, young men like him in their late teens, had been killed.

According to his children, Ishwar Das Anand suffered survivor’s guilt for the rest of his relatively short life. In his late forties, he would lose his sight, but tell his sons never to pity him: ‘God spared my life that day. It is only right that he take the light from my eyes.’ He never managed to reconcile why he had lived while so many others had not. He found it excruciatingly painful to talk about that day. He died too young. I never got the chance to know him.

The story of Jallianwala Bagh is tightly wound round my family’s DNA . Ironically, it is also woven into my husband’s family history, a fact we only realised years into our marriage. His forebears were pedlars from Punjab who came to settle in Britain in the 1930s. Bizarrely, one of them found himself living with a man
named Udham Singh. The happy- go- lucky Punjabi would turn out to be the ‘Patient Assassin’ of my new book, deified in India, the land of my ancestors, but largely unknown in Great Britain, the land of my birth.

Speaking to descendants of the pedlar community, which came to Britain in the early 1920s, helped me to understand their experience. They also helped to bring Udham Singh to life. Thanks to my parents, I grew up knowing the names of Reginald Dyer and Sir Michael O’Dwyer, but of course Udham Singh loomed
larger still. According to legend, he, like Ishwar Das Anand, was in the garden on the day of the massacre. Unlike my grandfather, he was not crushed by survivor’s guilt, but rather consumed by violent rage. We, like many Punjabis, were told how Udham, grabbing a clod of blood- soaked earth, squeezed it in his fist, vowing to avenge the dead. No matter how long it took him, no matter how far he would have to go, Udham would kill the men responsible for the carnage.
Twenty years later, Udham Singh would fulfil at least part of that bloody promise. He would shoot Sir Michael O’Dwyer through the heart at point- blank range in London, just a stone’s throw away from the Houses of Parliament. The moment he pulled the trigger, he became the most hated man in Britain, a hero to his countrymen in India, and a pawn in international politics. Joseph Goebbels himself would leap upon Udham’s story and use it for Nazi propaganda at the height of the Second World War.

In India today, Udham Singh is for many simply a hero, destined to right a terrible wrong. At the other extreme, there are those who traduce him as a Walter Mitty- type fantasist, blundering his way into the history books. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between; Udham was neither a saint, nor an accidental avenger. His story is far more interesting than that. Like a real- life Tom Ripley, Udham, a low- caste, barely literate orphan, spent the majority of his life becoming the ‘Patient Assassin’. Obsessed with avenging his countrymen and throwing out the British from his homeland, he inveigled his way into the
shadowy worlds of Indian militant nationalism, Russian Bolshevism and even found himself flirting with the Germans in the run- up to the Second World War. Anybody dedicated to the downfall of the British Empire had something to teach him, and he was hungry to learn.

Ambitious, tenacious and brave, Udham was also vain, careless and callous to those who loved him most. His footsteps have led me on a much longer, more convoluted journey than I ever anticipated. The diversity of sources and need to cross- reference hearsay has been challenging, but not the hardest thing about writing the book. I have also had to consciously distance myself from my own family history. For a while, the very names O’Dwyer and Dyer paralysed
me. We had been brought up fearing them. Only when I thought of O’Dwyer as ‘Michael’, the ardent Irish child growing up in Tipperary, or Dyer as ‘Rex’, the sensitive boy who cried over a dead monkey he once shot by accident, could I free myself to think about them as men, and even start to understand why they
did the things they did. It was the only way I could empathise with the situation they faced in 1919 and the years that followed.

Photograph of Udham Singh (executed 1940)

The same goes for Udham Singh. He had always been one of the pantheon of freedom fighters who had fought against tyranny. I blocked out the statues and stamps dedicated to his memory in India and refused to watch any representations of his legend in popular culture till my own work was complete. I needed to find the man beneath the myth and marble, and I knew I would not be able to do that if I became dazzled. Thousands of original documents guided
my way, and my search for the real Udham Singh led me to people who either had first- hand knowledge of him, or were repositories of stories from their parents and grandparents.

