The Duel: Burr Kills Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were once able to make good in a common cause but those days were long past and by 1804 they had become bitter political rivals.

As the United States first Secretary of the Treasury and a major contributor to the Federalist Papers which outlined at length the form the new Republic should take Alexander Hamilton has his place in history. Aaron Burr was Thomas Jefferson’s Vice-President and is most remembered now for killing Alexander Hamilton.

With a Presidential Election on the horizon Burr was keen to keep his place as Jefferson’s running mate and so was furious when a letter was published from an acquaintance of Hamilton’s which suggested that he had made disparaging remarks regarding Burr’s fitness for high office. He demanded a retraction and an apology from Hamilton. When he refused on the grounds that he could not be held responsible for another man’s interpretation of what he may or may not have said, Burr in a state of high dudgeon challenged him to a duel. Despite the fact that duelling was illegal and the penalties for doing so often harsh a combination of honour and hatred saw Hamilton unable to decline.

The two men faced one another early on the morning of 11 July, 1804, in woods near Weehawken, New Jersey, their weapon of choice the pistol.

Hamilton, who may have been aiming deliberately wide of Burr did not receive the same generosity of spirit in return and was shot through just above the hip. The wound proved mortal and he died the following day.

Burr was charged with murder and fled south – it seems honour doesn’t extend to taking responsibility for one’s actions. In the event his case never came to trial but he was removed as the Vice-Presidential candidate and proved incapable of reviving his political career.

Hamilton’s second Nathaniel Pendleton and Burr’s second William van Ness along with the physician David Hasock who was also present would later come together to publish their account of events:

“Colonel Burr arrived first on the ground, as had been previously agreed. When General Hamilton arrived, the parties exchanged salutations, and the seconds proceeded to make their arrangements. They measured the distance, ten full paces, and cast lots for the choice of position, as also to determine by whom the word should be given, both of which fell to the second of General Hamilton. They then proceeded to load the pistols in each other’s presence, after which the parties took their stations. The gentleman who was to give the word then explained to the parties the rules which were to govern them in firing, which were as follows: The parties being placed at their stations, the second who gives the word shall ask them whether they are ready; being answered in the affirmative, he say shall say – present! After this the parties shall present and fire when they please. If one fires before the other, the opposite second shall say one, two, three, fire, and he shall then fire or lose his fire.

 

He then asked if they were prepared; being answered in the affirmative, he gave the word present, as had been agreed on, and both parties presented and fired in succession. The intervening time is not expressed, as the seconds do not precisely agree on that point. The fire of Colonel Burr took effect, and General Hamilton almost instantly fell. Colonel Burr advanced toward General Hamilton with a manner and gesture that appeared to General Hamilton’s friend to be expressive of regret; but, without speaking, turned about and withdrew, being urged from the field by his friend, as has been subsequently stated, with a view to prevent his being recognized by the surgeon and bargemen who were then approaching. No further communication took place between the principals, and the barge that carried Colonel Burr immediately returned to the city. We conceive it proper to add, that the conduct of the parties in this interview was perfectly proper, as suited the occasion.”

Dr Hosack now rushed to the prostrate Hamilton’s side:

When called to him upon his receiving the fatal wound, I found him half sitting on the ground, supported in the arms of Mr Pendleton. His countenance of deat I shall never forget. He had at that instant just strength to say, ‘This is a mortal wound, doctor;’ when he sunk away, and became to all appearance lifeless. I immediately stripped up his clothes, and soon, alas I ascertained that the direction of the ball must have been through some vital part. His pulses were not to be felt, his respiration was entirely suspended, and, upon laying my hand on his heart and perceiving no motion there, I considered him as irrecoverably gone. I, however, observed to Mr. Pendleton, that the only chance for his reviving was immediately to get him upon the water. We therefore lifted him up, and carried him out of the wood to the margin of the bank, where the bargemen aided us in conveying him into the boat, which immediately put off. During all this time I could not discover the least symptom of returning life. I now rubbed his face, lips, and temples with spirits of hartshorn, applied it to his neck and breast, and to the wrists and palms of his hands, and endeavoured to pour some into his mouth.

