A Victorian Christmas

Christmas is not of course a Victorian creation though many of those aspects of what we now consider a traditional Christmas are Victorian in origin.

The Winter Solstice has Pagan roots, a Celtic festival overseen by a Druidical priesthood where people would gather, animals would be sacrificed, and incantations made to the Gods for a safe passage through the frightful time without harvest, of dark nights, and freezing cold. Some of the traditions we still associate with Christmas come from this time and the Celtic veneration of nature, and of trees and foliage in particular.

The Yuletide Log that was to be kept burning for the full twelve days of the festival, standing beneath the mistletoe for good fortune, or to steal a kiss, the holly and the ivy all come from this time.

There had also long been a Father Christmas type figure that is believed to have originated with the God Odin but since the early nineteenth century has been most closely associated with the Dutch Sinterklaas, though he was not necessarily always the benevolent figure we recognise today.

In AD 354, Pope Julius I declared 25 December to be Christ’s birthday though the first recorded reference to Christmas is not until 1043 and it was to evolve down the centuries but now adopted as a Christian festival it was to become an arena of conflict fought out between the demands of solemn piety and the desire for wild celebration.

By the Tudor era Christmas was firmly established as a time to be ‘hale and hearty’, to give as well as to receive, and for old enmities to be forgotten if only temporarily with the grandeur of the Manor House celebration replicated by the poor and impoverished, a pale imitation perhaps if only in the material not the ephemeral.

But there would be a backlash to all this extravagance.

In 1644, at the height of the Civil War in England the influential Puritan preacher and politician Philip Stubbs wrote:

“More mischief is at that time committed than in all the year besides.. What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used to the greatest dishonour of God and the impoverishment of the realm.”

An Act of Parliament soon followed banning all celebration of Christmas beyond the solemn pieties of Church attendance.

The law could not be implemented until 1647 however, and the effective end of the Civil War but it was to be honoured more in the breach as riots ensued and in towns the length and breadth of the country, shops refused to open on Christmas Day, labourers absented themselves from work in the fields, and decorations would appear overnight only to be torn down by the Authorities in the morning.

The opposition to the banning of Christmas would result in the thirty day siege of Colchester but it would eventually be returned to the people upon the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

The Christmas we recognise today however, is most closely associated with the author Charles Dickens and indeed is often referred to as Dickensian.

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His novel A Christmas Carol published on 19 December 1843, presents an evocative, haunting, but also sentimental vision of Christmas as depicted in visitations from his past to the character of the curmudgeonly old Scrooge.

But it was never Dickens intention to portray a picture postcard ideal vision of Christmas rather it was a warning to everyone of what could so easily be lost. His own impoverished beginnings when he worked as a child in a blacking shop whilst his parents and siblings languished in Marshalsea Debtors Prison were to influence his work throughout his life, but he also recalled happier times and one of his fondest memories was of Christmas when all the family would be together. He remembered with affection the carving of the goose, the giving and receiving of gifts, the playing of games and the singing of songs, but most of all the sense of goodwill and the snow, the endless snow, and it was indeed a White Christmas throughout almost every year of Dickens childhood.

It was something he never forgot and Dickens son was later to write of his father at Christmas:

“He was always at his best, a splendid host, bright and jolly as a boy and always throwing his heart and soul into everything that was going on, and when he danced there was nothing stopping him.”

Now Dickens feared that in industrialised Britain there was a new God, the God of Profit, and a new tyranny, the Tyranny of the Clock, and that in a world of the audit and the ledger book, of long hours and harsh conditions and hard-headed economic facts, Christmas and the very notion of goodwill to all men was fading from the collective memory.

It was also a time when the mass-migration of the people from the land to the cities and textile towns of the north and elsewhere had seen a sharp reduction in regular Church attendance and it appeared that the material was replacing the spiritual in mankind’s affections.

This was not a sense unique to Dickens but was one shared by many authors, poets, and artists who were appalled at the scarred landscape and social iniquities of the industrialised age and they too sought to revive memories of an often imagined kinder and gentler past far removed from the smoke stacks and red-hot forges of factory Britain.

A Christmas Carol was to prove a great success but it also coincided with other factors that were to remodel Christmas for the modern age.

The revival of Christmas in the public imagination was also in large part down to the young Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert. As a couple they were determined to distance themselves from the trappings of Royalty and embrace a more bourgeois familiarity with the emphasis on hard work and a commitment to family life.

Prince Albert, who was from Germany brought many of the traditions of his homeland to their celebrations of the Christmas festival. It would be a family event and they would be pictured at home surrounded by their children, the tables adorned with small trees known as tennebaums (the larger Christmas Tree would not be introduced into Britain until later in the Victorian era) decorated with candles and ribbons with beneath them toys and sweets.

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These images of the Royal Family so unequivocally embracing Christmas were widely distributed in newspapers and magazines and were to prove hugely popular and have set the tone for the Yuletide Season ever since, and other innovations soon followed.

In 1840, the confectioner Tom Smith travelled to Paris where he discovered the bon-bon, an almond coated in sugar, but it wasn’t the sweet that intrigued him but the way it was sealed in a twist of tissue paper. It wasn’t until 1847 however, that he developed the idea further.

He later told how he had been snoozing before an open fire when he was woken by the popping of the wood and coal as it burned and he imagined replicating that popping sound in the form of a ‘cracker’ sealed like a bon bon that would pop as it was pulled. Smith further developed his idea so it could be shared by children but instead of a sweet he would place inside little toys, and also mottoes and humorous content for the parents.

He then worked tirelessly to produce thousands of his crackers in time for Christmas believing they would prove popular – he was right.

In 1843, Sir Henry Cole tired of having to write so many letters of greeting and felicitation to his friends and family at Christmas thought of the idea of a ready-made card that would merely have to be signed. He commissioned an acquaintance of his the artist J. Calcott-Horsley to design just such a card which appeared for the first time that Christmas, the same year as A Christmas Carol was published.

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The illustration depicted a family convivially sharing a glass of wine together but these soon developed into portrayals of carol singers church bells, plum puddings, and a great deal of snow.

The creation of the Christmas card also coincided with the introduction of the Penny Post which made the sending of cards affordable to most people and by the 1850’s more than 8 million were being produced and sold every year.

Of course every Christian country has its own customs and traditions when it comes to celebrating the Christmas festival with some more religious than others but our popular image of it today comes largely from the Victorian era when during a period of revival it firmly re-established itself as the seminal event in the yearly calendar.

As Dickens wrote of Scrooge in his conclusion to A Christmas Carol:

“It was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, may that also be said of us, and all of us.”

Matilda, Queen of England?

On the night of 25 November 1120, the so-called White Ship carrying William the Atheling, King Henry I’s only legitimate son, his two children, and his half-sister along with some 300 others left the port of Harfleur bound for England.

It was a bitterly cold but clear night and with the sea calm the prospects for a swift and incident free journey looked good but many aboard were boisterous young men who in the hours preceding had been drinking heavily and few aboard were sober.

In an act of bravado Captain Thomas FitzStephen now vowed to make haste and overtake the King’s ship which had sailed earlier but just minutes after leaving port the White Ship hit a well known hazard often visible but hidden at high tide and in no time at all the wooden vessel was ripped asunder as the rock tore and slashed at its timbers and the water rushed in.

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Panic ensued as the White Ship quickly capsized throwing hundreds of people into the sea many of whom could not swim. William the Atheling had escaped on one of the few small boats aboard but had returned to the scene upon hearing the screams of his half-sister only to drown when the boat was swamped by those still struggling in the water.

Only one man survived the tragedy of the White Ship’s sinking, a lowly butcher from Rouen named Berold plucked from the sea the following day and who would dine on the story for the rest of his life.

Upon hearing the news of the tragedy a devastated Henry I went into weeks of mourning but now with no prospect of a male heir he felt obliged to promise the throne to his only daughter, Matilda.

No woman had ever ruled England but desperate to maintain the line of succession he forced the nobility to accede to the demand that his daughter Matilda be made Queen upon his death but they did so only reluctantly.

Matilda, also often known as Maude, was born on 7 February 1102 and at the age of 8 had been married to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, and in what would become a characteristic of hers she would insist upon being referred to as Empress, even though she had never been crowned as such.

In 1125, Henry V died whilst on Crusade to the Holy Land, a passing not much mourned by his wife who had refused to travel with him and had taken to remaining silent in his presence. Not long after Henry’s death Matilda was to enjoy a happier union with Geoffrey of Anjou by whom she was to have three children.

The aged King Henry I died on 1 December 1135, and almost immediately the nobility reneged on their earlier agreement and refused to endorse Matilda as his successor instead supporting the claim of her cousin, Stephen of Bloise.

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Stephen was not only an ambitious man he had been a lucky one missing the sailing of the White Ship due to a severe bout of diarrhoea.

Upon hearing the news of Stephen's Coronation as King, Matilda became incandescent with rage vowing vengeance upon those who had betrayed her and in what would soon become known as the 'Time of Anarchy' she determined to regain what she believed was her rightful inheritance.

But Matilda, described as being proud, haughty, bad-tempered, and disagreeable in almost every way was widely disliked. Few had a good word to say for her and over time she was to offend almost everyone who met her yet despite her personal unpopularity Matilda would always have her supporters among those who recognised her as Henry I's legitimate heir and who disliked the way Stephen had usurped the throne. As such, she was able to raise an army substantial enough to wage war.

After two years of intermittent warfare Matilda's moment came when on 1 April 1141, her army defeated and captured Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln. Imprisoned and threatened with death Stephen abdicated the throne.

Matilda had regained her inheritance but no sooner was the prize in her hands than she proceeded to throw it away.

Declaring herself First Lady of the English she set off to London for her formal Coronation as Queen but as was traditional the worthy representatives of the good people of London had made a number of requests upon the largesse of their new Monarch, in particular the desire that she halve their taxes. Matilda dismissed their demands out-of-hand, ordered them from her presence, and refused to meet with them again.

On 24 June the people of London proceeded to lock the gates and bar her entry to the city.

A furious Matilda, who was in no mood for reconciliation, accused them of being traitors and threatened dire consequences but still they refused to admit her. Unable to force entry there was little she could do.

In a state of high dudgeon Matilda, declaring her subjects to be being unworthy of her travelled to Winchester where she had herself proclaimed Queen of England, though it was not a formal Coronation.

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Matilda would not make the concessions required to secure the throne nor would she delegate power or listen to wise counsel. When her cousin the King of Scotland journeyed south to persuade her to soften her ways she raged against him, threatened violence, and had to be physically restrained. Likewise, when Stephen’s wife begged for his release on the promise that he would renounce his claim to the throne Matilda refused to countenance any such thing and after a harsh exchange of words had her removed from her presence.

Indeed, so unpopular did Matilda become that Stephen's army continued to fight for him even though he remained in captivity.

Indeed, so unpopular did Matilda become that Stephen's army continued to fight for him even though he remained in captivity.

In November 1141, Earl Robert of Gloucester, Matilda's half-brother and the key to her military success was captured and to secure his release Matilda agreed in turn to release Stephen.

It was to prove a mistake.

Stephen with his army still intact very quickly regained the initiative and with her support diminishing all the time by the late winter of 1141, she was to find herself besieged in Oxford Castle where she was to prove herself to be nothing if not resourceful escaping by having herself lowered over the walls and fleeing across the frozen moat into the snow covered countryside dressed all in white to hide her from prying eyes.

Moving from village to village sometimes hidden in a makeshift coffin Matilda made her way to the West Country where her support remained strong once escaping capture in Devizes by having, herself disguised as a plague victim.
Her tribulations had in no way diminished her sense of self and she would fight on but she would never again come so close to the throne as she had in the spring of 1141 when she had been Queen in all but name.

By 1148, she had returned to Normandy leaving the campaign in the safe hands of her son Henry. When Stephen’s only son Eustace was killed in battle the already ailing King’s spirit was finally broken and in 1153 he signed the Treaty of Wallingford agreeing that Henry should succeed him upon his death.

