Churchill’s V-E Day Address

People had been taking to the streets throughout Britain ever since the formal announcement of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender to Allied Forces, now it was the 8th May, Victory in Europe, or V-E Day, and the party was in full swing.

At 3 pm Prime Minister Winston Churchill broadcast to the nation by radio from Trafalgar Square.

A little later standing on the balcony of the Ministry of Health in Whitehall surrounded by leading members of his Cabinet he addressed the crowds directly, his words relayed by loud speaker:

My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole. We were the first, in this ancient island, to draw the sword against tyranny. After a while we were left all alone against the most tremendous military power that has been seen. We were all alone for a whole year.

There we stood, alone. Did anyone want to give in?

The crowd shouted “No.”

Were we downhearted?

The crowd shouted “No!”

The lights went out and the bombs came down. But every man, woman and child in the country had no thought of quitting the struggle. London can take it. So we came back after long months from the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, while all the world wondered. When shall the reputation and faith of this generation of English men and women fail? I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we’ve done and they will say “do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straight forward and die if need be-unconquered.” Now we have emerged from one deadly struggle-a terrible foe has been cast on the ground and awaits our judgment and our mercy.
But there is another foe who occupies large portions of the British Empire, a foe stained with cruelty and greed-the Japanese. I rejoice we can all take a night off today and another day tomorrow. Tomorrow our great Russian Allies will also be celebrating victory and after that we must begin the task of rebuilding our hearth and homes, doing our utmost to make this country a land in which all have a chance, in which all have a duty, and we must turn ourselves to fulfill our duty to our own countrymen, and to our gallant Allies of the United States who were so foully and treacherously attacked by Japan. We will go hand and hand with them. Even if it is a hard struggle we will not be the ones who will fail.

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Churchill then travelled to Buckingham Palace where he appeared alongside the King and Queen on its balcony.
The celebrations were to go on all day and long into the night and the young Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were to join in for a time at least mingling with the crowds outside the Palace gates.

The Royal Family along with eminent others were to appear no fewer than eight times during the day to wave to the crowds.

It was an unforgettable day, the joy unmitigated, the relief boundless, the atmosphere raucous, the behaviour undignified, and the beer ran out.

The sense of anti-climax that followed was no less memorable.

The Salem Witch Trials: Witnessing Hysteria

In January 1692, witchcraft came to the town of Salem in Massachusetts, or so it was believed. A number of young girls had been exhibiting strange behaviour; they would go into a trance, they would become hysterical and when questioned they claimed to be possessed by demonic spirits and that there existed a witches coven in Salem; and they named those involved one of whom was a black woman known as Tituba, who when interrogated appeared to confirm the girls story.

In March, they accused the elderly Martha Corey of being a witch but unlike the other women already under suspicion ‘Goodwife’ Corey was of unimpeachable character and an upstanding member of the Congregation.

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Questioned by investigators she dismissed the accusation with contempt and no little sarcasm – she was innocent of such nonsense. But others were not so convinced and she was summoned to appear in Court.

The Reverend Deodat Lawson witnessed events:

“On, Monday, the 21st. of March, the magistrates of Salem appointed to come to examination of Goodwife Corey. And about twelve of the clock they went into the meeting house, which was thronged with spectators. Mr. Noyes began with a very pertinent and pathetic prayer, and Goodwife Corey being called to answer to what was alleged against her, she desired to go to prayer, which was much wondered at, in the presence of so many hundred people. The magistrates told her they would not admit it; they came not there to hear her pray, but to examine her in what was alleged against her. The worshipful Mr. Hathorne asked her why she afflicted those children. She said she did not afflict them. He asked her, ‘Who did then?’ She said, ‘I do not know; how should I know?’

The number of afflicted persons’ were at the time ten, four married women: Mrs. Pope, Mrs. Putnam, Goodwife Bibber, and an ancient woman named Goodall; three maids – Mary Walcut, Mercy Lewes, at Thomas Putnam’s, and a maid at Dr. Griggs’s; there were three girls from nine to twelve years of age, each of them, or thereabouts, viz. Elizabeth Parris, Abigail Williams, and Ann Putnam.

These were most of them at Goodwife Corey’s examination, and did vehemently accuse her in the assembly of afflicting them, by biting, pinching, strangling, etc; and that they did in their fit see her likeness coming to them, and bringing a book to them. She said she had no book. They affirmed she had a yellow bird that used to suck betwixt her fingers; and being asked about it, if she had any familiar spirit that attended her, she said she had no familiarity with any such thing, and was a gospel woman, which title she called herself by. And the afflicted persons told her ah, she was a gospel witch.

