The Death of Amy Robsart

Amy Robsart was the cause, deliberately or otherwise, of a great scandal in the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign that would curtail the ambitions of a man many feared not only had the keys to the Queen’s heart but also her bedchamber and would use both with the intention of becoming King.

She was the daughter of a wealthy Norfolk farmer and wool merchant who in 1560, just shy of her eighteenth birthday married Robert Dudley the third surviving son of the Duke of Northumberland, one of the most powerful men in England after the young King Edward VI. It was a good marriage with both families wealthy and influential while Amy possessed a youthful beauty that appealed greatly to the amorous young Robert, a fact he wasn’t shy in sharing causing William Cecil, later the Queen’s Chief Minister who was a guest at the wedding to remark – this is a carnal marriage and marriages of physical desire begin in happiness and end in grief. He would not be wrong for the young Lord Robert had an eye not just for beauty but for power and it was the latter that would dominate.

The dying King Edward, a devout Protestant was desperate to prevent his Catholic half-sister Mary from succeeding him and colluded with the Duke of Northumberland to install his seventeen year old niece Lady Jane Grey ahead of her in the line of succession. They changed the law to do so but Mary, despite toying with the idea, did not flee to the Continent for her own safety as expected but instead, she remained in England gathering her supporters determined to claim what was rightfully hers. Advancing upon London it became clear the people were behind her. She was after all the daughter of the mighty King Henry VIII, the obscure Lady Jane Grey was not.

Lady Jane Grey who had never wanted to be Queen and said as much reigned just nine days and would be executed despite an earlier promise of clemency. The Duke of Northumberland who had abandoned his niece to her fate preceded her to the scaffold while the Lord Robert, as the son of a traitor now found himself locked up in the Tower of London.


In February 1554, just six months after coming to the throne Mary’s determination to marry Philip II of Spain and return England to the Catholic faith provoked a rebellion led by Sir Thomas Wyatt, son of the popular Tudor poet of the same name. He intended to rally the people, depose Mary, and replace her as Queen with her safely Protestant half-sister Elizabeth. But yet again Mary would stand firm and the rebellion soon petered out as the anger of the people Wyatt believed manifest failed to materialise – he would die the death set aside for traitors and now it seemed the woman in whose name his rebellion had been raised might also have to endure the same fate.

Despite her denials to the contrary Elizabeth would be arrested and taken to the Tower of London suspected of involvement in the Wyatt Rebellion. Just like the Lord Robert had been a few months earlier Elizabeth was now in fear of her life.


Despite the recommendation of her interrogator Bishop Stephen Gardiner that she should be tried and executed as her mother had been, Elizabeth after pleading her innocence in person before the Queen was instead exiled from Court and placed under effective house arrest first at Woodstock and later at Hatfield. It was during this period of great personal strain when she daily feared for her life and those she might once have thought friends kept their distance that the Lord Robert, who had earlier been released from the Tower and permitted to return to his Estates, helped her out financially even selling some land to do so. It was the kind of devotion to her person she never forgot.

On 17 November 1558, while sitting beneath an Oak Tree in the grounds of Hatfield House Princess Elizabeth received the news that her sister was dead and that she would be Queen. Though no doubt tinged with sadness at the passing of her sibling her relief was palpable:

“This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.”


Many soon came to suspect that their new Queen was more than just grateful to the handsome and dashing Lord Robert and that they were in fact lovers for she not only insisted upon his presence at Court but made him her dance partner of choice and showered him with gifts, estates in Yorkshire, a mansion at Kew, and a licence to export cloth free of taxation worth thousands of pounds. She also provided him with rooms at the Royal Palace adjacent to her own.

The Queen’s Council headed by William Cecil, Lord Burghley, were eager that Elizabeth be married and provide an heir as soon as possible but not if her preferred choice was the arrogant, ambitious, and heartily disliked Robert Dudley. But it was clear to all who witnessed them together that she had eyes for no other. The rumours only increased when she appointed him her Master of Horse and thereby one of the few people who could legitimately touch her.

In April 1559, the Spanish Ambassador wrote to Philip II in Spain;

“Lord Robert has come so much into favour that he does whatever he likes with affairs and it is even said that Her Majesty visits him in his chambers day and night. People talk of this so freely that they go so far as to say that his wife has a malady of the breasts and the Queen is only waiting for her to die to marry Lord Robert.”

The Queen’s fondness for Lord Robert was understandable, he had not only been a good friend but was described at the time as being “splendid in appearance with a promptness of energy and devotion” that was striking.

For those who fretted over the Queen’s future choice of husband the fact that Robert Dudley was already married was a Godsend. Her Council knew that with the experience of her sister fresh in the mind she would not force divorce upon him but they were also aware that she was seriously ill and not expected to live long. Were she to die then there would be nothing to prevent the Queen from marrying the man she danced with, rode out with, and as many believed was sleeping with.

While rumour and speculation stalked the corridors of the Royal Court, Amy remained alone at the family home, Cumnor Manor in Oxfordshire aware of the gossip and neglected by her husband. As if the humiliation felt by the wronged woman were not enough she lived constantly in pain at a time when no remedy for her ills existed. The doctors could do nothing and her prayers alone it seemed were not enough.

Early on 8 September 1560, Amy gave her servants permission to attend a fair at nearby Abingdon leaving her alone in the house. Upon their return later that night they found their mistress lying at the bottom of the stairs dead from a broken neck.

The news of Lady Dudley’s death sent shockwaves through the Royal Court not because it was unexpected but because of its timing and its circumstances.  The Lord Robert was now free to marry the Queen and many feared an announcement to that effect – they could not have been more wrong.

Precious of her image Elizabeth would not allow her reign to be marred by scandal and so regardless of her personal feelings Dudley was banished from Court and an Inquest ordered. He would not be permitted to return or to resume his duties until or before he was entirely cleared of any involvement in his wife’s death.

Lord Robert was no less determined to control the outcome of the Inquest and sent his man Thomas Blount to investigate and report back but few of those he spoke to were willing to commit to what had occurred. Amy’s maidservant Mrs Picto declared she had died neither by her own hand or that of another but that her mistress was a good, virtuous and gentlewoman who would daily pray upon her knees for God to deliver her from her desperation. But when Blount suggested she may have had an ‘evil toy’ (suicide) in her mind Picto replied, that is no good Mr Blount, do not judge so of my words. If you should so gather from, then I am sorry I said so much.

It was not possible however to prevent what was being said elsewhere. William Cecil for example, let it be known he thought poison may have been the cause while Ambassadors abroad were encouraged to spread the rumour that there was more to Lady Dudley’s death than met the eye. Even the young Mary, Queen of Scots was inclined to write:

“The Queen of England is going to marry her horse-keeper who has killed his wife to make room for her. 

The common opinion was that Robert Dudley had been involved in his wife’s death in some way or another. After all, the staircase she was found at the bottom of had only eight low steps hardly enough to break someone’s neck unless pushed, of course. While had it been suicide then it as unusual method to choose given there was no guarantee of death.

The Coroner’s verdict was not delivered at the Local Assizes until 1 August, 1561, almost a full year after Amy’s death:

(The) jurors say under oath that the aforesaid  Lady Amy on 8 September in the aforesaid second year of the reign of the said lady queen, being alone in a certain chamber in the aforesaid Cumnor, and intending to descend the aforesaid chamber by way of certain steps of the aforesaid chamber there and then accidentally fell precipitously down the aforesaid steps to the very bottom of the same steps, through which the same Lady Amy there and then sustained not only two injuries to her head – one of which was a quarter of an inch deep and the other two inches deep – but truly also, by reason of the accidental injury or of that fall and of Lady Amy’s own body weight falling down the aforesaid stairs, the same Lady Amy there and then broke her own neck, on account of which certain fracture of the neck the same Lady Amy there and then died instantly; and the aforesaid Lady Amy  was found there and then without any other mark or wound on her body; and thus the jurors say on their oath that the aforesaid Lady Amy in the manner and form aforesaid by misfortune came to her death and not otherwise. 