Just over a year later in October 1154, Stephen died and Matilda’s son was crowned King Henry II ushering in the reign of the Plantagenets and the woman who could have been England’s first reigning Queen 400 years before Mary Tudor had at least secured the throne for her family and created a dynasty.

The Empress Matilda, as she demanded to be known, died at Notre Dame du Pre near Rouen on 10 September 1167, aged 65. Her tombstone reads:

“Here lies Henry’s daughter, great by birth, greater by marriage, greatest in her offspring.”

One can’t help but think she would have been disappointed.

Vespasian: The Year of the Four Emperors

Just before midnight on 8 June, AD 68, the Emperor Nero rose from a deep sleep to find that the Palace Guard had deserted.

As he went from room to room he could find neither courtier nor slave and when he called for a gladiator to protect him none could be found.

In a panic and with just four personal attendants to accompany him he fled Rome to the villa of a friend some four miles outside the city where he heard the news that the Senate had declared him a public enemy.

It was now every Roman citizen’s duty to kill him or do him harm.

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Nero had been losing his grip on power for some time - he had neglected the legions, raised taxes to punitive levels, offended the political elite with his increasingly outrageous behaviour, created a climate of fear through his arbitrary use of the law, and had lost the trust of the people following the Great Fire.

As Nero contemplated what to do the Senate looked towards the 71 year old military veteran and Governor of Spain, Servius Sulpicius Galba for their new Emperor.

In the meantime, Nero contemplated fleeing and trying to raise the Eastern Provinces, or appealing directly to the people who had once adored him.

He could throw himself upon the mercy of Galba, to whom he had never done any harm.

But it was all fantasy and he knew he faced either an honourable suicide or the humiliation of public execution, he chose the former.

Unable to do the deed himself, his servant Epaphroditos thrust the sword into his neck and chest. His last words were:

"What an artist I die."

Nero had been childless and his death left no obvious successor so though Galba was the preferred choice of the Roman political elite there were many who considered themselves contenders for the Imperial Purple.

Nero’s death may have been applauded but it was also greeted with some trepidation as people feared that chaos would ensue and that Rome would once more descend into civil war.

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Galba, who had been declared Emperor by the Senate, was on his way to Rome but in the meantime there was a vacuum of power in the city and the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard Nymphidius Sabinus now tried to fill it but his men would not follow him.

The city remained tense.

Upon his arrival in Rome, Galba acted decisively.

He had Sabinus executed and when a number of those Praetorians who had refused to obey the Prefect approached him demanding a reward, Galba had them executed also.

The new Emperor's appearance shocked the Senate, however.

He had not been seen in Rome for many years and he was no longer the robust man some remembered instead he was pencil-thin, gaunt, and weather-beaten. Indeed, he looked old and tired but he went about his business with vigour.

All those he thought might oppose him he had executed without recourse to the Law Courts. He vowed to raise taxes to pay for Nero’s excesses and refused to reward either the Praetorian Guard or the City's Garrison for merely doing their duty.

He was an austere and charmless old-school disciplinarian who would be obeyed. He was making few friends.

On 1 January, AD 69, news reached Rome that the Legions on the Rhine had refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Galba and had declared their own Commander, Marcus Aulus Vitellius as Emperor.

Galba knew that given his advanced age people would be making plans to secede him so he tried to pre-empt this by naming his own successor and nominated his right-hand-man Calpurnius Piso to be Emperor after him.

But instead of stabilising the situation this just seemed to inflame matters even more it being argued that Galba was a political appointment and had no right to name his successor.

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Marcus Salvius Otho, who had earlier supported Galba now resented being passed over for the succession and was negotiating with the Praetorian Guard for their support.

Learning of this a furious Galba decided to confront the Praetorian Guard but on his way to their barracks he was intercepted by a unit of Otho's cavalry but through force of personality alone he was able to persuade Otho's troops to escort him to his destination.

Too weak and decrepit to walk, Galba had to be carried on a litter but nonetheless demanded that the Praetorian Guard line up before him. Upon doing so he demanded their loyalty and ordered them to disarm.

He was at first greeted with silence but soon they began to whistle and jeer. When he again tried to speak he was heckled and shouted down and they began to laugh at this pathetic specimen of manly prowess.

In desperation Galba showed them his neck and said:

"Strike me here if you think it would be good for Rome."

They did, and his severed head was taken to Otho who ordered that it be stuck on a pole and paraded around his camp for all the troops to see.

He then declared that he would richly reward the man who had struck the decisive blow and more than a 120 men came forward, so he had a list drawn up.

On 15 January, the Senate, which now had little choice in the matter, declared Marcus Salvius Otho, Emperor.

He ordered the immediate execution of the unfortunate Calpurnius Piso, but even as he was securing his position and accepting the acclamation of the crowd another with pretensions to Imperial Majesty was marching on Rome.

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Marcus Aulus Vitellius had been appointed by Galba to replace him as Commander of the Legions in Lower Germany. A strange choice given that Vitellius was a politician who had little, if any, military experience but then Galba, who was hated by his own troops his parsimony once again causing dissension within the ranks, may have thought that as such he would pose no threat.

As has already been seen he was mistaken for even though Vitellius may have had little to say in the matter those who had previously been under Galba’s command were quick to proclaim him Emperor, and like all Romans of pedigree he was as ambitious as Lucifer.

Otho appeared to have all the attributes to be Emperor - he was 36 years old, physically strong, and proven in battle but he was also notoriously vain.

Conscious of his lack of height he wore built up shoes, and balding he had taken to wearing a wig. He also used makeup to hide his facial blemishes.

Despite his vanity he was by no means cruel and seems to have been genuinely liked by those who knew him. He was however pedantic, lazy and prone to change his mind.

He did not inspire confidence and was to prove a man of straw.

Aware that Vitellius was advancing on Rome he at first tried to persuade him to take a share in the running of the Empire but even before negotiations had properly got under way he'd changed his mind and began preparing for war.

Indeed, he was so impatient for battle that he advanced his forces to confront Vitellius's army even before they had been fully mustered and as a result at the ensuing Battle of Bedriacum he was soundly beaten but it had by no means been a rout.

His Generals advised him that with his army still intact and with further troops arriving all the time he still held the advantage.

Hostilities, they said, could be resumed on the morrow.

But Otho now lost his nerve and refusing to listen to advice to the contrary he declared that all was lost and retired to his bed.

When he awoke in the morning he took his own life.

Otho was praised in Rome for sacrificing his own life to prevent Rome from sliding into civil war.

It was a convenient myth for self-sacrifice wasn’t on his mind as his willingness to confront Vitellius shows. Rather, he was a man who lacked resolution and not wanting to endure the indignities forced upon his predecessor chose the easy way out.

Nevertheless, he was buried with all the pomp and ceremony that could be expected at the funeral of a former holder of the Imperial Purple.

Marcus Aulus Vitellius, who had not been present at Bedriacum and had only journeyed to Rome once victory had been assured, was declared Emperor by the Senate in Rome on 16 April, but much of the rest of the Empire refused to acknowledge him as such.

A notorious drunkard and glutton of whom it was said ate so much he had to vomit to continue carried his portly frame and booze-addled face as if it was a badge of honour.

He could also be capricious and cruel.

One of the first things he did was to have all those who appeared on Otho's list as the men who had murdered Galba, tortured and executed.

But while Vitellius sat in Rome eating and drinking to excess and issuing death warrants, the Eastern Provinces of his Empire had declared for Titus Flavius Vepsanianus as Emperor.

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Vespasian, as he was to become known, was a man of low-birth his father having been a debt collector, who’d had to work hard all his life just to gain a modicum of respect.

Like many men of his background whose prospects seemed bleak he chose the army for a career and both sober and hard-working he was to rise rapidly through its ranks.

By AD 41 he was commanding a legion during the Emperor Claudius's invasion of Britain.

He also gained a foothold on the political ladder when he was appointed Quaestor in charge of street cleaning.

Military success finally earned him a term as Consul in AD 51, but not long after he fell out with Claudius's new wife Agrippina and was forced to retire.

An attempted return to political life faltered when he dared to fall asleep during one of Nero's interminable performances.

Forced once again into retirement he could dwell on a distinguished career for one of his background but it had hardly been glorious.

In AD 66, the Roman Province of Judea rose in revolt.

Nero, whose Empire was descending into chaos and who had already disposed of a number of his most able Generals a result of the on-going Treason Trials, was forced to call upon Vespasian to suppress it.

He relished the opportunity, and accompanied by his son, Titus, he travelled east determined to at last make his mark.

He was thorough and ruthless from the outset - villages were razed to the ground, crops destroyed, and the populace massacred or sold into slavery. But it was a tough fight and he soon put to one side any thoughts of a swift and glorious victory.

On 21 June, AD 68, he captured and destroyed the town of Jericho, and was at last able to advance on Jerusalem itself.

Ruthless to his enemies Vespasian nonetheless treated his own troops well and always ensured that they were well-rewarded for their endeavours, and they in turn were devoted to him.

He knew he could rely upon their loyalty.

When the news of events in Rome reached him he was uncertain what to do.

Nero had been deposed and things were changing so rapidly in Rome it was difficult to keep up, and he was a thoughtful and cautious man by nature who rarely acted without giving due consideration to the possible consequences of his actions. But once his troops declared him Emperor on 3 July, he grasped an opportunity that he knew might never come again.

He left his son Titus in command in Judea with orders to capture Jerusalem and departed for Egypt to secure the grain supply that would guarantee him the support of the Roman people.

In the meantime, those Legions he had available to him advanced on Rome led by his General, Marcus Antonius Primus.

Vitellius at first appeared unperturbed at the threat posed by Vespasian. After all his reputation was not such that it sent shivers down the spine, and he thought he could deal with him comfortably but when their two armies clashed On 24 October at the Second Battle of Bedriacum, Vitellius's forces were routed.

Fleeing back to Rome he desperately sought to open negotiations with the victorious Vespasian but unable to cut a deal he agreed to abdicate the Imperial Crown, resign from the army, retire, and become a private citizen again.

He was on his way to deposit his insignia as Emperor in the Temple of Concorde when he was intercepted by troops of the Praetorian Guard and forced to return to the Imperial Palace. There he fretted and fussed as to his fate.

Tying a money belt around his waist he barricaded himself in his room hoping to delay his capture long enough to be able to speak to Vespasian in person.

But a unit of Praetorian Guard had already been sent to murder him.

He was dragged screaming from his hiding place in a cupboard, taken to the Germonian Steps, stabbed to death and beheaded, his torso then being thrown into the River Tiber.

Vespasian was still in Egypt when the Senate declared him Emperor on 1 July, AD 69.

In the meantime, Rome would be run in his absence by his ally Gaius Lucinius Mucianus, the former Governor of Syria, assisted by, or kept an eye on by Vespasian's second son, Domitian.

He was not to return to Rome until the summer of AD 470.

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The new Emperor's first task was to put Rome's finances in order after the profligate years of Nero's reign and he ordered Mucianus to restore the old taxes and find new ones where possible. In this Mucianus was thorough removing Greece's fiscal exemption and even taxing the use of public urinals. It wasn't a popular move but then Vespasian was still out of the country at the time so didn't get the blame.

The first few years of Vespasian's reign were to be dominated by war and rebellion.

Jerusalem did not fall to his son Titus until the end of July, AD 470, despite his father’s express orders to quell the rebellion swiftly so he could enter Rome in triumph.

Even then the rebellion was to continue for nearly another three years until the capture of the last Jewish stronghold at Masada.

Titus, desperate to impress his father was to be as ruthless as any Roman Commander before him.

The Jewish historian and Roman collaborator Josephus reported that some 250,000 were killed in the fighting with many more dying of disease and starvation.

Hundreds of villages were razed to the ground and a well-documented 97,000 Jews were sold into slavery.

The Jewish Temple was also ransacked and destroyed with Vespasian using the proceeds to embark upon a massive building programme in Rome including the construction of the Colosseum.

Vespasian's relatively low-birth meant that he was never truly accepted as Emperor by many of the political elite, and with no link to the previous dynasty his reign lacked legitimacy.

