Posts Tagged ‘England’

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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In 1777, in the midst of the American Revolution, General George Washington led his army of about 11,000 men to Valley Forge, PA to camp for the winter. For many of them, it was the worst Christmas ever. Inadequate clothing and supplies, coupled with wet weather, meant the men were underfed, cold, and oftentimes sick. As many as 2,000 men are said to have died from typhoid, jaundice, dysentery, and pneumonia.

In 1843, Charles Dickens published the classic story A Christmas Carol, which taught us all the importance of generosity and the uselessness of locking doors against supernatural beings. Dozens of subsequent adaptations have ranged from the highly faithful (A Christmas Carol) to the fun and awesome (The Muppet Christmas Carol) to the completely stupid (Barbie in A Christmas Carol).

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On 10 September 1547, the English and Scottish armies met near Musselburgh, outside Edinburgh for their last pitched battle: the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. It’s viewed as the first modern battle in the British Isles, being fought between a medieval and a Renaissance army, and was a crushing defeat for Scotland, where it became known as Black Saturday.

Pinkie Cleugh came at the end of what was known as “The Rough Wooing,” a series of conflicts in which Henry VIII (and, later, his son Edward VI) tried to force the young Mary, Queen of Scots into a marriage alliance with Edward.

The English army was led by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England. Along with the traditional English longbowmen, he had several hundred German mercenaries and a well-equipped artillery train, as well as 6,000 cavalry. In all, his army numbered nearly 17,000 men.

The Scots managed to pull together 22 or 23,000 men under the Earl of Arran, but the bulk of the Scots army was pikemen and Highland archers. They arranged themselves on the west bank of the River Esk, with the Firth of Forth on their left flank.

The night before the battle, the Earl of Home led 1500 horsemen to the English encampment and challenged the English cavalry to a fight. Lord Grey accepted and his 1000 heavily armoured men-at-arms and 500 lighter demi-lancers destroyed the Scottish horsemen and pursued them west for three miles, costing Arran most of his cavalry.

Knowing he was outgunned, Arran got his men moving on 10 September in an attempt to force close combat before the English could get their artillery in place. Unfortunately, moving meant that the army could no longer be protected by their embedded guns, which made them vulnerable to fire from Somerset’s ships offshore. The left wing was thrown into disarray, while Somerset’s cavalry attacked the right. It didn’t take long for the Scots lines to break, and many retreating Scots drowned in the Esk or the nearby bogs. It’s estimated that about 6,000 Scots were killed, while the English only lost between 200 and 500 men.

The Scots had been beaten, but they were not defeated. Still, they refused to come to terms with the English, and little Queen Mary was swiftly smuggled out of the country to be raised in France and engaged to the young dauphin. Somerset occupied several strongholds north of the border, but just sitting around in Scotland was becoming a huge drain on the treasury. Though there were further skirmishes over the next couple of years, hostilities ceased with the signing of several treaties in 1550.

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Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the joining of two countries. As Princess Margaret Tudor marries King James IV, England and Scotland are united and shall remain so forevermore.


Well, no. That certainly was the idea behind Margaret’s marriage to James, which took place on August 8, 1503, the day after she arrived in Edinburgh, but as we all know, the friendship didn’t last. In fact, the treaty started to fall apart soon after the death of Margaret’s father, Henry VII, in 1509. The new king, Margaret’s brother, Henry VIII, was young and brash where his father had been cautious and diplomatic. Before long, he was headed for a war with France, Scotland’s old ally. So, James invaded England in 1513 to honor his commitment to the Auld Alliance with France. He wound up getting himself killed at the Battle of Flodden, leaving yet another underage Stuart king: one-year-old James V (the kings of Scotland had a disturbing habit of dying young and leaving incredibly young heirs to rule).

Margaret, who understandably opposed the war, was named regent for as long as she remained a widow. Naturally, her appointment wasn’t met with cheers across the board, since she was a) English, and b) a woman. A pro-French party quickly formed within the nobility, angling to replace her with the Duke of Albany, James V’s closest male relative (who was also third in line to the throne—no conflict of interest there!) Albany had also been born and raised in France and was a big fan of the Auld Alliance.

Proving that having breasts doesn’t mean you can’t be a good leader, Margaret steered her way through the political quagmire and, somehow, managed to reconcile the opposing parties within Scotland, remain friends with France, and make peace with England. Which pretty much made her a better politician than any of the dukes and kings she was dealing with, who were more interested in battlefield glory than doing what might be best for their countries.

Unfortunately, Margaret made the same mistake her granddaughter, Mary, Queen of Scots would make: she fell in love with and married a worthless idiot. In her case, it was Archibald Douglas, the Earl of Angus, whose own uncle called him a “young, witless fool.” She secretly married him on August 6, 1514, less than a year after her husband’s death. When word got out, it alienated the other noble houses and strengthened the pro-French faction at court. The marriage also meant she was no longer permitted to act as regent; before the month was out she had to hand over the reins to the Duke of Albany. The Privy Council also attempted to remove her sons from her protection, but she wouldn’t hear of it and took the young princes to Stirling Castle.