I found myself left with a surprisingly contemporary story, which resonates with the news I cover today. Udham’s is a story of dispossession and radicalisation, of ‘Russian interference’ and a realigning of world powers. It speaks of failures in the seemingly infallible security services. It is also the story of buried facts and ‘fake news’. I was left with a picture of one man’s very personal obsession wrongfooting some of the world’s most powerful players.

As to whether Udham really was in the garden the day of the massacre, a source of fierce contention in some quarters, only he knew for sure. What I can say with absolute certainty is that the British authorities were desperate to separate Udham’s assassination of Sir Michael O’Dwyer from the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The attendant propaganda surrounding a ‘revenge killing’ was the last thing they needed with so many Indian troops engaged on the side of the Allies in the war.
Whether he was there when the bullets started to fly or not, the massacre in Jallianwala Bagh was transformative for Udham Singh. He was both forged and destroyed by the events of 13 April 1919. The massacre became the catalyst turning him from a hopeless, faceless member of India’s oppressed masses into a man who would strike one of the most dramatic blows against the empire. Udham Singh dedicated his life to becoming a hero to his people, to freeing his country from the British. He would go to the gallows thinking he would lie forever forgotten in an unmarked grave in a foreign land. Though he would never know it, seven years after he was hanged, India would be free and his countrymen would declare him one of their greatest sons. They would fight to have his remains returned to them.

In 2018, a statue of Udham Singh was unveiled outside Jallianwala Bagh. It shows a man with a clod of presumably blood- heavy earth in his outstretched palm. Udham will forever stand watch over the garden. All who come to pay their respects in the garden will be forced to look up to him and remember what he did in their name.

Anita Anand is a political journalist who has presented television and radio programmes on the BBC for twenty years. She currently presents Any Answers on Radio 4. She is the critically acclaimed author of Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary and, with William Dalrymple, Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond, Anita’s new book The Patient Assassin was published by Simon & Schuster on 4th April.

Anita will be speaking about The Patient Assassin at Chalke Valley History Festival on Tuesday, 25th June 2019. Tickets go on sale 30th April.


Audio from Chalke Valley History Festival 2018.
For the United States, the First World War is ‘the forgotten war’. As yet it has no national memorial in Washington (although there are now plans to put that right). The distinguished military historian Professor Sir Hew Strachan not only addresses why that is the case, he also looks at why the United Kingdom was and remains dismissive of America’s contribution to eventual victory.


Audio from Chalke Valley History Festival 2018.
Recognised as an inspired and charismatic thinker ahead of his time, Oscar Wilde’s works are beloved around the world. But it was not always so. In this talk, Michèle Mendelssohn reveals the secrets behind his self-creation in Victorian England and post-Civil War America. A story that features a cast of lurid characters and is set against a backdrop of racial controversies, sex scandals, and the rising power of Irish nationalism.


Portrait from the studio of Anthony van Dyck, 1636

In December 1641 Charles I prepared a fight-back against the populists who were using parliament to strip him of his powers. He hoped to gain the upper hand in THIRTY DAYS.  In the New Year of January 1642 the claims made by his enemies that they spoke for the people would be exposed as a lie. They would be tried and executed as traitors, and he would save his crown. 

The King’s supporters held a majority in the House of Lords. His enemies dominated the Commons. But they owed their majority to intimidation, with demonstrations keeping moderate MPs away. Charles’s plan was to force these moderates back.  To achieve this On 12 December a royal proclamation summoned ‘all members of both Houses of Parliament’ to return to Westminster by 12 January. 

The clock was now set ticking: on 12 January it would be clear if Charles could still rule England, or not. 

The irony was that divisions of 1641 owed much to King Charles’s efforts to ensure the opposite – consensus. His ambition was for his three kingdoms to practice the same moderate form of Protestantism, represented by the Church of England, which he judged to be ‘the best in the world’. But when, in 1637, Charles had tried to impose an English style Prayer Book on the Presbyterian Scots, who practiced a purer form of Calvinist Protestantism, it had led to riot, then rebellion and then war. 

The Scots rebels had formed a secret alliance with some of Charles’s leading opponents from the ‘Puritan’ party in England, who also preferred a more stripped down Calvinist Protestantism than Charles did, and in 1640 the Scots had invaded England. 