Aware of this he embarked upon a massive propaganda campaign - statues were erected, busts of the new Emperor were on sale everywhere, scribes, philosophers, and poets were paid to write positively of his reign, and political support was paid for where necessary.

Despite all this his demeanour as a simple soldier and his straight talking manner made him appear coarse and uncultured and many saw him as unfit to wear the Imperial Purple.

It also meant that he never truly got the respect that he could have expected, and his ten years in power were to be beset by plots and conspiracies.

Once his power had been established however, the naturally amiable Vespasian was to prove no tyrant and began to relax, often just brushing criticism aside.

Particularly scornful was his right-hand-man Mucianus who had scant respect for his Emperor and often went public with his criticism.

Despite being advised to do so Vespasian, who was admiring of his administrative abilities, took no action against Mucianus though he would mock his effeminacy and attraction to pretty young men often remarking:

"I, at least, am a man."

Indeed, he largely refrained from punishing his opponents saying that:

"I do not kill a dog that barks at me."

On 23 June, AD 479, the 69 year old Vespasian who had been ill for sometime took a turn for the worst.
Aware that he was dying he requested to be lifted from his bed insisting that:

"An Emperor should die on his feet."

Known for his dry and sarcastic wit his last words were, perhaps in reference to some of his predecessors - Vae puto deus fio!:

"Oh! I think I'm becoming a God."

By the end of his reign he had established his family upon the Imperial Throne, and the succession of his son Titus was to be a peaceful one.

Rome had a new Dynasty - The Flavians.

Italy in World War One: Death in the Snow

In all the slaughter of the First World War none was more senseless than the campaign waged by the Italian army on its north-eastern frontier against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was brutal, bloody, frightening and murderous achieved virtually nothing and is now largely forgotten - and in the tradition of wars down the ages it never needed to be fought.

Prior to the outbreak of war Italy had been a signatory along with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the Triple Alliance. When hostilities began however at the end of July she wisely decided to remain neutral claiming the Alliance was designed only for defence and declaring that Austria following its ultimatum to and attack upon Serbia had acted as the aggressor. She remained open to offers, however.

Despite their being little enthusiasm for war in the country as a whole there was a loud and vocal minority of influential ultra-nationalists such as the poet Gabrielle D'Annunzio and the artist and leading member of the Futurist Movement which claimed to revere technology, the martial spirit of youth, and the redemptive power of violence Giuseppe Mazzini who passionately advocated it.

By October 1914, the Editor of the Socialist journal Avanti! Benito Mussolini, who had earlier towed the Party line and written that Italy should remain neutral, now also declared that she must be involved as a matter of national honour. He asked: "Do you want to be spectators in a great drama, or its fighters?"

The Socialist Party removed him from his post as Editor.

The campaign for entry into the war also had considerable support amongst members of the Liberal Party within Parliament but the majority of socialists and conservatives continued to oppose entry.

The Prime Minister Alessandro Salandra and King Victor Emmanuel III were however in favour and with such powerful backers the majority counted for little and for many months Britain and France had been courting Italy to open a second front on the Allies behalf in southern Europe.

After long and often torturous negotiations on 26 April 1915, Italy signed the Treaty of London. In it they were promised considerable territorial gains in Istria, Trieste, the Austrian Tyrol and Dalmatia if it mobilised its armies in support of the Allies. Just under a month later on 23 May 1915, to equal amounts of joy and trepidation, Italy declared war on Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was as Salandra put it - a matter of Sacred Egoism.

But Italy was ill-prepared for war especially on such an industrial scale. Certainly, it could put a lot of men in the field even without conscription being able to mobilise 36 Divisions and 875,000 men but it could provide only 120 modern artillery pieces for the entire army. Also, having only been a unified nation since 1871 many Italians felt a greater loyalty to their own town or region than they did to their country and patriotism did not come easy.

The Government had also given little thought to how exactly they would supply such a large force. But the rush to war was now on.

Fortunately for the Italians their primary opponents the Austro-Hungarian Army had more than enough problems of their own. Facing a Russian Army 3,000,000 strong in the East they were only ever able to field a limited force on their border with Italy and they were often outnumbered by as many as two to one.

Their army was also made up of many different nationalities - Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Ruthenes, Croats and Bosnians as well as Austrians and Hungarians which not only provided a logistical nightmare but many of the troops viewed their own Government as little better than an occupying force.

Even worse, the Austrian dominated Officer Corps had been decimated in the opening months of the war losing more than 40% of its total strength. These were men who could not be easily replaced and over time the army was to become increasingly dependent upon its German ally for leadership and support.

The Austro-Hungarian Army, large and ponderous would in time prove to be a paper tiger but given its myriad problems it probably performed as well as could have been expected even if one German Officer likened their alliance as being tethered to a corpse.

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The Italian Army was led by the 64 year old General Luigi Cadorna, a brutal martinet of limited ability who still believed that in the age of the machine gun the full-frontal assault was the most effective form of attack and that if this strategy failed then it was no fault of his own but that of his men who lacked the necessary fighting spirit in which case they must be punished. One in seventeen of all Italian troops would face disciplinary charges at some time or other and Cadorna also reintroduced the old Roman practice of decimation, or the killing of every tenth man in any unit deemed to have failed in combat. He would also arbitrarily order the execution of any Officer whose command had retreated contrary to orders.

In total more than 750 Italian soldiers were shot by their own side, more than any other combatant in the war.

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The area chosen for the Italian campaign would be the Soca Valley and the Isonzo River that runs through it from the Trenta Valley in modern day Slovenia to the Adriatic Sea at the north-eastern Italian town of Manfalcone.

There would also be heavy fighting in the Alps and Dolomite Mountains in the region of Trentino and around the town of Bolzano.

Though the Isonzo River ran mostly through Austro-Hungarian territory it effectively formed the border between the two countries. Mountains scarred the western and eastern sides but a narrow corridor ran between them through the Vipara Valley and it was this corridor that Cadorna pinpointed as the key that would unlock the door to victory.

As a proponent of the charge bayonets fixed he dreamed of penetrating the Austrian defences in overwhelming force, taking Ljubljana and sweeping on unopposed to Vienna. But there was little room to manoeuvre and the restricted space permitted the Austrians to concentrate their forces and build formidable lines of defence.

It was also not uncommon for the Isonzo River to flood, not that this geographical anomaly deterred Cadorna from pursuing his chosen strategy with a blind almost obsessive determination. As neither did the Austrians holding the high ground way above the valley below nestled in dug-outs of rock and steel.

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Determined to take the initiative the First Battle of the Isonzo began on 23 June 1915, barely a month after Italy's entry into the war. Preparations had been made in haste but her troops were enthusiastic and full of fighting spirit and attacking uphill they made a number of gains early on and almost took the town of Gorizia before finally being repulsed.

The battle had cost them 14,947 casualties but their short-lived success encouraged Cadorna to try again just over a week later.

It was reported that the Italian troops still fired up fought like furies with much of the fighting involving vicious hand-to-hand combat with bayonets, knives, and clubs. Even so, by the end of the battle there was little to show for the 43,000 casualties incurred.

The Austrians suffered even more casualties, unusual for an army defending an entrenched position, but it is perhaps indicative of the ferociousness of the fighting.

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The Second Battle of the Isonzo had been fought with great courage on both sides but over the next three years there were to be ten more and the enthusiasm for war amongst the Italian troops soon began to wane as it became increasingly apparent that Cadorna had no alternative strategy to sacrificing his troops in ever greater numbers seeking to capture the same old objectives.

Life at the front was also miserable in the extreme, the weather in the mountains was harsh and the troops cold suffered greatly from frost-bite of which some 40,000 of them were to die. They were frequently hungry due to problems of supply and there were always shortages of ammunition. There was also the constant danger of avalanche and some 60,000 Italians were to lose their life to the so-called "White Death" including 20,000 over a two day period in December 1916, alone.

The rocky terrain also meant that the detonation of artillery shells would invariably break of shards of rock that acted as a particularly deadly form of shrapnel.

The harsh discipline imposed on the army by Cadorna also did much to undermine morale and the blame culture that prevailed every time an assault failed sapped the will to fight.

By the time of the 11th Battle of the Isonzo on 18 August 1917, both sides were exhausted.

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Even so, the attack went ahead in the same old way and with the same old results - 148,000 Italian casualties, 105,000 Austrians with little gained by either side as once again the Italian troops risked avalanche as they advanced through the valley and imminent death as they scaled the heights.

The Austrian Army however was close to breaking point and one more assault might well have made the breakthrough that had been so long sought but the Italians were also overstretched and their centre particularly weak.

In a far worse state however, the Austrians in their desperation approached their German ally for assistance.

Realising just how close the Austrian Army was to imploding and being forced to abandon its positions they effectively took over command of operations deciding to take the war to the Italians with the 12th and final Battle of the Isonzo the only major Austrian advance on the Italian front nearly turning out to be the decisive one.

The Battle of Caporetto began on 24 October, 1917.

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Following a short but well targeted artillery barrage and extensive use of poison gas specially trained German Infiltration Units armed with flame-throwers and hand-grenades tore holes in the Italian lines which were quickly exploited by the mass of the Austrian Army following close behind. Despite both flanks of the Italian line holding its ground the centre collapsed completely and General von Below's German troops advanced an astonishing 16 miles in a single day.

Ignoring repeated requests to do so Cadorna refused to order a withdrawal of his forces, and it wasn't until 30 October that he finally relented by which time most of his army had been effectively routed.

It also now became apparent that he had made no provision for such a contingency and there were no reserves with which to plug the gap. It seemed as if the Italian Army was close to meltdown.

Over the three weeks of the Caporetto campaign the German and Austrian Armies advanced more than 63 miles and got to within 20 miles of Venice.

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The Italians had lost only 11,000 killed but more than 265,000 had surrendered and many of these had laid down their arms willingly and greeted their captors as liberators, even singing the German National Anthem. Tens of thousands of others simply fled the front, deserted the army, and went home.

Estimates put the Italian losses as high as 400,000 and they also lost 3,000 artillery pieces, 3,000 machine guns, and 2,000 mortars. The Italian soldier after almost three years of meaningless slaughter had simply had enough.

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Panic swept through the country and Cadorna was replaced by the more pragmatic and less brutal General Armando Diaz who with the assistance of French and British troops was able to stabilise the line along the natural barrier of the River Piave. The Germans and Austrians made repeated attempts to break through but were unable to do so.

The Battle of Caporetto was a national humiliation for Italy, but it also served as a rallying cry.

The Italian people had never fully embraced the war and they sent their sons to fight only reluctantly with letters to the front indicating just how they simply wanted their sons to desert the army and come home. They also hoarded food and hid their livestock to try and prevent it being requisitioned for military purposes.

The relentless and seemingly pointless attacks on the Isonzo Front and the ever increasing casualty lists posted in every town only served to sap morale even further but Caporetto was to change all this. Having come so close to losing their only recently won independence and to their ancestral enemy they at last rallied behind the war effort and now with British and French troops involved they no longer felt they were fighting on their own.

At least the war at sea went better for the Italians.

Though there were no major naval engagements between the Italian and Austrian fleets, both having effectively bottled each other up in the Adriatic, it nonetheless set the stage for acts of great drama and daring.

On 10 June 1918, the Austrian Dreadnought Szent Istvan was sent to the bottom following an attack by Italian Motor Torpedo Boats, an incident dramatically captured on newsreel.

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Five months later on 1 November, two Italian frogmen Rafaelle Rossetti and Rafaelle Paolucci attached mines in Pola Harbour to the Battleship Viribus Unitus and the Coastal Defence Vessel Wien, sinking both.

They became great national heroes and even if such acts of courage had little strategic value they did serve to distract the Italian people from the relentless slaughter in the north - it read well in the papers.

Under General Diaz the attacks on the Isonzo ceased and the harsh code of discipline imposed by Cadorna relaxed and over time the morale of the troops was restored. The advance of the Allied Armies on the Western Front now encouraged General Diaz to take the initiative once more however, and plans were laid to attack the main concentration of Austrian forces around the town of Vittorio Veneto.