Robert Dudley had been exonerated, and he was a relieved man. He wrote to Blount:

“The verdict doth very much quiet and satisfy me.”

Doubts persisted however, nonetheless he was re-admitted into the Queen’s presence where eager to resume his courtship of her he proposed time and again but Elizabeth while keeping him close to her heart was wise enough to keep him distant from her body politic. Indeed, so unlikely had their union become that in 1563 she proposed him as a future husband for Mary, Queen of Scots.

Loyal to those who served her well Elizabeth did not in turn relinquish their affections easily and so when on 21 September 1578, Dudley married Lettice Knollys, widow of the recently deceased Earl of Essex, he kept it secret from her fearing her wrath. But he was unable to silence the rumours that he had murdered the Earl of Essex so as to steal his wife just as he had many years earlier killed his own wife in the hope of marrying the Queen. When Elizabeth became aware of the hearsay she banished Dudley and his new wife from the Court, the latter for good.

Elizabeth would relent in time and Dudley would again take up residence in the chambers next to hers becoming in due course the impresario of her public image while despite the ravages of time, the effects of gout, and a less than impressive military record she would appoint him to command the land forces during the crisis of the Spanish Armada. It was he who orchestrated her famous address to the troops stationed at Tilbury.

The mysterious death of his wife had many years before scuppered his chances of ever becoming King and the rumours of his involvement persisted throughout his life but the people at least would come to hold him in high regard referring to him affectionately as Robin. Those of the Royal Court were never so magnanimous.

Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester died on September 4, 1588, aged 56. It was said that when Elizabeth died thirteen years later she did so clutching a miniature of him in her right hand.








John Everett Millais

A founder member along with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Henry Holman Hunt among others of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that sought to break free from the precision of Raphael and the stifling formality of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Millais is perhaps best remembered now for his association with the Victorian cultural critic and social commentator John Ruskin, an early sponsor, whose wife Euphemia, or Effie, he would take from him leading to a very public, somewhat lurid, and highly embarrassing divorce case – but then the pre-Raphaelite desire for freedom in art, of a past imagined and a present made pure was no excuse for an absence of sleaze in thought and deed. .

After five years of marriage to Ruskin, Effie remained a virgin. Her relationship with Millais she would later explain to her father with reference to her former marriage:

“He (Ruskin) alleged various reasons (for non-consummation) hatred of children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and finally this last year he told me his true reason, that he had imagined women were quite different to what I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening.”

She would at least be happy in her marriage to Millais but the scandal of divorce was a heavy burden to bear in Victorian society particularly when the wife was perceived the instigator and public sympathy was on the side of Ruskin. Queen Victoria, a friend and admirer of his was particularly appalled and the Millais’s were to be effectively ostracised from the high society they so adored. It only relented following John Everett’s death in 1896, little recompense to Effie who died just over a year later.

The scandal surrounding the divorce case impacted on Millais’s popularity as an artist especially as he did not shy away from it using Effie as his model in a number of paintings and as a result he is perhaps more admired now than he was at the time:

Effie Gray a Glefinlas

Effie in Middle-Age


Hearts are Trumps


The Martyr of the Solway

North-West Passage



Sophie Gray

Cardinal Newman


I Am Never Merry When I Hear Sweet Music

The Farmer’s Daughter

The Ruling Passion

The Vale of Rest

The Order of Release



Eveleen Tennant

Yeoman of the Guard

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer

Born in London on 7 March 1802, the son of an engraver the young Edwin Landseer’s talent was such that he had already exhibited at the Royal Academy by the time of his 14th birthday, long before he became arguably the most popular artist of the Victorian era (he was certainly a favourite of the Queen’s who knighted him in 1850).

A flamboyant man of eccentric tastes and a heavy drinker who mixed in the highest social circles he was conscious of the need to fund his lavish lifestyle so he  painted what he could sell and what sold best were paintings of animals which would come to dominate a canon of work that belied to some degree his reputation as a fine landscape painter, portraitist, and skilled sculptur. His two most famous works perhaps, are his painting of a Highland Stag, Monarch of the Glen, and the Lion Statues at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.

Landseer’s lavish lifestyle would eventually take its toll on his health particularly the alcohol and a dependency on drugs that led to increasingly erratic behaviour so extreme that in 1871, the year before his death he was formally declared insane:

Monarch of the Glen

Victoria and Family

Victoria at Osborne

The Whisky Still

Chillingham Cattle

Doubtful Crumbs


Arab Tent


Hector, Nero and Dash

Highland Breakfast

Highand Dogs

Old ShepherdDog


Otter Hunting

The Shrew Tamed

Humane Society

John William Waterhouse

Born in Rome on 6 April 1849, the son of artists it was almost inevitable that the young Waterhouse would become one himself and so it was completing both his studies at the Royal Academy of Arts and exhibiting his works while still in his early twenties.

Associated with rather than a member of the pre-Raphaelite movement he adopted their themes more than he did their style preferring figures from Ancient Roman mythology to those of Arthurian Legend. Even so, his most famous and arguably most popular work remains his Lady of Shalott, one of a trio of paintings inspired by the Tennyson poem of the same name which tells the story of Elaine of Astolat, maiden of Camelot condemned to view life through a mirror who was cursed to die for looking into the face of Sir Lancelot:

And down the river’s dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance
With glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.





















The Virgin Queen Addresses Her Lords

Not long after ascending the throne of England the young Queen Elizabeth I addressed her Nobles for the first time:

My Lords the law of nature move me to sorrow for my sister, the burden which is fallen upon me make me amazed, and yet considering I am God’s creature, ordained to obey His appointment I will therefore yield, desiring from the bottom of my heart that I may have assistance of His grace to be the minister of His heavenly will in this office now committed to me, and as I am but one body naturally considered though by His permission a body politic to govern, so I shall desire you all my Lords (chiefly you of the Nobility every one in his degree and power) to be assistant to me; that I with my ruling and you with your service may make a good account to Almighty God, and leave some comfort to posterity in death.

 I mean to direct all my actions by good advise and counsel, and  therefore considering that divers you be of the Ancient Nobility, having your beginnings and estates of my progenitors Kings of the Realm, and thereby ought in honour to have the more natural care for maintaining of my estate and this commonwealth. Some others have been in long experience of governance and ennobled of my father of Noble memory, my brother and my late sister to bear office. The rest of you being upon special trust lately called to her service only and trust for your service considered and rewarded, my meaning is to require of you all, nothing more than faithful hearts in such service as from time to time will be in your powers to the preservation of me and this commonwealth, and for counsel and advise I shall accept you of my Nobility and such others of you the rest as in consultation I shall think, meet, and shortly appoint, to which also with their advise I will join to their aid of for ease of their burden others meet for my service; and they which I shall not appoint let them not think the same for any disability in them. But for that I do consider a multitude does make rather discord and confusion than good counsel. And of my goodwill you shall not doubt using yourselves as appertaining to good and loving subjects.

Elizabeth I’s Tide Letter

Written on 17 March, 1554, at a time of great personal distress the then Princess, but future Queen Elizabeth, never put pen to paper at a more significant moment or over a more sustained period of time. She was suspected of involvement in the Wyatt Rebellion that had sought to depose her Catholic half-sister Mary and put the 20 year old Protestant Elizabeth in her place.