Albany finally got around to arriving in the country he was supposed to be ruling in May 1515, and he immediately set about getting custody of James and his younger brother Alexander. Margaret was forced to surrender and hand the boys over in August. Her brother kept urging her to flee to England with the boys, but she refused, afraid that such a move might deprive James of his crown. She, however, did head south to England herself, and there she gave birth to Lady Margaret Douglas, the future mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Mary of Scotland’s crappy spouse. Clearly dumbassary ran in the family.

After a year in England (during which she stopped for a while in London to hang out with Henry), Margaret headed back to Scotland, following a treaty of reconciliation that was worked out by Albany, Henry, and Henry’s right-hand man, Cardinal Wolsey. Although Margaret was restored to her son, she was not able to reconcile with her husband, who had abandoned her to go join Albany’s side. He’d also spent the past year living with another woman, on his wife’s dime. Margaret started to consider divorce, even as she herself started to draw closer to Albany, who was once again in France, renewing the Auld Alliance. Albany, reluctant to abandon the pleasures of France for the wind, rain, and oatcake-based diet of Scotland, suggested she resume the regency.

Albany finally returned to Scotland in 1521, and the enthusiasm with which he was received by Margaret raised several eyebrows throughout the court. Margaret’s husband was sent into exile, and Albany lent his assistance in helping Margaret obtain a divorce, which she finally did in 1527. By that time, she’d executed a successful coup d’état while Albany was away in France, bringing her 12-year-old son to Edinburgh, where the Parliament obligingly declared the regency over. Although young James officially had his full kingly powers, he’d still very much be controlled by his mother, who was named his chief councilor.

Her divorce finalized, Margaret married her third husband, Henry Stewart, in March 1528. Just a few months later, James began to rule more strongly on his own, though his mother and new stepfather were his leading advisors. Margaret used her position to try and bring Scotland and England closer together—it’s even said she favored a marriage between her son and niece, Princess Mary, although that obviously came to nothing. The continued resistance she met on that front—even from her own son—and her new husband’s constant cheating led her to declare in the 1530’s that she was “weary of Scotland.” Things improved a bit when Marie de Guise, James’s French bride, arrived in Scotland in 1538. The two ladies hit it off, and Marie made sure her mother-in-law was regularly welcomed at court.

Margaret died after suffering a stroke on October 18, 1541. Despite her wish that her personal effects be given to her daughter, Margaret, James took them all himself. Although England and Scotland continued to squabble for more than a half century more, when Elizabeth I died, the throne went to James VI, Margaret’s great-grandson, whose claim was all down to her. So, in a sense, she really did bring England and Scotland together after all.

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Putting aside many years of animosity, the Commissioners of Queen Elizabeth I, the Scottish Lords of the Congregation, and representatives of Francis II of France drafted the Treaty of Edinburgh on 5 July 1560, concluding the Siege of Leith and replacing the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland with a new Anglo-Scottish accord.

The English army came to Scotland at the invitation of the Protestant Lords of the Congregation, who wanted the French Catholic regent, Mary of Guise, and her French troops gone. With the army approaching, Mary reinforced the town and port of Leith, which then found itself under siege. The Treaty of Edinburgh (also known as the Treaty of Leith) was completed about a month after Mary of Guise’s death and ended the siege. Fortifications at Leith, Inchkeith, and Dunbar Castle were also removed, and the French troops departed.

One person who was not happy with the treaty was the actual Queen of Scotland, Mary, who was also Queen of France at the time. She would be under pressure to accept and ratify the treaty until her death in 1587. She refused to do so up to the very end.

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Can’t win ‘em all. On 19 June 1586, colonists at Roanoake in modern-day Virginia packed it in and went home with Sir Francis Drake after failing to establish a permanent colony on the island.

The original settlers were part of an expedition that set out from Plymouth, England in April 1585. The ships involved were supposed to explore the North American coastline, which they did, though they managed to upset some of the Roanoake locals when they accused natives of the village of Aquascogoc of stealing a silver cup. Never mind that the accusation makes little sense, since Native Americans had very little use for silver at the time; the village was burned to the ground and resentment started to seethe. Despite this, Sir Richard Grenville, chose to leave Ralph Lane and 107 men to establish a colony at the north end of Roanoake Island. Grenville and the remaining men headed back to England for more men and supplies.

The settlers built a fort and started exploring the area. However, they were short on supplies and Grenville failed to arrive when he was expected. And the pissed-off natives finally mounted an attack, which the settlers managed to repel. Still, things weren’t looking too good. In June, Sir Francis Drake swung by on his way home from the Caribbean and offered to take the colonists to England with him. They agreed, taking along tobacco, maize, and potatoes to show the English. The relief fleet arrived at the abandoned colony shortly after their departure.