The battle began on 24 October 1918 and for four days the fighting was as intense as ever and little progress was made. But the Austro-Hungarian Empire was already beginning to disintegrate. On 28 October, the Czechs declared their independence, the following day the South Slavs did the same. On 30 October, Hungary abandoned its Union with Austria. As if there was nothing left to fight for on 3 November, without warning, the entire Austrian Army laid down its arms. They had lost 35,000 men in those final frantic few days of fighting and more than 300,000 others now went into Italian captivity.

After years of interminable attrition, countless advances and retreats, and the endless casualties for the cost just 5,500 troops killed and wounded the Austro-Hungarian Empire had not only been defeated it had ceased to exist - the humiliation of Caporetto had been avenged.

The Austro-Hungarian Army had paid a high price in defeat with more than 400,000 men killed and the end of Empire but the cost of victory was no less high. Italy had lost 620,000 of its young men killed and a further 947,000 wounded for the sake of Sacred Egoism.

There had also been many civilian casualties and the economy had been brought close to collapse. Yet the rewards it reaped for its sacrifice were minimal.

At the post-war Versailles Conference they received few of the territorial gains they had been promised, most of them instead going to the newly-created South Slav State of Yugoslavia.

Ignored and humiliated the Italian Premier Vittorio Orlando was reduced to tears and forced to abandon the Conference in a state of some distress and the "mutilated peace" as it was known became a valuable tool which the Far-Right in Italy used to discredit liberal democracy.

It would ultimately help bring Mussolini and his fascist Blackshirts to power.

The Death of Pope John Paul I: Murder and Corruption in the Holy City

On 6 August 1978, the aged and ailing Pope Paul VI died. The liberal reforms he had introduced during the Second Vatican Council had divided opinion within the Church and caused a great deal of resentment among its more conservative elements and so his death was greeted with a sigh of relief by some, but the choice of his successor was to be a shock to a great many.

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The future Pope John Paul I was born Albino Luciani on 17 October 1912, in the town of Canale d'Agordo near Venice.

He was of modest background, the son of a bricklayer, and as a young man he was considered too fun loving to be taken seriously but he was nonetheless determined to fulfill his childhood ambition to become a Catholic priest and was to surprise everyone with the determination he showed in his pursuit of what he considered his calling.

Despite his dedication in 1923, his application to join the Jesuits was denied but this did not deter him and he went onto study for a doctorate in theology whilst working hard at his pastoral obligations and teaching at the Seminary in Belluno.

Father Luciani's rise through the ranks of the Catholic Church was steady rather than spectacular and was very much down to his own hard work rather than any contacts he had within the Church hierarchy.

On 15 December 1958, at the age of 46, he was appointed Bishop of Vittorio Veneto and between 1962 and 1965 he was to participate in all of the sessions of the Second Vatican Council.

Always amiable and approachable with a winning smile and the ability to communicate he oozed human warmth and those who met him were impressed by both his humility and honesty but he was not an assertive man and did not cut an outstanding presence among his peers. He had been a supporter of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council but by no means an outspoken one. He rarely, if ever, argued his opinions forcibly and was only too willing to listen to the views of others.

Some considered his easy-going nature to be a sign of weakness, others of idiocy.

On 3 February 1970, he was appointed the Cardinal of San Marco.

Following the death of Pope Paul VI the College of Cardinals gathered at Castel Gandolfo to begin the process of electing a new Pope and rumours soon began to circulate that there were serious divisions with the Conclave.

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Conservatives within the College were eager to reverse the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and supported the candidacy of Giuseppe Siri, the Archbishop of Genoa but he was a controversial and divisive figure, an arch-conservative with a chequered past who had turned a blind eye to priests who had established an escape line for wanted Nazi's at the end of the Second World War and would later oppose the election of Pope John Paul II on the grounds that he was too liberal.

It was rumoured that Archbishop Siri had been elected Pope twice before in both 1958 and 1963 but that so divisive was he that on each occasion the decision had been overturned, that elected on the first ballot under pressure he was forced to withdraw his candidacy. If so he never spoke of it, no doubt silenced by the seal of the confessional.

In 1978 Siri was again forced to withdraw his candidacy which appeared to leave the way clear for Giovanni Benelli, Archbishop of Florence but it transpired that he was too moderate and liberal for most conservatives and unable to acquire enough ballots to secure his election it soon became clear that a compromise candidate would have to be found.

The torch was now handed to the popular but neither respected nor admired, Cardinal Luciani.

At 6.24 pm on the evening of 26 August 1978, white smoke appeared above the Sistine Chapel signalling the election of a new Pope to the crowds thronging St Peter's Square below. Deacon Pericle Fellici then appeared upon the balcony of St Peter's Basilica to announce the name of Albino Luciani as Pope John Paul I.

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The Pope then stepped forward to accept the ecstatic acclaim of the people. Indeed, so enthusiastic was his reception that he forced to reappear on several further occasions simply to appease them.

The election of a new Pope had taken place but at a time when the Vatican itself was mired in a corruption scandal and elected on the fourth ballot it was evident to everyone that the new Pope had been a compromise candidate. At a particularly sensitive time for the Vatican some believed that Cardinal Luciani had been elected Pope because it was felt that he was someone who would not delve too deeply into the scandals that beset the Church and threatened its credibility.

The Instituto per le Opere Religiose, or the Institute of Religious Works, better known as the Vatican Bank held a great many shares in the Banco Ambrosiano, possibly to the value of a quarter of a billion dollars. They used their links with the Banco Ambrosiano to filter funds to the anti-Communist Solidarity Movement in Poland and to various right-wing dictatorships in South America. This they did aware that the Banco Ambrosiano was corrupt and also laundered money for the Mafia.

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The President of the Vatican Bank was Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, an American who was also the Vatican's Secretary of State and second only to the Pope in the Church hierarchy.

Marcinkus was a worldly man with an uncertain past who was a close personal friend of the Banco Ambrosiano's Chairman, Roberto Calvi, and similarly to the corrupt Mafia Banker Michele Sidona who had been murdered whilst serving a prison sentence when his coffee was laced with cyanide.

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The Vatican Bank is also believed to have had links to the Masonic Lodge P2, or Propaganda Due, and its leading member, the shadowy figure of Licio Gelli.

P2 with its authoritarian, some might say fascist agenda, acted as a clandestine political organisation within Italy and had among its members former Prime Ministers, Members of Parliament and the Judiciary, leading Industrialists, and Chiefs of the Italian Intelligence Service and Army. Indeed, so embroiled with P2 was the Italian Political Establishment that they formed an effective Shadow Government.

P2 plundered funds from the Banco Ambrosiano to pay its members and to bribe politicians. It was also implicated in some of the worst terrorist atrocities committed in Italy during the 1970’s and 1980’s including the bomb attack on Bologna Central Station that killed 85 people and injured more than 200.

This was the Vatican that Pope John Paul - a naturally modest man who had initially refused to use the Sedia Gestoria, the mobile throne upon which the Pope was carried before addressing the faithful and had declined the traditional Papal Coronation for a simple Inauguration Mass - now found himself in charge of, a Church mired in corruption where those at the very top were linked by association at least to the most appalling crimes.

He could either turn a blind eye to this or try to do something about it and Albino Luciani had never turned a blind eye to evil in his life, and he wasn't about to start now and many believe it was his desire to clean up the Vatican Augean Stables that would lead to his death.

Considered by some within the confines of the Vatican to be a theological and intellectual lightweight Pope John Paul I did not appear to engender a great deal of respect. One high ranking official even referred to him as being retarded. Also, his discursive manner of speech, his lack of condescension, and his frequent references to popular culture earned him only scorn. One Archbishop even said the College of Cardinals had elected an idiot.

For a man who exuded warmth and enjoyed the company of others the frosty atmosphere and chill-wind that swept through the corridors of the Vatican must have made it a very lonely place.

Early on the morning of 29 September 1978, just 33 days into his reign Pope John Paul I was found sitting up dead in his bed by a Nun, Sister Vicenza. The 66 year old Pontiff appeared to have died of a heart attack but this was not the whole story as the details of his death soon became blurred, stories were changed, evidence suppressed, and questions went unanswered so that exactly what occurred that morning remains a mystery.

Rumours began to circulate that the Pope had been discovered holding a series of papers referring to the activities of the Vatican Bank, if so these papers were later burned.

Different versions of exactly when the Pope died and by whom the body was discovered were released to the press, and as was traditional no autopsy was carried out and so the release of the rormal death certificate was greatly delayed.

Some of those who witnessed the death scene later testified that among the papers the Pope was holding was a list of leading members of the Curia that were to be handed over to the Authorities for investigation, and that among these names was that of Archbishop Paul Marcinkus.

Is it possible that the Pope had discovered many priests within the Vatican who were Freemasons with connections to the P2 Lodge? Freemasonry is considered atheistic and anathema to God and it is not permitted to be a practising Catholic and a Freemason.

Not long after his death many of the Pope's closest associates died in mysterious circumstances including his personal assistant who was killed in a traffic accident within the Vatican City. Indeed, the deaths had started earlier when his close friend and most loyal supporter Metropolitan Nikidimov, Rotov of Leningrad, collapsed and died during his installation.

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Suspicions regarding the official version of Pope John Paul's death began to emerge following the discovery of Roberto Calvi's body hanging from Blackfriars Bridge his pockets stuffed with bricks. His death was initially ruled a suicide but so suspicious were the circumstances surrounding it that a second inquest was ordered that recorded an open verdict.

Further investigations into the death of ‘God’s Banker’ soon revealed links between Banco Ambrosiano, the Vatican, the Mafia, the P2 Masonic Lodge, and money laundering.

In July 1991, Francesco Mannoia, a Pentito, or Mafia Informer, told the Police that Calvi's murder had been carried out by Francesco di Carlo on the orders of Mafia Boss Giuseppe Calo and Licio Gelli.

In October 2005, five people went on trial for the murder of Roberto Calvi - Giuseppe Calo, Flavio Carbone, Ernesto Diotallevi, Silvano Vittor, and Manuela Kleinszig. On 6 June 2007, all five were cleared due to lack of evidence and with their acquittal all further investigations into the Banco Ambrosiano and consequently the circumstances surrounding the death of Pope John Paul I were conveniently brushed under the carpet.

Quantrell’s Raiders

William Clarke Quantrell, sometimes also known as Quantrill, was the most famous and feared Confederate guerrilla leader to emerge from the American Civil War. Born in Dover, Ohio, on 31 July, 1837, he was not a Southerner and so had no direct interest in the institution of slavery, though he expressed strong views on the matter - he fought for the South as a matter of choice.

He had a turbulent childhood often finding himself in trouble and this continued into his early adulthood where he earned a reputation for having a quick and violent temper. Indeed, though the details remain obscure it appears that as a young man he killed a man following an altercation was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death but had the verdict overturned on appeal.

Following his brush with the law he appeared to calm down a little and found a steady job working as a teacher for the United States Army in Utah. He later resigned his post and tried to make a living as a professional gambler but in this he was unsuccessful and soon returned to teaching moving to the town of Lawrence in Missouri.

It wasn't long before he was forced to flee after being accused of murder and stealing the victim’s horse. He strenuously denied any involvement in the murder and firmly believed that as Lawrence was an abolitionist town he had only been accused of the crime because of his outspoken pro-slavery views.

It was a stain on his character and one that he would neither forgive nor forget.

His hatred of Free Soilers (those who wanted the Border States of Kansas and Missouri to remain slave free) was often and violently expressed and he confronted them whenever he could.

Upon the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the Missouri State Militia but army discipline was not for him and he soon left to form his own band of Southern Bushwhackers.

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Whilst recruiting for his guerrilla band he claimed to be a native of Maryland so as to bolster his Southern credentials and among those who flocked to his banner were Frank and Jesse James and Cole Younger and his brothers who were later to form the notorious James Gang while one of his best scouts was a freed slave by the name of John Noland.