Upon learning that she was to be taken to the Tower of London a charge of treason looming Elizabeth wrote to her sister pleading for a private audience but beginning at noon she wrote slowly aware of the time when the tide of the River Thames turned preventing boats from navigating the narrow arches of London Bridge. By doing so she prevented her removal to the Tower for another day.

She was no less aware that she had enemies at Court, none more so than Bishop Gardiner the man who would be responsible for her interrogation and had already advocated for her execution. It is hardly surprising then that she struck through the space between the letter and her signature. She knew that it would be read before delivery and likely altered:


If any ever did try this old saying that a kings word was more than another mans oath I most humbly beseech your Majesty to verify it in me and to remember your last promise and my last demand that I be not condemned without answer and due proof which it seems that now I am for that without cause proved I am by your counsel from you commanded to go unto the Tower a place more wonted for a false traitor, than a true subject which though I know I deserve it not, yet in the face of all this realm appears that it is proved. which I pray God I may die the shame-fullest death that ever any died afore  I may mean any such thing; and to this present however I protest before God (Who shall judge my truth, whatsoever malice shall devise) that I neither practiced, counseled nor consented to anything that might be prejudicial to your person in any way or dangerous to the State by any means. And therefore I humbly beseech your Majesty to let me answer afore yourself and not suffer me to trust your counselors yea and that afore I go to the tower (if it be possible) if not afore I be further condemned, how be it I trust assuredly your Highness will give me leave to do it afore I go, for that thus shamefully I may not be cried out on as now I shall be, yea and without cause.  Let conscience move your Highness to take some better way with me than to make me be condemned in all mens sight afore my desert known. Also, I most humbly beseech your highness to pardon this my boldness which innocence procures me to do together with hope of your natural kindness which I trust will not see me cast away without desert, which what it is I would desire no more of God but that you truly knew. Which things I think and believe you shall never by report know unless by yourself you hear. I have heard in my time of many cast away for want of coming to the presence of their Prince and in late days I heard my lord of Somerset say that if his brother had himself suffered to speak with him he had never suffered, but the persuasions were made to him so great that he was brought in belief that he could not live safely if the Admiral lived and that made him give his consent to his death. Though these persons are not to be compared to your Majesty yet I pray god that evil persuasions persuade not one sister against the other and all for that they have heard false report and not harkened to the truth.

 Therefore once again kneeling with humbleness of my heart, because I am not suffered to bow the knees of my body I humbly crave to speak with your Highness which I would not be so bold to desire if I knew not myself most clear as I know myself most true, and as for the traitor [Wyatt he might peradventure write me a letter but on my faith I never received any from him and as for the copy of my letter sent to the French King I pray God confound me eternally if ever I sent him word, message, token or letter by any means, and to this my truth I wil stand in to my death.

I humbly crave but only one word of answer from your-self.

Your Highness, most faithful subject that hath been from the beginning, and will be to my end, Elizabeth.



Queen Elizabeth I’s Golden Speech

By the winter of 1601, the Golden Years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign had long passed; the harvest had once again failed, overseas trade was in decline, unemployment was rife, poverty stalked the land and the Armada was but a distant memory. Parliament was angry and wished to call the Monarch to account for her misuse of monopolies and the corruption of her Court. They demanded she appear before them and address their grievances but regardless of their ire not for the first time would they be cowed by her presence, awed by her majesty and seduced by her words for she knew their hearts better than they knew it themselves.

But it would alas be the final time for the Virgin Queen who passed away just 15 months later on 24 March 1603, aged 68, after 45 years on the throne.

Her Majesties most Princely answer, delivered by herself at the Court of Whitehall, on the last day of November 1601: When the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament (assisted with the greatest part of the Knights, and Burgesses) had presented their humble thanks for her free and gracious favour, in preventing and reforming of sundry grievances, by abuse of many Grants, commonly called Monopolies. The same being taken verbatim in writing by Anthony Blagrave as near as he could possibly set it down.

Mr Speaker, we perceive by you, whom we did constitute the mouth of our Lower House, how with even consent they are fallen into the due consideration of the precious gift of thankfulness, most usually least esteemed, where it is best deserved. And therefore we charge you tell them how acceptable such sacrifice is worthily received of a loving King, who doubts much whether the given thanks can be of more poise [weight] than the owed is to them: and suppose that they have done more for us, than they themselves believe. And this is our reason: Who keeps their Sovereign from the lapse of error, in which, by ignorance, and not by intent, they might have fallen; what thanks they deserve, we know, though you may guess. And as nothing is more dear, to us than the loving conservation of our subjects hearts, what an undeserved doubt might we have incurred, if the abusers of our liberality, the enslavers of our people, the wringers of the poor, had not been told us! Which, ere our heart or hand should agree unto, we wish we had neither: and do thank you the more, supposing that such grief’s touch not some amongst you in particular. We trust there resides, in their conceits of us, no such simple cares of their good, whom we so dearly prize, that our hand should pass ought that might injure any, though they doubt not it is lawful for our kingly state to grant gifts of sundry sorts of whom we make election, either for service done, or merit to be deserved, as being for a King to make choice on whom to bestow benefits, more to one than another. You must not beguile yourselves, nor wrong us, to think that the glossing lustre of a glittering glory of a Kings title may so extol us, that we think all is lawful what we list, not caring what we do: Lord, how far should you be off from our conceits! For our part we vow unto you, that we suppose Physicians aromatic favours, which in the top of their potion they deceive the Patient with, or gilded drugs that they cover their bitter sweet with, are not more beguilers of senses, then the vaunting boast of a kingly name may deceive the ignorant of such an office. I grant, that such a Prince as cares but for dignity, nor passes not how the rains be guided, so he rule, to such a one it may seem an easier business. But you are cumbered with no such Prince, but such a one, as looks how to give account afore another Tribunal seat than this world affords, and that hopes, that if we discharge with conscience what he bids, will not lay to our charge the fault that our substitutes (not being our crime) fall in. We think our selves most fortunately borne under such a star, as we have been enabled by Gods power to have saved you under our reign, from foreign foes, from Tyrants rule, and from your own ruin; and do confess, that we pass not so much to be a Queen, as to be a Queen of such Subjects, for whom (God is witness, without boast or vaunt) we would willingly lose our life, ere see such to perish. I bless God, he hath given me never this fault of fear; for he knows best, whether ever fear possessed me, for all my dangers: I know it is his gift; and not to hide his glory, I say it. For were it not for conscience, and for your sake, I would willingly yield another my place, so great is my pride in reigning, as she that wishes no longer to be, then best and most would have me so. You know our presence cannot assist each action, but must distribute in sundry sorts to diverse kinds our commands. If they (as the greatest number be commonly the worst) should (as I doubt not but some do) abuse their charge, annoy whom they should help, and dishonour their king, whom they should serve: yet we verily believe, that you will (in your best judgement) discharge us from such guilt. Thus we commend us to your constant faith and yourselves to your best fortunes


Hanna Reitsch

Unlike female flyers in the Soviet Union Hanna Reitsch never flew a combat mission but then as Nazi Germany’s premier Test Pilot she was never expected to. Nevertheless, the dangers she faced and the risks she took were no less demanding and no less real.