Charles had been obliged to call parliament to pay the Scots to leave, and his enemies had come to dominate it. They had achieved this by using the principle weapon of any populist politician – fear. They claimed that England faced a Roman-Catholic takeover and tyranny, from which only they could save its people. This ruling group, led by figures such as the ‘popular Lord’ Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick, and the Puritan MP John Pym, was now known as ‘The Junto’.  

John Pym MP

They had warned that the king, who had ruled without parliament for eleven years, could not be trusted to keep Protestantism safe. They said his leading servants, even the Catholic bashing former Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Wentworth Earl of Strafford, were in league with the Counter Reformation. They pointed to his Catholic wife, Henrietta Maria, and ancient prejudices about the seductive power of women made their claim that her influence was over-powerful the more believable. 

In the summer of 1641 MPs had had Strafford executed as a traitor by Act of parliament and Charles had been forced to make a humiliating peace with the Scots. 

Increasingly, however, there was a sense amongst moderate MPs that the king had conceded enough. He was obliged under the Triennial Act to call parliament every three years, and ‘innovations’ in the Church of England, that allowed un-Calvinsit additions like religious imagery and organs, were being rooted out.

The Junto tried to keep up the pressure, fanning the flames of fear, executing Catholic priests simply for the crime of being priests in England, in order to heighten the sense of threat. But moderates feared the Junto was becoming a potential oligarchy. Pym was sarcastically labelled ‘King Pym’. The Junto looked power hungry and many moderates feared the Junto were allied to extremists who threatened the social order,  as well as the Church of England they had grown up with.

Then, the Junto had a stroke of luck. That October 1641, Charles’s third kingdom – Ireland – had risen in a rebellion. 

The Irish Catholics wanted Charles to give them the same religious freedom he had granted the Presbyterians, and protect them from the anti-Catholic hatred of the Puritans and the Scots. But the rebellion had provoked vicious sectarian killing between the Catholic natives and Protestant settlers. This was a gift to the Junto’s propaganda. They used the fast moving new media of pamphlets and newssheets to spread atrocity stories from Ireland and so ramp up their Project Fear.  

Images of the babies of English Protestant settlers impaled on pitchforks were mass printed. Puritan preachers played the role of Shock Jocks, spinning tales of families burned in their homes. The numbers of victims quoted amounted to more than the entire Protestant population of Ireland.   

Meanwhile Henrietta Maria was trolled as the hate figure behind the rebellion. And again it was implied that the king could not be trusted. The truth behind these  ‘alternative facts’ was that Charles wished impose the same moderate Protestantism on Ireland, as he did in Scotland. He was as determined to crush the Irish rebels as the Junto. 

To this end an English army had to be raised – but the question was, who would control this army?  Armies were always raised in the name of the king, and the Junto feared that once Charles had defeated the Irish, he would use his army against them.  To save their lives they needed to reduce him to being their puppet. 

So, at the house of Warwick’s brother, Henry Rich, Earl of Holland, the Junto was plotting a means of raising an army that would be loyal to their wishes. Amongst the regular attendees a beautiful cousin of the Rich brothers: Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle. She had been a friend of the executed royal servant, the Earl of Strafford, and remained a favorite lady in waiting to Henrietta Maria.  

Lucy was a spy, but for which side was not yet clear. 

The Junto’s plan was to pass an impressment bill through parliament that would allow them to raise an army of draftees, who would fight in Ireland under their own hand-picked officers. To achieve this they first needed to remove the king’s majority in the Lords. THEN THEY NEEDED TO STOP THE MODERATES ATTENDING THE COMMONS, AS THE KING HAD ORDERED ON 12TH DECEMBER.

TICK TOCK: On 15 December, three days after Charles had issued his proclamation summoning MPs to London, the Junto ordered the printing of their ‘Grand Remonstrance’: a protest document drawn up by Pym. It showed that religion, liberties and law had to be defended together against a Popish plan to destroy Protestantism. The ‘actors and promoters’ of this threat included the Church of England’s bishops – on whom the king’s majority in the Lords depended

The publication had an immediate effect on the Common Council elections to the governing body of the City of London taking place on 21 December. Royalist councilors lost their seats to supporters of the Junto, giving the Junto control not just of the Council but also potentially of the City’s 8000 strong militia. Charles needed urgently to restore his ability to keep order in London. 