Ann Putnam did there affirm that one day when Lieutenant Fuller was at prayer at her father’s house she saw the shape of Goodwife Corey and she thought Goodwife N, praying at the same time to the Devil. She was not sure it was Goodwife N. she thought it was, but very sure she saw the shape, of Goodwife Corey.

The said Corey said they were poor, distracted children, and no heed to be given to what they said. Mr. Hathorne and Mr. Noyes replied it was the judgment of all present they were bewitched, and only she, the accused person, said they were distracted.

It was observed several times that if she did but bite her underlip in time of examination, the persons afflicted were bitten on their arms and wrists and produced the marks before the magistrates, ministers, and others.

And being watched for that, if she did but pinch her fingers, or grasp one hand hard in another, they were pinched, and produced the marks before the magistrates and spectators.

After that, it was observed that if she did but lean her breast against the seat in the meeting house (being the bar at which she stood), they were afflicted.

Particularly Mrs. Pope complained of grievous torment in her bowels as if they were, torn out. She vehemently accused said Corey as the instrument, and first threw her muff at her, but that not flying home she got off her shoe, and hit Goodwife Corey on the head with it.

After these postures were watched, if said Corey did but stir her feet, they were afflicted in their feet, and stamped fearfully.

The afflicted persons asked her why she did not go to the company of witches which were before the meeting house mustering. Did she not hear the drum beat? They accused her of having familiarity with the Devil, in the time of examination, in the shape of a black man whispering in her ear.

She denied all that was charged upon her, and said they could not prove her a witch.

She was that afternoon committed to Salem prison; and after she was in custody, she did not so appear to them and afflict them as before.

Martha Corey, aged 72, was later convicted of being a witch and hanged on 22 September 1692.

The Execution of Mata-Hari

On the morning of 15 October 1917, Dutch born Margerethe Zelle, better known as the exotic dancer Mata-Hari, was awoken from a deep sleep in her prison cell at St Lazare on the outskirts of Paris. She had earlier been found guilty of spying for the Germans and sentenced to death, her appeal for clemency had been declined.

Henry Wales, a British journalist, witnessed events.

Father Arbaux, accompanied by two sisters of charity, Captain Bouchardon, and Maitre Clunet, her lawyer, entered her cell, where she was still sleeping – a calm, untroubled sleep, it was remarked by the turnkeys and trusties.

The sisters gently shook her. She arose and was told that her hour had come.

‘May I write two letters?’ was all she asked.

Consent was given immediately by Captain Bouchardon, and pen, ink, paper, and envelopes were given to her.

She seated herself at the edge of the bed and wrote the letters with feverish haste. She handed them over to the custody of her lawyer.

Then she drew on her stockings, black, silken, filmy things, grotesque in the circumstances. She placed her high-heeled slippers on her feet and tied the silken ribbons over her insteps.

She arose and took the long black velvet cloak, edged around the bottom with fur and with a huge square fur collar hanging down the back, from a hook over the head of her bed. She placed this cloak over the heavy silk kimono which she had been wearing over her nightdress.

Her wealth of black hair was still coiled about her head in braids. She put on a large, flapping black felt hat with a black silk ribbon and bow. Slowly and indifferently, it seemed, she pulled on a pair of black kid gloves.

Then she said calmly:

‘I am ready.’

The party slowly filed out of her cell to the waiting automobile.

The car sped through the heart of the sleeping city.

It was scarcely half-past five in the morning and the sun was not yet fully up.

Clear across Paris the car whirled to the Caserne de Vincennes, the barracks of an old fort.

The twelve Zouaves, forming the firing squad, stood in line, their rifles at ease. An Officer stood behind them, sword drawn.

The automobile stopped, and the party descended, Mata Hari last. The party walked straight to the spot, where a little hummock of earth reared itself seven or eight feet high and afforded a background for such bullets as might miss the target.

As Father Arbaux spoke with the condemned woman, a French officer approached, carrying a white cloth.

‘The blindfold,’ he whispered to the nuns who stood there and handed it to them.

‘Must I wear that?’ asked Mata Hari, turning to her lawyer, as her eyes glimpsed the blindfold.

