John Everett Millais

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

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

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

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

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

Effie Gray a Glefinlas

Effie in Middle-Age


Hearts are Trumps


The Martyr of the Solway

North-West Passage



Sophie Gray

Cardinal Newman


I Am Never Merry When I Hear Sweet Music

The Farmer’s Daughter

The Ruling Passion

The Vale of Rest

The Order of Release



Eveleen Tennant

Yeoman of the Guard

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer

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

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

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

Monarch of the Glen

Victoria and Family

Victoria at Osborne

The Whisky Still

Chillingham Cattle

Doubtful Crumbs


Arab Tent


Hector, Nero and Dash

Highland Breakfast

Highand Dogs

Old ShepherdDog


Otter Hunting

The Shrew Tamed

Humane Society

John William Waterhouse

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

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

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





















Hanna Reitsch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

It did little to change her politics, however.

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

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









Henry VII: The Forgotten Tudor

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also provides us with a physical description:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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










Nestor Makhno: The Forgotten Revolutionary

He is barely remembered now even in radical circles and perhaps only mentioned in passing but Nestor Ivanovich Makhno, the poor peasant from Ukraine, established one of the few anarchist entities in history, maybe it’s only state. It was forged in war, had little formal structure as one might expect, was recognised by no one, flickered only briefly, and much like the anarchist collectives formed in Catalonia and Aragon during the Spanish Civil War it had little time in which to succeed or fail before it succumbed to the weight of its enemies and was crushed by force.

He was born on 28 October 1888 the youngest of five children in the south-eastern Ukrainian village of Hulyai Pole to parents who like most in that region of the Russian Empire struggled to make ends meet. Indeed, it was a life of poverty, of often grinding poverty, and the young Nestor was forced to work from the age of seven often as a shepherd boy on one or other of the large estates that dotted the landscape.

Toiling long days in the fields left him little time for play or to attend school making him resentful of those he blamed for his own and his family’s plight, the Kulaks, or wealthy landowners who he believed leeched off the poor and treated them cruelly. He knew this because he had witnessed it for himself, he had seen peasants arbitrarily beaten and being badly injured at work for which they were fired and received no compensation. He had seen how their land was stolen from them and how they were paid a pittance for their many hours of hard and relentless toil. It was something he simply could not forgive and so he became involved in radical politics though it was more as an angry young man than it was a committed revolutionary. Nonetheless he attended meetings and carried out robberies on behalf of various groups even if he was to prove more adept at escaping justice than he was the scene of his crimes being both twice arrested and twice acquitted in Court.

His luck ran out however when in the summer of 1910, arrested once more he was at last convicted and sentenced to hang. The fact that no one had been killed in the robbery would see his sentence commuted to life imprisonment though he did not again expect to see the light of day; but like many so confined his prison was to be his university and under the influence of the anarchist intellectual Piotr Arshinov he learned the wherewithal of grievance, its causes, and who was responsible – if he wasn’t overtly political when he entered prison he soon would be.

He was released from his incarceration in the amnesty for prisoners that followed the revolution of February 1917, and returning to the Ukraine helped form the Peasant’s Party. Its influence was soon felt and their policy of taking land from the wealthy Kulaks and redistributing it among the poor saw its popularity grow rapidly and none was more popular than the charismatic Nestor Makhno, who was soon being hailed as the Ukrainian Robin Hood.

In March 1918, after almost four years of disastrous war that had witnessed the fall of the Romanov Dynasty, Russia’s now Bolshevik Government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany. It had followed torturous negotiations prolonged by subterfuge and delay yet despite Leon Trotsky’s best efforts  it was in the end nothing short of an abject surrender and vast areas of Russian territory were ceded to the Germans including the Ukraine.

Ukrainian grain made it the bread basket not only of Russia but also much of Europe and its possession would, it was hoped, enable the Germans to circumvent the British blockade of its ports that was slowly starving its people to death.

It was vital then that the harvest be gathered and transported to Germany and its Austrian ally as quickly as possible. As such, a puppet Government was hastily installed in Kiev under a former Tsarist General Pavlo Skoropadsky known as the Hetmanate, but unwilling to support a former agent of imperialism backed by a foreign occupying army the people rebelled and his weak, ineffective and irredeemably corrupt regime soon lost control of the province of Yekatorinislav.

As the rebellion spread so the Hetmanate began to disintegrate. It also became clear that it was anarchist inspired and that its leader was the bold, audacious peasant from Hulyai Pole, Nestor Makhno.

Riding at the head of his Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army, the so-called Makhnovistas, beneath the large black flag of anarchy emblazoned with the skull and crossbones and embroidered with the words “Liberty or Death” and “All Land to the Peasants” his irregular cavalry swift and elusive raided deep behind enemy lines preferring ambush to pitched battle; they attacked at night, cut lines of communication, seized supplies and in the towns they occupied the landlords were dispossessed, the land redistributed, the factories collectivised, and self-governing communities known as Mir established.

Greeted for the most part as heroes any resistance was nevertheless brutally suppressed and dissent not tolerated.

The Hetman Skoropadsky had lost control and driven from Kiev the Central Powers ceased to support him. They would now seek to regain control by military force but they would not be the only ones. Nestor Makhno would resist them all, and he would defeat them all, for a time at least.

Victor Serge, the Bolshevik revolutionary who would later flee Stalin’s purges, wrote of him:

“Nestor Makhno, boozing, swashbuckling, disorderly and idealistic proved himself a born strategist of unsurpassed ability. The soldiers under his command sometimes numbered in the hundreds at other times in the tens of thousands would steal their arms and supplies from the enemy.”

By late 1918, Makhno’s Black Army had won victories over Austro-Hungarian and Ukrainian Nationalist forces leaving him in control of vast swathes of territory. His insurrection was also entirely Ukrainian in origin and he was soon being referred to as Batko or Father of his People. In those areas he controlled he set about establishing a State founded on anarchist principles and centred on local community control backed by military force.

At its First Congress known as the Nabat, or Bell, his Anarchist State, the Makovschina, declared itself against the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia before adopting five guiding principles:

1/ All forms of Dictatorship are rejected including the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

2/ There is to be no transition period as exists in Marxist ideology.

3/ Free communities of peasants and workers are the highest form of social justice.

4/ Education is to be founded upon the principles espoused by the anarchist intellectual Francisco        Ferrer.

5/ The economy is to be based upon the free exchange of goods between rural and urban communities.

It wouldn’t last. The forces reined against them would prove too great.

On 11th November 1918, the Great War ended in Germany’s defeat long before they had the opportunity to fully exploit the gains secured in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk but no sooner had their forces withdrawn from Ukraine those of the Tsarist General Anton Denikin moved in. They would soon be joined by the White Russian Army of General Piotr Wrangel. Both were already locked in mortal combat with Leon Trotsky’s Red Army – the Russian Civil War had reached Ukrainian soil.