She was born in Hirschberg, Silesia, in 1912 into a prosperous middle class family. Her father, a doctor, expected Hanna to follow in his footsteps and in this regard she did not disappoint studying medicine at Kiel University but it was never really her passion at least not since first attending the Gliding School at nearby Grunau. For a time she tried to combine the two becoming a flying doctor in Africa but before long she was back in Germany where her love of flying became all consuming and she soon broke the endurance record for a glider pilot remaining in the air for over five hours.

Her abilities were soon recognised and in 1933 she abandoned her medical studies to become a Glider Instructor in Homburg  where she continued to break records making the longest flight undertaken in a glider and becoming the first woman to successfully fly over the Alps.

Hanna’s growing reputation as an aviator also coincided with the Nazi’s rise to power and the formation of the Luftwaffe in 1934. Forbidden to have an Air Force under the terms of the Versailles Treaty for a time its future pilots were trained at Glider Schools. It was Hanna’s first involvement with the military and she was to formally enlist as a Test Pilot three years later when she would become one of the first people to fly the recently developed Juncker and Dornier Bombers. Indeed, there were few designs or concepts in aerial warfare that she was not to be involved in.

Women had a very specific role in Nazi Germany, they were expected to be mothers and homemakers and very little else.  Unorthodoxy was frowned upon but exceptions could be made where it was seen to benefit the interests of the State and the Minister for Propaganda Joseph Goebbels knew an opportunity when he saw one.

Hanna Reitsch was fair-haired, blue-eyed, and athletic the very epitome of Aryan womanhood; she was also brave, daring, resourceful and an enthusiastic admirer of Adolf Hitler – she was happy to be an icon of the Third Reich if such was required.

Goebbels was to exploit her propaganda value for everything it was worth and few opportunities were missed to highlight her exploits. She was to become a favourite of the photographers and a regular feature of the newsreels whose fame spread around the world – there were never too many flowers for Hanna.

The plaudits she received however, and the laurels of success that were heaped upon her person were no mere confection, they had been valiantly earned.

In September 1937, the Chief of the Luftwaffe Ernst Udet gave Hanna the honorary title Flight Captain and appointed her to its Training School at Rechlin where she provided instruction not just in motorised aircraft but also in the mechanics and science of flight.

During the 1930’s Fokke designed the FA61 the prototype helicopter, but the Nazi Government not wanting to reveal its potential as a weapon of war desired to keep its development secret for as long as possible. Its trials then, were to be carried out away fron public view inside a large hangar with all the dangers this entailed. But time was short with Ernst Udet wanting it ready in time for unveiling at the 1938 Berlin Motor Show. The person he chose to carry out such dangerous manoeuvres in a confined space where the slightest error could result not only in the pilot’s death but many of those on the ground was Hanna Reitsch. She not only had the ability he declared, but also the nerve and the temperament. Hanna would not have disagreed and clearly in love with her work she later described the experience:

“Professor Fokke and his technicians standing below grew ever smaller as I continued to rise straight up, 50 metres, 75 metres, 100 metres. Then I gently began to throttle back and the speed of descent dwindled until I was hovering motionless in mid-air. This was intoxicating! I thought of the lark so light and small of wing, hovering over the summer fields. Now man had wrestled from him his lovely secret.”   

Like most Germans Hanna did not welcome the coming of war but she knew that if come it did then she would do her duty even if, much to her frustration, the opportunity for combat was to be denied her. Even so, the work that was assigned her was hardly less dangerous.

In the autumn of 1942 she was almost killed while testing the prototype Komet a rocket propelled fighter plane when its undercarriage failed to open and she was forced to crash land. Severely injured she was to spend five months in hospital. Upon her release she received the Iron Cross from Hitler in person and was soon back flying again even visiting the Russian Front.

In October 1944, Hanna was made aware of conditions in the Concentration Camps when she was shown photographs by a friend. Refusing t take them at face value she denied their validity. Even so, she approached Heinrich Himmler regarding rumours she said were circulating. He expressed surprise at the question dismissing it out-of-hand as mere tittle-tattle, propaganda from an enemy who would stop at nothing to demonise the German race and demean its culture. Hanna who was not inclined to disbelieve him felt reassured.

By this time with the Western Allies having landed in France and the Russians advancing steadily in the East the tide of war had turned against Germany and fighting on two fronts battlefield success was becoming increasingly rare but weapons were being developed that might yet, it was hoped, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

The V1 Flying Bomb, or Doodlebug as it was known to the British, had been fired at London since June 1944, yet as terrifying a weapon as it was its inaccuracy had made it less effective than hoped so a manned version was proposed but the tests carried out had proved fatal to the pilots who carried them out. It was time to send for Hanna.

She was excited at the prospect of becoming involved for she already had her own idea for turning the tide of the war. Inspired by the example of the Japanese Kamikaze then operating in the Pacific against the Americans she had suggested to Hitler in a meeting at Berchtesgaden that Germany too should a squad of volunteer suicide pilots willing to sacrifice their lives for Fatherland and Fuhrer. In the V1 Rocket they already possessed a craft packed with high explosives that could be directed towards its target at great speed all it needed was a pilot to ensure its safe delivery. There would then be no requirement to further reduce the Luftwaffe’s already scant resources. To her mind they could slow possibly even halt the Allied advance, particularly in the West. Hitler was sceptical but would not stand in the way of such a squadron to be named Leonidas after the Spartan King who had died heroically resisting the Barbarian Hordes at Thermopylae being formed.

It seemed that Hanna had won the argument she would even lead the squadron herself if permitted but her enthusiasm for suicide as a tactic of war was not widely shared by others who considered it barbaric and un-German. Indeed, some thought she couldn’t possibly be serious, but Hanna was in deadly earnest.

Otto Skorzeny, the man who had rescued Benito Mussolini from his captivity on the Gran Sasso and supported Hanna in the formation of suicide squads would later recall her telling him:

“We’re no lunatics, throwing away our lives for fun. We’re Germans with a passionate love of our country, and our safety is nothing to us when its welfare and happiness are at stake.  So of course we are willing to sacrifice our own lives if necessary.”

The idea of a suicide squad would later be shelved though it would be revived from time to time as the situation worsened.

Hanna would spend what remained of 1944 at the Rocket’s launch site on the Dutch coast where in a series of tests over the North Sea she found that it would stall if its speed and velocity wasn’t maintained and that it was the over-cautious of the pilots when trying to land that caused it to crash. She had shown that with the right training it could be flown to its destination but other problems remained that could not be not so easily resolved and the more accurate and deadly V2 was already passed the development stage.

On 26 April 1945, Hanna and her lover, the Luftwaffe General Robert Ritter von Griem were summoned to the Fuhrer Bunker in Berlin. Flying in an unarmed Storch reconnaissance aircraft Hanna had to take over the controls when crossing low over occupied territory Griem was wounded in the leg by Russian ground fire. The experience of coming under fire for the first time didn’t unnerve Hanna who successfully landed the plane at the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate, the last remaining airstrip still in German hands; with little more than a few hundred metres separating the Bunker from the Russian forces surrounding it Hanna and Griem were taken with haste to its catacomb like protections where ushered into the presence of the Fuhrer Griem, was informed of his appointed as Head of the Luftwaffe in place of Hermann Goering who had been placed under house arrest. Why Hitler had made them undertake such a hazardous mission merely to confirm a promotion that could have been made over the telephone remains a mystery but perhaps in the febrile atmosphere of the Bunker loyalty had to be experienced first-hand.

Griem may now have been the man in charge of his country’s air defence but it had long become a command absent of power and he was later to express his and Hanna’s frustration at being ordered to leave Berlin saying “It was the blackest day of our lives when we were not permitted to remain in the Bunker to die at the Fuhrer’s side.”