Maitre Clunet turned interrogatively to the French officer.

‘If Madame prefers not, it makes no difference,’ replied the officer, hurriedly turning away.

Mata Hari was not bound and she was not blindfolded instead she stood gazing steadfastly at her executioners, when the priest, the nuns, and her lawyer stepped away from her.

The officer in command of the firing squad, who had been watching his men like a hawk that none might examine his rifle and try to find out whether he was destined to fire the blank cartridge which was in the breech of one rifle, seemed relieved that the business would soon be over.

A sharp, crackling command and the file of twelve men assumed rigid positions at attention. Another command, and their rifles were at their shoulders; each man gazed down his barrel at the breast of the woman who was the target.

She did not move a muscle.

The Officer in charge had moved to a position where from the corners of their eyes they could see him.
His sword was extended in the air, it dropped. The sun flashed on the burnished blade as it described an arc in falling.

Simultaneously the sound of the volley rang out as flame and a tiny puff of greyish smoke issued from the muzzle of each rifle.

At the report Mata Hari fell.

She did not die as actors and moving picture stars would have us believe that people die when they are shot. She did not throw up her hands nor did she plunge straight forward or straight back.

Instead she seemed to collapse. Slowly and inertly she settled to her knees, her head up always, and without the slightest change of expression on her face. For the fraction of a second it seemed she tottered there, on her knees, gazing directly at those who had taken her life. Then she fell backward, bending at the waist, with her legs doubled up beneath her. She lay prone, motionless, with her face turned towards the sky.

A non-commissioned officer, who accompanied a lieutenant, drew his revolver from the big, black holster strapped about his waist. Bending over, he placed the muzzle of the revolver almost – but not quite – against the left temple of the spy. He pulled the trigger, and the bullet tore into the brain of the woman.

Mata Hari was surely dead.”

Hitler Receives Britain’s Ultimatum

As agreed by prior arrangement at 9 am on 3 September 1939, the translator Paul Schmidt met with the British Ambassador alone in Joachim von Ribbentrop’s office at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin where he received Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s ultimatum that if German hostilities in Poland did not cease by 11 am then a State of War would exist between Great Britain and Germany.

A local, if bloody disagreement, was about to become a European wide conflict and eventually World War.

Following expressions of regret from both parties Schmidt departed for the Reich Chancellery where he translated the document for Adolf Hitler.

He later described the scene:

When I entered the next room Hitler was sitting at his desk and Ribbentrop stood by the window.

Both looked up expectantly as I came in. I stopped at some distance from Hitler’s desk, and then slowly translated the British Government’s ultimatum. When I finished, there was complete silence.

Hitler sat immobile, gazing before him. He was not at a loss, as was afterwards stated, nor did he rage as others allege. He sat completely silent and unmoving.

After an interval which seemed an age, he turned to Ribbentrop, who had remained standing by the window. ‘What now?’ asked Hitler with a savage look, as though implying that his Foreign Minister had misled him about England’s probable reaction.

Ribbentrop answered quietly:

‘I assume that the French will hand in a similar ultimatum within the hour.’
As my duty was now performed, I withdrew.

To those in the ante-room pressing round me I said:

‘The English have just handed us an ultimatum. In two hours a state of war will exist between England and Germany.’
In the anteroom, too, this news was followed by complete silence.

Goering turned to me and said:

‘If we lose this war, then God have mercy on us!’

Goebbels stood in a corner, downcast and self-absorbed. Everywhere in the room I saw looks of grave concern, even amongst the lesser Party people.”

Great Fire of London: Diary Extracts

Two of England’s most prominent diarists Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn were contemporaries who recorded in their own words not only the daily meanderings of a life lived but the significant events of their time.

Samuel Pepys maintained his diary for just nine years (1660-1669), John Evelyn from 1640 until his death in 1706.
Here they relate their experience of the Great Fire of London:

Samuel Pepys

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Sunday, 2 September, 1666

Lord’s Day – some of our maid’s sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast today. Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the city. So I rose and slipped on my nightgown, and went to her window, and thought it to be on the backside of Mark Lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was and further off, so to my closet to set things to rights after yesterday’s cleaning.

By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish Street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J Robinson’s little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge; which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Michelle and our Sarah on the bridge. So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King’s Baker’s House in Pudding Lane, and that it hath burned St Magnus Church and most part of Fish Street already. So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michelle’s house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Steelyard, while I was there. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loath to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balcony’s till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down.