Formed with the intention of restoring the Romanov Dynasty to power they were riven from the outset by division, personal ambition and factional in-fighting that prevented any strategic cooperation or effective command structure from emerging. Even so, led by experienced Tsarist commanders and supported by the Western Powers (even if more in word than deed) they remained a threat, and the one thing they could unify over was their deep hatred of, and absolute opposition to, the Bolshevik Government in Moscow and their supposed allies – those cackling bloodthirsty beasts determined to sacrifice Mother Russia on the altar of their Godless Marxist ideology. As indicated in the poster below:

Out of necessity Makhno would ally with Trotsky to defeat the White Russian forces. It wasn’t the first time the two men had cooperated but Makhno’s earlier meeting with Lenin when the Bolshevik leader expressed little opposition to the establishment of an independent anarchist Ukraine was not repeated in his negotiations with the Red Army commander. He would not countenance an Anarchist State on the border of Bolshevik Russia and their relationship was one of mutual mistrust. Makhno had already captured and executed 2 Cheka (Bolshevik Secret Police) operatives sent to assassinate him. Even so, the two men would work together to defeat a common foe.

In a series of engagements Nestor Makhno would outmanoeuvre and defeat much larger and better equipped White Russian Armies and by November 1920 he had forced General Wrangel to abandon the Crimea Peninsula thereby liberating all of Southern Ukraine and though the Red Army had provided logistical support it was the Makhnovistas who had borne the brunt of the fighting.

But no sooner had one enemy been vanquished than another emerged.


Trotsky saw anarchism as a dangerous counter-revolutionary force which if left alone would like a cancer spread across the whole of Russia. He would eradicate it in Ukraine as he would later at the Naval Base of Kronstadt and an attack by the Red Army upon Makhno’s Headquarters at Hulyai Pole saw most of his senior commanders seized and executed.

Makhno himself had evaded capture much to Trotsky’s frustration who now in a fit of pique ordered that he be shot on sight. He would later justify his actions:

“Nestor Makhno was a mixture of fanatic and adventurer. He created a cavalry of peasants who provided their own horses. They were not the downtrodden village poor that the October Revolution had first reawakened. They were the strong, well-fed peasants who were afraid of losing what they had. The anarchist ideas of Makhno corresponded with and appealed to the spirit and desires of the Kulak like nothing else could.”   

Makhno fought on for almost a year often with success but with scant resources and no allies to call upon the end was inevitable. In August 1921 he fled Ukraine and with the help of the anarchist underground finally, if not without mishap, made it safely to Paris.

Missing the open spaces of the Ukraine he did not take kindly to city life believing it poisonous to both mind and body but there would be no way back. At least he remained prominent in anarchist circles, the hero of the hour so to speak, becoming a regular contributor to the journal Diela Truda (The Cause of Labour) but when in partnership with his old mentor Piotr Arshinov he published the controversial Organisational Platform calling upon anarchists the world over to unite in one body with a strict hierarchy and centralised command structure the other leading anarchists broke with him – his time had passed.

Ignored by those who had once praised him, Nestor Makhno, Liberator of Ukraine and the Father of his People was reduced to working as a handyman at the Paris Opera and later on the production line at Renault – he had become the forgotten revolutionary.

Suffering from a tubercular condition made worse by an excess of alcohol and tobacco Nestor Makhno died on 6 June 1935 aged just 46.












Sir Peter Lely: A Court Painter

He was born  Pieter van der Faes on 14 September 1618 in Soest, Germany, but his parents were Dutch and he was raised in Haarlem where he studied art at the Guild of St Luke becoming both a master painter and teacher; but Haarlem offered scant opportunity for an artist of ambition so in 1643, despite it being convulsed by Civil War he travelled to England and the Court of Charles I thereby following in the footsteps of his more illustrious compatriots Anthony van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens both of whom had found fame and fortune there – they were big shoes to fill.

Adopting the more English sounding name of Lely the new ‘Dutch Master’ was well received by those at Court earning him a great many commissions and the attention of the King who chose him as his preferred portrait artist replacing Van Dyck who had died two years earlier. Indeed, such was his popularity that he was able to continue work virtually uninterrupted even after the trial and execution of his former employer, the fall of the Stuart Monarchy, and its replacement by the Commonwealth.

Following the Restoration in 1660, King Charles II appointed him ‘Principal Painter in Ordinary,’ or official Court Painter. One of the more prolific in the role one of his most famous projects was the so-called Windsor Beauties, or Ladies of the Royal Court (both Duchess and Courtesan) that are currently housed at Hampton Court Palace in London.

But there were few people of note either at the Royal Court or beyond who did not come under the enhancing influence of Sir Peter’s brush. His willingness to portray his subjects as they wished to be seen, most famously in his ‘warts and all’ portrait of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, ensured his popularity remained high.

He was no Goya it is true, and the limitations he placed upon his own art can make it appear a little regimented at times yet the beauty and majesty of his brush remains and there few complaints.

Sir Peter Lely died at his home in Covent Garden, a little more than a year after he was knighted and granted a pension for life, on 7 December 1680. He was 62 years of age.

He was replaced as Court Painter by another German born Dutch artist, Sir Godfrey Kneller.

King Charles II

King James II

James Duke of York and his wife Anne Hyde

James Duke of York, Anne Hyde, and their children

Catherine of Braganza, Queen to Charles II

Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, long-time mistress of  King Charles II described by the diarist John Evelyn as the ‘Curse of the Nation.’

Queen Mary II

Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector, Warts and All

Sir William Ashburnham

Sir Philip Sydney

Lady Diana Kirke, Countess of Oxford

The Earl and Countess of Oxford

Sir John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

Lady Mary Fane

Margaret Hughes first actress to appear on an English stage.

Lady Diana Strickland

Nell Gwynne without her oranges

Sir Robert Worsley

Madonna and Child

A Boy



Sir Thomas Allin

Sir Jeremiah Smith

Sir William Berkeley

Admiral Thomas Teddiman



Queen Henrietta Maria

Charles I married Princess Henrietta Maria of France by proxy on 1 May, 1625, just weeks after he ascended to the throne of England. He was 25 years old, she just 15 and a Catholic. In staunchly Protestant England this posed a problem but it could have been worse, for she was not his first choice. He had originally intended to woo the Spanish Infanta but his somewhat ham-fisted attempts at courtship among which included dressing up in disguise, scaling walls in the dead of night, and trying to break into the Royal Apartments came to nothing when the Spanish demanded he convert to Catholicism before any betrothal could even be contemplated. This he would never do and so he would remain the frustrated bachelor for a little longer (though in hindsight it could perhaps be seen as politically wise not to have seduced a royal scion of his country’s arch-enemy). So, Henrietta Maria, whom he had met briefly before, was very much acquired on the rebound. Even so, their union would barely be less controversial or any more popular for that.

Young though she was Henrietta Maria was no wall flower who would allow herself to be bullied or coerced into remaining silent or concealing her Catholicism. Rather she would flaunt it, and not long after their formal marriage ceremony in July 1626, she and her entourage very publicly visited Tyburn to pray for the souls of the many Catholic martyrs who had been executed there. She also brought with her a 40 strong retinue of priests, ladies-in-waiting and sundry court officials all of whom were French and Catholic. None of this was lost on the largely Puritan populace of London who would regularly subject her processions through the city to cat-calls and jeers something she actually seemed to enjoy and would respond to accordingly. Charles was less amused, he did not like doubt being cast upon his own faith for he was a devout Anglican, or upon his role as Head of the Church of England. He was also aware that French influence was causing resentment at Court. Finally, his patience tested beyond endurance while the Queen would remain her retinue would be sent back to France but taking a firm hand with his wife did not make the newly-weds any more compatible, however. He was a reserved man, courteous and polite who kept his own council and chose his words carefully. Henrietta Maria by contrast was loud, outspoken, and flirtatious – it was not a match made in heaven.

