On This Day


Spanish Jacobites and a unintended historical skirmish

10th June 1719 - Battle of Glen Shiel

Today marks the 297th anniversary of the Battle of Glen Shiel, a date significant for several reasons. For one, it forms part of the series of Jacobite risings of the 1700s, the most famous being the one in 1745 (battle of Culloden etc) but it also remains the last time that British troops saw action in close engagement battle with foreign troops on British soil. This is because this battle, although it found it self firmly rooted in the Highlands in the end was, in fact, part of a far wider plan. A plan cooked up not by the Gaels, nor even by the French, but by the Spanish. 

The Jacobite attempt of 1719. Letters of James Butler, second Duke of Ormonde, relating to Cardinal Alberoni's project for the invasion of Great Britain on behalf of the Stuarts, and to the landing of (14763142684)

Map to illustrate the landing of the expedition of 1719 and the battle of Glenshiel
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Philip V (grandson of Louis XIV for the Versailles fans amongst you) had recently become King of Spain and was flexing his muscles against the British occupation of Spanish territories. To distract the British from his attempts to take his territories back he decided on a time old plan - infiltrate and destabilise from within. And so the plan was launched. A small force of Spaniards would set off for Lewis in the Outer Hebrides where they would move south, gathering the loyal Jacobites and serve as a distraction from the main troops who would land in the south-west of England and march straight on London. It was a good plan but like so many brilliant battle plans, it didn’t work. This time it was the pesky weather that spoiled it, just as it did with the famous Spanish Armada in 1585. This time, the small force got through to Lewis but the main force were broken up and forced to retreat to Spain. 

King Philip V of Spain

Philip V of Spain
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Battle of Glen Sheil therefore became their final stand. The final act of defiance against the British Government where the small number of Jacobites who had answered the call stood shoulder to shoulder with the only Spaniards who had made it through and, unknowingly, made history. The battle was short and relatively painless as battles go with most of the defeated Jacobites fleeing through the convenient fog to the safety of their homes and far away from the traitor’s noose. The Spaniards were taken as prisoners of war to Edinburgh but managed to return to Spain later that year. And so ended the skirmish. Perhaps not as noteworthy as others but still very much worth remembering as a defiant act of a small group of brave men against very large odds in the spectacular surroundings of Glen Shiel.

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The Battle of Glen Shiel, 1719
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Virgin bride, murderous groom…another marriage for Henry VIII

30th May 1536 - Henry VIII married his third wife, Jane Seymour

480 years ago today Henry VIII, that well known devoted husband, married his third wife, the lovely, Jane Seymour. Jane was everything her predecessor was not. Blonde, meek and crucially in the end, soon to be carrying a boy. It has often been said that if Elizabeth I had been born male, her mother, the ill-fated Anne Bolyen, may not have ended her life on the scaffold just 11 days before Jane’s wedding. I believe the reverse may have been true of Jane for Henry VIII was heartily fond of all his wives, until they failed to provide an heir. If little Prince Edward had been born a Princess, the same revoking of favour may have passed over onto Jane Seymour. 

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A portrait of Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein the Younger
public domain via wikimedia commons

Most women who die of child birth related illness are grievously pitied but with regards to Jane Seymour perhaps she was lucky, for she never got to see her beloved husband's face turn foul as he bored of her, she never saw her son die, tragically young, and she was never forced to watch as little by little the power and trappings of the Queen of England were removed from her as friends and family were marched, one by one, to the tower. This awful fate, which befell most of Henry’s queens, Jane was spared of. 

Henry VIII's wives, circle of R.Burchett (1854–1860, Parliamentary Art Collection)

Six wives of Henry VIII by Richard Burchett
(L-R) - Katherine of Aragon, Anne Bolyen, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, Katherine Parr

Instead, in her death, Jane became the only one of Henry’s wives to receive a proper Queen’s funeral. She was revered and beloved over all, even Henry’s future Queens and it was she that Henry desired to be buried next to. Not much comfort to her perhaps but certainly of great use to her family. Her brother’s, Thomas and Edward, did not linger to press their advantage and ensured themselves close to the crown throughout the rest of Henry’s life and then on into the reign of Jane’s son, Edward VI with Edward Seymour serving as Lord Protector. 