So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of York what I saw, and that unless His Majesty did command houses to be pulled down nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way.

The Duke of York bid me tell him that if he would have any more soldiers he shall; and so did my Lord Arlington afterwards, as a great secret. Here meeting, with Captain Cooke, I in his coach, which he lent me, and with me to St Paul’s, and there walked along Watling Street, as well as I could, every creature coming away laden with goods to save, and here and there sick people carried away in beds. Extraordinary good goods carried in carts and on backs.

At last met my Lord Mayor in Canning Street, like a man spent, with a handkerchief about his neck. To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman:

“Lord! What can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it.”

Tom Hater came with some few of his goods saved out of his house, which is burned upon Fish Street Hall. I invited him to lie at my house, and did receive his goods, but was deceived in his lying there, the news coming every moment of the growth of the fire; so as we were forced to begin to pack up our own goods; and prepare for their removal; and did by moonshine (it being brave dry, and moon: shine, and warm weather) carry much of my goods into the garden, and Mr. Hater and I did remove my money and iron chests into my cellar, as thinking that the safest place, and got my bags of gold into my office, ready to carry away, and my chief papers of accounts also there, and my tally’s into a box by themselves.

So great was our fear, as Sir W Batten hath carts come out of the country to fetch away his goods this night. We did put Mr. Hater, poor man, to bed a little; but he got but very little rest, so much noise being in my house, taking down of goods.

Monday, 3 September

About four o’clock in the morning, my Lady Batten sent me a cart to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things, to Sir W Ryder’s at Bethnal Green. Which I did riding myself in my night-gown in the cart; and, Lord! To see how the streets and the highways are crowded with people running and riding, and getting of carts at any rate to fetch away things.

Her mother saying that she was not a ‘prentice girl, to ask leave every time she goes abroad, my wife with good reason was angry, and, when she came home, bid her be gone again. And so she went away, which troubled me, but yet less than it would, because of the condition we are in, fear of coming into in a little time of being less able to keep one in her quality.

At night lay down a little upon a quilt of W. Hewer’s in the office, all my own things being packed up or gone; and after me my poor wife did the like, we having fed upon the remains of yesterday’s dinner, having no fire nor dishes, nor any opportunity of dressing anything.

Tuesday, 4 September

Sir W Batten not knowing how to remove his wine, did dig a pit in the garden, and laid it in there; and I took the opportunity of laying all the papers of my office that I could not otherwise dispose of. And in the evening Sir W. Pen and I did dig another, and put our wine in it; and I, my Parmasan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things.

This night Mrs Turner (who, poor woman, was removing her goods all this day, good goods into the garden, and knows not how to dispose of them), and her husband supped with my wife and I at night, in the office; upon a shoulder of mutton without any napkin or anything, in a sad manner, but were merry. Only now and then walking into the garden, and saw how horridly the sky looks, all on a fire in the night, was enough to put us out of our wits; and, indeed, it was extremely dreadful, for it looks just as if it was at us; and the whole heaven on fire.

I after supper walked in the dark down to Tower Street, and there saw it all on fire, at the Trinity House on that side, and the Dolphin Tavern on this side, which was very near us; and the fire with extraordinary vehemence. Now begins the practice of blowing up of houses in Tower Street, those next the Tower, which at first did frighten people more than anything, but it stopped the fire where it was done, it bringing down the houses to the ground in the same places they stood, and then it was easy to quench what little fire was in it, though it kindled nothing almost.

Wednesday, 5 September

I lay down in the office again upon W Hewer’s, quilt, being mighty weary, and sore in my feet with going till I was hardly able to stand. About two in the morning my wife calls me up and tells me of new cries of fire, it being come to Barking Church, which is the bottom of our lane. I up, and finding it so, resolved presently to take her away, and did, and took my gold.

Lord! What sad sight it was by moon-light to see, the whole City almost on fire, that you might see it plain at Woolwich, as if you were by it. There, when I come, I find the gates shut, but no guard kept at all, which troubled me, because of discourse now begun, that there is plot in it, and that the French had done it. I got the gates open, and to Mr Shelden’s, where I locked up my gold, and charged, my wife and W. Hewer never to leave the room without one of them in it, night, or day.