She had after all been raised in the French Court, always less formal than it English counterpart, and a certain latitude in behaviour was often granted to those who had been exposed to it. Even so, the wife’s role, whether a Queen or not, was to be the devoted and compliant help-mate of her husband and to venture far beyond this was unacceptable. A woman was not expected to speak out of turn and certainly not on matters that did not concern her such as politics and the affairs of state. Henrietta Maria did both and often.

The young couple rowed regularly and often within the earshot of others. Indeed, for much of the time they were barely on speaking terms and Charles spent more time in the company of his father’s former lover George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham than he did his wife prompting rumours that a similar relationship had developed between them; rumours that Henrietta Maria, who loathed Buckingham, was not shy of repeating. In his turn, Charles let it be known that he could not bear to be in his wife’s presence but all this was to change, when on 23 August, 1628, Buckingham was assassinated. He had long been a divisive figure, the cause of friction not only at the Royal Court but also between the King and his Parliament.  Now without Buckingham to advise him Charles took the momentous decision to dissolve Parliament and govern without it.

As a man who demanded loyalty from his subjects Charles now found that in troubled times there were few people he could rely upon. It resulted in a closeness developing between him and his Queen that had previously been absent – and when it came to loyalty she would not disappoint.

On 29 May, 1630, she gave birth to a son and heir and their relationship began to blossom. Five further children would follow. In love with his Queen at last Charles would now seek to sell her to his people who were not.

Charles I, like his father before him was in no doubt that all earthly power emanated from a heavenly source and that he as King was the recipient of it. It was important then, that his subjects be made aware of this also and so at a time when art was propaganda he was determined to utilise it to its full effect; but whereas in Catholic Europe art was used to empathise the Greater Glory of God in Protestant England it would raise up his Divinely Appointed Representative on Earth. It would inspire not just obedience to the Stuart Monarchy but the sense of awe in those blessed by its presence.

Similar to the future Queen Victoria who guided by her husband Prince Albert would use the new technology of photography to create the image of the Royal Family as respectable and bourgeois, Charles I would use art, or more specifically portraiture to enhance the power of His Majesty and to glamourise the person of his Queen.

The materials the artist had to work with were not promising, the King barely 5’4” tall was thin, drawn, had a softness of skin and a delicacy of appearance that it was difficult to hide. But if Charles was no Warrior King then his Queen was even less a Helen of Troy. Her niece Sophia of Hanover seeing her aunt for the first time described how:

“The beautiful portraits of Van Dyck had given me such a fine idea of all the ladies of England I was surprised to see that the Queen, who I had seen as beautiful and lean, was a woman well past her prime. Her arms were long and thin, her shoulders uneven, and some of her teeth were coming out of her mouth like tusks. She did, however, have pretty eyes, nose, and a good complexion.”

Any such difficulties that might have presented thenselves however, would be overcome.

But not all were willing to be seduced by the Stuart re-branding and the distaste of many in England for their Catholic Queen remained. Particularly violent in their condemnation was staunchly Protestant London and none more so than the Puritan lawyer William Prynne who in late 1632 published his Histrionmatrix, a denunciation of all public entertainments but in particular the stage:

“It hath evermore been the notorious badge of prostituted strumpets and the lewdest harlots, to ramble abroad to plays, to playhouses; whither no chaste or sober girls or women, but only branded whores and infamous adulteresses did usually in ancient times.”

It was a barely veiled attack upon the Queen whose love of the theatre was well known and soon after was to perform in a production of William Montagu’s The Shepherd’s Paradise. It was not the first time he had accused the Queen of being a whore and he would pay a heavy price for it. After an extended period under lock and key in the Tower of London he appeared before the Star Chamber where he was ordered to pay a £5,000 fine and sentenced to life imprisonment and to have his ears cropped and his cheeks branded with an ‘S’ for Seditious and an ‘L’ for Libeller. On the orders of Parliament he was released from prison in 1640.

It appeared to any outside observer during the period of the King’s personal rule that all was set fair; the country was at peace, it was prosperous and the opposition had been silenced but rarely are old disputes so easily put to bed and when the King required money he needed Parliament to provide it and they in their turn would demand their outstanding concerns were addressed.

In the meantime, the glorification of the Stuart Dynasty continued apace but while the image of them as God’s representatives on earth so unwaveringly depicted in the work of Van Dyck, Rubens, and others may have remained untarnished the reality was very different. Charles was in a fight with his own Parliament over who governed and with the many among its ranks, who while believing he should reign demanded that he should not rule. His attempt to quash the opposition by arresting its leading members (a policy strongly advocated for by the Queen) ended in farce when they escaped the House of Commons by boat while he sat disconsolately in the Speaker’s Chair impotent and humiliated,

It had been a risky move on his part and  many believed it had been Henrietta Maria who had forced it upon him.

Her isolation from much of the Royal Court had seen her develop a close relationship with Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle, and that unaware of her sympathy for the Puritan cause or that she was a former lover of John Pym the primary target of the King’s arrest warrant had spoken openly of the King’s plan with her. It was she who revealed the intended assault upon Parliament to her cousin the Earl of Essex, future Commander of the Parliamentary Army. Forewarned, Pym and the others had fled by boat down the Thames.

Now with London in tumult and his authority much diminished Charles, concerned for the safety of his family, chose to abandon his capital – his absence and the power vacuum that resulted only made conflict more inevitable..

In August 1642, as the King raised his Standard in Nottingham thereby declaring war upon a Parliament he was ill-equipped to fight Henrietta Maria was already in the Netherlands using the Crown Jewels as collateral to raise money and purchase arms. She did so to great effect but the materiel she acquired was only job half done and the delivery of that materiel would be fraught with danger.

Her first attempt was abandoned when caught in a fierce storm her ship was almost shipwrecked and all aboard drowned. Undeterred she would try again this with greater success although her tiny armada was pursued all the way to the port of Bridlington by enemy warships which then proceeded to bombard the harbour while her ships were being unloaded. Indeed, so severe was the bombardment they were forced to flee to nearby woods, though she would return briefly to retrieve her pet dog which they had left behind in their haste to escape.

It was typical Henrietta Maria who appeared at all times to be more excited by than fearful of war, a war in which she would stand alongside her husband and not flinch. Indeed, she never ceased to display the loyalty the King demanded but so often didn’t receive for it was a conflict where changing sides, often more than once, was commonplace and none more so than among the nobility.

Travelling in convoy across hostile territory the Queen safely delivered her cargo of arms, supplies, and a number of volunteer soldiers recruited in the Low Countries to the King’s capital at Oxford entering the city to much fanfare and celebratory cannon fire.  Here she would remain for most of the next two years making life in the over-crowded and disease ridden city more tolerable for the King by overseeing the resumption of Court life and ensuring that the niceties of Monarchy were maintained.