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Jane Seymour seen seated to the right of Henry VIII, long after her death, as Henry's queen and mother of his dynasty. I recently used this portrait in a blog about Jane’s stepdaughter, Princess Mary
(L-R) Princess Mary, Prince Edward, Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Princess Elizabeth


Death of a decent King

2nd April 1416 - King Ferdinand of Aragon died

King Ferdinand of Aragon, who died 600 years ago, was born into the royal family of Castile but was never supposed to be King. Even after the death of his elder brother, King Henry, he still passed up his chance of ruling, instead offering the crown along with his guidance and wisdom to his baby nephew, John II. It was a move that was characteristic of his kind and generous nature. 

Ferdinand I of Aragon

King Ferdinand I of Aragon
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

Contemporary chronicles, indeed, described him as: “very patient to all who wanted to talk to him, even if their speeches were ordinary or not well-reasoned”. Given that most other Kings of this time spent most of the time cutting up neighbours and enemies, it marks Ferdinand out as being a rather remarkable person. Perhaps it was for this reason therefore that when he was 32 he was chosen to succeed his mother’s brother as King of Aragon. 

Ferran d'Antequera al retaule Sancho de Rojas (detall)

King Ferdinand of Aragon
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

He ruled for only a few years until his early death and his reign was marked largely by moves towards peace. He put down a rebellion in the first year of his reign and in the last, ended a 40 year old division in the church by reaching a seemingly impossible compromise. It seems that there is a lot the modern world could learn from him. His humility, patience, tact and wisdom would be gifts we perhaps all could benefit from. 

Bloody murder in the Queen’s apartments…it’s 1566 in Edinburgh

On This Day - 9 March 1566: David Rizzio murdered

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David Rizzio
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

450 years ago one of the most infamous murders in Scottish history reached it’s swift and bloody end. David Rizzio, private secretary to no less a person to Mary Queen of Scots, was brutally stabbed to death by her jealous husband and his drunken band of friends, in the Queen’s presence and most definitely against her orders. To this day you can stand on the spot where the ill-fated Italian met his violent match. Some say you can still see the blood stain on the floor where he lay, cowering behind the Queen’s skirts, as the knives penetrated him again and again and again. 

MurderOfRizzio

Murder of Rizzio, slightly romanticised but you get the general drift
Public Domain via WIkimedia Commons

It was an event that symbolised her reign. Mary's lack of control over the Scottish nobles and their growing dissatisfaction with her, the choices she made and the people she had brought into what they vehemently thought of as their country were bringing her down. David Rizzio was a foreigner, an Italian. In their eyes he shouldn’t have risen to such prominence in their court at all. He certainly shouldn’t have been dining intimately with the Queen, that was an opportunity to have the Queen’s ear and influence her thinking. That right belonged to them, not this strange Italian. This murder, as with so many others, had much more to do with the perpetrators than the victim. 

Rizzio

David Rizzio
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Chief amongst the murder suspects was the Queen’s own husband, Henry, Lord Darnley (whose niece I wrote about last year, follow the link for more royal scandal). He had never quite found his place at the Scottish Court, continually frustrated by the fact that Mary refused to let him be King. He withdrew more and more into a select company of Scottish nobles who primed him with drink and listened to his complaints, often twisting his thoughts for their own ambitious ends. And so it was with the Rizzio matter. Although contemporary accounts describe Rizzio as hunchbacked, ugly and strange looking my suspicion is that this was fabricated by Mary’s enemies to further dissolve her reputation and that, in fact, he was actually devilishly good looking. This would explain Darnley’s bitter jealousy and also perhaps why he had got so far up the ranks of court so quickly and come to be dining with the Queen that fateful night. Mary had grown up at the French Court and was used to the finer things in life. For a Queen who loved surrounded herself in gaiety and pretty things, a good looking, well travelled and talented Italian nobleman probably made quite a nice change from the uncouth Scots who spread mistrust with every breath. 

Mary Stuart James Darnley

Henry, Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Good looking or not however, worming his way into the Queen’s apartments proved a costly mistake for Rizzio and, despite the Queen’s passionate protests, he was savagely butchered before her eyes. A sad end for a man seeking his fortune but not a surprising one for a man who so fatally failed to pay heed to the dangers scented in the wind and thought himself safe in the rooms of a woman who’s popularity was most definitely running out…

Birth of a King but what of the woman who bore him…?