So back again, by the way seeing my goods well in the lighters at Deptford, and watched well by people. Home and whereas I expected to have seen our house on fire, it being now about seven o’clock, it was not. But to the fire, and there find greater hopes than I expected; for my confidence of finding our Office on fire was such, that I durst not ask anybody how it was with us, till I come and saw it not burned.

But going to the fire, I find by the blowing up of houses, and the great help given by the workmen out of the King’s yards, sent up by Sir W Pen, there is a good stop given to it, as well as at Mark Lane end as ours; it having only burned the dyall of Barking Church, and part of the porch, and was there quenched. I up to the top of Barking steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw; everywhere great fires, oil-cellars, and brimstone, and other things burning. I became afeard to stay there long, and therefore down again as fast as I could, the fire being spread as far as I could see it; and to Sir W. Pen’s, and there eat a piece of cold meat, having eaten nothing since Sunday, but the remains of Sunday’s dinner. Here I met with Mr Young and Whistler; and having removed all my things, and received hope that the fire at our end; is stopped, they and I walked into the town, and find Fenchurch, Gracious; and Lombard Street all in dust.

The Exchange is a sad sight, nothing standing there, of all the statues or pillars, but Sir Thomas Gresham’s picture in the corner. Walked into Moor Fields (our feet ready to burn, walking through the town among the hot-coals), and find that full of people, and poor wretches carrying their good there, and everybody keeping his goods together by themselves (and a great blessing it is to them that it is fair weather for them to keep abroad night and day); drank there, and paid two-pence for a plain penny loaf. Thence homeward, having passed through Cheapside and Newgate Market, all burned, and seen Anthony Joyce’s House in fire. And took up (which I keep by me) a piece of glass of Mercer’s Chapel in the street, where much more was, so melted and buckled with the heat of the fire like parchment. I also did see a poor cat taken out of a hole in the chimney, joining to the wall of the Exchange; with, the hair all burned off the body, and yet alive. So home at night, and find there good hopes of saving our office; but great endeavours of watching all night, and having men ready; and so we lodged them in the office, and had drink and bread and cheese for them. And I lay down and slept a good night about midnight, though when I rose I heard that there had been a great alarm of French and Dutch being risen, which proved, nothing.

But it is a strange thing to see how long this time did look since Sunday, having been always full of variety of actions, and little sleep, that it looked like a week or more, and I had forgot, almost the day of the week.

John Evelyn

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Sunday 2 September 1666

This fatal night about ten, began that deplorable fire, near Fish Street in London.
I had public prayers at home.

After dinner the fire continuing, with my Wife and Son took Coach and went to the Bank-side in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal spectacle, the whole City in dreadful flames near the Waterside, and had now consumed all the houses from the bridge all Thames Street and upwards towards Cheapside, down to the Three Cranes, and so returned exceedingly astonished – what would become of the rest.

Monday, 3 September

The Fire having continued all this night (if I may call that night, which was as light as day for 10 miles round about after a dreadful manner) when conspiring with a fierce Eastern Wind, in a very dry season, I went on foot to the same place, when I saw the whole South part of the City burning from Cheap side to the Thames, and all along Cornhill (for it likewise kindled back against the Wind, as well as forward) Tower Street, Fenchurch Street, Gracious Street, and so along to Baynard Castle, and was now taking hold of St. Paul’ s-Church, to which the Scaffolds contributed exceedingly.

The Conflagration was so universal, and the people so astonished, that from the beginning (I know not by what desponding or fate), they hardly stirred to quench it, so as there was nothing heard or seen but crying out and lamentation, and running about like distracted creatures, without at all attempting to save even their goods; such a strange consternation there was upon them, so as it burned both in breadth and length, The Churches, Public Halls, Exchange, Hospitals, Monuments, and Ornaments, leaping after a prodigious manner from house to house and street to street, at great distance one from the other, for the heat (with a long set of faire and warm weather) had even ignited the air, and prepared the materials to conceive the fire, which devoured all in an incredible manner, houses, furniture, and everything. Here we saw the Thames covered with goods floating, all the barges and boats laden with what some had time and courage to save, as on the other, the Carts &c carrying out to the fields, which for many miles were strewed with movables of all sorts, and tents erecting to shelter both people and what goods they could get away. oh the miserable and calamitous spectacle, such as happily the whole world had not seen the like since the foundation of it, nor to be out done, ‘til the universal Conflagration of it, all the sky were of a fiery aspect, like the top of a burning Oven, and the light seen above 40 miles round about for many nights.
God grant mine eyes may never behold the like, who now saw above ten thousand houses all in one flame, the noise and crackling and thunder of the impetuous flames, the shrieking of women and children, the hurry of people, the fall of towers, houses and churches was like an hideous storm, and the air all about so hot and inflamed that at the last one was not able to approach it, so as they were forced to stand still, and let the flames consume on which they did for near two whole miles in length and one in breadth. The Clouds also of smoke were dismal, and reached upon computation near 50 miles in length.

