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Archive for the ‘English History’ Category

On May 28, 1588, the ill-fated Spanish Armada started sailing out of Lisbon, heading for the English Channel. The fleet, which consisted of 151 ships, 8,000 sailors, and 18,000 soldiers, was so huge it took two days for the whole thing to make its way out of Lisbon. The English attempted some last-minute diplomacy, but when that failed they battened down the hatches and sent their own, less well equipped fleet, to wait for the Spanish to arrive in Plymouth. Although the English had more ships, they had only half the firepower of the Spanish.

The Armada hit bad weather that forced five of its larger ships to leave the fleet, and they didn’t come within sight of England until July 19, when the Armada was sighted off Cornwall. The news was quickly relayed to London through a series of beacons, but the English fleet was trapped in Plymouth by the tide and couldn’t leave to engage the Spanish. Some of the Spanish commanders hoped to ride into Plymouth on the tide and incapacitate the English ships while they rode at anchor, but King Philip of Spain had forbidden such an action, so the fleet continued toward the Isle of Wight. As the tide turned, 55 English ships left Plymouth under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham and Sir Francis Drake.

The English engaged the Armada on July 21 near the Eddystone Rocks. The Spanish, with their superior firepower, would have the advantage in close-quarter fighting, but the English ships were faster and more agile, a fact they used to their advantage as they bombarded the Spanish from a distance. The day resulted in a draw, although the Spanish were forced to abandon two ships after they collided. Drake looted them for gunpowder and gold, but while doing so, he failed to guide the rest of the English fleet, which ended up scattered and in complete disarray by daybreak. It took them an entire day to regroup, but their speed allowed them to catch up with the Spanish relatively quickly. The two fleets engaged again on July 23, but once again nothing was decided.

The Spanish made their way to Calais in an attempt to pick up an army of 16,000 men led by the Duke of Parma. The army was not prepared to depart, so the Armada was forced to wait for them, leaving the fleet vulnerable. The English took advantage of this by sending eight fireships in amongst the tightly packed Armada vessels. Most of the ships scattered in a panic, and the English closed in, ready for battle.

The two fleets meet again near Gravelines, part of Flanders in the Spanish Netherlands. The English managed to provoke the Spanish into firing, even though the English ships were still out of range. The English fleet then closed in, firing away and damaging many of the Spanish ships. The Spanish lost many of their gunners, and the other soldiers didn’t know how to operate the complex cannons, effectively taking most of them out of the conflict. After eight hours of fierce fighting, the English ships began to run out of ammunition. By 4 p.m., they were forced to pull back. The Spanish lost five ships, and several others were severely damaged.

Despite having almost no ammunition, the English pursued the Armada all the way up to the Firth of Forth in Scotland. By then, the Spanish were suffering from exhaustion and thirst and had no choice but to return to Spain by a very hazardous route.

By September, the Armanda had managed to sail around Scotland and was in the North Atlantic, near Ireland. The ships were battered after their long journey—some only made it because their hulls were literally tied together with cables. The Gulf Stream carried the fleet closer to the coast than they planned, and they were caught in powerful gales that drove many of the ships onto the coastal rocks. Many sailors who weren’t killed by the ships hitting the rocks died of cold in the unusually chilly storms. More than 5,000 men were lost during the gales, and only half of the Armada made it back to Spain. A mere 10,000 men returned to Spain, and many of them were near death from disease, so casualties were even higher after their return home. The English lost a grand total of 50-100 men, with 400 wounded. Not a single one of their ships were sunk.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada marked the rise of England and the beginning of the decline of the mighty Spanish empire. It was also a significant turning point in the history of naval warfare, as gunnery became more important. The Armada’s defeat fed the legend of Queen Elizabeth, who was on hand to bolster the spirits of her troops waiting on shore for a Spanish land invasion that never came, and it’s thought that the defeat also gave heart to the Protestant movement across Europe, as many Protestants believed God himself had intervened to scatter the Armada and save England.

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athelhampton-1This Week’s Question:

What’s unusual about one of the ghosts said to haunt Athelhampton House in Dorchester?

Previous Question:

Sir Thomas More is credited with coining what idealistic word?

Answer:  Kate Whitlaw and dewey are correct: More coined the term ‘utopia’ when he wrote his famous treatise on the ideal kingdom (though your mileage may vary on that). Well done, guys!

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Spencer Perceval is not one of Britain’s better known prime ministers. In fact, he’s really only notable for one reason: the poor man holds the dubious distinction of being the only British prime minister to have been assassinated. He was shot by John Belingham, a failed businessman who was found guilty of the crime and hanged on May 18, 1812.

Bellingham, as you might imagine, was a sketchy figure at best. He tried a few professions, including the navy and factory ownership, and seems to have failed at all of them. In 1803 he was accused of insurance fraud and imprisoned in Russia (which, if you have a choice, is definitely not a country you want to be imprisoned in). He was released at some point, and promptly managed to piss off the wrong person and was thrown in prison again, where he remained until 1808. He was finally able to get back to England in 1809.