On This Day - 2nd March 1316: Birth of King Robert II of Scotland and death of Marjorie Bruce (daughter of the first King Robert and mother to the second)

700 years is a very long time. The Scotland of 700 years ago had an estimated population of under a million compared to the 5.4 million of today. Most people lived amongst mud and animals either in and around farms or castles or in the burghs (towns) earning a living as craftsmen or labouring. Most were illiterate and rather than choose a leader for themselves they were forced to be pawns in the extraordinary games of the ruling elite, sacrificed for the sake of a King. However hard done by or brainwashed we feel today, at least nobody can hammer our door down and order us to come out and fight or die on the spot - at least not in Scotland… 

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Scottish Soldiers in the 14th Century
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

1316 Scotland was certainly a bloody place, though enjoying a period of relative stability under the reign of Robert the Bruce. Two years after the famous battle of Bannockburn meant that the English were away with their tails between their legs and for now, Scotland could breathe the free air. However, it was all about to change…

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Robert the Bruce and his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

2nd March 1316 saw the birth of the boy, who after several bloody arguments, deaths and tussels, would go on to rule as Robert II of Scotland and form the famous Stuart line which eventually sat on the throne of England, completing the ambition of his fathers. It was also Robert II however, who’s children, born by different mothers, would form the basis of the furious battles of succession which would wrack Scotland just a few short generations later. Bloody battles left, right and centre started by men, cutting all in their path in their desperation to be King. 

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The Great Seal of Robert II, King of Scotland
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

2nd March 1316, however, also saw the death of a woman, Marjorie Bruce, and it is her tragically short life that I want to focus on today for women are all too often overlooked in these early days where history was decided by the sword. 

Marjorie Bruce Paisley Abbey

Tomb of Marjorie Bruce, Princess of Scotland,
daughter of Robert I and mother of Robert II

Public Doman via Wikimedia Commons

Marjorie was the daughter of Robert I of Scotland and Isabella of the Clan Mar, who sadly died giving birth to Marjorie at the tender age of 19. Marjorie’s fortunes waxed and waned with those of her father’s. Living life as a beloved princess of the royal court she suddenly found herself on the run and then suddenly, cruelly, the prisoner of the English and threatened with being displayed in a cage at the Tower of London after her father lost a battle. Freedom only came with another battle in which Robert I this time emerged triumphant conqueror. Remembered to this day in Scotland’s national anthem, the Battle of Bannockburn saw Marjorie finally return home and ally herself in a strong match to Walter Stewart, High Steward of Scotland. Today this might have seen the start of a powerful alliance that spanned decades. Sadly, however, they were still in the 14th Century and Marjorie was fated instead to succumb, like her mother before her, to most prolific killer of women in that age - childbirth. A riding accident had brought on her labour early and to save the potential heir (Robert II), her body was savagely cut open and she was all but cast aside and left to die. A cruel blow but not at all uncommon in an age where man was everything and a woman was but a door to the next generation of killers. 

King Manfred of Sicily - Hollywood’s next hero?

On This Day: 26 February 1266 - King Manfred of Sicily died

When I first started reading about King Manfred of Sicily I immediately thought ‘film plot’. Here was the quintessential good guy of the people. The illegitimate son who nobly stepped aside from all the riches that could so easily have been his when the absentee legitimate brother came back on a whim to relish in the spoils of a new kingdom. Here was the little guy, beloved by the people, who stood up on their behalf to fight off the big bullies in the playground (namely the Pope). And who fought through all manner of troubles to eventually be crowned King. The only slight snag is that he didn’t get to ride off into the sunset with a beautiful girl all Kingdom of Heaven style but was instead brutally killed in battle shortly after coronation and his wife cruelly imprisoned for the rest of her short life, however I suppose that’s what artistic licence is for. 

Manfredo da Sicília Divina Comédia

King Manfred of Sicily
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Although initially illegitimate his father, King Frederick, married his mother on her death bed and left Manfred a series of bequests and instructions befitting a King’s son when he himself died. These Manfred appears to have carried out to the letter despite the popular favour riding with him and the easy possibility of ridding himself of this brother no-one knew or cared for. This was a time ruled by excessive greed of men wanting to take home as many marbles from the playground as they could fit into their overlarge pockets. It was a time of brutality, of stamping over the little people and of vast, impossible wealth. 

Manfred, who seems unusually moral for these strange times, had more than just a greedy big brother to contend with to protect his people. Successive Pope’s, wanting control over Sicily, caused him no end of bother and became increasingly aggrieved that he did not cower under their threats to excommunicate him (normally a pretty dominant weapon in those God fearing times). When religion failed they turned to force, sending army after army in to conquer this troublesome thorn in their side, yet time and time again he threw them back until, in 1266, hugely outnumbered by the vast army of the Count of Anjou (another papal playmate) he was finally, devastatingly beaten. Refusing to flee and determined to protect his people to the end, King Manfred charged. With a band of his most faithful friends he ran straight into the heart of the enemies forces and was dashed to pieces by the remorseless killers. A mad act perhaps but one could never fault him for style. 