By the spring of 1644 the tide of the war had turned against the Royalists and it was decided that Henrietta Maria should leave Oxford with the younger children (the Princes would remain with the King) for her own and their safety. Charles accompanied her as far as Abingdon before a tearful farewell saw her depart under armed escort for the West Country and a ship to the Continent. It was the last time they would ever see each other.

Whether in France or the Netherlands Henrietta Maria continued to work assiduously on the King’s behalf using all her powers of persuasion, and making promises she could not hope to keep, to purchase weapons and supplies for a cause she must have known was doomed with most of the war materiel procured either captured at sea or intercepted and seized on the overland journey to Oxford. At the same time the volunteer troops promised by the many Princes and Dukes who graced her presence with fine words and brave intentions never materialised.

On 14 June 1645, the main Royalist Field Army was to all-intents-and-purposes destroyed at the Battle of Naseby and in the ensuing rout the King’s Baggage Train overrun and his court papers and private correspondence captured. While the former revealed a duplicitous nature and attempts to persuade the Irish Catholic Confederation to send troops in his support the latter, especially his reference to her as ‘Dear Heart’ expressed a slavish devotion to his Queen, both sentimental and mawkish, that only confirmed a view widely held that she was a familiar of the devil who had cast her evil eye upon and bewitched him. The letters when published were to prove a great propaganda coup for the King’s enemies.

The Civil War was as good as lost to the King in the aftermath of Naseby but it would take time to seal the victory, there were still pockets of resistance and stoutly defended Royalist strongholds to overcome. One of these of course was the King’s capital at Oxford which had already been under siege for some time. Charles had intended to break the siege with the help of an army recruited in Ireland but his negotiations, with the Catholic Church in particular, had broken down – it left him bereft of options.

With all hope of relief gone in the early hours of the 27 April 1646 with nothing to guide them but a solitary lantern and the camp fires of the enemy King Charles I of England dressed in the clothes of a common servant and with his hair cut short, accompanied by his priest and a faithful retainer, fled the city. His hope was to find a ship that would take him to France but when this proved impossible rather than prostrate himself before his own Parliament he surrendered to the Scottish Covenanter Army.

If Charles had a notion he would find solace among those from the country of his birth he was soon disabused of it as after lengthy negotiations they handed him over to the English Parliament upon payment of £100,000 prompting the King to remark sardonically that he had been bartered rather cheaply.

Henrietta Maria did not take kindly to the endless barrage of bad news from England, she did not possess the quiet stoicism of her husband, and instead displayed an anger bordering on the hysterical denouncing all those who had ever opposed the King as traitors while being unsparing with those who put their own welfare before that of their Monarch. But as infuriated as she never gave up hope.

Now a supplicant in the hands of a Parliament he had once sought to confront Charles discussed with its leading members, Oliver Cromwell prominent among them, the terms whereby he could be restored to the throne. This he did this with scant sincerity however, for he was already in secret negotiations with his former Scottish adversaries to resume the war in return for the establishment of Presbyterian Church governance the length and breadth of the British Isles. In this he was encouraged by Henrietta Maria who had by now established a Court-in-Exile just outside Paris where joined by the heir to the throne she remained a powerful figure.

With little enthusiasm for a renewal of hostilities in the country beyond the more fanatical elements any hope of success lay with the Scots Army and so when it fell to defeat at the Battle of Preston in August 1648 resistance elsewhere quickly crumbled. The King’s gamble had failed and no longer the reluctant guest of his Parliament but a prisoner of the New Model Army he was in the hands of powerful men who were quite literally willing to wield the axe.

King Charles I was executed on 30 January 1649, in front of the Banqueting House in Whitehall that had earlier been decorated by the artist Rubens to the greater glory of his reign and that of the Stuart Monarchy he represented.  That he died well believing to the end in the Divine Providence of his rule while bequeathing the Crown to his son did little to alleviate Henrietta Maria’s grief as she succumbed to depression and a long period of deep mourning.

With the King’s demise Henrietta Maria’s influence began to wane and she was no longer able to control a fractious Court whose members increasingly sought to cast blame for their predicament upon each other; that responsibility now fell to her eldest son Charles who could unite them in his desire to reverse the decision of earlier wars and reclaim the throne that left vacant saw England naked before God and prey to the vicissitudes of providential misfortune.

Henrietta Maria supported her son’s attempts to regain the throne while fretting continuously over his safety particularly during the disastrous campaign of 1651 that saw him put to flight and reduced to hiding in the hollowed out trunk of the Boscobel Oak to evade capture before finding a ship that would take him to safety.

Marginalised and no longer listened to at the Court she had created Henrietta Maria turned her attention to raising her younger children paying particular attention to their religious education.

Everything changed when on 3 September 1658, Oliver Cromwell died. As Lord Protector he had been King in all but name, now with his passing England underwent a crisis of identity – did it wish to be a Republic or not?

Before his death Cromwell had nominated his son Richard to succeed him but with little support in the country ‘Tumbledown Dick’ as he was derisively known was forced to stand down after just 256 days at the helm. A power vacuum now existed at the heart of government but it was one that General George Monck for one, was willing to fill. A former Royalist who had changed sides during the Civil War and become one of Cromwell’s most loyal supporters Monck had no desire to seize power for himself but with Parliament having proven itself unfit to rule without instruction on more than one occasion he was not willing to see it plunge the country once more into chaos and bloodshed.  On behalf of Parliament, with or without their permission, his representatives opened negotiations with those of Charles II for the terms by which the Stuart’s could be restored to the throne. Concessions made by both parties saw Charles depart the Netherlands for England arriving in London on 29 May 1660, to a rapturous reception. After eleven years in exile he had been restored to the throne that had been so brutally torn from his father’s grasp.

Henrietta Maria was delighted by the Restoration but disappointed her son had signed the Declaration of Breda that had accompanied it. He had pledged in the Declaration not to seek vengeance upon those who had deposed his father and with the exception of the Regicides, those who had signed the King’s Death Warrant, he would be as good as his word; but with so many of them already dead or having fled the country she saw the persecution of the remaining Regicides alone as scant justice.

She nonetheless returned to England in October 1660, to very little fanfare with far fewer following her procession through the streets of London than would once have been the case. Indeed, so dismissive was the diarist Samuel Pepys of her return he remarked upon how few bonfires had been lit in her honour and described her as: “a very plain little old woman, and nothing more in her presence or in any respect or garb than any ordinary woman.”

She had intended to remain in England both in honour of her husband and n sport of her son  but England was a country that had brought her only pain, a cursed country she had long ago fallen out of love with; a visceral dislike made worse when her son Henry, Duke of Gloucester died of smallpox to be followed only a few months later by her youngest daughter, Mary.

In declining health and suffering a melancholia brought on by the isolation she felt at Court in 1665 Henrietta Maria returned to France where she could be comforted by friends and commit more time to her religious devotions. Her mental health improved and fleeting glimpses of her old ebullience remained but her physical condition continued to decline.

On 10 September 1669 suffering from a bronchial condition she simply couldn’t shake off she died, aged 59.

During her years as Queen she had never secured the affection of her people or even the respect of her peers but she had won the love of a King, a King who she served faithfully until the end and at great personal risk to herself. It was something for which she received little credit but over time some vindication, perhaps.