When we had got, as I should judge, about fifty yards from the shore, some imperfect efforts to breathe were for the first time manifest; in a few minutes he sighed, and became sensible to the impression of the hartshorn or the fresh air of the water. He breathed; his eyes, hardly opened, wandered, without fixing upon any object; to our great joy, he at length spoke. ‘My vision is indistinct,’ were his first words. His pulse became more perceptible, his respiration more regular, his sight returned. I then examined the wound to know if there was any dangerous discharge of blood; upon slightly pressing his side it gave him pain, on which I desisted.

Soon after recovering his sight, he happened to cast his eye upon the case of pistols, and observing the one that he had had in his hand lying on the outside, he said, “Take care of that pistol; it is un-discharged, and still cocked; it may go off and do harm. Pendleton knows ” (attempting to turn his head towards him) ‘that I did not intend to fire at him.’ ‘Yes,’ said Mr. Pendleton, understanding his wish, ‘I have already made Dr. Hosack acquainted with your determination as to that’ He then closed his eyes and remained calm, without any disposition to speak; nor did he say much afterward, except in reply to my questions. He asked me once or twice how I found his pulse; and he informed me that his lower extremities had lost all feeling, manifesting to me that he entertained no hopes that he should long survive.”

 

 

 

Remembering Waterloo

In late February 1815, the former Emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte escaped his enforced exile on the island of Elba landing on the mainland near Cannes on the French Riviera. Learning of his arrival King Louis XVIII in Paris soon took fright and fled.  He was right to do so, restored to the throne by the victorious Allied powers the Bourbons remained deeply unpopular and the French people soon rallied to their former Emperor who had made them proud.

By the summer he had reconstituted his army to something of its former glory and on 16 June he routed the Prussian Army at Ligny. Badly mauled he assumed they would retreat eastwards to protect their lines of communication and so now turned to confront the British Army commanded by the Duke of Wellington that had taken up a position near the village of Waterloo south of Brussels.

As the two armies faced one another the fate of Europe lay in the balance.

These are the reminiscences of Captain Rees Howell Gronow of the Grenadier Guards who was present throughout on that fateful day.

“On the morning of the 18th the sun shone most gloriously, and so clear was the atmosphere that we could see the long, imposing lines of the enemy most distinctly. Immediately in front of the division to which I belonged, and, I should imagine, about half a mile from us, were posted cavalry and artillery; and to the right and left the French had already engaged us, attacking Huguemont and La Haye Sainte. We heard incessantly the measured boom of artillery, accompanied by the incessant rattling echoes of musketry.

The whole of the British infantry not actually engaged were at that time formed into squares; and as you looked along our lines, it seemed as if we formed a continuous wall of human beings. I recollect distinctly being able to see Bonaparte and his staff; and some of my brother officers using the glass, exclaimed, ‘There he is on his white horse.’

I should not forget to state that when the enemy’s artillery began to play on us, we had orders to lie down, when we could hear the shot and shell whistling around us, killing and wounding great numbers; then again we were ordered on our knees to receive cavalry. The French artillery – which consisted of three hundred guns, though we did not muster more than half that number we committed terrible havoc during the early part of the battle, whilst we were acting on the defensive.

“About four P.M. the enemy’s artillery in front of us ceased firing all of a sudden, and we saw large masses of cavalry advance: not a man present who survived could have forgotten in after-life the awful grandeur of that charge. You discovered at a distance what appeared to be an overwhelming, long moving line, which, ever advancing, glittered like a stormy wave of the sea when it catches the sunlight. On they came until they got near enough, whilst the very earth seemed to vibrate beneath the thundering tramp of the mounted host. One might suppose that nothing could have resisted the shock of this terrible moving mass. They were the famous cuirassiers, almost all old soldiers, who had distinguished themselves on most of the battlefields of Europe. In an almost incredibly short period they were within twenty yards of us, shouting ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ The word of command, ‘Prepare to receive cavalry,’ had been given, every man in the front ranks knelt, and a wall bristling with steel, held together by steady hands, presented itself to the infuriated cuirassiers.

I should observe that just before this charge the duke entered by one of the angles of the square, accompanied only by one aide-de-camp; all the rest of his staff being either killed or wounded. Ou

r commander-in-chief, as far as I could judge, appeared perfectly composed; but looked very thoughtful and pale.