Encountering Magda Goebbels, Hanna offered to fly her and her six young children to safety but Magda, who already seemed resigned to her fate, refused declaring that if they were to die then they would all die together.  Hanna replied, “What you decide for yourself is your affair. If you wish to remain with your husband then do so. But the children are different.” Magda could not be moved however, and would later poison her children before taking her own life.

Hanna had been assured in her meeting with Hitler there would be no abject surrender and that Germany would fight on to the end but just two days later he was dead and Germany’s surrender soon followed. Hanna was devastated and it seemed to her, as it did too many other Germans, that not only was the war was over but the country and life itself.

On 9 May, Hanna was recognised at the hospital where she had taken Griem to be treated for his injured leg and handed over to the Americans who interrogated her at length. She was to remain in custody for fifteen months but no charges were ever brought.

On 24 May she learned that Griem had taken the cyanide tablet he had been given by Hitler. Hanna contemplated doing likewise but family tragedy overtook her when she learned that her father informed he and his wife were to be forcibly removed from their refuge in Salzburg and returned to their previous home in Russian occupied territory shot and killed Hanna’s mother, sister, and her three children before turning the gun on himself. Hanna kept her emotions to herself merely saying that it was understandable but one can imagine how she must have felt.


Unlike her contemporary the filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl whose Triumph of the Will stands as testament to her genius  but whose Nazi connections saw her ostracised by both her profession and mainstream society, Hanna’s  post-war  career flourished. She continued to fly, to break records, and became a guest of the great and the good both at the White House and elsewhere. But she retained an intense dislike of the new Germany a country she believed weak, infantile, maudlin, and tormented by guilt. In one of her last interviews refusing to disavow the Nazi Regime she had served so loyally she exclaimed:

“And what do we have now in Germany, a land of bankers and car makers. Even our great army has gone soft. Soldiers wear beards and question orders. I am not ashamed to say I believed in National Socialism. I still wear the Iron Cross with Diamonds Hitler gave me. But today in all Germany you can’t find a single German who voted Adolf Hitler into power. Many German’s feel guilty about the war. But they don’t explain the real guilt we all share – that we lost.”


As a result she spent much of her time abroad most notably in India, where she established a Glider School, and Ghana becoming friends with both Indira Gandhi and Kwame Nkrumah. She was to write:

Earlier in my life it would never have occurred to me to treat a black person as a friend or partner.”

It did little to change her politics, however.

Hanna’s friends and colleagues always insisted she was politically naive and only embraced Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich as a German patriot not a Nazi; that all she wanted to do was fly and make Germany the greatest air power in the world. But then the same was said about any number of other prominent people whose reputations they did not wish to see tarnished as a result of their political affiliations. Yet it would appear she remained an unrepentant Nazi to the end even after the crimes of the regime had been revealed to her.

Hanna Reitsch died in Frankfurt of a heart attack on 24 August 1979, aged 67.









Henry VII: The Forgotten Tudor

He killed the tyrant, usurped the throne and in doing so ended the Wars of the Roses changing England forever, yet, unlike the Dynasty he spawned, he remains largely forgotten.

The future King Henry VII was born on 28 January 1457 in Pembroke Castle the son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and his wife Lady Margaret Beaufort, his birth both difficult and protracted only less traumatic perhaps, than his conception.

Lady Margaret, small and delicate, had been made pregnant by her husband less than a year after marrying him aged just twelve in an act of child rape deemed unacceptable even then.  Indeed, so damaged was she by the assault that despite the safe delivery of a son she would never conceive again. That was the price she paid for her husband’s amorous attentions in an age when a woman’s fecundity was both her value as a bride and her security against harm. That he would never again darken her door, he was dead within a few months of the plague, was scant recompense for his behaviour but the son he had sired so brutally, would be.

It was only through his mother that the young Henry had any claim to the throne at all, tenuous as it was. She was the daughter of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset the third (and bastard) son of John of Gaunt who was in turn the fourth son of King Edward III.  Her marriage to a Tudor, servants of the Crown rather than implicit in the Royal line of succession may have appeared to some a sign of diminished status but not in her eyes. She knew the value of her son to the House of Lancaster and that it would only increase over time. If nothing else, her unceasing work on his behalf would see to that for she never doubted her son’s right to the Throne even if few others for now at least agreed.

With Edward IV securely on the throne it appeared the family squabble between the Houses of Lancaster and York had been settled once and for in the latter’s favour, and maybe it would have been had events taken their expected course but years of idleness and over-indulgence had taken their toll on the once physically impressive King. Even so, his death on the 9 April, 1483, at the age of just 40, was both sudden and unexpected.

Perhaps aware of his failing health Edward fretted over the fate of his sons, the 12 year old heir to the throne Edward, Prince of Wales and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York. Who could he trust to do right by them? Little had been forgotten and even less forgiven from the decades of conflict that had blighted the country; neither had ambition been tempered by humiliation and defeat with many a villainy hidden behind the mask of acquiescence and subordination.  Who then, in the event of his death who would protect his family and preserve the dynasty?


The one man he believed he could trust was his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who had never been less than loyal and had indeed harmed his own reputation by his willingness to do the King’s dirty work. He was also a good uncle to his nephews, or so it seemed. It gave Edward peace of mind to know that in case of his death his son’s would be given over to his brother’s care.

With little reason to doubt his sibling Edward named him Lord Protector of England in the event of his passing but unknown to him Richard had long suspected his brother to be illegitimate, the result of a liaison between his mother and a common soldier. He had kept his suspicions secret but if his brother was indeed only his illegitimate half-brother then his sons were illegitimate also, and the throne his by right as next in line.

With the King dead he now acted on his suspicions seizing the young Prince of Wales as he made his procession south to London for his coronation executing those who had been assigned to escort him. Learning of this Edward IV’s widow Elizabeth Woodville, or the ‘sorceress’, as Richard referred to her, fearing for her own life and those of her remaining children sought sanctuary in Westminster Abbey.

Upon reaching London, Richard had the young King in-waiting confined to the Tower for his own protection where he was soon joined by his younger brother whom he had bulled his mother into handing over to his dubious care.


For a time at least, the young princes were seen to play regularly in the grounds of the Tower but soon nothing was seen of them at all. Rumours surfaced suggesting they had been murdered, and they were readily believed.  After all, had not Richard been his brother’s loyal henchman and willing executioner – few doubted his ruthlessness.

Unable to prove that the former King was his mother’s bastard son Richard instead focussed on the illegitimacy of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville producing evidence of a contract he had signed to instead marry Eleanor Butler, the future Lady Talbot, insisting it still had legal force. If so, Richard would be justified in removing their children from the line of succession thereby making him the rightful heir.  It was enough for him to cancel the young Edward’s coronation intended for 22 June, instead a sermon was preached outside St Paul’s Cathedral declaring the son’s of Edward IV and his whore illegitimate that “bastard slips shall not take deep root” and that Richard, Duke of Gloucester would be King. It was intended that Richard would then emerge to receive the acclamation of the people but he was delayed and by the time he arrived the crowd had dispersed.

Richard III’s coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on 6 July, 1483. Few could deny that he was now King but they could question his right to be so – where were the Princes and if they were still alive why did he not produce them? The fact of his coronation could not conceal the fiction leading up to it nor the blood that had been shed in its pursuit. Had he murdered the Princes so as to insert himself in the royal line of succession, many believed he had, that he had stolen the crown, and that he was a tyrant.