The following day, 22 December, Charles replaced the pro Junto Lieutenant of the Tower with his own candidate, Thomas Lunsford. The great fortress and its cannon would allow him to over-awe Londoners. But Lunsford was a hated figure, who liked to boast that he was ‘fierce enough to eat children’. Mobs of ‘factious citizens’, organized by City radicals in league with the Junto, descended on parliament ‘with their swords by their sides’. Charles tried to lower the temperature by replacing Lunsford with a less controversial figure, but it was too late. 

From Christmas Eve, 24 December, to Boxing Day 26 December, the riots continued and worsened. On 27 December, when the Archbishop of York, John Williams, got out of his coach at Westminster he had to fight off thugs with his fists. The Junto’s orchestrated violence had made it unsafe for any bishops to now attend the Lords – and so the royalist majority in the Upper House was lost. 

As moderate MPs had not yet answered Charles summons to attend parliament, the Junto were now free to push through the impressment bill, and strip Charles of the last of his powers. 

The king’s supporters had, however, begun to flood into London. On 29 December there were blows at Whitehall between Junto supporting ‘citizens carrying clubs and swords’ and royalist ‘gentlemen of the Court, who went over the rails striking at them with drawn swords’.  Civil war was growing ever closer.

The next day, 30 December, Archbishop Williams urgently petitioned the king for a suspension of parliamentary business, arguing that without the bishops the Lords was no longer properly constituted. This would have ensured the business of legislation would have stopped.  But that same night the Junto-packed Commons had ten of the twelve petitioner bishops arrested and imprisoned.

With Charles’s rule set to be dismantled long before the 12 January deadline he made a last ditch effort to reach out to his enemies. On I January he offered Pym the coveted post of Chancellor of the Exchequer.  ‘King’ Pym turned him down. 

Something drastic had to be done.  TIME WAS RUNNING OUT FOR CHARLES.

On 3 January king decided he would use the parliamentary process of impeachment to charge six of the Junto with acts of treason.   They included five members of the Commons: Pym, amongst them. The one peer, Viscount Mandeville, was Warwick’s son in law. Warwick himself was too powerful to be arrested just yet. But Charles hoped the legal proceedings against the six accused would clog up parliamentary business until the vital 12 January date.  

Instead, the House of Lords appointed a committee to decide if the charges were lawful. And, when the king’s Sergeant at Arms arrived at the Commons to arrest the five members, he was turned away. 

The Junto now struck as close to the king as they dared.  That night, news reached Charles that parliament was to deprive the queen of most of her household clergy. Henrietta Maria believed this was the prelude to her own arrest. 

Someone had told her the Queen of a plan laid at Holland’s house months earlier to hold her and the children hostage to the king’s actions, if it proved necessary. The informant may have been her friend, Lucy Carlisle. She had heard too that it was being said that a ‘queen was only a subject’: as such she could be executed on trumped up charges of aiding Irish rebels. 

She now believed that unless Charles intervened personally to have the five MPs were arrested, she would have to flee England forever.   ‘Pull those rogues out by the ears’ she warned Charles, or ‘never see my face more!’ Others also urged Charles to act. 

At ten pm Charles ordered that the canon at the Tower be armed and made ready to overawe the capital.  

The attempted arrest of the “Five members” by Charles I in 1642, painting in the Lord’s Corridor, Houses of Parliament, by Charles West Cope

London was eerily quiet the next morning, 4 January. TICK TOCK. At three o’clock in the afternoon, Charles emerged from his quarters at Whitehall. He called out to the multitude of armed royalist gentry who were standing around:  “follow me my most loyal liege men and soldiers’.  As they walked behind him he commandeered a carriage off a man in the street. He asked to be taken to parliament. 

MPs may have ignored the arrest warrant for the five members delivered by Charles’s Sergeant of Arms.  Charles had been persuaded they could not ignore an order from his own mouth. Henrietta Maria agreed, and told Lucy Carlisle that the king was poised to reclaim his realm, ‘for Pym and his confederates are arrested before now’. 