The charge of the French cavalry was gallantly executed; but our well-directed fire brought men and horses down, and ere long the utmost confusion arose in their ranks. The officers were exceedingly brave, and by their gestures and fearless bearing did all in their power to encourage their men to form again and renew the attack. The duke sat unmoved, mounted on his favourite charger. I recollect his asking the Hon. Lieut.-Colonel Stanhope what o’clock it was, upon which Stanhope took out his watch, and said it was twenty minutes past four. The Duke replied, ‘The battle is mine; and if the Prussians arrive soon, there will be an end of the war.’ “

“It was about five o’clock on that memorable day, that we suddenly received orders to retire behind an elevation in our rear. The enemy’s artillery had come up en masse within a hundred yards of us. By the time they began to discharge their guns, however, we were lying down behind the rising ground, and protected by the ridge before referred to.

The enemy’s cavalry was in the rear of their artillery, in order to be ready to protect it if attacked; but no attempt was made on our part to do so. After they had pounded away at us for about half an hour, they deployed, and up came the whole mass of the Imperial infantry of the Guard, led on by the Emperor in person. We had now before us probably about 20,000 of the best soldiers in France, the heroes of many memorable victories; we saw the bearskin caps rising higher and higher as they ascended the ridge of ground which separated us, and advanced nearer and nearer to our lines.

It was at this moment the Duke of Wellington gave his famous order for our bayonet charge, as he rode along the line: these are the precise words he made use of – ‘Guards, get up and charge!’ We were instantly on our legs, and after so many hours of inaction and irritation at maintaining a purely defensive attitude – all the time suffering the loss of comrades and friends – the spirit which animated officers and men may easily be imagined. After firing a volley as soon as the enemy were within shot, we rushed on with fixed bayonets, and that hearty hurrah peculiar to British soldiers.”

 

 

 

 

Witnessing the Charge of the Light Brigade

William Howard Russell was one of the first official War Correspondents working for both the Times Newspaper and the Illustrated London News. On 25 October 1854, he witnessed one of the most momentous events in the annals of warfare, the Charge of the Light Brigade under its commander James Thomas Brudenell, Lord Cardigan.

The Battle of Balaclava had started earlier in the day with a surprise Russian attack on the Allied positions. The assault had already begun to peter out when Lord Lucan, in command of the British Cavalry received the order to capture the enemy guns. But what enemy guns exactly? The only guns he could see were those at the end of a long treeless valley loaded, primed, and ready to fire with thousands of Russian troops on either side their aim unimpeded on a clear day.

There had clearly been a miscommunication but with Lucan and Cardigan, who was his brother-in-law, barely on speaking terms neither was willing to admit as much. So the Light Brigade would attack as ordered, let the blame fall where it may.

Russell’s dispatch from the Crimea did not arrive in London for some time and was not published in the Times editorial until 13 November by which time it was already old news to those present. Even so, it caused a sensation being seen as an event of outstanding courage as indeed it was and of reckless foolhardiness which it also was, making instant heroes of the participants. As the facts became more widely known however, it would instead become a great scandal; a story of stubborn pride, military incompetence, and a careless waste of human life:

“They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war. We could hardly believe the evidence of our senses! Surely that handful of men were not going to charge an army in position? Alas! it was but too true – their desperate valour knew no bounds, and far indeed was it removed from its so-called better part – discretion.

The first line was broken – it was joined by the second, they never halted or checked their speed an instant. With diminished ranks, thinned by those thirty guns, which the Russians had laid with the most deadly accuracy, with a halo of flashing steel above their heads, and with a cheer which was many a noble fellow’s death cry, they flew into the smoke of the batteries; but ere they were lost from view, the plain was strewed with their bodies and with the carcasses of horses. They were exposed to an oblique fire from the batteries on the hills on both sides, as wed as to a direct fire of musketry.They advanced in two lines, quickening their pace as they closed towards the enemy. A more fearful spectacle was never witnessed than by those who, without the power to aid, beheld their heroic countrymen rushing to the arms of death. At the distance of 1200 yards the whole line of the enemy belched forth, from thirty iron mouths, a flood of smoke and flame, through which hissed the deadly balls. Their flight was marked by instant gaps in our ranks, by dead men and horses, by steeds flying wounded or riderless across the plain.

Through the clouds of smoke we could see their sabres flashing as they rode up to the guns and dashed between ‘them, cutting down the gunners as they stood. We saw them riding through the guns, as I have said; to our delight we saw them returning, after breaking through a column of Russian infantry, and scattering them like chaff, when the flank fire of the battery on the hill swept them down, scattered and broken as they were.