Thus I left it this afternoon burning, a resemblance of Sodom, or the last day. It called to mind that of 4 Heb: non enim hic habemus stabilem Civitatem; the ruins resembling the picture of Troy.

London was, but is no more.

Thus I returned.

Tuesday, 4 September

The burning still rages; I went now on horseback, and it was now gotten as far as the Inner Temple, all Fleet Street, Old Bailey, Ludgate Hill, Warwick Lane, Newgate, Paul’s Chain, Watling Street now flaming and most of it reduced to ashes, the stones of St Paul’s flew like grenades, the lead melting down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements of them glowing with a fiery redness, so as nor horse nor man was able to tread on them, and the demolitions had stopped all the passages, so as no help could be applied; the East Wind still more impetuously driving the flames forwards. Nothing but the almighty power of God was able to stop them, for vain was the help of man: on the fifth it crossed towards White Hall, but oh the confusion was then at that Court.

It pleased His Majesty to command me among the rest to look after the quenching of Fetter Lane end, to preserve (if possible) that part of Holborn, whilst the rest of the gentlemen. took their several posts, some at one part, some at another, for now they began to bestir themselves, and not ‘til now, who ‘til now had stood as men interdict, with their hands a cross, and began to consider that nothing was like to put a stop, but the blowing up of so many houses, as might make a wider gap, than any had yet been made by the ordinary method of pulling them down with Engines.

This some stout Seamen proposed early enough to have saved the whole City. But some tenacious and avaricious men, Aldermen and company would not permit, because their houses must have been the first. It was therefore now commanded to be practised, and my concern being particularly for the Hospital of St. Bartholomew’s near Smithfield, where I had many wounded and sick men, made me the more diligent to promote it; nor was my care for the Savoy less.
So as it pleased Almighty God by abating of the wind, and the industry of people, now when all was lost, infusing a new spirit into them (and such as had if exerted in time undoubtedly preserved the whole) that the fury of it began sensibly to abate, about noon, so as it came no farther than the Temple westward, nor than the entrance of Smithfield North; but continued all this day and night so impetuous toward Cripple-Gate, and the Tower, as made us even all despair. It also broke out again in the Temple: but the courage of the multitude persisting, and innumerable houses blown up with gunpowder, such gaps and desolations were soon made, as also by the former three days consumption, as the back fire did not so vehemently urge upon the rest, as formerly.

There was yet no standing near the burning and glowing ruins near a furlongs space; The coal and wood wharfs and magazines of Oil, rozine, and chandler did infinite mischief; so as the invective I but a little before dedicated to his Majesty and published, giving warning what might probably be the issue of suffering those shops to be in the City, was looked on as prophetic. But there I left this smoking and sultry heap, which mounted up in dismal clouds night and day, the poor Inhabitants dispersed all about St. Georges, Moore Fields, as far as Highgate, and several miles in Circle, some under tents, others under miserable huts and hovels, without a rag, or any necessary utensils, bed or board, who from delicateness, riches and easy accommodations in stately and well furnished houses, were now reduced to the extremist misery and poverty.

In this calamitous condition I returned with a sad heart to my house, blessing and adoring the distinguishing mercy of God, to me and mine, who in the midst of all this ruin, was like Lot, in my little Zoar, safe and sound.

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots: An Account

Pierre de Bourdeille was a French aristocrat who accompanied Mary, Queen of Scots during the final weeks of her captivity. Here he provides an account of her final hours and execution.

On February 7, 1587, the representatives of the English Queen, reached the Castle of Fotheringay, where the Queen of Scotland was confined at that time, between two and three o’clock in the afternoon. In the presence of her jailer, Paulet, they read their commission regarding the execution of the prisoner, and said that they would proceed with their task the next morning between seven and eight o’clock. The jailer was then ordered to have everything in readiness.