On This Day: Bloody or not Bloody Mary?

Mary I of England - Born 18th February 1516

Mary I of England, born exactly 50 years and 1 week after her grandmother, Elizabeth of York (click link for more info), lived as hard a life as those born to vast wealth and privilege ever could. Even in death she could not escape misfortune and her name is continually shrouded in condemnation, Bloody Mary being the most common description of her. Even at best, sadly, she is simply outshone by her glamorous golden-age sister and successor, Elizabeth I (click link for more info). 

Mary I of England

Mary I of England by Antonius Moro, 1554
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Although Mary could hardly be said to have crowned herself in glory, it seems rather unfair to totally write her off as a vindictive disaster. She was after all the first woman to ascend the throne of England. She had a lot of patriarchy to contend with and live up to. She had also lived through a terrifying and scarring childhood: watching her mother subjected to endless torment and cruelty, watch faithful friends sent to the scaffold and even nearly have to walk to the block herself, all on the orders of the man who should have protected and loved her - her selfish and even slightly mad father, the ever charming Henry VIII. She grew up surrounded by fear, afraid to make a friend incase it led to their death, or hers. Is it really any wonder she wasn’t a picture perfect Queen when her time eventually came? 

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Mary I by Master John, 1544
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Mary’s was the original family drama that could even nearly put Game of Thrones to shame. A mad father executing wives, friends and allies on a whim. Children who were brought up in different religions and taught to mistrust and conspire against each other from their cradles. Even in adulthood Mary did not settle down to the quiet life, instead marrying the man who would later go on to wage war on her sister. (Philip of Spain for those who are interested) Yes, it does all sound totally bonkers but that was the early modern era for you. Sex, violence and feuds. Lots of feuds. And usually caused by sex or violence. 

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The scene of a nice little family drama…The Family of Henry VIII 
L-R Mary I, Edward VI, Henry VIII, Jane Seymour (Henry’s third wife), Elizabeth I
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

All things considered Mary has a pretty unfair reputation and I think she would be justified in feeling pretty hard done by. Yes, she did butcher a huge number of people who opposed her ideals but in reality they were all it. Even her golden-reputation sister executed people left, right and centre. As the saying goes: Tudor’s the name, Bloody’s the game. 

On This Day: Elizabeth of York, mother to the Tudors

Elizabeth of York, born 550 years ago on 11th February 1466, became one half of the couple who finally ended the horrendous bloodshed of the cousin-on-cousin War of the Roses. In a tale of an organised Romeo and Juliet gone right, her marriage to the man who vanquished and killed her uncle began a new history, one that is first on the lips of popular history today. I present to you:

Elizabeth of York, Mother of The Tudors

Elizabeth of York, 15th century costume

The beautiful and fashionable Elizabeth of York
illustration by Percy Anderson for Costume Fanciful, Historical and Theatrical, 1906
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth’s life was typical of women in early modern court life. She was the darling of the court: beautiful, educated and, as eldest daughter of the King, supremely eligible. However, like all of her generation her life and family were deeply scarred by the ferocity of fighting between the royal houses. Although her father kept the danger at bay for much of her girlhood, his untimely death in 1483 led to one of the most infamous mysteries of British history - The Princes in the Tower - the disappearance and likely murder of Elizabeth of York’s own brothers. Hiding with her mother in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey whilst her uncle Richard proclaimed himself King, Elizabeth must have felt her situation to be desperate. However, as King Richard III’s wife lay dying, rumours began to emerge that the King was courting his beautiful niece. Sadly for him this didn’t work out too well as before he could make his move, Henry Tudor decided to invade conquering the Kingdom and the girl in one swoop. Not too shabby for a day’s work. 