The paranoia that would come to dominate Richard’s thinking was not unfounded, he had made many enemies and now he saw them all around. When his former ally Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham was implicated in a plot against him Richard had him, hunted down and summarily executed. There wasn’t a nobleman in England who didn’t now fear for his life and many, among them previously loyal Yorkists, now looked to Henry Tudor, a Lancastrian exiled in France as their saviour.

If Henry had any doubts regarding his right to seize the crown and in his ability to confront such a seasoned warrior as Richard on the field of battle his mother soon quashed them. She had worked her entire life for this moment and wasn’t about to allow her son to throw it away; with the money provided to purchase arms and ships she would ensure he would return to his ancestral home not as a supplicant but at the head of an army prepared to fight..

Upon landing at Milford Haven on 7 August, 1485, Henry Tudor fell to his knees, clasped his hands together and looking to the heavens prayed, “Judge me O Lord, and favour my cause.”

He would need his prayers for despite pledges of support the English nobility did not exactly rally to his cause but then neither would they to the King’s with any enthusiasm. Even so, when the two armies encountered one another at Bosworth Field in Leicestershire on 22 August, 1485, Henry’s small force of 5,000 men would be outnumbered almost two-to-one.

Yet despite his numerical advantage it was the King who was on edge.  He did not trust the loyalty of his own troops while nearby looking on were the armies of Lord Thomas Stanley and his brother William. Once allies of the House of York their support could no longer be taken for granted especially as since 1472 Lord Thomas had been married to Margaret Beaufort and so was Henry’s step-father.  He had also rowed furiously with the King and so for now at least they would stand aside from the fray their presence a looming and very real menace.

Richard knew that the Stanley’s would not commit to his cause unless victory was assured but might to Henry’s regardless. On the eve of battle he informed Lord Stanley that his son George was held hostage and that his life would become forfeit should he betray his King. Stanley refused to be intimidated replying, “I have other sons.” It did not augur well.

Fearing his army would not fight Richard decided to act; seeing Henry’s personal standard fluttering in the distance and accompanied by a small body of loyal knights he charged straight for it – if he could not defeat his army then he would kill the man they fought for.

It was a furious assault that cut a swath through the Lancastrian ranks but as Henry flinched and was hastened away from harm Richard could see Sir William Stanley’s army advancing against his own. It only served to spur him on but unhorsed and fighting alone he was eventually surrounded and brutally hacked down; and there was to be no dignity in death for the late King, no courtesy of rank, no homage paid to his courage instead he was stripped naked, thrown onto a horse and paraded through the streets of Leicester for all to see.

In the meantime, Lord Stanley finding the crown Richard had worn into battle hanging from a thorn bush presented it to Henry – a new dynasty had been born.

Henry Tudor was crowned King Henry VII at Westminster Abbey on 30 October ,1485, without opposition and to great acclaim but he knew that as long as the Princes remained unaccounted for the question of legitimacy would dog his reign just as it had the man he’d deposed. He acted quickly to cement his position. First he declared his reign to have begun on 21 August 1485, the day before the Battle of Bosworth making Richard the usurper and those who had supported and fought for him liable to the accusation of treason. Parliament agreed to this rewriting of history though not entirely without dissent. Also, to secure the support of those who might otherwise have opposed him he agreed to marry Edward IV’s youngest daughter Elizabeth thereby uniting the House of Lancaster with that of York and bringing to an end the dynastic war that had raged between them, or so it was hoped – hence, the emblem for the new regime of the White Rose of York emblazoned upon the larger Red Rose of Lancaster – the Tudor Rose.

The visual acknowledgement of reconciliation aside however, Henry both feared and anticipated rebellion and would do so for the rest of his life. It fuelled a paranoia not unfounded that would prove wearying both on mind and body – the first of these rebellions would be swift in coming.

Organised by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, a devoted servant to and loyal ally of Richard III who claimed he had been named the King’s successor in the event of his death it would have as its figurehead a boy, Lambert Simnel, who it was said was the son of Edward IV’s executed brother George, Duke of Clarence who with the Princes in the Tower presumed dead would be the closest surviving blood relative to the old King.

It wasn’t true of course and so despite a coronation of sorts taking place in Ireland the English nobility did not rally to his standard. Nonetheless, his army was a substantial and it took a series of prolonged and bitterly fought encounters before it was finally defeated at the Battle of Stoke Field on 16 June, 1487, where the Earl of Lincoln was killed and Simnel captured.

Realising that Lambert Simnel was just a boy ignorant of the treasonable action he had undertaken Henry chose to be merciful and so rather than subject him to the gruesome fate that would normally await traitors he granted a full pardon and employed him in the Royal Household first as a lowly kitchen scullion and later as a falconer. He would survive well into the reign of Henry VIII.

In the meantime, the demonization of Richard III continued apace with Tudor propaganda portraying him as the murderer of the Princes in the Tower (though no bodies had been discovered) while depictions of him were distorted to stress his hunchback and physical deformity at a time when such things were thought a visible sign of evil, of the corruption of the soul, and the manifestation of God’s displeasure.

Such propaganda would continue throughout the reign of the Tudor’s from Sir Thomas More’s seminal History of Richard III in 1513 to William Shakespeare’s eponymous play of the same name written in 1593.  Henry VII was under no illusions as to the fluctuating nature of his grip on power and neither would be his successors.

A more serious threat to Henry’s reign and a sustained and prolonged one was that posed by Perkin Warbeck, a man about whom we know little other than that he later revealed himself.  He claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, and it was said he had an uncanny resemblance to the younger of the missing Princes. He also had an explanation for his sudden re-appearance after ten years unheard and unseen. His brother, he said, had been murdered in the Tower on Richard’s orders but his life had been spared by those who had taken pity upon him for his youth and innocence and spirited him away to the Continent where he lived in seclusion under the protection of Sir Edward Brampton. Now he had come of age he as determined to seize what was rightfully his.

Perkin Warbeck it seemed was plausible and he quickly gathered support both in England and abroad. Henry was swift to act, those nobles he didn’t trust or was aware had expressed sympathy for Warbeck were arrested and put on trial for their lives. Many of the death penalties passed were later commuted to terms of imprisonment but not that of his Lord Chamberlain Sir William Stanley, the man who had come to his rescue at Bosworth, who was executed for treason. A fate that perhaps had been a long time coming.

Warbeck’s first attempt to land in England had to be aborted when meeting stiff local resistance at Deal in Kent his army were forced to flee back to their ships. Like Lambert Simnel before him he now sailed for Ireland where he could be assured a warmer welcome. Despite the initial enthusiasm however, he was unable to raise sufficient support to compensate for the losses incurred at Deal and so set sail once more, this time for Scotland.

It appeared that the Scots King James IV was prepared to provide Warbeck with all he required for an attack upon the Auld Enemy to the south, not just money and weapons but also an army.

On 21 September 1496, their combined force with banners unfurled and to great fanfare crossed the River Tweed into England. They met little resistance but the people did not rally to Warbeck neither to the disappointment of James did his crossing the border prompt an invasion from France.

Upon learning an English Army blocked any further advance south and that another was approaching from the west James decided discretion was the better part of valour and retreated back cross the border. Abandoned by his Scots allies Warbeck sailed for Ireland once more where he laid siege to the town of Waterford without success.

Warbeck had twice been vanquished but Henry knew as long as he was loose he remained a threat and would return. He was right. On 7 September, 1497, Warbeck landed in England this time near Land’s End in Cornwall. Remote and far from London Cornwall has always had a unique sense of itself and it had never accepted Henry VII as its King having already once risen in revolt. Promising to alleviate the heavy burden of taxation levied upon them while also attending to their other grievances the people of Cornwall rallied to Warbeck and before a host of supporters on Bodmin Moor he was proclaimed King Richard IV of England.