The Russian gunners, when the storm of cavalry passed, returned to their guns. They saw their own cavalry mingled with the troopers who had just ridden over them, and to the eternal disgrace of the Russian name the miscreants poured a murderous volley of grape and canister on the mass of struggling men and horses, mingling friend and foe in one common ruin. It was as much as our Heavy Cavalry Brigade could do to cover the retreat of the miserable remnants of that band of heroes as they returned to the place they had so lately quitted in all the pride of life.Wounded men and dismounted troopers flying towards us told the sad tale. At the very moment when they were about to retreat, an enormous mass of lancers was hurled upon their flank. Colonel Shewell, of the 8th Hussars, saw the danger, and rode his few men straight at them, cutting his way through with fearful loss. The other regiments turned and engaged in a desperate encounter. With courage too great almost for credence, they were breaking their way through the columns which enveloped them, when there took place an act of atrocity without parallel in the modem warfare of civilized nations.

At twenty-five to twelve not a British soldier, except the dead and dying, was left in front of these bloody Muscovite guns.”

 

 

The Great Slave Auction

The Great Slave Auction that took place in Savannah, Georgia, 2/3 March, 1859, was the largest and last of its kind in the United States prior to the Civil War and eventual black emancipation,  the 436 slaves to be sold coming from the combined estates of Pierce Mease Butler, a reckless and foolish man desperate to settle his gambling and business debts.

In the days immediately prior to the sale the slaves were gathered in the stables at the Ten Broeck Race Course for inspection. It was stipulated that family groups – husband, wife and children – were not to be broken up and sold separately, though how strictly this was adhered to after purchase remains unknown.

The auction was a success raising over $303,000, or almost $7,000,000 in today’s money, for Mr Pierce Butler’s creditors. But he had in fact been a little hasty in its organisation, had he held off for just another year then the outbreak of war, between the States would have wiped out the debt to his mostly Northern creditors. But he did at least retain ownership of his Plantations after the war, even if in the changed circumstances he, and later his family, struggled to make them profitable again.

This is a report on the Great Slave Auction as it appeared in the New York Tribune the week after its conclusion. It was written by Mortimer Thompson who had been sent by the Tribune’s abolitionist editor Horace Greely to pose as a potential buyer to uncover the true iniquities that underscored the trade in human lives.

”The slaves remained at the race-course, some of them for more than a week and all of them for four days before the sale. They were brought in thus early that buyers who desired to inspect them might enjoy that privilege, although none of them were sold at private sale. For these preliminary days their shed was constantly visited by speculators. The negroes were examined with as little consideration as if they had been brutes indeed; the buyers pulling their mouths open to see their teeth, pinching their limbs to find how muscular they were, walking them up and down to detect any signs of lameness, making them stoop and bend in different ways that they might be certain there was no concealed rupture or wound or; and in addition to all this treatment, asking them scores of questions relative to their qualifications and accomplishments.”

The following curiously sad scene is the type of a score of others that were there enacted:All these humiliations were submitted to without a murmur and in some instances with good-natured cheerfulness – where the slave liked the appearance of the proposed buyer, and fancied that he might prove a kind ‘mas’r.’

‘Elisha,’ chattel No. 5 in the catalogue, had taken a fancy to a benevolent looking middle-aged gentleman, who was inspecting the stock, and thus used his powers of persuasion to induce the benevolent man to purchase him, with his wife, boy and girl, Molly, Israel and Sevanda, chattels Nos. 6, 7 and 8. The earnestness with which the poor fellow pressed his suit, knowing, as he did, that perhaps the happiness of his whole life depended on his success, was interesting, and the arguments he used were most pathetic. He made no appeal to the feelings of the buyer; he rested no hope on his charity and kindness, but only strove to show how well worth his dollars were the bone and blood he was entreating him to buy.

‘Look at me, Mas’r; am prime rice planter; sho’ you won’t find a better man den me; no better on de whole plantation; not a bit old yet; do mo’ work den ever; do carpenter work, too, little; better buy me, Mas’r; I’se be good sarvant, Mas’r. Molly, too, my wife, Sa, fus rate rice hand; mos as good as me. Stan’ out yer, Molly, and let the gen’lm’n see.’