Quantrell was to create the most ruthless and effective guerrilla band of the entire war operating mostly on the Kansas-Missouri border and although he was a leader of Irregular Forces he did in fact receive a Commission in the Confederate Army as a Captain of Partisan Rangers something he took great pride in and was quick to use should anyone question his authority. Neither was Quantrell some bandit out for personal gain but a true believer who took the war very seriously adapting standard military tactics for guerrilla warfare: he meticulously pre-planned his attacks mapping out his routes of advance and securing his lines of retreat. He effectively dispersed his forces synchronising when they should unite, depart, and reunite again. He established relays of horses should a quick getaway be required, and he armed his men with long-barrelled revolvers for improved accuracy and trained them in concentrated fire for greater effectiveness.

Quantrell's Raiders focused their attacks on mostly civilian targets robbing trains and stage coaches, fire-bombing homes, and destroying farms his aim to drive all pro-Union men and known abolitionists out of Kansas and Missouri.

He tried to avoid contact with the Union Army if possible, though in early 1863 he did ambush 100 Union soldiers at Baxter Springs killing 65, including those already wounded, before stripping and mutilating the bodies as an example to others.

Many Senior Officers within the Confederate Army openly expressed their disgust at the behaviour of Quantrell and his like but not all. General Joseph O Shelby in command of the ‘Iron Brigade’ of Missouri regulars certainly appreciated his presence for thousands of Union troops were diverted from other areas of operations to hunt him down, so many in fact that the Kansas-Missouri border region would become too dangerous a place for him to remain.

But first he had unfinished business and a personal score to settle with the town of Lawrence.

Lawrence was home to the anti-slavery movement in Kansas and since the beginning of the war it had become rich on Southern plunder and anti-Confederate Jayhawkers operated from within its environs. It was also the home of Senator James H Lane, a singular Southern hate-figure much reviled for his anti-slavery views and support for the forced removal of known Southern sympathisers from their homes and the confiscation of their land.

As far as Quantrell and his men were concerned Lawrence was a Northern Sodom buried deep in the heart of the Righteous South.

Earlier in the year the roof of a makeshift prison in Kansas City built to house Confederate women collapsed killing several of those incarcerated within. One of these was the sister of Bloody Bill Anderson, Quantrell's right-hand-man. It was believed that the collapse was no accident but a deliberate act of vengeance carried out on the orders from James H Lane in Lawrence.

It wasn't difficult for Quantrell to whip his men into a frenzy of violent retribution though it seems likely that he'd planned the attack long before the events in Kansas City.

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Wearing captured Union tunics as they often did in the early hours of 21 August 1863, following a forced night march Quantrell and 450 men converged on the town of Lawrence. The attack was well coordinated as always and the few Union soldiers present were taken completely by surprise and quickly overwhelmed.

Free to go about their business unhindered this would be no quick slash and burn raid, Quantrell was determined to make Lawrence suffer and after an initial ride through the town yelling at the top of their voices, burning Union flags, and shooting it up any black man found was summarily killed before all the men and boys were rounded up. Once gathered together Quantrell ordered their execution as the women were forced to look on. In total some 183 were killed in cold blood, the youngest being a boy of 7. No women were killed though many were beaten as they tried to intervene.

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Following the executions the bank was robbed, shops and homes looted, and the town put to the torch two-thirds of it being razed to the ground. Senator Lane, one of the principal targets of the attack escaped however, fleeing into a cornfield in his nightshirt.

In response to the attack on Lawrence, General Ewing, the local Union Commander issued General Order Number 11 which made for the forced deportation of all those living in the four border counties that were known to be pro-Confederate. Tens of thousands were forced to abandon their homes which were then burned, their crops destroyed, and their livestock slaughtered.

With Union reinforcements flooding into the region and their support on the ground eliminated Quantrell and his men were no longer able to sustain themselves and were forced to flee to Texas. This marked the end of Quantrell's Raiders as an effective fighting force as they now splintered into smaller groups.

Quantrell fought on however, at first in combination with 'Bloody Bill' Anderson before leaving to form another band of his own. In the spring of 1865, he led 35 men into Western Kentucky where he carried out a number of raids.

On 10 May 1865, he was ambushed by Union troops just outside the town of Taylorsville and in the fierce fire-fight that ensued he was severely wounded by a gunshot wound to the chest. He never recovered.

William Clarke Quantrell died on 6 June, aged just 27.

Prisoners of the Japanese

On 7 December, 1941, a day that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said would ‘live in infamy’ planes of the Japanese Empire attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.

The following day Japanese forces landed near the Island of Singapore and began advancing down the Malayan Peninsular.

In very short order they were to invade Burma, Hong Kong, Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, and numerous Pacific Islands.

In the next few months they were to sweep all before them.

On Christmas Day the British surrendered Hong Kong and 1,700 Canadian troops were to become some of the first prisoners of the Japanese.

Little could they have imagined the nightmare that, awaited them.

In total some 140,000 European and American soldiers fell into the hands of the Japanese Army, mostly in the first few months of the war. Of these 35,000 were to die in captivity where they were starved, beaten, deprived of medical supplies, executed, and worked to death.

Much like the Holocaust remains a stain upon the name of Germany the deliberate maltreatment of prisoners of war and local civilian populations alike by the Japanese stigmatises a nation that unlike Germany still refuses to fully admit its responsibility or guilt.

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On 15 February 1942, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival surrendered the city of Singapore despite having received express orders from the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill not to do so:

"There must be no thought of sparing the troops or the civilian population, commanders and senior officers should die with their troops. The honour of the British Empire and the British Army is at stake."

It was an order that General Percival chose to ignore.

After a brief meeting under a flag of truce at the Toyota factory on the outskirts of the city, he surrendered 130,000 British, Commonwealth, and Malay troops to a Japanese army less than half its size. Moreover, it was an army that was short on ammunition and exhausted from its rapid advance down the Malay Peninsula. Indeed, it was close to withdrawing despite only rarely having been tested.

Of those that surrendered 50,000 were British, 40,000 Indian, 17,000 Australian, and the rest Native Malay troops. Many had only arrived the day before and had not even fired a shot in anger.

The British had lost only 2,000 men killed and 5,000 wounded in the fighting and the Japanese Commander General Tomoyuki Yamashita could barely believe his good fortune.

He had earlier called General Percival's bluff and demanded his surrender, and to his astonishment he had acquiesced.

The following day the entire army was made to line the streets and salute the Japanese flag as they marched in triumph through the city.

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For the Japanese to see so many fit young men, taller and physically stronger than they were in a state of such abject surrender was shameful.

The whole event was captured on newsreel and shown throughout Japanese controlled south-east Asia, and as if to emphasise who was now in control the following day British Officers were provided with brooms and forced to sweep the streets of the city clean as the people looked on.

It was the policy of the Japanese to humiliate the former colonial rulers in the eyes of the local populations.

The Fall of Singapore, the greatest single capitulation in British military history was a bitter and irreversible blow to British prestige in its Dominions and marked the beginning of the end of the Empire.

At 1.00 pm on 14 February, the day before the formal surrender, Japanese forces had broken through British lines and were advancing towards the Alexandra Military Hospital. A British Officer carrying a white flag of truce approached the advancing Japanese and was summarily killed. The Japanese then broke into the hospital itself. Doctors, Nurses, Patients, even those undergoing surgery, were brutally bayoneted and clubbed to death. It was a sign of things to come and should have served as a warning to those who were thinking of yielding to an enemy who had nothing but contempt for those unwilling to sacrifice unreservedly their lives for the cause in which they fought.

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Less than two months later on 9 April, 1942, General Edward King surrendered the American garrison at Bataan after a bitterly fought 90 day siege, 11,796 American and 67,000 Filipino troops were taken into captivity.

First they were stripped of all their belongings and then, already half-starved and diseased, they were forced to march 61 miles in extreme heat to their place of incarceration at Camp O'Donnell.

Denied food and water they began to drop like flies and those who fell by the wayside were either left to die or bayoneted to death. Any prisoner who stopped to help one of his comrades in distress was likely to be clubbed and beaten or simply killed out of hand.

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In what became known as the Bataan Death March 650 American and 10,000 Filipino troops died.

Prior to his surrender General King had asked the Japanese Commander General Masaharu Homma if his troops would be well treated. He had received the reply:

"Do you think we are barbarians?"

Six years later General Homma would be executed for war crimes, as indeed would be General Yamashita - the Tiger of Singapore.

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The British and Australian troops captured at Singapore were held at Changi Prison on the Island.

The Camp was administered by the prisoners themselves and it was guarded by soldiers of the anti-British Indian National Army recruited from amongst those Indian troops taken at Singapore.

The Camp was used as a prisoner distribution centre from where captives were sent to work on the Japanese mainland or to labour on the Burma Railway and it was thought of by many of the prisoners as a safe haven where they could exist, if barely, unmolested by their Japanese captors.

Many thousands of British, Australian, and Dutch prisoners were taken from Changi Prison to work on the Burma Railway.

Forced to labour 16 hours a day in intolerable heat on a handful of rice and subject to constant beatings they completed the 421 km railway in just over 12 months.

It was to cost the lives of 6,500 British, 2,800 Dutch, and 2,700 Australian lives. Perhaps as many as 80,000 forced native labourers also died.

In the Camps, that the prisoners were forced to build themselves, the British at least managed to maintain a modicum of military discipline.

Customs of rank were maintained, officers saluted, and regular parades held. But it was difficult thing to sustain.

The men were exhausted, dehydrated and suffering from dysentery, beri-beri, and other diseases. Denied medical supplies the Army Doctors did what they could to combat a multitude of illnesses but the biggest killer remained malaria.

This was an illness that could easily have been combated with quinine but despite repeated requests for it the Japanese always denied that they had any, but supplies were available and it was possible to purchase it on the black market.

At the end of the war ample supplies of the drug were found in most of the liberated prison camps.

Denied the required drugs it was impossible to prevent death in the camps becoming a daily occurrence.

The Japanese, who were not signatories to the Geneva Convention refused to hand over Red Cross Parcels and so with no other means of supplementing their meagre rations the prisoners grew vegetables where they could.

Given that their staple diet was rice served as a bland thin soup without seasoning known as lugao, which many prisoners could not bring themselves to eat or vomited up soon after doing so, the vegetable yield became essential to staving off starvation.

Even so, they could never grow enough.

At Daily Roll Call the prisoners were expected to be able to shout out their prison number in Japanese as they were also expected to be able to respond to shouted orders immediately and without hesitation.

Not doing so would result in a fierce beating.

The Prison Camps were not securely guarded - malnutrition disease, the intolerable climate, and the rugged terrain made it largely unnecessary.

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There were few escape attempts, the prisoners being simply too exhausted, too weak, or too sick to try, and those that did were invariably recaptured - and the penalty for attempting to escape was often to be beheaded as the other prisoners looked on.

Over time certain characteristics amongst the different nationalities of those taken prisoner began to manifest themselves.

The British stubbornly maintained discipline amongst their troops even to the point of ordering that every soldier must shave in the morning and Military Tribunals were established to try those who stepped out of line.

This didn’t prevent British Officers from regularly accepting privileges from their Japanese captors in order to maintain the class system they had been raised in at home.

This caused a great deal of resentment.

The Australian's adopted a far more laissez-faire approach to their incarceration.

Notoriously informal in any case, they had a nose for survival and soon earned a reputation as pilferers and runners of contraband; they also had an easy-going manner and swagger about them that allowed them to build relationships with some of the guards.

It was also said that no Australian died without someone being there to hold their hand.

There was frequently friction between the Australians and their more uptight British counterparts.

The Dutch prisoners very much kept themselves to themselves and rarely mingled with the other prisoners. They also had a reputation for selfishness refusing to share precious medical supplies or any surplus food, and were in fact widely loathed for their apparent arrogance and aloofness.

The only recorded episodes of prisoner’s turning upon each other, was amongst the Americans where a number of murders were committed.

The prevailing attitude amongst the Americans seemed to be every man for himself and little attempt was made to maintain discipline.

Indeed, they often formed gangs based on Regiment, City, or State, and it is perhaps indicative of that American individualism that they came together in loose informal groupings for self-defence.