Once he was home, Bellingham petitioned the UK government for compensation for his imprisonment. The government ignored him, and although his wife warned him to drop the matter, he ignored her and kept pressing. Failing to get any satisfaction, he decided the best course of action would be to shoot the prime minister. He purchased a couple of guns and had his tailors sew some nifty gun-toting pockets into his coat.

On 11 May, Bellingham went with some family friends to a watercolor exhibition, then excused himself and headed to Parliament. He hung around the lobby until Perceval appeared, then shot the PM and sat down and calmly waited for capture.

Since he was clearly crazy, they wasted no time getting him to trial. The trial began on 15 May, with Bellingham arguing that he was entitled, as a wronged man, to kill the representative of his oppressors. He did add, though, that he would have preferred to kill the Russian Ambassador, as if that would somehow make things better.

A number of people came forward to claim that Bellingham was insane (as if that wasn’t already clear), but the trial judge discounted this evidence and quickly handed down his sentence. Bellingham was duly hanged; his widow swiftly remarried, probably happy to put that particular name behind her forever.

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On May 13, 1515, Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor, Queen of France, were officially married at Greenwich Palace, more than two months after marrying in secret in France following the death of Mary’s first husband, the French King Louis XII.

Mary, who was extremely close to her elder brother, Henry VIII, was reputed to be one of the most beautiful princesses in Europe. Her marriage to 52-year-old Louis was brokered by Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s right-hand man, and she was not happy about it at all. Nonetheless, she married the king in October 1514, when she was 18 years old. One of her maids of honor was Anne Boleyn, her future sister-in-law. The marriage lasted all of three months; Louis died on January 1, 1515, allegedly worn out from his exertions in the bedchamber.

Mary had been in love with Charles Brandon, the first Duke of Suffolk, since before her marriage to Louis took place. Henry allegedly knew of her true feelings but wanted her marriage to be politically advantageous to her. He nevertheless sent Brandon to France to fetch Mary home in late January 1515, making the duke promise not to propose to her. Charles ignored his promise and married Mary on March 3, technically committing treason by marrying a royal princess without the king’s consent. Henry was outraged when he received the news, and only Wolsey’s interference saved Brandon’s head. Instead of being arrested or executed, Brandon was made to pay a hefty fine.

The Brandons had four children, and she spent most of her time in the country, especially after she and Henry fell out in the 1520s over his decision to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. She died in 1533 at the age of 37, and her husband went on to marry 14-year-old Catherine Willoughby. Her two sons died young as well, but one of her daughters, Frances, married Henry Grey, 3rd Marquess of Dorset, and was mother to the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey.

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Bert MiddletonPreviously on The Village: Joe came home, seriously shell-shocked, which ended with him getting shot for desertion.

Old Bert watches video of the village’s World War I memorial being dismantled while he recalls the day and how the villagers insisted on being the ones to do it. Please tell me they reconstructed it. I mean, who the hell just takes down a war memorial like that? That seems so terribly wrong to me.

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Shell-shocked Joe MiddletonPreviously on The Village: Joe had a rough time of it at the Front, Caro got an icky new doctor, and John found God.

Old Bert fingers a marble, starts to talk about Joe getting ready to go back to the Front, and then drops the marble (he’s losing his marbles!) The music starts to get a bit concerned.

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King-James-Version-Bible-first-edition-title-page-1611This Week’s Question:

What was the name of the man who printed and published the first authorised edition of the King James Bible on 2 May 1611?

Last Week’s Question:

The man known as ‘the father of English local history and bibliography’ died on this day in 1552. What was his name?

Answer:  His name was John Leyland, a poet and antiquary who introduced the county as the basic unit for studying local history. He was born in London around 1503, educated at St Paul’s School and Christ’s College, Cambridge, and later served the 2nd Duke of Norfolk before becoming a fellow at All Souls College for a time. He became friends first with Cardinal Wolsey, and then with Thomas Cromwell, which is probably how he became one of Henry VIII’s chaplains.

Starting in 1533, Leyland began exploring the libraries of various monasteries, taking note of their significant works. As monasteries were dissolved in the 1530s, an alarmed Leyland wrote to Cromwell, begging for help in rescuing the books. Many of them were saved, and his travelling experiences sparked his interest in local history and topography. He began travelling extensively, noting archaelogical remains, possibly creating the very first archaelogical field report. He was also instrumental in helping to preserve the legend of King Arthur.

Sadly, Leland became insane in the late 1540s, dying in 1552. His books were given to a courtier, Sir John Cheke, and those that could be recovered 100 years later were placed in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Today, intrepid explorers can take the Leland Trail, a 28-mile footpath that follows Lenland’s steps as he travelled through South Somerset between 1535 and 1543.

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