Molly advances, with her hands crossed on her bosom, and makes a quick short curtsy, and stands mute, looking appealingly in the benevolent man’s face. But Elisha talks all the faster.

‘Show mas’r yer arm Molly – good arm dat mas’r – she do a heap of work mo’ with dat arm yet. Let good mas’r see yer teeth Molly – see dat mas’r, teeth all reg’lar, all good – she’m young gal yet. Come out yer Israel, walk aroun’ an’ let the gen’lm’n see how spry you be.’

Then, pointing to the three-year-old girl who stood with her chubby hand to her mouth, holding on to her mother’s dress, and uncertain what to make of the strange scene.

‘Little Vardy’s on’y a chile yet; make prime gal by-and-by. Better buy us mas’r, we’m fus’ rate bargain” – and so on. But the benevolent gentleman found where he could drive a closer bargain, and so bought somebody else…

“The buyers, who were present to the number of about two hundred, clustered around the platform; while the Negroes, who were not likely to be immediately wanted, gathered into sad groups in the background to watch the progress of the selling in which they were so sorrowfully interested. The wind howled outside, and through the open side of the building the driving rain came pouring in; the bar down stairs ceased for a short time its brisk trade; the buyers lit fresh cigars, got ready their catalogues and pencils, and the first lot of human chattels are led upon the stand, not by a white man, but by a sleek mulatto, himself a slave, and who seems to regard the selling of his brethren, in which he so glibly assists, as a capital joke. It had been announced that the Negroes would be sold in “families,” that is to say; a man would not be parted from his wife, or a mother from a very young child. There is perhaps as much policy as humanity in this arrangement, for thereby many aged and unserviceable people are disposed of, who otherwise would not find a ready sale…

…The expression on the faces of all who stepped on the block was always the same, and told of more anguish than it is in the power of words to express. Blighted homes, crushed hopes and broken hearts was (sic) the sad story to be read in all the anxious faces. Some of them regarded the sale with perfect indifference, never making a motion save to turn from one side to the other at the word of the dapper Mr. Bryan, that all the crowd might have a fair view of their proportions, and then, when the sale was accomplished, stepping down from the block without caring to cast even a look at the buyer, who now held all their happiness in his hands. Others, again, strained their eyes with eager glances from one buyer to another as the bidding went on, trying with earnest attention to follow the rapid voice of the auctioneer. Sometimes, two persons only would be bidding for the same chattel, all the others having resigned the contest, and then the poor creature on the block, conceiving an instantaneous preference for one of the buyers over the other, would regard the rivalry with the interest, the expression of his face changing with every bid, settling into a half smile of joy if the favorite buyer persevered unto the end and secured the property, and settling down into a look of hopeless despair if the other won the victory…

The auctioneer brought up Joshua’s Molly and family. He announced that Molly insisted that she was lame in her left foot, and perversely would walk lame, although, for his part, he did not believe a word of it. He had caused her to be examined by an eminent physician in Savannah, which medical light had declared that Joshua’s Molly was not lame, but was only shamming. However, the gentlemen must judge for themselves and bid accordingly. So Molly was put through her paces, and compelled to trot up and down along the stage, to go up and down the steps, and to exercise her feet in various ways, but always with the same result, the left foot would be lame. She was finally sold for $695.

Whether she really was lame or not, no one knows but herself, but it must be remembered that to a slave a lameness, or anything that decreases his market value, is a thing to be rejoiced over. A man in the prime of life, worth $1,600 or thereabouts, can have little hope of ever being able, by any little savings of his own, to purchase his liberty. But, let him have a rupture, or lose a limb, or sustain any other injury that renders him of much less service to his owner, and reduces his value to $300 or $400, and he may hope to accumulate that sum, and eventually to purchase his liberty. Freedom without health is infinitely sweeter than health without freedom.

And so the Great Sale went on for two long days, during which time there were sold 429 men, women and children. There were 436 announced to be sold, but a few were detained on the plantations by sickness…

 

 

Gentleman Jim Corbett Defeats John L Sullivan

In New Orleans on 7 September, 1892, John L Sullivan defended his World Heavyweight Title against Gentleman Jim Corbett. The legendary Sullivan who had not fought for almost four years was most people’s favourite to win but some with a keener eye thought better – they were right. Corbett, who adopted a more scientific approach to the ring easily avoided Sullivan’s crude attempts to engage him in a brawl handing out a boxing lesson to the aged Champion in the process. In the 21st Round he delivered the coup de grace knocking out the Champion for the first and only time in his career. It had been a long time coming. This is his account of the fight taken from his1926 autobiography, The Roar of the Crowd.