As the war progressed prisoners were distributed to all four corners of the Japanese Empire, to places as far-flung as Manchuria, Thailand, Borneo, the Philippines, and the Japanese mainland.

They were often transported in what were to become known as Hell Ships.

These were Merchantmen and converted Container Ships that were used as prisoner transports though the Japanese refused to mark them as such.

Instead they marked those vessels carrying valuable cargoes such as rubber and oil as Hospital and Prison Ships in an attempt to fool the Allies.

As such, the genuine Prison Ships were prey to submarine and bomber attack.

The name Hell Ships was well deserved.

Prisoners were so tightly packed in the holds that they could only move by crawling over one another.

Swelteringly hot, deprived of water and in pitch darkness they could sometimes be confined in these holds for weeks at a time and lived in constant fear of death.

At any moment there suffering could be ended by a bomb or a torpedo and many Hell Ships were indeed sent to the bottom.

On the Montivideo Maru, for example, 1,053 Australian prisoners locked into the holds and unable to escape were drowned.

The worst disaster was the sinking of the Junyo Maru which went down taking 5,640 of the 6,520 prisoners on board.

Even those fortunate enough to escape the sinking ship would often be subjected to machine gun fire in the water whilst others took the opportunity to turn on their guards and murder them.

Of the thirteen Hell Ships known to have been sunk 10,720 of the 15,712 prisoners aboard were drowned.

So great had been the number of prisoners taken in 1942, and the burden they represented, that it was suggested at a Japanese Council of War that they should all be executed.

The idea was rejected but even so the wholesale slaughter of prisoners did occur.

The Sandakan Death Marches occurred between January and June, 1945.

As the ragged and starving Japanese Army that had already resorted to cannibalism (though they were permitted to eat only the corpses of Allied dead) retreated across the Island of Borneo they decided to move the Allied prisoners at Sandakan 160 miles through dense jungle to the town of Ranau.

Brutally treated many did not survive the march and even for those who did it was only to be a stay of execution.

When it was decided to abort the operation instead of releasing the prisoners they chose to kill them and of the 2,400 Allied prisoners-of-war and 3,600 slave labourers at Sandakan only 6 Australians, who had earlier escaped into the jungle, survived.

Of the 6 survivors 3 lived to testify as to the events at Sandakan and as a result at the end of the war. Captain Tekukawa Takuo and Lieutenant Watanabe Genzo were hanged.

On 14 December 1944, at Palawan in the Philippines the sighting of an American convoy convinced those in charge of the camp there that it was soon to be liberated.

During a bombing raid soon after the Japanese ordered the prisoners to remain in their barracks or seek shelter in some nearby trenches, they then doused both in petrol and set them alight.

As the men fled their sparse clothing in flames the Japanese machine gunned them down.

Of the 150 prisoners at Palawan only 11 survived.

The mistreatment of Allied prisoners-of-war went well beyond callous brutality and simple neglect. The notorious Unit 731 of the Japanese Biological and Chemical Warfare Department carried out human experimentation on a massive scale in Manchuria and China.

Such experiments included live vivisection, amputation without anaesthetic, forced drowning, and testing the time it took a man to suffocate.

Most of its victims were Chinese and Korean civilians, perhaps as many as 300,000, but they were also known to have carried out experiments on Russian servicemen and downed U.S Airmen.

General Shiro Ishii, in charge of Unit 731, was captured after the war but he was granted immunity from prosecution for war crimes in return for data relating to their germ warfare programme.

Ishii died in Tokyo in 1959.

Why did the Japanese treat prisoners-of-war so brutally?

German soldiers who had been captured during the First World War expressed no criticism of their treatment and the death rate amongst them was very low. Indeed, it was considered a matter of honour by the Japanese to respect those under their charge. So what brought about such a stark change of attitude?

Japan between the wars was a Nation undergoing a transformation.

The devastating Tokyo earthquake of 1923 which killed more than 200,000 people was viewed by many as a punishment for rejecting the traditional Japanese way of life, and a campaign ensued to eradicate all western influence from Japanese society.

This combined with a rise in militarism, and a growing conflict between parliamentary democracy and the adoration of the Emperor Hirohito as a living God.

Japan during this period was not only in political turmoil but was a society irreconcilably divided between traditionalists and those who sought closer ties to the West.

It was a country close to chaos and one ruled by political assassination.

Elected Governments came and went and none of them were able to wield sufficient control over an army that was willing to kill those Ministers they felt stood in their way.

Uniformity became the order of the day throughout the 1920's and 1930's. Western styles of dress were frowned upon and khaki dungarees became the standard day wear.

Adherence to a traditional Japanese way of life was rigorously enforced by the Kempitai, or Secret Police, and any miscreant behaviour was harshly punished sometimes with a prison sentence or more often a public beating.

There was also a revival in the traditional Japanese religion of Shinto, which along with Bushido, the code of the Samurai Warrior, soon came to dominate.

Shinto was soon installed as the State religion and Bushido became the core value system of the militarism that was to dominate Japanese society in the decades between the wars.

Shintoism with its rituals of water purification, prayer, and the drinking of saki was strictly codified. At its core is the worship of one's ancestors and a belief in the spirits. In its crudest form it engendered among its worshippers self-denial, self-sacrifice, and self-immolation. Its revival saw Japan's other major religion Buddhism proscribed.

Bushido, and its seven virtues, placed the emphasis on honour, courage, and a good death. Honour lost could be regained by enacting Seppuku (ritual suicide) or what we know as Hari-Kiri, and this was the code by which the Samurai Warrior lived.

The union of Shinto and Bushido was to lead to a culture of death.

Japan was already a society highly defined and to its strict culture of deference was now attached this new religious rigour.

The military training of children was strictly enforced and it engendered an atmosphere where self-sacrifice and devotion to the person of the Emperor prevailed.

It was in this harsh environment that young men and women were raised.

Conditions in Japan itself were also tough.

It was still a predominantly agricultural country, desperately poor, and it had been badly hit by the World Economic Depression, and a life in the military, though harsh, was at least a way out of grinding poverty.

All this goes some way to understanding the character of the Japanese soldier even if it does not excuse or fully explain the cruelties for which they were responsible.

The Japanese however barely treated their own soldiers better than they did the prisoners under their care.

Japanese Officers would often physically beat their own men for the slightest infraction of the rules and the rations they received were rarely more than the minimum required.

Wounded soldiers often went untreated and it was not unknown for those who were wounded and unable to move to be disposed of as an inconvenience.

These men, subjected to such harsh conditioning did not necessarily see their treatment of prisoners as anything but decent.

Those Officers arraigned after the war for war crimes simply could not understand what they were being charged with.

The middle-ranks of the Japanese Officer Corps were largely made up of the sons of poor peasant farmers often barely educated who saw themselves as the inheritors of the Samurai tradition, and there was an obsession with blooding their much-cherished swords.

It was considered a humiliation to serve in a prisoner-of-war camp and those who did had often been deemed unfit for front-line military service, either physically or emotionally.

Also, many of the camp guards were not Japanese as such but rather Taiwanese volunteers of Japanese extraction.

Poorly trained they were often recruited from amongst the worse elements of society and many had criminal records.

It would be wrong however, to think that the maltreatment of prisoners was entirely down to the callous behaviour of individuals, a general contempt for those who willingly surrendered their arms, or an accumulation of all the factors detailed above.

Japanese policy was to humiliate the white man and the old colonial rulers whenever and wherever they could.

John Foxe Actes and Monuments: The Book of Martyrs

On 1 October, 1553, Mary Tudor was crowned Queen Mary I of England at Westminster Palace in London.

She was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, had been raised by her mother as a devout Catholic, and much like her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth she lived much of her early life in fear.

From the moment Mary succeeded to the throne she expressed her determination to roll back the Protestant Reformation and restore England to the Catholic faith. Her half-brother Edward, who reigned before her was a committed Lutheran who had done much to hasten the transformation of the country into a Protestant State but he had died on 6 July 1553, of a lung infection aged just 15, with his work still incomplete.

Prior to his death however, aware of his sister’s intentions he had altered the line of succession to ensure that he was followed as monarch by his reliably protestant cousin, the sixteen year old Lady Jane Grey.

The plans were already in place but no provision had been made to take Mary into custody should the need arise.

Following Edward's death, Mary, with an army of her supporters marched on London. As the daughter of King Henry VIII she was seen by most people to be the rightful heir and became Queen by popular acclaim.

The reluctant "Thirteen Day Queen" Lady Jane Grey was arrested and later executed despite Mary’s promise that she would be spared.

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Being so nearly deprived not only of her inheritance but possibly her life made Mary even more determined to reverse the religious changes before they took hold and she was to introduce laws that made those who openly and actively continued to practice their Protestant faith liable to prosecution.

It was her destiny, she believed, to expunge the Protestant Heresy from England and return it to the one true Catholic faith, and it was to precipitate what has become known to history as the Marian Burnings.

Mary was encouraged in her actions by the Archbishop of Canterbury Reginald Pole, the Bishop of London Edmund Bonner, and the Lord Chancellor Stephen Gardiner.

They had all suffered and been imprisoned during the reign of Edward and were determined that they should never be so compromised again.

If Mary ever did waver in her convictions she had these men whispering sweet venom in her ear to ensure that she stayed the course.

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John Foxe was born in Boston, Lincolnshire in 1516 to a family prosperous enough to send him to Oxford University where he studied Logic but his early conversion to Protestantism and his inability to keep quiet about it at a time when England remained firmly within the Roman Catholic fold and to do so was perilous curtailed a promising academic career.

His fortunes improved somewhat during the reign of Edward VI but Mary’s ascent to the throne saw him flee abroad with his pregnant wife in fear of his life.

John Foxe's Actes and Monuments, or Book of Martyrs, was published early in the reign of Mary's half-sister Queen Elizabeth I.

It was his response to the dark days of auto-da-fe in England and had been written whilst Foxe himself was in exile and wasn’t published in England until March, 1563.

It outlined in great detail and at great length the sufferings and sacrifices of the so-called Marian Martyrs.

The book was published in two large volumes lavishly illustrated with prints and woodcuts and ran to over two thousand pages, though it was later condensed into a single volume, and it was to cover the entire period from the early Christian Martyrs to what was then the present day, placing special emphasis on the iniquities of the Spanish Inquisition.

Its publication was to lend legitimacy to Elizabeth as the Defender of the Protestant faith and as the one person who could prevent the return of Catholic repression to England.

As a result, the book was well received, though the cost of its publication was so prohibitive that it ensured that John Foxe himself never became a wealthy man.

Nonetheless, Elizabeth, who was the first English Monarch to truly grasp the value of public relations, was quick to exploit its propaganda value and the Book of Martyrs, as it soon became known stood alongside the Bible on the lectern of many English Churches often paid for by public subscription.

Cathedrals were ordered to possess a copy and priests were expected to be able to provide one for both their household and their congregation though its cost made this a law largely ignored.

The Book of Martyrs berated superstitious popery, damned the adoration of false icons, mocked miracles and holy relics but more significantly it outlined in detail the terrible crimes committed during the reign of the old Queen Mary.

The first of the Marian Martyrs was John Rogers, A preacher at St Paul's Cathedral. He had warned his flock against the return of pestilential popery, idolatry, and superstition, and had openly praised the - true doctrine of King Edward's day.

He was arrested and refusing to recant was burned at the stake at Smithfield in London. His fate, Mary had hoped, would serve as a warning to others who might otherwise be inclined to continue in their heretical and sinful ways, but it was to be nothing of the sort.

Indeed, the fate of John Rogers only seemed to confirm others in the truth of his words.

Some of the victims of the Marian Burnings were high-profile.

On 16 October 1555, at Balliol College in Oxford, Nicholas Ridley, Bonner's predecessor as Bishop of London, and Hugh Latimer, the former Chaplain to Edward VI, were cast to the flames.

Before the fires were lit Latimer shouted to the obviously terrified Ridley:

"Play the man Master Ridley, and we shall this day light a candle, by God's Grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

But the great prize for those proponents of the restoration of Catholicism in England was Thomas Cranmer.