Her later years were consumed by the desire to see her eldest sons convert to the Catholic faith: James did so publicly just prior to her death, Charles as King was more circumspect and only converted on his deathbed. Yet even this victory for Henrietta Maria would prove a pyrrhic one for when James succeeded his brother as King it was his Catholicism that would prove his downfall and herald the end of the Stuart Dynasty.








Beau Brummell: Dandy

He was a fashion icon, the first of his kind, a man known for little more than the clothes he wore and the manner of his being – fragrant, polished, charming and stylish but with a rapier wit and a sharp tongue. He was Beau Brummell, man about town and dandy. Famous in his own lifetime he would become even more so after his death, though it would take time.

He was born George Bryan Brummell on 7 July, 1778, in Downing Street, London, where his father was employed as Private Secretary to the Prime Minister Lord North. His family then, were wealthy and respected but they were not of noble blood.  Even so, William Brummell was determined that his son’s would be raised as if they were – they would be gentlemen.

In the case of his younger son George he needn’t have worried for if he had anything at all it was a high self-regard and the air of superiority that comes from being raised within the corridors of power. He also had an overwhelming desire not to go unnoticed and both the poise and self-confidence to ensure that he wasn’t.  Aware that few can know you but all can see you image was important and his time at Eton Public School, which he attended as a fee paying student, was a great success. There were few who met him even as a child who forgot the experience but his was not merely the triumph of style over substance, he was also an intelligent young man who early on had perceived a clear path to success.

After Eton he briefly attended Oxford University where he likely met George, Prince of Wales for the first time. The future Prince Regent and King George IV was impressed by this young man with such style, wit and self-regard, enamoured even – the young George Brummell had hooked a big fish.

When his father died in June 1794, leaving him £20,000 in his Will he abandoned his studies at Oxford in favour of purchasing a commission in the Royal Hussars, the Prince’s Own Regiment, so he could remain close to the man who would provide his meal ticket to fame and fortune; but to do so wasn’t cheap and he could only afford the rank of Cornet not nearly exalted enough to gain him access to the Prince but at a time when such things were not earned but lay in the gift of family and friends Brummell was promoted first to Lieutenant and then to Captain. His access to the Prince was assured but when the Regiment was transferred to Manchester he resigned his commission so he could remain in London declaring that he could not bear to dwell among the destitute and unwashed in a place of, “undistinguished ambience with such a want of civility and culture.”

He also begged the Executors of his father’s Will (he had still not yet come of age) to buy for him a house in Mayfair which they did but at great cost- Brummell cared little, it was money well spent.

Prince George who cared more for his image than he did his crown and craved the admiration of his peers more than he did the love of his people was both vain and easily flattered.  His critics might paint him as a lazy, gluttonous dolt rightly lampooned in the press and jeered at on the streets but he saw himself very differently. He was the most handsome man in Europe, the best dressed man, and the epitome of good taste. He knew this because the by now ‘Beau’ Brummell told him so.


By the early 1800’s Brummell’s Mayfair home at 4 Chesterfield Street had become the point of contact for the wealthy and the fashionable. His immaculate but understated style of dress at a time when the gaudy and the garish was de rigueur caused quite a stir. One did not need to be vulgar to be noticed it seemed, and Brummell’s dark blue jackets, silk and linen shirts, spotless white breeches, elaborately knotted neck cloths and knee high leather boots it was said he had polished in champagne became a familiar sight at Rotten Row and in the salons and ballrooms of Old London Town.

Never less than immaculately dressed his personal regimen was no less exacting and he bathed daily at a time when such was rare, gargled and brushed his teeth regularly in champagne and perfumed his hair. It was rumoured it took him five hours to dress and that the Prince would often be present when he did so.

But being a Dandy and the most fashionable man in England was an expensive business made more so perhaps by his association with the Prince, as also was the need to be seen and  Brummell was a regular attendee of the racecourse and at the gaming tables while no elegant salon or grand ball was complete without his presence. Once when asked how much it cost to keep a gentleman in clothes he responded “Why with tolerable economy, I think it might b done with £800 more or less.” This was at a time when the average wage for a skilled craftsman was only around £50 a year.

Brummell was perhaps being flippant but then he was almost as famous for the sharpness of his wit as he was the elegance of his apparel. When a woman shouted down to him from a balcony he was passing beneath whether he would take tea with her he replied:

“Madam, you take medicine, you take a walk, you take a liberty, but you drink tea.”

Lady Hester Stanhope recalled in her memoirs how on another occasion he told her:

“My Lady Hester, it is my folly that is the making of me. If I did not impertinently stare Duchesses out of countenance, and nod over my shoulder to a Prince, I should be forgotten in a week.”

In this latter remark at least he was being prescient.

He also flirted outrageously with just about any attractive woman of substance who crossed his path. His most significant relationship was with Frederica, Duchess of York, and he kept a painted miniature of her left eye on his person indicating a high degree of intimacy and he once presented her with a pet dog he named Fidelity as a gift  but for the most part his courtships were short and inconsequential . He was known to frequent the bedchambers of prostitutes the most famous of whom was Miss Julia Storer, a high-class courtesan who did not sell herself cheaply.

With a fortune long spent and no discernible income to speak of Brummell nonetheless absented himself from few events on the social calendar aware that if one cannot be seen one may as well be naked. Heavily in debt and with an expensive lifestyle to maintain Brummell’s credit remained good as long as his friendship with the Prince continued but their relationship came under strain when in 1811 due to his father’s mental incapacity he was elevated to Prince Regent or King in all but name.

Both Brummell and the Prince mixed in fashionable Whig circles, the former because he believed in the free trade policies they advocated and the Republican sentiments they often expressed; the latter as a deliberate snub to his father. Now that George was Prince Regent his allegiance switched to the pro-Monarchy Tory Party, an unforgiveable betrayal as far as Brummell was concerned and he told him so.

The Prince who was used to the flattery and sycophancy of the Royal Court did not take kindly to home truths and so it proved with Beau Brummell and no longer would he seek his advice on where to be seen and how to dress. Their worsening relationship came to a head in July 1813, at the Masquerade Ball at Watiers Private Club (also known as the Dandy Club) in Mayfair organised by Brummell’s close friends Lord Alvanley and Sir Henry Mildmay. The Prince Regent was honoured guest but upon his arrival and after warmly greeting both Alvanley and Mildmay he deliberately ignored Brummell but in a manner that made it plain to all those present that he had done so. The affronted Brummell, never shy to turn to his friend and say in a loud voice, “So Alvanley, who is your fat friend?” The room fell silent and the Prince left soon after -the two men would never speak again.

At first it seemed that Brummell might be able to weather the storm of royal disfavour but without the Prince’s patronage the credit dried up and his friends began to abandon him. No longer welcome in the homes of the great and the good and pursued by his creditors one of whom, Richard Meyler, demanded satisfaction in the form of a duel, in May 1816 believing discretion to be the better part of valour he departed from Dover for the Continent.

Once in France those influential friends who had remained loyal secured for him a post at the British Consulate in Calais. It was rumoured that the Prince Regent had intervened on his behalf but as they never publicly reconciled this seems unlikely though it appears clear he did not stand in the way of his appointment.