“Now, I knew that the most dangerous thing I could do was to let Sullivan work me into a corner when I was a little tired or dazed, so I made up my mind that I would let him do this while I was still fresh. Then I could find out what he intended doing when he got me there. In a fight, you know, when a man has you where he wants you, he is going to deliver the best goods he has.

From the beginning of the round Sullivan was aggressive-wanted to eat me up right away. He came straight for me and I backed and backed, finally into a corner. While I was there I observed him setting himself for a right-hand swing, first slapping himself on the thigh with his left hand-sort of a trick to balance himself for a terrific swing with his right. But before he let the blow go, just at the right instant, I sidestepped out of the corner and was back in the middle of the ring again, Sullivan hot after me.

I allowed him to back me into all four corners, and he thought he was engineering all this, that it was his own work that was cornering me. But I had learned what I wanted to know – just where to put my head to escape his blow if he should get me cornered and perhaps dazed. He had shown his hand to me.

In the second round he was still backing me around the ring. I hadn’t even struck at him yet, and the audience on my right hissed me for running away and began to call me ‘Sprinter.’ Now I could see at a glance that Sullivan was not quite near enough to hit me, so suddenly I turned my side to him, waved both hands to the audience and called out, ‘Wait a while! You’ll see a fight.’

So far Sullivan hadn’t reached me with anything but glancing blows, and it was my intention, when the third round started, to hit him my first punch, and I felt that it must be a good one! If my first punch didn’t hurt him, he was going to lose all respect for my hitting ability.

So, with mind thoroughly made up, I allowed him to back me once more into a corner. But although this time I didn’t intend to slip out, by my actions I indicated that I was going to, just as I had before. As we stood there, fiddling, he crowding almost on top of me, I glanced, as I had always done before, first to the left, then to the right, as if looking for some way to get out of this corner. He, following my and thinking I wanted to make a getaway, determined that he wouldn’t let me out this time!

For once he failed to slap himself on the thigh with his left hand, but he had his right hand all ready for the swing as he was gradually crawling up on me. Then, just as he finally set himself to let go a vicious right I beat him to it and loosed a left-hand for his face with all the power I had behind it. His head went back and I followed it up with a couple of other punches and slugged him back over the ring and into his corner. When the round was over his nose was broken.

At once there was pandemonium in the audience! All over the house, men stood on their chairs, coats off, swinging them in the air. You could have heard the yells clear to the Mississippi River!

But the uproar only made Sullivan the more determined. He came out of his corner in the fourth like a roaring lion, with an uglier scowl than ever, and bleeding considerably at the nose. I felt sure now that I would beat him, so made up my mind that, though it would take a little longer, I would play safe.

From that time on I started doing things the audience were seeing for the first time, judging from the way they talked about the fight afterwards. I would work a left-hand on the nose, then a hook into the stomach, a hook up on the jaw again, a great variety of blows, in fact; using all the time such quick side-stepping and footwork that the audience seemed to be delighted and a little bewildered, as was also Mr. Sullivan. That is, bewildered, for I don’t think he was delighted.

In the twelfth round we clinched, and, with the referee’s order, ‘Break away,’ I dropped my arms, when Sullivan let go a terrific right-hand swing from which I just barely got away; as it was it just grazed the top of my head. Some in the audience began to shout ‘foul!’ but I smiled and shook my head, to tell them, ‘I don’t want it that way.’

When we came up for the twenty-first round it looked as if the fight would last ten or fifteen rounds longer. Right away I went up to him, feinted with my left and hit him with a left-hand hook alongside the jaw pretty hard, and I saw his eyes roll. . . . Summoning all the reserve force I had left I let my guns go, right and left, with all the dynamite Nature had given me, and Sullivan stood dazed and rocking. So I set myself for an instant, put just ‘a little more’ in a right and hit him alongside the jaw. And he fell helpless on the ground, on his stomach, and rolled over on his back! The referee, his seconds and mine picked him up and put him in his corner; and the audience went wild.”