With his small army reinforced by some 6,000 poorly armed and untrained Cornish volunteers Warbeck began his march on London but he was hesitant and progress was slow. Many unimpressed by his leadership began to abandon his cause and he had got no further east than Taunton where confronted by the army of Henry’s ally Baron Daubney and with his army already beginning to disintegrate he lost his nerve and fled to Beaulieu House in Hampshire where he hoped to find sanctuary. It wasn’t to be and taken prisoner he was sent to London in chains.

Henry VII evinced a leniency towards his enemies that would never have been countenanced by his predecessor and so it would prove with Perkin Warbeck who like Lambert Simnel before him would avoid any immediate assignation with the block while many of his supporters would have their death sentences commuted to terms of imprisonment upon the payment of a hefty Fine.

Rather than face death Perkin Warbeck would be subject to interrogation first with a smile of sorts but then under duress, or at least the threat of it. It was enough to force a confession. He wasn’t the missing Prince after all, but an impostor, the son of a collector of taxes from the Flemish town of Tournai. His resemblance to the missing Duke of York, family connections, and ability to speak English brought him to the attention of Yorkist exiles at the Burgundian Court where the Duchess was the sister of Richard III. With her assistance and that of others at Court, Warbeck was able to embark upon his campaign for the English throne.

His full and frank confession would spare Warbeck the fate of most traitors. Indeed, Henry appeared quite taken by the young man and not wishing to punish further for the sake of it he was released from the Tower of London, provided with rooms, and permitted to attend Court. But it was a partial freedom only. He was kept under constant guard, not allowed visitors, and locked in at night. Even so, it was remarkably lenient treatment for a man who had tried to violently seize the throne.

It wasn’t enough for Warbeck however, who complained constantly of boredom and begged to be allowed to return to his wife in Tournai. When his request was refused he tried to escape not once but twice. It sealed his fate – Perkin Warbeck was executed at Tyburn on 25 November, 1499.

Henry VII’s reign may have been forged in the heat of battle but he was no warrior King, burning villages and territorial conquest had little interest for him but neither was he merely the dull accountant of historical imagination. Rather he was a shrewd politician and a sly man who knew that if his dynasty was to survive it had to govern according to the law and not by the sword alone. Its finances had to be sound, its taxes had to be fair, and it must take its place among the other great powers of Europe. These things he worked for tirelessly and though it didn’t always make for great history it laid the foundations for a century of remarkable achievement in all spheres of life under his family’s reign.

Determined his dynasty should last Henry governed through the Star Chamber which he used to circumvent the regular Law Courts to rule in his favour and the King’s Council, a body of his closest advisers who laboured on his behalf and were richly rewarded for doing so.

The men Henry appointed to his Council reflected his mind-set, they were not of the nobility as one might normally expect  but for the most part men of lowly origin, merchants and tradesmen, the men who knew where the money was and how to get it. People like the grocer John Stille, Richard Empson the son of a sieve-maker, Edmund Dudley who had made his fortune in the wool trade and Richard Fox who had started his career as a schoolmaster. These were men the King could work with and they acted with impunity in the name of the law unimpeded by the law. The nobility who Henry so distrusted were less likely to serve on the King’s Council than they were to become its victim and Empson, Dudley and others who had no affection for their social betters were ruthless in their pursuit of the King’s desires as on often trumped up charges and under the threat of imprisonment or worse they squeezed every penny from those who could afford to pay.

In his inner-sanctum behind heavy oak doors locked and bolted with guards posted Henry Tudor really was the King in his counting house counting out his money as surrounded by clerks and accountants he admired the jewels, totted up the gold and weighed the silver while annotating the ledgers and auditing the books. In this way the wealth of England passed through his hands and there was barely a sovereign received or a penny spent that he was not aware of.

It was hardly surprising then that Henry’s character should divide opinion; the Italian diplomat and historian Polydore Vergil who was resident in London working as an agent of Peter’s Pence and met the King on a number of occasions wrote of him:

“His spirit was distinguished, wise and prudent; his mind was brave and resolute and even at moments of the greatest danger deserted him. He had a most pertinacious memory. Withal he was not devoid of scholarship. In government he was shrewd and prudent, so that no one dared to get the better of him through deceit or guile.”

He also provides us with a physical description:

“His body was slender but well built and strong; his height above the average. His appearance was remarkably attractive and his face was cheerful, especially when speaking, his eye were small and blue, his teeth few, poor and blackish; his hair was thin and white; his complexion sallow”

But not all were as admiring, Sir Francis Bacon writing during the reign of Elizabeth referred to him as the ‘Dark Prince’ and thought him a duplicitous and ‘infinitely suspicious’ man while the visiting Spaniard Juan de Ayala was even more dismissive:

“He likes to be much spoken of and admired by the world but he fails in this because he is not a great man. He spends all his time not in public but with his Council writing the accounts of his expenses with his own hand.”

Having spent so much o his early life in exile abroad Henry understood that for his dynasty to survive and prosper it had to reach out beyond the borders of England and take its place among the great Monarchies of Europe; to this effect he created an intricate network of envoys, spies, and paid informers who reported directly to the King who in turn would personally authorise any payments due. It was further proof of Henry’s grasp of politics and it would reap its rewards.

Since Spain’s unification under the joint rule of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile the Moors had been expelled from the south and much of the New World had been laid claim to. Even the successor to Saint Peter in Rome, Rodrigo Borgia, was a Spaniard. It was the emerging power in Europe and Henry was eager to take advantage. His eldest son, Arthur, named after England’s greatest Prince was a vigorous, energetic and physically impressive youth in need of a bride and at the age of 11 he had been betrothed to Ferdinand and Isabella’s daughter Katherine two years his senior. Further complex negotiations would need to be undertaken before the marriage became a reality but Henry was to prove as assured in foreign affairs as he had been astute at home.

Arthur and Katherine were married at St Paul’s Cathedral in London on 1 November 1501, in what was a diplomatic coup for Henry who at a single stroke had made England a player on the wider European scene. But his triumph was to be short-lived. On 2 April 1502, after barely five months of marriage Arthur died of the sweating sickness. It came as a complete shock and Henry was devastated, so much had been expected of the young Prince of Wales and now he was gone. Frantic negotiations began almost immediately to limit the damage. It was decided that the recently widowed Katherine should marry instead Arthur’s younger brother Henry but a Papal dispensation would be required for her to do so based on the non-consummation of her original marriage. Katherine subjected herself to examination and declared under oath that she had never had sexual intercourse with Arthur. The dispensation was duly received and all breathed a sigh of relief but the consequences which remained dormant would prove both significant and profound in the years to come.

Henry may have preserved the Spanish marriage but his personal anguish was to continue. On 11 February 1503, his beloved wife Elizabeth died in childbirth aged just 37. By no means an affectionate man few realised how deeply the King had loved his Queen as for days on end he locked himself in his chambers refusing to see or speak to anyone other than his mother.

The final years of Henry’s reign were grim, he was lonely no doubt after his wife’s death and did consider re-marrying but the inclination was forced and the desire fleeting; and he was ailing his face haggard and drawn, his body frail and stooped. Juan de Ayala wrote:

“The King looks old for his years and young only for the sorrowful life he has led.”

He had achieved a great deal bringing peace and stability to England, a level of prosperity not known for years, a place at the table of European affairs, and established a dynasty that would survive the test of time but he had done so via a relentless process of threats and intimidation, by micro-managing the economy to a painful excess, and creating in England a form of police state that would become increasingly familiar throughout the years of Tudor rule to come – Henry VII’s reign had been a joyless one.