What the queen did not know was that Lucy had betrayed them the previous night, sending a message to Pym.  She liked to be close to power and had over the past few months become ‘King’ Pym’s intimate friend – some said his lover. 

Now, as the king’s carriage rumbled down the street, followed by four or five hundred armed men, a Junto supporter in the crowd ran ahead to warn the Commons. The five MPs fled the Commons Chamber and hid in the neighbouring Court of the King’s Bench.  At that same moment Charles’s cavaliers entered Westminster Hall and lined up on either side of the long room in order for the king to pass through between them. 

The MPs sitting in the Commons Chamber heard the clatter as the king came up the stairs, followed by his men. 

The MPs who remained seated could then see the king standing in the door, and behind a crush of soldiers. One held a pistol in his hand, already cocked. A false move and there would be blood on the floor of the Commons.

Charles walked centre stage to the Speakers Chair and addressed his MPs, who sat in stunned silence. He requested the five members be given up, looking around hoping to spot where they were.  ‘I do not see any of them’, he said, ‘I think I should know them’. There was nothing left to do but leave.  The humiliation was evident as Charles walked out.

The silence gave way to shouts of “Privilege! Privilege!”:  a reminder of the free rights of the Commons, the angry voices pursued him all the way down the stairs .  

Two days later, on 7 January, a petition was delivered to the king from the City Council, informing Charles that the fears prompted by the rebellion in Ireland, ‘were exceedingly increased by his Majesty’s late going into the House of Commons, attended by a great multitude of armed men’. As one royalist recalled sadly,  ‘All that [the Junto] had ever said of plots and conspiracies against Parliament, which had before been laughed at, [was] now thought true and real’. 

Henrietta Maria was blamed for the attempted arrests of the five members, and Charles, fearing for his family, informed the Junto that they would leave London.  Holland tried to persuade Charles to stay, while Lucy Carlisle spoke to Henrietta Maria. 

Lucy was now open in her support for the Junto to whom she had been communicating, ‘all she knew and more of the dispositions of the king and queen’. Nevertheless her advice to stay in London was worth listening to. Abandoning the ‘seat and centre’ of Charles’s empire, as they now did, was to prove a major error. 

The royal family left Whitehall on Monday 10 January, travelling by barge to Hampton Court. There the king of England arrived in a ‘most disconsolate, perplexed condition’. 

The cold at Hampton Court was bitter and there were few beds made up. Charles, Henrietta Maria and their young children, aged six months to ten years, slept together. There was surely some comfort in the warmth of their bodies against each other on that January night. Soon they would be separated forever and England would be in civil war. 

The moderate MPs that Charles had summoned on 12 December had never come, and the 12 January deadline had not been reached. Instead twenty-eight days later the game was up. 

King Charles would not see London again for seven years, and then only to face his trial. By then parliament had consumed its ‘own and everything the moderates feared had come to pass. The Lords was abolished and the Commons purged by the Puritan New Model Army.  Their king had lost his crown and it was as Charles Stuart, ‘traitor to the people’, that he would lose his head.

This article is the inspiration behind a 3 part BBC4 documentary coming out July/August 2019, provisionally titled Downfall and is also available as a podcast: Listen to Downfall: The Thirty Days that lost a King His Crown from 10 Minute Tudors 

Leanda de Lisle is the highly acclaimed author of three books on the Tudors and Stuarts, including the bestselling The Sisters Who Would Be Queen and Tudor: The Family Story and White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr, this years winner of the Historical Writers Association non-fiction crown. A former weekly columnist on the Spectator, Guardian and Daily Express, she contributes to numerous national publications. 

She will be speaking about Charles I at Chalke Valley History Festival this summer – tickets go on sale 30th April 2019.

🎧 Into The White: Scott’s Antartic Odyssey

Joanna Grochowicz will tell the enthralling story of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. It contains all the elements of a true epic – storms at sea, impenetrable pack ices, man-eating whales, crevasses, blizzards, extreme temperatures, ferocious dogs and shaggy ponies. Primarily it is the story of courage, of a group of men who never gave up on their mission, or on each other.