 

 

 

The Birth of Kaiser Wilhelm II

On 27 January 1859, Princess Victoria, the eldest daughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria gave birth to her first child, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. It was to be a traumatic experience, a breech birth that, though it remained unknown for some time, left him with a withered left arm. It would impact his childhood in particular and play a major role in the formation of his character, though it would be artfully disguised in later life.

Being the mother of nine children Queen Victoria knew all about the pain of childbirth but had found chloroform to be a great help and now recommended it to her daughter, and the Queen’s recommendations were rarely ignored. She also sent Vicky her long-time midwife, Mrs Innocent and her personal physician Dr James Clark.

There was little possibility of Queen Victoria leaving her daughter’s labour in the hands of German doctors alone.

Following the birth, Victoria’s husband Friedrich, heir to the Prussian throne, also known as Fritz, wrote to his Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert providing an account of the birth:

“After Vicky had been visited by pains of an unusual nature in the few days prior to the 27th, which had more than once given us a false alarm, she experienced sharp pains shortly before midnight on the 26th, and soon thereafter wetness, which induced me to call in Mrs Innocent. She soon informed me quietly that the time had come, but advised Vicky to try and get a little sleep.

This was no longer possible, as the above-mentioned pain recurred a short time later and Sir James was informed and Wegner. Countess Blucher was summoned. Vicky put on some warm loose clothes and paced to and fro for several hours supported by Countesses Perponcher and Blucher and myself, desperately clutching us or at a table whenever the pain set in. At around half past two in the morning, I went to my parents to announce that it had begun, and Vicky went into the bedroom, which had meanwhile been prepared for the decisive event; and there, she spent the night either walking or lying in the chaise lounge.

The pains gradually increased and by daybreak were no longer by any means negligible. At around 9 a.m., she lay down on the bed, the very place where my father was born; only somewhat later did Dr Wegner notice by chance as he examined her that the position of the baby was not quite the normal one.

Vicky’s pain, as well as her horrible screams and wails, became even more severe; however, whenever she was granted a respite from her suffering, she would ask for forgiveness from everyone for her screaming and impatience, but she could not help herself. When the final stage of labour began, I had to try with all my might to hold her head in place, so that she would not strain her neck over much. Every contraction meant a real fight between her and me, and even today, 29 January, my arms still feel quite weak.

To prevent her from gnashing and biting, we made sure that there was a handkerchief in her mouth at all times. Occasionally, I had to use all my strength to remove her fingers from her mouth, and also placed my own fingers in her mouth. With the strength of a giant, she was at times able to hold off two people, and thus the awful torture escalated until the moment of birth was so near that complete anaesthesia with chloroform was undertaken. Vicky was laid at right angles on the bed; she let forth one horrible, long scream, and was then anaesthetized.

Because the baby was lying in the breech position and Vicky had absorbed so much chloroform she was virtually comatose and unable to help in the delivery it had to be literally yanked from the womb. But it wasn’t breathing, everyone thought it was stillborn, and it was only the swift action of the midwife Fraulein Stahl who began to slap the baby’s face first lightly and then more vigorously that saved the young prince’s life.

Upon hearing his son’s first faint cries Friedrich wrote:

“The sound cut through me like an electric shock. I then staggered, in a half-faint, into the next room where the baby was in a bath, and first I fell into Mama’s arms, and then I sank to my knees.”

 

 

Anne Boleyn: O Death Rock Me Asleep

In the days immediately prior to her execution Anne Boleyn wrote from her prison cell in the Tower of London a last poem:

O death! rock me asleep,

Bring me on quiet rest;

Yet pass my guiltless ghost

Out of my careful breast:

Toll on the passing bell,

Ring out the doleful knell,

Let the sound of my death tell,

For I must die,

There is no remedy,

For now I die

My pains who can express?

Alas! they are so strong,

My dolor will not suffer strength

My life for to prolong:

Toll on the passing bell, etc.

Alone, in prison strong,

I wail my destiny,

Wo worth this cruel hap that I

Should taste this misery:

Toll on the passing bell,

Farewell my pleasures past,

Welcome my present pain;

I feel my torments so increase

That life cannot remain.

Cease now the passing bell,

Rung is my doleful knell,

For the sound my death doth tell,

Death doth draw nigh,

Sound my end dolefully,

For now I die.