Without betraying any astonishment, the Queen thanked them for their good news, saying that nothing could be more welcome to her, since she longed for an end to her miseries, and had been prepared for death ever since she had been sent as a prisoner to England. However, she begged the envoys to give her a little time in which to make herself ready, make her will, and place her affairs in order. It was within their power and discretion to grant these requests. The Count of Shrewsbury replied rudely:

‘No, no, Madam you must die, you must die! Be ready between seven and eight in the morning. It cannot be delayed a moment beyond that time.’

The scaffold had been erected in the middle of a large room. It measured twelve feet along each side and two feet in height, and was covered by a coarse cloth of linen.

The Queen entered the room full of grace and majesty, just as if she were coming to a ball. There was no change on her features as she entered.

Drawing up before the scaffold, she summoned her major-domo and said to him:

‘Please help me mount this. This is the last request I shall make of you.’

Then she repeated to him all that she had said to him in her room about what he should tell her son. Standing on the scaffold, she asked for her almoner, begging the officers present to allow him to come. But this was refused point-blank. The Count of Kent told her that he pitied her greatly to see her thus the victim of the superstition of past ages, advising her to carry the cross of Christ in her heart rather than in her hand. To this she replied that it would be difficult to hold a thing so lovely in her hand and not feel it thrill the heart, and that what became every Christian in the hour of death was to bear with him the true Symbol of Redemption.”

Standing on the scaffold, Mary angrily rejected her captors’ offer of a Protestant Minister to give her comfort. She knelt and begged that Queen Elizabeth spare her ladies-in-waiting. She then prayed for the conversion of the Isle of Britain and Scotland to the Catholic Church:

“When this was over, she summoned her women to help her remove her black veil, her head-dress, and other ornaments. When the executioner attempted to do this, she cried out:

‘Nay, my good man, touch me not!’

But she could not prevent him from touching her, for when her dress was lowered as far as her waist; the scoundrel caught her roughly by the arm and pulled off her doublet. Her skirt was cut so low that her neck and throat, whiter than alabaster, were revealed. She concealed these as well as she could, saying that she was not used to disrobing in public, especially before so large an assemblage.

There were about four or five hundred people present.

The executioner fell to his knees before her and implored her forgiveness. The Queen told him that she willingly forgave him and all who were responsible for her death, as freely as she hoped her sins would be forgiven by God.
Turning to the woman to whom she, had given her handkerchief, she asked for it.

She wore a golden crucifix, made out of the wood of the true cross, with a picture of Our Lord on it. She was about to give this to one of her women, but the executioner forbade it, even though Her Majesty had promised that the woman would give him thrice its value in money.

After kissing her women once more, she bade them go, with her blessing, as she made the sign of the cross over them. One of them was unable to keep from crying, so that the Queen had to impose silence upon her by saying she had promised that nothing of the kind would interfere with the business in hand. They were to stand back quietly, pray to God for her soul, and bear truthful testimony that she had died in the bosom of the Holy Catholic religion.

One of the women then tied the handkerchief over her eyes.

The Queen quickly, and with great courage, knelt dawn, showing no signs of faltering. So great was her bravery that all present were moved, and there were few among them that could refrain from tears. In their hearts they condemned themselves far the injustice that was being done.

The executioner, or rather the minister of Satan, strove to kill not only her body but also her soul, and kept interrupting her prayers. The Queen repeated in Latin the Psalm beginning In te, Damine, speravi; nan canfundar in aeternum. When she was through she laid her head on the block, and as she repeated the prayer, the executioner struck her a great blow upon the neck, which was not, however, entirely severed. Then he struck twice more, since it was obvious that he wished to make the victim’s martyrdom all the more severe. It was not so much the suffering, but the cause, that made the martyr.

The executioner then picked up the severed head and, showing it to those present, cried out: ‘God save Queen Elizabeth! May all the enemies of the true Evangel perish thus!’

Saying this, he stripped off the dead Queen’s head-dress, in order to show her hair, which was now white, and which she had been afraid to show to everyone when she was still alive, or to have properly dressed, as she did when her hair was fair and light.

It was not old age that had turned it white, for she was only thirty-five when this took place, and scarcely forty when she met her death, but the troubles, misfortunes, and sorrows which she had suffered, especially in her prison.”

The Druids: According to Caesar

Julius Caesar, who had himself been Pontifex Maximus, was fascinated by the Celtic Priesthood and those Druids he encountered during his conquest of Gaul 58 BC to 55 BC and his brief military excursions to Britain in 55 BC and 54 BC.