The first Tudor King died on 21 April 1509 aged 52, exhausted and physically depleted from years of tireless labour. His son Henry VIII  was crowned with hope renewed and much enthusiasm, the old King was little mourned.










William Wilberforce: Abolition Speech

By the late 1780’s the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade as well-established and had done much to publicise the cruelties involved in a business from which many had not only prospered but come to take for granted; but for the most part they were Quakers, Methodists, or members of other non-conformist sects who were not themselves entirely trusted. They required someone not only free of the criticism of non-conformity but could also represent them in and bring their case before Parliament. They alighted upon the Yorkshire MP William Wilberforce, a 29 year old evangelical Christian of the Established Church respected for the humanitarian values he espoused and whose own objections to slavery were unequivocal and well-known.

A mild-mannered man with a trusting nature who disliked confrontation he took some persuading but the iniquities of the slave trade were to him undeniable. He agreed to bring a Bill before Parliament for its abolition, though some doubted that he was the man who could bring it to fruition. But as it transpired conviction and perseverance would prove worthy substitutes for any lack of aggression or sense of outrage on his part.

William Wilberforce delivered his speech to the House of Commons on 12 May, 1789. It was to prove the opening salvo in a long campaign to which he would devote the rest of his life, first in abolishing the slave trade which occurred in 1807 and then slavery itself which was abolished in 1833, just three days before his death.

His 1789 Abolition Speech was a landmark moment in parliamentary history and was widely reported in the national press. This is one of those reports:

 Mr. Wilberforce now rose and said:—

When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House—a subject, in which the interests, not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity, are involved: and when I think, at the same time, on the weakness of the advocate who has undertaken this great cause—when these reflections press upon my mind, it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task. But when I reflect, however, on the encouragement which I have had, through the whole course of a long and laborious examination of this question, and how much candour I have experienced, and how conviction has increased within my own mind, in proportion as I have advanced in my labours;—when I reflect, especially, that however averse any gentleman may now be, yet we shall all be of one opinion in the end;—when I turn myself to these thoughts, I take courage—I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade. I wish exceedingly, in the outset, to guard both myself and the House from entering into the subject with any sort of passion. It is not their passions I shall appeal to—I ask only for their cool and impartial reason; and I wish not to take them by surprise, but to deliberate, point by point, upon every part of this question. I mean not to accuse any one, but to take the shame upon myself, in common, indeed, with the whole parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guilty—we ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others; and I therefore deprecate every kind of reflection against the various descriptions of people who are more immediately involved in this wretched business.

Having now disposed of the first part of this subject, I must speak of the transit of the slaves in the West Indies. This I confess, in my own opinion, is the most wretched part of the whole subject. So much misery condensed in so little room, is more than the human imagination had ever before conceived. I will not accuse the Liverpool merchants: I will allow them, nay, I will believe them to be men of humanity; and I will therefore believe, if it were not for the enormous magnitude and extent of the evil which distracts their attention from individual cases, and makes them think generally, and therefore less feelingly on the subject, they would never have persisted in the trade. I verily believe therefore, if the wretchedness of any one of the many hundred Negroes stowed in each ship could be brought before their view, and remain within the sight of the African Merchant, that there is no one among them whose heart would bear it. Let anyone imagine to himself 6 or 700 of these wretches chained two and two, surrounded with every object that is nauseous and disgusting, diseased, and struggling under every kind of wretchedness! How can we bear to think of such a scene as this? One would think it had been determined to heap upon them all the varieties of bodily pain, for the purpose of blunting the feelings of the mind; and yet, in this very point (to show the power of human prejudice) the situation of the slaves has been described by Mr. Norris, one of the Liverpool delegates, in a manner which, I am sure will convince the House how interest can draw a film across the eyes, so thick, that total blindness could do no more; and how it is our duty therefore to trust not to the reasoning of interested men, or to their way of colouring a transaction. “Their apartments,” says Mr. Norris, “are fitted up as much for their advantage as circumstances will admit. The right ankle of one, indeed is connected with the left ankle of another by a small iron fetter, and if they are turbulent, by another on their wrists. They have several meals a day; some of their own country provisions, with the best sauces of African cookery; and by way of variety, another meal of pulse, and. according to European taste. After breakfast they have water to wash themselves, while their apartments are perfumed with frankincense and lime-juice. Before dinner, they are amused after the manner of their country. The song and dance are promoted,” and, as if the whole was really a scene of pleasure and dissipation it is added, that games of chance are furnished. “The men play and sing, while the women and girls make fanciful ornaments with beads, which they are plentifully supplied with.” Such is the sort of strain in which the Liverpool delegates, and particularly Mr. Norris, gave evidence before the privy council. What will the House think when, by the concurring testimony of other witnesses, the true history is laid open. The slaves who are sometimes described as rejoicing at their captivity, are so wrung with misery at leaving their country, that it is the constant practice to set sail at night, lest they should be sensible of their departure. The pulse which Mr. Norris talks of are horse beans; and the scantiness, both of water and provision, was suggested by the very legislature of Jamaica in the report of their committee, to be a subject that called for the interference of parliament. Mr. Norris talks of frankincense and lime juice; when surgeons tell you the slaves are stowed so close, that there is not room to tread among them: and when you have it in evidence from Sir George Young, that even in a ship which wanted 200 of her complement, the stench was intolerable. The song and the dance, says Mr. Norris, are promoted. It had been more fair, perhaps, if he had explained that word promoted. The truth is, that for the sake of exercise, these miserable wretches, loaded with chains, oppressed with disease and wretchedness, are forced to dance by the terror of the lash, and sometimes by the actual use of it. “I,” says one of the other evidences, “was employed to dance the men, while another person danced the women.” Such, then is the meaning of the word promoted; and it may be observed too, with respect to food, that an instrument is sometimes carried out, in order to force them to eat which is the same sort of proof how much they enjoy themselves in that instance also. As to their singing, what shall we say when we are told that their songs are songs of lamentation upon their departure which, while they sing, are always in tears, insomuch that one captain (more humane as I should conceive him, therefore, than the rest) threatened one of the women with a flogging, because the mournfulness of her song was too painful for his feelings. In order, however, not to trust too much to any sort of description, I will call the attention of the House to one species of evidence which is absolutely infallible. Death, at least, is a sure ground of evidence, and the proportion of deaths will not only confirm, but if possible will even aggravate our suspicion of their misery in the transit. It will be found, upon an average of all the ships of which evidence has been given at the Privy Council, that exclusive of those who perish before they sail, not less than 12½ per cent perish in the passage. Besides these, the Jamaica report tells you, that not less than 4½ per cent. die on shore before the day of sale, which is only a week or two from the time of landing. One third more die in the seasoning, and this in a country exactly like their own, where they are healthy and happy as some of the evidences would pretend. The diseases, however, which they contract on shipboard, the astringent washes which are to hide their wounds, and the mischievous tricks used to make them up for sale, are, as the Jamaica report says, (a most precious and valuable report, which I shall often have to advert to) one principle cause of this mortality. Upon the whole, however, here is a mortality of about 50 per cent. and this among negroes who are not bought unless (as the phrase is with cattle) they are sound in wind and limb. How then can the House refuse its belief to the multiplied testimonies before the Privy Council, of the savage treatment of the negroes in the middle passage? Nay, indeed, what need is there of any evidence? The number of deaths speaks for itself, and makes all such enquiry superfluous. As soon as ever I had arrived thus far in my investigation of the slave trade, I confess to you sir, so enormous so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for the abolition. A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might,—let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.