It would be wrong to suggest that the once infamous Beau Brummell settled easily into a life of relative obscurity. He missed the limelight and was resentful towards those who had deprived him of it and had abandoned him in such haste. It was a resentment that would only increase as the years passed and he was already showing signs of the syphilis that would take a toll on both his body and his mind. With his behaviour becoming increasingly erratic visits from friends became less frequent. Indeed, so insufferable did he become he even managed to talk himself out of his job at the Consulate by arguing his post be abolished.

Despite his increasingly dire circumstances he refused repeated requests to return to England afraid more of the mockery and ridicule he might receive than he was his creditors. Neither would he write his memoirs as a means of relieving his financial difficulties.

By 1835, he was in Debtors Prison and reliant once more upon friends to liberate him, which they did paying for his release, renting for him a house and even providing him with a modest income of sorts; but by this time his health was in sharp decline and he was a shadow of the man he once was. Shabbily dressed and unkempt there was the merest glimmer of the old Beau Brummell in his air of grandeur and the cast of his eye but shuffling and bowed with his speech rambling and incoherent it was a glimmer only. Confined to an Insane Asylum in Caen he refused any further help and so there he remained his fast diminishing grip on reality subsumed in the bitter imaginings of better times and the mischaracterisation of other inmates as the Lords and Ladies he once knew.

Beau Brummell, once the most talked about man in England died on 30 March 1840, aged 61, his passing barely remarked upon in the society pages of a press he once dominated.











Highwaymen: ‘Stand and Deliver!’

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.

   The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.   

   The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

   And the highwayman came riding—


   The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door. *

Eighteenth century England was a violent place and a country of extremes; of great wealth but greater poverty still with a politics shorn of scruple and a law without justice. In such a world even heroes are often more to be feared than admired – pickpockets and thieves, fraudsters and robbers on the highway – as long as they stole from the rich regardless of whether they gave to the poor they were to be honoured in the darker recesses of the human soul.

In this brutal world and with their trademark address beloved by generations of children, ‘Stand and deliver. Your money or your life’, ­none was more admired than the highwayman who terrorised with impunity by night those who governed with an iron fist by day.

Portrayed in popular ballad and verse as both dashing and brave they infested the main arteries of England making travel a perilous pursuit undertaken with trepidation, and for good reason. Most highwaymen made no pretence of gallantry but were violent thugs who would kill without compunction. But there were exceptions and James Hind was one. Indeed, he was to become the first criminal as folk hero since perhaps the time of Robin Hood.

Born in the small town of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire the humble son of a saddler, he would rise in status to become an Officer in the King’s Army during the war with Parliament where his devotion to duty was acknowledged, but he could do little to alter the tide of a war that had turned decisively in Parliaments favour. Following the Royalist defeat he briefly returned home but fearing retribution soon fled to London, a Republican city, but one upon whose teeming streets he could easily disappear and did into its many brothels and taverns, and it was in one such tavern that he met Thomas Allen, a career criminal who had already committed a number of robberies on the highway and was looking for a partner.

Lucrative though it was highway robbery was fraught with danger and not just for its victims. Few coach passengers travelled unarmed and the coachman himself would often carry a blunderbuss, a scattergun with a flared nozzle that fired a multitude of musket ball that could kill both a horse and its rider with a single shot. It was important then for one man to keep the passengers covered while the other would deprive them of their goods and money.

Hind, who had remained a vocal critic of the new regime, a dangerous preoccupation, was eager to be that man but unlike many others who had also shed a tear at the King’s execution his grief turned to anger and he desired their partnership to be more than a mere criminal enterprise, he wanted it to be a continuation of the war by other means. Allen, whose sympathies likewise lay with the Cavalier cause, did not object – they would target the Regicides when the opportunity arose.

Those they stopped who could prove their loyalty to the King would be permitted to continue on their way unmolested but not so the Commonwealth Men whose lives they would threaten, their valuables they would steal, sometimes even their clothes. Many a wealthy Republican would fall foul of James Hind and Thomas Allen much to the delight of the public at large but an attack upon the arch-Regicide himself, Oliver Cromwell, would prove a step too far when they found the Lord Protector to be very well protected indeed.

Cromwell travelled nowhere without an armed escort and it appears unlikely that Hind and Allen would have been unaware of this. They probably blundered then into the Lord Protector’s entourage rather than targeted it specifically. If so, they soon wished they hadn’t.

In the gloom of an early evening Thomas Allen’s sudden appearance and demand that they ‘stand and deliver’ seemed palpably absurd and he was quickly seized and overpowered. In the meantime, Hind fought desperately with those trying to grab the reins of his horse and pull him from the saddle. He barely escaped their clutches and with no prospect of helping his friend galloped off in the direction of London with Cromwell’s men in hot pursuit. He had been fortunate indeed, Thomas Allen less so, and he would shortly pay with his life for his audacity.

Hind may only just have eluded justice but his attack upon Cromwell made him a hero among all those who loathed the new Puritanism, and there were many, or simply had a disdain for authority, of which there were even more. Hind revelled in his new fame and now without Allen he could act without restraint and so it was on the road to Salisbury that he intercepted the carriage of John Bradshaw, the Chief Justice who had presided at the trial of the King. Notorious for having sat on the bench wearing a breastplate under his judicial robes and a helmet to protect against assassination he seemingly took no such precautions when on his travels. It was an astonishing arrogance on his part and it very nearly cost him his life as with an ill-grace and a curse upon his lips he handed over all he had.

The next high-profile Commonwealth Man to fall victim to the Cavalier Thief was Hugh Peters, the firebrand preacher to Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army who in his eagerness to see the King executed had fulminated from the pulpit:

“So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for the blood it defileth the land:  and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.”

Having similarly admonished his current assailant with verses from the Bible it soon became Peters turn to be on the end of a sharp tongue as Hind accused him of humbug and hypocrisy, of treason and of sanctioning the murder of his divinely anointed King. If he did not comply with his demands then a similar fate awaited him. The old preacher for all his bluster did not need to be told twice – his life would be spared but not his cloak and purse.

With each robbery of a Republican, a Regicide, or a Puritan Divine, Hind’s popularity soared and his reputation along with it. It seemed there was nothing he wouldn’t do in the Royalist cause, that he was not only a confidante of the exiled heir to the throne but had helped him escape the clutches of Cromwell’s Ironsides following his defeat at the Battle of Worcester.  It was even rumoured that he led a secret countrywide organisation dedicated to the Restoration of the Monarchy.

Hind revelled in the attention that came his way and would openly toast the King’s health and damn the King killing Republicans whenever the opportunity arose but he was to engage in the drunken ribaldry of a crowded tavern once too often – overheard boasting of his exploits he was reported to the authorities and arrested.

James Hind acted in a higher cause or so he claimed, a fact not lost on the Authorities. As such he was tried not for robbery or murder but treason. An example would be made of him and speaking from the scaffold he made plain why:

“The robberies I committed were upon the Republican Party of whom I have an utter abhorrence. It troubles me greatly that I shall not live to see my royal master established upon the throne  from which he has been so unjustly and illegally excluded by rebellious and disloyal men who deserve to hang more than I.”

Having died a traitor’s death, hung, drawn, and quartered, his severed head was put on public display as a warning to others.