Roanoake seemed to be somewhat cursed. The men from the relief fleet all died or disappeared, and a group of 115 colonists led by John White vanished completely (and famously) in 1588, becoming known as the Lost Colony of Roanoke (though they probably weren’t lost at all; it’s likely they all decamped to the nearby island of Croatoan).

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Call the Midwife title cardLondon, 1957. Jenny Lee, our main character, makes her way through the East End with a big suitcase, looking around and ignoring catcalls. In voiceover, Vanessa Redgrave tells us that she could have been a model, or a pianist, or something else equally glamorous, but instead she chose to become a midwife and head to the poorest area of the city, for some as yet undefined reason. As she approaches her destination, she comes across two women catfighting. It seems that the woman who has the upper hand has been stepping out with the other one’s husband. The neighbors gather to cheer, and finally a few bobbies appear and try to break it up. They continue fighting until a fierce-looking nun busts in and loudly asks which one is her patient. Wronged wife stands up and we can see she’s pretty preggo. Nun shakes her head, unsurprised either that this woman, Pearl Winston, is fighting or knocked up. Nun marches Pearl inside as Vanessa tells us that midwifery is the very stuff of life and midwives see it all. Thanks for giving us the reason for this show at the start—makes my job easier!


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This Week’s Question:

Prince Albert Edward and the Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon were married on April 25, 1923. How many times did Albert propose before she accepted?

Last Week’s Question:

The Treaty of London, signed on April 19, 1839, established which European kingdom?

Answer: Belgium! The 1839 Treaty of London was a follow-up to the 1831 Treaty of the XXIV Articles, which the Netherlands refused to sign. With the Netherlands finally on board, the European powers finally recognized and guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium and also confirmed the independence of the German-speaking part of Luxembourg. All Belgium had to do was remain perpetually neutral, and in return, Britain promised to look out for it. They’d seriously regret that promise after the Germans invaded in 1914, forcing Britain to enter World War I. Belgium also dumped that neutrality thing, not that anyone blamed them. Still, the country got pretty trashed during the war, but they got a couple of former German colonies and the first postwar Olympic Games to help make up for it. They tried to go back to neutrality, but Germany stomped all over it once again in 1939, and that was the end of that.

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A martial Germany glares at John Bull, taking off with Marianne

After centuries of antagonistic relations (to say the least), Britain and France finally buried the hatchet with the signing of the Entente Cordiale on April 8, 1904. The Entente was a series of agreements that basically carved up giant chunks of Africa between the two nations: England got to keep meddling in Egypt and wouldn’t interfere in France’s attempts to “preserve order…and provide assistance in Morocco. Furthermore, the French gave up their rights to the western coast of Newfoundland and received the town of Yarbutenda (near the border between Senegal and The Gambia) and the Iles de Los in Guinea for their trouble, and the two countries hacked Thailand in half. But really, this was about Britain and France getting to be friends.

The agreement essentially ended both countries’ isolation in Europe (France’s because of Bismark’s machinations and Britain’s because they were too busy with their overseas empire and didn’t want to dirty their hands with European messes). Both countries found themselves growing nervous at Germany’s increased aggression, and as early as 1881 the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) met with French statesman Léon Gambetta to discuss an alliance against Germany. Both countries were too busy doing a land grab in Africa to come to an agreement at the time, and between 1898 and 1901 there were three rounds of talks to discuss an alliance between Britain and Germany. When he ascended the throne, King Edward rejected the notion of an alliance with Germany and revived talks with France. Théophile Delcassé, the French foreign minister, and Lord Lansdowne, the British Foreign Secretary, negotiated the agreement and Lansdowne and Paul Cambon, the French Ambassador to Britain, signed the Entente.

With all well and good, Britain and France settled down to be best buds, and they even invited Russia to the party, creating the Triple Entente in 1907 (which, through previous treaties, linked the countries with Portugal, Japan, the United States, Brazil, and Spain). It all sounded great, until an archduke got assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, and the various interlocking alliances drew all these countries into a horrifying conflagration we still shudder to think about today. Still, the friendship between France and Britain exists to this day, so in that sense, we can declare the Entente Cordiale a total success.

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A truck drives through the woods, a giant tree strapped to it, and pulls up in front of Downton, where Thomas supervises the tree’s unloading. A bit later (presumably), Daisy scoots through the house with coal scuttles, in a brief throwback to the opening scenes of the very first episode. In the great hall, O’Brien and Edith are decorating the big tree while Mary stands by, probably silently criticizing everything Edith’s doing. Daisy stops to stare at the tree like she’s never seen one before, until Hughes arrives to hurry her along.


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