Elizabeth Woodville with children in sanctuary

Elizabeth with her mother and siblings in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey
By John Cassell, 19th Century - Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth’s life was transformed from the dangers of being a Princess of York to the relative safety of being Queen of England and with that she seems to have been content. She was of course, in some eyes, the heir to her father’s throne in her own right, now that his sons and brothers were dead. However, perhaps she had seen too much bloodshed to be keen to press the point. Her decision finally brought an element of peace and stability to England and the reign of the house she formed with Henry VII brought England into a new Golden Age counting Henry VIII and Elizabeth I amongst it’s line. Whoever said women couldn’t make savvy decisions… 

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Elizabeth of York as Queen with her York symbol of the white rose
Circa 1500 - public domain via wikimedia commons

Elizabeth brought a great and profound sense of love into the new Royal family. Her attachment to her husband and her children was sincere, as was their love for her. The death of her eldest son Arthur, shortly after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, nearly broke her heart and she did not long survive it. Her desperate attachment to her second son, the future Henry VIII, was natural however much it may have led to his relentlessly spoilt nature later in life. Upon her death in 1503 she was mourned deeply and passionately in public and private by her husband, children and her wide circle of friends. A touching testament to a women who whilst being a beloved and astute princess and Queen was still first and foremost a loving friend, a caring wife and a devoted mother. 

Next up in On This Day Ive written about Elizabeths granddaughter, Mary I. Do follow the link to check it out. 

Remigius van Leemput - Whitehall Mural

Left to right: Henry VIII (Elizabeth’s son), Henry VII (Elizabeth’s husband), Elizabeth of York, Jane Seymour (Henry VIII’s third wife)
Remigius van Leemput, 1667 - public domain via wikimedia commons


On This Day: Republic of Ragusa outlaws slavery - 27th January 1416

The Republic of Ragusa is a place that I must admit I had never heard of before I started researching this blog post (largely because it’s not called that anymore) but it had an absolutely fascinating history until it’s final absorption into the vast Napoleonic Empire in 1808. Today we remember it for it’s landmark decision to become the first European State to outlaw slavery. Whilst it took us Brits until the shockingly recent date of 1833 to fully abolish slavery, Ragusa made this bold step into a fairer future as early as 1416 and enjoyed many prosperous centuries until the unstoppable Napoleon. Prioritising the freedom of all people above greed certainly doesn’t seem to have done them any harm. 

Map of the Republic of Ragusa from the 18th Century
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Far from regretting this step, the people of Ragusa seem to have been determined to shout their pride in their decision to the skies, boldly emblazoning their motto across the city and remembering it to this day - ‘NON BENE PRO TOTO LIBERATES VENDITUR AURO’ - 

‘FREEDOM IS NOT SOLD FOR ALL THE GOLD IN THE WORLD’

This inspiring motto was taken from a rather lovely story from Aesop’s fables - “Of the dog and the wolf” - in which a wolf is jealous of the easy lifestyle of the dog until he sees the horrible scars under the dog’s collar. Freedom offers much more than material wealth. Like the wolf, the people of Ragusa preferred freedom and that defiance against the easy comfort of wealth is something that we should never forget. 

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Coat of Arms of the Republic of Ragusa
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

As the boats continue to brave the treacherous seas of the Mediterranean they carry other people who have made that difficult choice. Leaving behind them all they had of material value, leaving their jobs, their once beautiful homes, their jewellery, their bank accounts and goodness knows how many other daily riches which we, in our easy comfort, take for granted. They leave behind their material lives to search for a place in which they may be allowed to remain free. For all of mankinds sake let us allow them that freedom and not collar them in another type of slavery. The evil from which they flee threatens the human right of freedom and that that insult should not be faced by them alone. We have plenty of material goods to share. Let us stand up together for the right to remain free, for once the riches of life have been stripped away we are all equal - conscious bodies of life that laugh together under the beautiful blue skies. 

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Ragusa in 1667 - a city of free people sharing the earth under beautiful blue skies
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

On This Day: Louis de Blois died in 1566

On This Day: Louis de Blois died - 7th January 1566

Louis de Blois or as he was more often called, Ludovicus Blosius originally trained for court life but left at the age of fourteen to pursue a life in the monastery of Liesse, becoming it’s abbot by the age of twenty four. There are several accounts of how he left court, some saying that he left by choice and others saying it was a result of an accident in which he needed an operation. He was asked by the surgeons how he would prefer the shape of the incision to be and unexpectedly opted for a cross. This was taken as a sign and the rest, as they say, was history. Now, I don’t know if that was true but it seemed too good a story not to note down. 

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Louis de Blois at Liessies
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons


He is best remembered now as a prolific and greatly learned author who’s various religious works spread across Europe impressing both devout Roman Catholic scholars and the more secular laymen such as Gladstone and Coleridge. 


He was an extremely pious man and did not seem to suffer from ambition or pride. Indeed he stoutly refused Charles V who offered him the prestigious archbishopric of Cambrai instead desiring to remain peacefully at his monastery until his death in 1566 ensuring it’s continued reform and journey away from the greed and laxity of the past. 

© Isla Robertson 2017