If the Cavalier Thief had stirred the blood of young men it was an émigré French aristocrat who stole the heart of the young ladies.

The very model of the gallant highwayman Claude Duval had been born in Paris in 1643, to an impoverished noble family that had been stripped of its land and titles. With no future for him in France he moved to England where his aristocratic connections at least ensured him gainful employment; but It was never enough, and so he turned to crime to maintain a lifestyle that was otherwise beyond his means and where his courteous behaviour and dignified manner was to see the image of the highwayman romanticised as never before.

Stalking the remoter byways of North London between Islington and Highgate it was said that no one was ever harmed in a Duval robbery; that he would rather charm his victims into handing over their valuables than demand they do so, though the very notion that charm alone could induce someone to comply without the corresponding threat of a pistol to the head or a sword thrust to the chest seems unlikely. Nonetheless charm prevailed in most cases as removing his hat he would quote verse or wax lyrical upon the vicissitudes of fortune before bowing before the lady who would curtsey in return. Then kissing her by the hand he would ask her to dance, should she agree to do so it was said he would take only half of her husband’s purse.

It was the stuff of legend and so popular did he become that many a lady of quality expressed a desire to be waylaid by the charming French aristocrat, not something likely to endear him to a jealous husband or a timorous fiancée in fear of his life. Personal enmity aside, a popular criminal dashing or otherwise could not be tolerated and the authorities were willing to pay to secure his arrest.

Sensing it was no longer safe for him in England he fled briefly to France and there he should have remained but the lure of London’s riches proved too great. If he believed his Gallic charm and aristocratic connections would protect him he was mistaken for not long after his return he was arrested while drinking at the Hole-in-the-Wall Tavern in Covent Garden.

Despite a public appeal for clemency Claude Duval was hanged at Tyburn on 21 January 1671, before, regardless of the great many women weeping into their silk handkerchiefs, a cheerful crowd for a cold day.

In a brief criminal career that lasted barely six months Plunkett and MacLaine made quite a name for themselves and one that far surpassed their deeds; but then it was always their intention to make an impression. That at least remained a shared ambition for two otherwise very different men.

James MacLaine was born in Ireland, the son of a Scots Presbyterian Minister but there any nod towards sobriety ended. He was a young man on the make, flamboyant and gregarious, who openly defied his father while also burdening the old man with his many debts. Forced to marry early in the hope that the responsibility of family life might restrain him he instead moved to London where having set himself up as a grocer in name only, he proceeded to squander his wife’s inheritance on a lifestyle he believed was his by right, if not necessarily by birth.

William Plunkett was an earnest but failed businessman whose penurious situation was hardly improved on account of his association with MacLaine to whom he loaned money with little prospect of it ever being repaid.  Indeed, it was MacLaine who suggested crime may be the way out of their predicament. Plunkett, who had an equally high opinion of himself agreed, but they would do so as gentlemen; and so it was wearing fancy clothes, their faces hidden by Venetian masks and with the exaggerated mannerisms they believed appropriate for men of their station they embarked upon a life of crime.

Operating for the most part in the wasteland that was then Hyde Park they committed robbery after robbery stopping carriages almost at will; so much so that one of their more high profile victims the  Gothic novelist and son of a former Prime Minister Horace Walpole would write:

“One is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one is going into battle.”

The thunder and fury of war may have been an exaggeration but no robbery was unworthy of a theatrical gesture and so while MacLaine wooed the ladies with a silver tongued charm the more morose Plunkett stripped them and their male companions of everything of value with a grimly determined but always polite menace.

Indeed, so conscious were they of their public image that when it was reported shots had been fired at Walpole’s carriage MacLaine wrote a letter of apology along with a corresponding demand for money:

“Sir, seeing an advertisement in the papers of today of you being robbed by two highwaymen on Wednesday last in Hyde Park and during the time a pistol was fired intended or accidental obliges us to take this method of assuring you it was the latter and was designed by no means to frighten or hurt you for we are reduced by the misfortunes of the world to have recourse to this method of getting money. Yet we have humanity enough not to take anybody’s life where there is not a necessity.

We have likewise seen the advertisement offering a reward of 20 guineas for your watch and seals which are very safe and which you shall have along with your sword and the coachman’s watch for 40 guineas and not a shilling less.”

The missive then provided for the delivery of the money before once again burnishing their image as latter day Robin Hood’s by promising to return the few pennies and scant belongings they had stolen from Walpole’s poor footman.

Such apparent generosity did little to deflect from their avarice but no matter how valuable their haul MacLaine in particular, never failed to spend it. Residing In expensive lodgings with a wardrobe of fine clothes and a live-in mistress bought and paid for, he even now struggled to make ends meet and it was his pawning of some expensive lace that lead to their downfall.  In attempting to sell the lace the pawnbroker inadvertently approached the tailor who had made the original waistcoat from which it had been unpicked. Aware that the waistcoat had been stolen in a robbery he reported it to the relevant authorities and MacLaine was subsequently arrested.

There is of course no honour among thieves and MacLaine immediately revealed Plunkett’s whereabouts and declared he was willing to turn King’s Evidence against him for a guarantee of immunity from prosecution. But it was the dashing MacLaine they wanted to make an example of not the dour Plunkett and it was the latter not the former who would ultimately betray his friend.

Hundreds of well-wishers visited MacLaine while he was in prison awaiting trial but his popularity was to prove no defence and he was hanged at Tyburn on 3 October, 1750. William Plunkett meanwhile, remained free to spend his ill-gotten gains and disappear into well-earned obscurity on the other side of the Atlantic..

Plunkett and MacLaine’s notoriety as highwaymen was fleeting as was that of others such as John Nevinson referred to as ‘Swift Nicks’ by no less than the King himself and ‘Sixteen String’ Jack Rann so named because of the colourful silk stripes he had elaborately sewn into his breeches. None however acquired a fame as enduring as Dick Turpin’s, his was a legend that grew largely after his death the result of William Ainsworth Harrison’s popular 1830 novel Rookwood in which he appeared as a peripheral but particularly vivid character.

Richard Turpin was born in the Bluebell Inn, Hempstead, Essex, in September 1705, the son of a butcher in whose trade he followed and it was in fencing stolen livestock and poached meat that he became part of the local crime scene. It was after all easier money that the long hours and hard graft of butchery and by 1734 he was operating as a member of the Essex Gang led by the brothers Samuel and Jeremiah Gregory. So it was not as a highwayman that Dick Turpin cut his teeth as a career criminal but in street robbery and burglary, and as part of a large organised gang.

In February 1735, Turpin along with four other members of the Essex Gang broke into the isolated farmhouse of 70 year old Joseph Lawrence who, while his two maidservants were bound and gagged and made to look on, was and severely beaten and forced to strip. Even so, he stubbornly refused to reveal where he had hidden his money. A furious Turpin pistol-whipped the old man before the other members of the gang took him and began roasting his bare buttocks over the open fire. They even poured a kettle of boiling water over his head but even in great pain and in fear of his life he would not give up his fortune. In their fury the Gang ransacked the house while the Gregory brothers took the maidservants to an upstairs room and raped them.

Later that same month the Gang broke into another isolated house, this time belonging to an elderly widow Elizabeth Shelley who they again brutalised before escaping with £100 and her silver plate.