He had been Archbishop of Canterbury under both Henry VIII and Edward VI and along with Thomas Cromwell had been the architect of the English Reformation.

Together they forged ahead with the break from Rome, the deposition of Mary's mother Catherine of Aragon, and the bastardisation of Mary herself.

As a result she had been placed under many years of house arrest and refused permission to visit her mother or to see her father.

For this Thomas Cranmer would be made to pay in full.

From the moment Mary ascended to the throne Cranmer was a wanted man, but despite the advice of both his family and friends, he had refused to flee the country. This may have been because he had been assured that should he recant his previous beliefs and condemn the Reformation he would be spared burning at the stake.

He was arrested and brought before the Star Chamber to hear the offences he had been charged with.

Following this he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

If Cranmer truly believed his willingness to co-operate would spare him from execution he was to be sorely mistaken. The new Establishment sought his condemnation for all that had been done in the name of the Protestant religion and nothing he could say would save him, seemingly unaware of this Cranmer went onto say a great deal.

Indeed, he could not have been more contrite.

This would not be the first time that Cranmer's previously held convictions had crumbled under pressure. He had earlier abandoned Anne Boleyn when she fell out of favour with Henry VIII, and had distanced himself from Thomas Cromwell when he had similarly fallen from grace.

After five separate but half-hearted recantations, Cranmer disavowed Protestantism in its totality, denying all of the teachings of Martin Luther, recognising the authority of the Pope, and stating that there was no salvation outside the embrace of the Catholic Mother Church.

He could not have been more abject in his contrition. He was a blasphemer and a persecutor, he said. He was unworthy of any kindness and deserving only of punishment and eternal damnation. He even admitted to being the cause of Henry VIII's divorce from Mary's mother Catherine that had been the cause of so much woe in the country.

He then took confession and repented of his sins.

Following such a frank and thorough recantation the normal procedure would have been for Cranmer to be absolved of his sins and released from his captivity, but it was not to be.

At Mary's insistence he would be burned regardless, but first he would be made to make a full public recantation and confession.

On 21 March, 1556, the 67 year old Cranmer was made to stand in the pulpit of Oxford University Church and recant of his sins in front of an invited audience.

The speech he had prepared the night before had been submitted for authorisation and thoroughly vetted.

Cranmer began his address nervously and it was remarked upon just how old and frail he looked. But as he progressed he appeared to calm down, his words became clearly audible, and the address was going as expected.

He was penitential - he prayed out loud, begged for forgiveness, and demanded of the audience that they obey the Queen in all things; but then he deviated from the prepared text and declaring his own degradation, to jeers and howls of derision from the crowd, he said in a clear and loud voice:

"I renounce and refuse the things written with my hand, contrary to the truth I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death, and to save my life. And for it be as much as my hand offended, writing contrary to my heart, my hand shall first be punished. For it shall be first burnt. And as for the Pope I declare him as Anti-Christ, and as Christ's enemy with all his false doctrine."

There was uproar, shocked and enraged those attending dragged him from the pulpit straight to his place of execution. He was bound to the stake and as the flames lapped about him he thrust the hand that had signed the recantation into the fire as he had earlier promised he would do.

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Most of the victims of the Marian Burnings were not as exalted as Latimer, Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer. They were simple people, the common people, who had embraced the new religion with the devotional fervour of those who have stumbled across a revealed truth for the first time.

No longer reliant upon a priest for the word of God, oppressed by ritual, or confused by Latin texts they were able to read a Bible written in English for themselves for the first time.

John Foxe detailed their story too.

People like Joan Waste, a blind woman from Derby who had been raised a devout Protestant and had complained that the Church services she now attended were read out in Latin. She also denied the transubstantiation saying that the bread and wine provided at Mass was no more than what it appeared to be.

For this she was arrested and charged with heresy.

At her trial she was accused of purchasing an English translation of the New Testament and of paying people a penny a time to read it to her.

Found guilty she was burned at the stake on 1 August, 1556.

Mary desired that her people be reconciled back into the Catholic faith and insisted that the heresy trials be conducted according to the law and without vindictiveness. As such, many of the accused were offered a pardon if they recanted in full, most refused.

But despite Mary's demand that the Authorities behave judiciously the Heresy Trials were soon to become an anti-Protestant witch-hunt that provided some with the opportunity for revenge.

On the Island of Guernsey a woman, Katherine Cowchen lived with her daughters Guillemine Gilbert and Perrotine Massey. When Perrotine informed the Authorities that another woman, Vincent Gosset, had stolen a gold goblet from her, Gosset accused the family of being heretics.

All three women were tried, found guilty, and condemned to be burned at the stake. Perrotine Massey had not informed anyone that she was pregnant and as the fires were lit the sheer terror of it induced her to give birth. Someone rushed forward from the crowd to rescue the baby from the flames but the Sheriff ordered that it be thrown back onto the fire.

Being burned at the stake was no guarantee of a quick death.

Fires could go out and need to be re-lit with only part of the body burned. A change of wind direction could leave the victim badly burnt on one side but untouched on the other. Limbs could fall off and eyes pop out whilst the victim was still alive, and it was not unusual for the accused to still be alive up to an hour after the first flames had been lit.

Sometimes gunpowder would be placed among the faggots to provide for a quicker and more merciful death.

There were to be many victims of Mary's religious intolerance and the vengeful fervour of her over-zealous acolytes.

In total 277 people were burned at the stake for remaining true to their faith during the five years of Mary's reign, including nine in a single day at Lewes in Sussex, another 30 died in prison whilst awaiting execution.

John Foxe assiduously recorded them all, and with the exception of the King James Bible no other book has had such a profound influence upon the growth and spread of Protestantism not just in England but around the world.

He only returned to Elizabethan England once he felt assured that Catholic worship would never again be tolerated except by force of arms and that any attempt to reinstate it would be resisted to its fullest measure.

Having dedicated the book to Elizabeth he was disappointed to learn that there would be no reward.

The ascendancy of the Protestant faith in England should have been reward enough of course but that did not put bread on the table.

But he had many admirers and his fortunes would fluctuate according to mood and temper for though amiable by nature he could often be truculent and scorn help.

He also fell out with many of his more vehement adherents who could not understand how a man so violently anti-Catholic in word so hated violence in deed and disavowed bloodshed.
But then his book had done as much to kill Catholicism in England as the unsheathing of any sword.

Mary's attempt to re-establish Catholicism in England ultimately failed.

Her sister Elizabeth who succeeded her as Queen would return the country to Protestantism with the declaration that she ‘would not make windows into people’s souls’, and embraced John Foxe's Book of Martyrs as a useful propaganda tool in the Protestant cause.

It, along with the behaviour of Mary, was a constant reminder to the people what the return of Catholicism to England would mean.

John Foxe would die on 15 April 1587, just a year before the Spanish Armada.

The Fall of Constantinople

Constantinople was the capital of the ‘Eternal’ Byzantine Empire and the glittering jewel of the Christian world. It was to here that in 324 the Emperor Constantine I had transferred power from Rome and first established Christianity as the religion of Empire facilitating its spread across the Western world.

It was also the Gateway to the East and had long been a thorn in the side of the Ottoman Empire, not because the Ottomans feared it but because it was the bridge between East and West and was believed to contain great wealth which they envied. They also resented this beacon of Christianity in the heart of their Islamic World which also served as a barrier to their inexorable march westwards.

Situated on the Bosphorus at the far end of the Hellespont, or the modern day Dardanelles, Constantinople separated the Aegean Sea from the Sea of Marmara and surrounded by water on three sides and defended by a series of high walls on its landlocked western side it was not only a place of great strategic value but a formidable obstacle to any would be assailant.

Despite many previous attempts to do so it had only ever been captured once before, in 1204 by Western Crusaders, and then more by deception than force.

But the ruthlessly ambitious Sultan Mehmed II was determined to take it.

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The 21 year old Mehmed, an abusive young man feared for his violence of temper had only recently been re-installed as Sultan his arrogance having seen him briefly deposed, was neither popular with his people or within his own Court, though both were to revel in the glory of his triumph and profit from his conquests.

His father, Murad II, had unsuccessfully besieged Constantinople in 1522, Mehmed was confident that he would not suffer a similar fate.

For many years the Ottoman's had been building fortresses with the intention of hemming the city in and choking off its supply lines, but they could do little about its access to the sea but by 1453 the Byzantine Empire was a shadow of its former greatness and the Emperor Constantine XI wielded little power outside the walls of the city itself. Despite this his spy network was still effective and he was well aware of the Sultan Mehmed's intentions and that the building of yet another fortress was just a precursor to a full-scale assault on Constantinople.

He dispatched a series of increasingly desperate letters to the Pope in Rome pleading for military assistance most of them unanswered, and it was to be divisions between the Orthodox Christian Church in the East and the Roman Catholic Church in the West, and their indifference to its plight, that were to seal the Byzantine Empires fate every bit as much as the armies of Mehmed II.

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Constantine XI, of the Greek-Serbian Palaiologos Dynasty had only been Emperor for four years, though he had previously served as Regent and unlike many of his predecessors as Emperor he was a soldier and acknowledged as a practical, plain-spoken man even if much of his short reign had been taken up with arcane and labyrinthine disputes with the Vatican in Rome.

Constantinople still considered itself the heart of Christendom and despite being militarily weak it’s very effective and wily Diplomatic Service fought hard to maintain its status. Likewise, the more powerful Roman Catholic Church believed itself to be the one true faith and had long tried to impose a union upon the Church in the East but their attempts to do so had been dismissed with such contempt by the Byzantines that it had created only resentment and the bitterness between the two contending strands of the same religion.

It was only now aware that Mehmed was preparing to assault the city that Constantine XI at last agreed to such a union, but few any longer believed him. Nevertheless, Pope Nicholas VI did his best to rally support but his appeals were to fall largely upon deaf ears - Europe had its own problems:

Spain was already at war with Islam as the Reconquista, the liberation of the South of the country from Moorish control, continued; France was still recovering from its Hundred Years War with England; while England itself was embroiled in the dynastic squabble that was the War of the Roses.

The Pope's attempts to raise a Crusader Army to come to the defence of the last Christian bastion in the East came to nothing. Constantinople would have to fight on almost alone and the only city that rallied to its support in any strength was its main trading partner Genoa. In January 1453, the noted Condottieri Giovanni Giustiniani arrived with 700 troops.

Venice also sent ships and a small number of men.

In the meantime, the Byzantines tried to do what they had done since the time of Attila the Hun and buy themselves out of trouble. But Mehmed refused to negotiate and the Byzantine Ambassadors were returned to the city minus their heads.

By April 1453, Mehmed had amassed an army of 150,000 men to the western land-locked side of the city whilst his navy blockaded what was known as The Golden Horn in an attempt to prevent access by sea. His own ships however, were prevented from entering the harbour by the boom drawn across it.

Constantinople was defended on its landward side by 200 external and internal fortifications known as the Theodosian Walls but with only 7,000 troops at his disposal it was not possible for Constantine to man both the outer and inner walls. The decision was made to man the outer walls but so thinly spread were his forces that Constantine issued an appeal to the city's male population to form a militia but fewer than 200 came forward willing to take up arms in their own defence.

Still the walls were strong and Constantine hoped that they could hold out long enough to prick the consciences of the western powers forcing them to come to his assistance.

On 5 April, an attempt was made to destroy the blockading Ottoman Fleet with fire-ships. It failed but caused enough confusion for ships carrying valuable supplies and in one case over a 1,000 Genoese troops to break through.

Constantine immediately ordered that the Genoese be marched along the walls in full armour to show the Turks just how many men he now had. It was bravado of course, but it seemed to work for Mehmed now hesitated and sent emissaries to negotiate the surrender and peaceful handing over of the city. If the Emperor agreed the population would be spared. If not, then the city would be pillaged and its people either put to the sword or sold into slavery - the offer was summarily rejected.