Anne Boleyn was beheaded with the single stroke of a sword within the precincts of the Tower of London on 19 May 1536. She had, it was said, displayed a devilish spirit as if unconcerned by the fate that awaited her, though her voice was weak when she spoke and there were tears in her eyes.

 

Anne Boleyn’s Speech on the Scaffold

At 8 am on 19 May 1536, Anne Boleyn was taken to a specially erected scaffold within the confines of the Tower of London for execution on charges of adultery and treason. Before placing her head upon the block she briefly addressed the crowd in a calm if sometimes hesitant voice in a speech remarkable for its lack of malice and generosity of spirit which belied her reputation for petulance and excessive self-regard.

Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.

Anne Boleyn’s Last Letter to Henry VIII

On 6 May 1536, while imprisoned in the Tower of London awaiting trial on charges of adultery and treason Anne Boleyn wrote a final letter to King Henry VIII. It contains little trace of malice towards the man who would see his wife beheaded but she does plead her innocence of the crimes alleged, if not the fact she may have caused him offence (the offence she knew full-well that of not bearing him a son and heir).

She also pleads that others not be punished for her sake and prays that Henry too avoid being brought to account before God for his ‘unprincely and cruel usage of me.’

Anne Boleyn went to the scaffold with great dignity on 19 May, 1536.

“Sir,

Your Grace’s displeasure, and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me, as what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you send unto me (willing me to confess a truth, and so obtain your favour) by such an one, whom you know to be my ancient professed enemy. I no sooner received this message by him, than I rightly conceived your meaning; and if, as you say, confessing a truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all willingness and duty perform your demand.

But let not your Grace ever imagine, that your poor wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a fault, where not so much as a thought thereof preceded. And to speak a truth, never prince had wife more loyal in all duty, and in all true affection, than you have ever found in Anne Boleyn: with which name and place I could willingly have contented myself, if God and your Grace’s pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my exaltation or received Queenship, but that I always looked for such an alteration as I now find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer foundation than your Grace’s fancy, the least alteration I knew was fit and sufficient to draw that fancy to some other object. You have chosen me, from a low estate, to be your Queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire. If then you found me worthy of such honour, good your Grace let not any light fancy, or bad council of mine enemies, withdraw your princely favour from me; neither let that stain, that unworthy stain, of a disloyal heart toward your good grace, ever cast so foul a blot on your most dutiful wife, and the infant-princess your daughter. Try me, good king, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers and judges; yea let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open flame; then shall you see either my innocence cleared, your suspicion and conscience satisfied, the ignominy and slander of the world stopped, or my guilt openly declared. So that whatsoever God or you may determine of me, your grace may be freed of an open censure, and mine offense being so lawfully proved, your grace is at liberty, both before God and man, not only to execute worthy punishment on me as an unlawful wife, but to follow your affection, already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am, whose name I could some good while since have pointed unto, your Grace being not ignorant of my suspicion therein. But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death, but an infamous slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great sin therein, and likewise mine enemies, the instruments thereof, and that he will not call you to a strict account of your unprincely and cruel usage of me, at his general judgment-seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear, and in whose judgment I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me) mine innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared. My last and only request shall be, that myself may only bear the burden of your Grace’s displeasure, and that it may not touch the innocent souls of those poor gentlemen, who (as I understand) are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake. If ever I found favour in your sight, if ever the name of Anne Boleyn hath been pleasing in your ears, then let me obtain this request, and I will so leave to trouble your Grace any further, with mine earnest prayers to the Trinity to have your Grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your actions. From my doleful prison in the Tower, this sixth of May;

Your most loyal and ever faithful wife, Anne Boleyn”

 

Katharine of Aragon’s Last Letter to Henry VIII

In late December 1535, aware that she was dying Katharine of Aragon wrote a last letter to King Henry VIII. Despite the divorce and his recent marriage to Anne Boleyn much to Henry’s irritation she continued to refer to herself as his lawful wedded wife regardless of having been exiled from Court and demoted in status to Dowager Princess of Wales, worse still in her missive she proceeded to both warn and scold him in equal measure and even condescended to forgive his past behaviour.

Unwavering in the face of years of bullying and intimidation she remained defiant until the end signing her letter – Katharine, the Queen.

She passed away on 7 January, 1536.

My most dear lord, king and husband,

The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.


Katharine the Quene.