This is not the popular image of Dick Turpin the highwayman we have today but the Lawrence and Shelley robberies were just two of a series of violent such incidents that occurred in fairly quick succession. Indeed, the fear they spread forced the Authorities to act and using paid informers and Government spies the Gang was infiltrated, broken up, its members arrested, and in the case of the Gregory brothers hanged. Only Dick Turpin of the dozen or so gang members escaped justice but e was now a marked man. While the Duke of Newcastle offered a substantial reward for his arrest his description was circulated to the press. This one appeared in the London Gazette:

“A butcher by trade about 26 years of age, a tall fresh coloured man very much marked with the smallpox. Lived some time ago in Whitechapel and wears a blue grey coat and natural wig.”  

Turpin had indeed fled to the anonymity of the smog-bound city but he did not lie low for long before turning once more to crime, this time highway robbery but it wasn’t for the most part well-armed carriages he targeted but lone travellers vulnerable and defenceless amid the woodland and bleak moors that still surrounded much of London. He also rarely worked alone his most regular accomplice being Matthew King with whom he carried out a great many robberies, but a partner in crime is not necessarily a friend as he was soon to discover.  Cornered while attempting to steal some horses King was overpowered and called upon Turpin who had initially fled the scene to return and save him. Turpin did return and drawing his pistol shot King dead.  It may have been unintentional the result of a confused melee, but with his partner’s death Turpin’s whereabouts for now remained secret. Even so, he took the precaution of moving to Epping Forest an area he knew well but with a £200 reward on his head familiarity alone provided little cover and on 4 May 1737 he killed Thomas Morris, a servant to one of the Keepers of the Forest, who having recognised the notorious highwayman had attempted to apprehend him.

The cold blooded murder of Thomas Morris, a respected public servant who had been shot without warning in a cowardly attack was widely reported the length and breadth of the country making Turpin for a time at least the most wanted man in England. One such report appeared in the Gentleman’s Quarterly of June, 1737:

“It having been represented to the King, that Richard Turpin did on Wednesday the 4th of May last, barbarously murder Thomas Morris, Servant to Henry Tomson, one of the Keepers of Epping Forest and commit other notorious felonies and robberies near London, his Majesty is pleased to promise his most gracious pardon to any of his accomplices, and a reward of £200 to any person or persons that shall discover him, so that he may be apprehended and convicted. He is by trade and butcher , about 5 feet and 9 inches high with a brown complexion very much marked by the smallpox, his cheek bones broad, his face thinner towards the bottom, his visage short, pretty upright, and broad about the shoulders.”

Turpin was forced to flee once more this time in haste and it was now that according to legend he rode his trusty mare Black Bess through the night on an epic 11 hour 200 mile race to York pausing only briefly to cool her down with a mixture of water and brandy. It did prove enough to save her life and no sooner had they reached their destination than her heart burst and with blood pouring from her nostrils she dropped dead of exhaustion.

It was a great story and it almost certainly wasn’t true. A similar journey had been undertaken by John Nevinson many years before when he sought an alibi for a vicious robbery committed in London by being seen to play a game of bowls with the Mayor of York not long after but it was at least true that Turpin had fled to the city where he lived under the alias of John Palmer.

Throughout Yorkshire and neighbouring Lincolnshire Turpin embarked upon a crime spree teaming up with others to commit robberies but more often than not he engaged in poaching and particularly lucrative horse theft but he had also taken to drinking heavily and his behaviour had become increasingly erratic as a result. It would land him in a heap of trouble.

On 2 October 1738, having returned from a hunting trip with friends the worse for wear and in a foul mood he shot dead another man’s expensive cockerel  in what appears to have been an act of malice. Reported to the local Magistrates, John Palmer as he was known was arrested. Although he was able to pay the fine that was imposed upon him he instead refused to do so pleading his innocence. Detained in prison an investigation was now undertaken into the true identity of this man who lived the high life in York’s taverns and brothels while seemingly having no gainful employment. He was certainly not the simple butcher he claimed to be and was suspected of being a horse thief, poacher, and rustler of sheep and cattle but not yet the notorious Dick Turpin.

Following his arrest Turpin was also accused of stealing a horse which had been a capital offence since 1545 and though it was by now rare for such a harsh penalty to be imposed it might have been wise at this point to plead guilty and pay the subsequent penalty but still he stubbornly refused to do so – his case would come to trial.

With no Defence Counsel provided for the accused he would be expected to represent himself and Turpin was to prove a particularly poor advocate in his own defence. Indeed, it was his ham-fisted attempt to find character witnesses willing to testify on his behalf that was to prove his undoing.

One of those he approached was his brother-in-law who not wanting to get involved refused even to open the letter he had received but neither did he choose to destroy or conceal it. James Smith who had taught the young Richard Turpin how to write and was still in contact with the family saw the envelope and recognising his distinctive style wrote to the Court in York to inform them that it was not John Palmer they had under arrest but the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin.

The Judge presiding at the trial Sir William Chapple was determined that Turpin should hang and now charged with horse theft he had the crime with whch to do so. There was no need to seek further proof of his true identity or charge him with further felonious acts the capital crime had already been committed. In its haste to conclude the trial became a farce with incorrect dates, doubtful eyewitness accounts, and tainted evidence. Any competent Defence Counsel would have seen the case thrown out of court but Turpin had none – he was sentenced to hang.

The most notorious criminal in England hundreds of people visited Dick Turpin while he was in jail and thousands would attend his execution to see how he died – he would not disappoint. He bought a new frock coat and shoes for the occasion, paid for mourners to accompany his cart as it took him through the streets of York to his place of execution. He even joined in the carnival atmosphere:

“Turpin behaved himself with amazing assurance and bowed to spectators as he passed.”

 But for all the bravado Dick Turpin was no less fearful of imminent death than anybody else and as he ascended the ladder to the scaffold his right leg trembled, so much so that he had to pause and stamp his foot to bring it under control and regain his composure. Perhaps he could sense his nerve was failing him or maybe it was to avoid the short drop that ensured slow strangulation that compelled him to jump with force before reaching his destination. If he thought his leap into eternity would snap his neck then he was mistaken and he would dangle from the rope struggling for breath for a full five minutes before he finally died.

Dick Turpin’s notoriety like others before was fleeting but would be revived in William Ainsworth Harrison’s novel and become legend. Yet the day of the highwayman had already passed.  Indeed, it was only a year after the novels publication that the last such recorded incident occurred. It had been then, a crime of a very specific period and there was already a nostalgia for it long before one era had evolved into another. For those who were never its victim and were in little danger of ever becoming so the highwayman was a folk hero, a man to be admired by the many who would never dare trespass the law of their own volition. It was not the first time the criminal has been elevated to a status unbecoming his profession, there is perhaps just something in the human condition restrained by a common decency that seeks validation in the activities of those who have no such qualms, as long as they do so in a manner otherwise acceptable to polite society. So those like John Hind who had the noble cause, Claude Duval the charm, and Plunkett and MacLaine the daring, would be idolised.  Yet it would fall to Dick Turpin, a man who could lay claim to few redeeming features who would live on in time and space and come to epitomise the highwayman as something other than a common criminal in the historical narrative.