The Sultan now moved his enormous siege guns to within range of the city's walls and massed his troops for an assault. In the meantime, Constantine ordered that all the monks in the city be armed and pressed into service. His lack of troops meant that they would have to defend one of the gates.

Mehmed's siege guns blasted the walls of the city, and his ships did likewise, but still he hesitated to order the assault perhaps hoping that Constantine would come to his senses, but the siege guns had also not been as effective as he had hoped. They did blast large holes in the walls but took so long to reload that Giustiniani had time to barricade the breaches that had been created.

At last, his patience exhausted, on 29 May, Mehmed ordered the attack.

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The initial assault was led by thousands of Bashi-Bazouks, an untrained militia of various nationalities who fought for pay and plunder. They were fearsome warriors whose only remit was to kill the enemy and wreak as much mayhem as possible but they were also ill-disciplined and though they could spread terror among their enemies they were just as likely to run away if the going got tough.

The Bashi-Bazouks surged towards the Meseterchion Gate, a weak spot in the defences where ditches had been hastily dug and barricades erected. Giovanni Giustiniani, in command of the troops defending the city with his 2,000 mostly Genoese troops took the full brunt of the attack. After two hours of fierce hand-to-hand fighting they threw the Bashi-Bazouks back at great cost to the Turks.

The defenders were exhausted but there was to be no respite and neither could they retreat for the gates had been locked behind them. They would have to stand and fight where they stood.

Mehmed now ordered in his spectacularly attired cavalry who with horns blaring and flags flying paraded beneath the walls of the city before dismounting and attacking on foot.

Giustiniani who had arrived with the reputation as a gallant soldier now showed why as he appeared in the thickest of the fighting to rally his troops time and again as the Turks were first held up and then forced back to catcalls and howls of derision.

But inroads were being made elsewhere.

Some Turkish troops had gained entry to the city through the unlocked Kerkoporta Gate and Constantine himself was directing the attempt to eject them but he had been unable to prevent them from raising the Islamic flag making it appear that at least part of the city had already fallen. Fearing the people might panic at the sight of the flag he now ordered the population of the city to pray for the intercession of the Virgin Mary whom it was believed had come to their rescue in 1522, and thousands of people now packed into the Church of Hagia Sophia.

To circumvent the great chain that prevented his ships from entering the harbour, Mehmed had his ships rolled across land on a road of greased logs, the sight of which greatly disheartened the defenders.

Soldiers and sailors from the ships blockading the harbour were now able to land and begin fighting their way towards the city where they soon found themselves in combat against the many monks now in arms.

Believing that the city was about to fall Mehmed seized his chance ordering into the attack the elite Janissaries, Christians who had been captured at an early age and raised to be warriors, riding before them and exhorting them to attack and conquer.

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Again, Giustiniani and his Genoese stood their ground and initially repelled the attack but sometime during the fighting he was wounded. It is possible that his nerve at last failed him for despite being conscious and able to stand he ignored the pleas of the Emperor to remain and instead demanded to be taken into the city for treatment but witnessing their leader leaving the scene of the battle the Genoese panicked and followed him through the unlocked gate.

Constantine and his Byzantine troops tried to fill the gap that had been created by the Genoans departure but with the Turks flooding into the city the situation was fast becoming hopeless.

Constantine led his few remaining Byzantine troops in a last desperate counter-attack but leading from the front the last Byzantine Emperor was killed, his body was never recovered.

Pockets of resistance continued but for two days the Turks rampaged through the streets of Constantinople taking whatever they could and slaughtering every Christian they could find.

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Mehmed, entering the city for the first time fearing the great structures of the city would be destroyed at last called a halt to the pillaging and bloodshed. Meanwhile, in the West Christian rulers shook their heads in disbelief and wrung their hands in despair.

The Pope demanded a new Crusade to re-conquer the city for Christ but nothing came of it, the city that could not fall had fallen, the Eternal Empire had ceased to be, and Islam was in the ascendant.

Mehmed remained determined to expand his Empire even further and in 1456 laid siege to the city of Belgrade but was defeated by the Hungarian Army of John Hyundai. Even so, Greece, Serbia and much of the Balkans were conquered and the march west of the Ottoman Empire wouldn't finally be halted until defeated at the Siege of Vienna in 1683.

The Amritsar Massacre: Shame of an Empire

On 22 June 1897, as Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee procession wound its way slowly through the streets of London to Buckingham Palace the many thousands of people who lined its route were enthralled at the sight of the Empire in the heart of its capital city and of particular fascination were the gaily dressed Sikh and Gurkha troops and extravagantly bejewelled Rajahs and Nawabs.

India had long been seen as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the British Empire and as long as it remained in her possession then the sun would indeed never set and o as far as most people were concerned all seemed well.

During the First World War India had rallied in support of the Mother Country with more than 1,500,000 Indians volunteering to fight for Britain and some 800,000 transported overseas served in the Middle-East, in Africa, and in the trenches of the Western Front. Of these 47,476 were killed in the service of the Empire, 65,000 wounded, and 12 Victoria Crosses had been won.

It was a display of loyalty to the British Raj that shocked many in India itself because for many years it had been a seething cauldron of resentment. But this support had never been unconditional, a quid pro quo was expected on the part of the British and this meant nothing less than self-Government. When this was not forthcoming resentment quickly turned to open rebellion.

The British tried to placate Indian ire and pander to nationalist sentiment by establishing a Parliament but its scope was so restricted that its effectiveness was all but nullified for despite their loyalty to the Crown during the war the Indians remained distrusted and were believed unfit to govern themselves.

In 1915, they had passed the Defence of India Act, supposedly an emergency wartime measure which allowed for the arbitrary arrest and internment of those accused of sedition without charge remained in place at the wars end. Similarly, press censorship and the trial of suspects before specially convened and secret tribunals that were expected to be abolished following the wars conclusion were merely reinforced by the passage of the Rowlatt Act in 1919.

The British political establishment in Westminster simply could not contemplate losing their grip on India and they were determined that the levers of power would remain firmly in their hands.

India had not been immune from hardship during the war, the British had raised taxes to almost punitive levels and the disruption in trade had led to severe shortages, increased poverty, and in some places even starvation. The flu pandemic that swept the Continent at the war’s end just added to the overall misery.

Dissent was growing at the incapability, or unwillingness, on the part of the British to tackle issues that were affecting Indians on a daily basis, and the more the British tried to rule with a rod of iron in response the more their grip on power seemed to loosen.

The Indian National Congress, an organisation dominated by British educated upper-caste Indians was becoming increasingly under the influence of a London trained Barrister Mohindas Gandhi, known as the Mahatma, and his Satyagraha Movement which advocated non-violent, mass non-cooperation was gaining widespread support.

Perhaps, for the first time the Congress began to act in unison on a national level and protests against the Rowlatt Act were organised the length and breadth of the country.

In the Punjab, where tensions were running particularly high, a mass-demonstration had been organised against the arrest of two nationalist leaders Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, members of Gandhi's Satyagraha Movement.

It was to take place at the Jalianwala Bagh, a walled garden near the sacred Sikh Golden Temple and over 5,000 people were expected to attend in what was a confined space with few points of egress.

They were to be noisy, fervent, and angry, but they were unarmed and it was intended to be a peaceful, non-violent protest in line with the movement’s ethos but in the days prior to the demonstration there had been sporadic outbreaks of violence. Small crowds of protesters had gathered outside the Lieutenant-Governor's Residence and been fired upon and some people had been killed, and in retaliation a number of buildings had been set alight.

On 9 April, a British woman, Marcella Sherwood, who supervised the local Mission Schools, was attacked and physically assaulted as she cycled through the streets of Amritsar.

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This act of gross indecency outraged the local Military Commander General Sir Reginald Dyer, a bloody-minded and unsympathetic man who had little time for the ‘Browns’ as he called them, despite having been an Officer in the Indian Army for over 30 years.

Although things had been relatively quiet in Amritsar itself in the run-up to the planned Jalianwala Bagh protest tensions had been running high in the Punjab as a whole - telegraph lines had been cut, railways sabotaged, Government buildings set alight, and some 8 Europeans had been murdered.

There was a sense of revolution in the air and nerves were strained.

Dyer firmly believed that the demonstration arranged for the Jalianwala Bagh was part of a deliberate plot to overthrow British rule in India and he was determined to stamp out any dissent within his jurisdiction.

On the morning of the intended rally he marched 90 men, mostly Gurkha troops, and two armoured cars to police what he considered nothing more than a howling mob of ignorant savages and as the crowd were whipped up into a frenzy of anger by speaker after speaker, Dyer fumed at the abuse being hurled in his direction and the wild gesticulating of the protesters. Determined to disperse the crowd he believed was getting out of hand he ordered his troops to open fire.

He had issued no warning to the crowd and so his troops misunderstood this to mean in the air but he soon corrected them and ordered them to lower their sights and fire into the thickest part of the mob. They obeyed, if on the part of many reluctantly and with no little sense of disbelief.

Panic ensued as 5,000 desperate and frightened people scrambled with no cover in the garden and nowhere to hide or seek shelter rushed towards the few available exits or leapt into a well to escape the bullets.

Many were trampled to death in the stampede but most of the victims were shot down in cold blood as the firing intensified only ceasing when the troops ran out of bullets. Dyer was later to express his regret that he had not made provision for more ammunition.

Within a few short minutes 379 people had been killed and a further 1100 wounded, though it has since been suggested that the official figures were kept deliberately low.

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In the immediate aftermath of the massacre Dyer was widely praised for his quick and decisive action. He had, it was felt, nipped a Second Indian Mutiny in the bud. The Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab, Michael O'Dwyer, sent him a telegram: "Your action is correct and the Lieutenant-Governor approves."

There was outrage in India at what had been by any definition a massacre and a Commission of Inquiry was hastily formed to get to the full facts of the case. It established that General Dyer forewarned that a demonstration was due to take place had done nothing to raise issues of safety or tried prevent it on grounds of security. Neither had he spoken to the organisers beforehand.

When questioned about the events of the day he remained wholly unapologetic. He had neither tried to disperse the crowd by other means, or issued a warning of the consequences should they refuse to do so, because he would merely have been laughed at and made to look a fool.

The Commission wanted to know if, had the two armoured cars unable to enter the Jalianwala Bagh because the entrances were too narrow, been able to do so would he have used their machine guns on the crowd? Dyer answered: "Yes, without question."

When asked why he made no effort to tend to the wounded he replied: "It was not my job. The hospitals were open."

They then wanted to know why he had not ordered the firing to cease when it became apparent that the crowd were trying to flee?: "It was my duty to continue firing," he said.

The Commission was critical of Dyer's actions but concluded that there should be no penal sanction.

But the Commission’s findings did nothing to placate the anger felt or to prevent the wave of protests that now swept India and so on 20 March 1920, he was relieved of his command and forced to retire.

To many in Britain, General Dyer was at first thought to be the man who had saved India for the Empire but as the details of the actual events at Amritsar became more widely known the feeling turned from one of relief to one of shock.

Winston Churchill described it as monstrous, though he was censured in the House of Commons for having done so; while the former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith said it was one of the worst outrages in the whole of our history.

Having been forced to resign his Commission, General Dyer returned to England where he was presented with a cheque for £26,000, the proceeds of a public collection made on his behalf. Not long after he suffered a stroke and was to remain incapacitated until his death in 1927.

The fall-out from the Amritsar Massacre continued, however.

On 13 March 1940, the former Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, Sir Michael O'Dwyer who had appeared to sanction Dyer’s actions at Amritsar was shot and killed in Caxton Hall, London, by an Indian nationalist, Udam Singh who was later hanged in Pentonville Prison for murder.

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The terrible events at Amritsar did much to destroy of notion that the Raj displayed in all its finery at the Queen's Jubilee just 20 years earlier was governed by consent and fundamentally undermined British legitimacy in India. The campaigns of strikes, sit-ins, and non-cooperation instigated by Mahatma Gandhi now reached levels of support and popularity that had been previously unimaginable and the Indian National Congress came to be seen more and more as a Government in waiting and the Amritsar Massacre could be said with some justification to have marked the beginning of the end of British rule in India.