In his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars he writes sometimes admiringly at other times in condemnation of this mysterious cult:

The Druids are in charge of all religious matters, superin¬tending public and private sacrifices, and explaining superstitions. A large crowd of young men, who flock to them for schooling, hold the Druids in great respect. For they have opinions to give on almost all disputes involving tribes or individuals, and if any crime is committed, any murder done, or if there is contention about a will or the boundaries of some property, they are the people who investigate the matter and establish rewards and punishments. Any individual or community that refuses to abide by their decision is excluded from the sacrifices, which is held to be the most serious punishment possible. Those thus excommuni¬cated are viewed as impious criminals, they are deserted by their friends and no one will visit them or talk to them to avoid the risk of contagion from them. They are deprived of all rights in court, and they forfeit all claim to honours.

There is one arch-of supreme power.

On his death, he is succeeded either by someone outstanding among his fellows, or, if there are several of equal calibre, the decision is reached by a vote of all the Druids, and the election is sometimes managed by force.
At a fixed time of year they assemble at a holy place in the territory of the Carnutes, which is thought to be the centre of Gaul. Anyone with a grievance attends and obeys the decisions and judgments which the Druids give. The general view is that this religion originated in Britain and was imported into Gaul, which means that the whole Gallic nation is virtually a prey to superstition, and this makes the serious invalids or those engaged in battle or dangerous exploits sacrifice men instead of animals. They even vow to immolate themselves, using the Druids as their ministers for this purpose. They feel that the spirit of the gods cannot be appeased unless a man’s life is given for a life.

Public sacrifices of the same sort are common.

Another practice is to make images of enormous size, with the limbs woven from osiers.

Living human beings are fitted into these, and, when they are set on fire, the men are engulfed in the flames and perish. The general feeling is that the immortal gods are better pleased with the sacrifice of those caught in theft, robbery or some other crime. But if a supply of such criminals is lacking, then they resort to the sacrifice of completely innocent victims.

Battle of Agincourt: An Eyewitness Account

Jehan de Wavrin, too young to participate was at Agincourt with his father and brother who were both killed in the ensuing battle. However he watched event unfold from the safety of the French lines and later provided this account:

When the battalions of the French were thus formed, it was grand to see them; and as far as one could judge by the eye, they were in number fully six times as many as the English. And when this was done the French sat down by companies around their banners, waiting the approach of the English, and making their peace with one another; and then were laid aside many old aversions conceived long ago; some kissed and embraced each other, which it was affecting to witness; so that all quarrels and discords which they had had in time past were changed to great and perfect love. And there were some who breakfasted on what they had. And these Frenchmen remained thus till nine or ten o’clock in the morning, feeling quite assured that, considering their great force, the English could not escape them; however, there were at least some of the wisest who greatly feared a fight with them in open battle.

The French had arranged their battalions between two small thickets, one lying close to Agincourt, and the other to Tramecourt. The place was narrow, and very advantageous for the English, and, on the contrary, very ruinous for the French, for the said French had been all night on horseback, and it rained, and the pages, grooms, and others, in leading about the horses, had broken up the ground, which was so soft that the horses could with difficulty step out of the soil. And also the said French were so loaded with armour that they could not support themselves or move forward. In the first place they were armed with long coats of steel, reaching to the knees or lower, and very heavy, over the leg harness, and besides plate armour also most of them had hooded helmets; wherefore this weight of armour, with the softness of the wet ground, as has been said, kept them as if immovable, so that they could raise their dubs only with great difficulty, and with all these mischief there was this, that most of them were troubled with hunger and want of sleep.

Now let us return to the English. After the parley between the two armies was finished and the delegates had returned, each to their own people, the King of England, who had appointed a knight called Sir Thomas Erpingham to place his archers in front in two wings, trusted entirely to him, and Sir Thomas, to do his part, exhorted everyone to do well in the name of the King, begging them to fight vigorously against the French in order to secure and save their own lives. And thus the knight, who rode with two others only in front of the battalion, seeing that the hour was come, for all things were well arranged, threw up a baton which he held in his hand, saying ‘Nestrocq’ (‘Now strike) which was the signal for attack; then dismounted and joined the King, who was also on foot in the midst of his men, with his banner before him.

Then the English, seeing this signal, began suddenly to march, uttering a very loud cry, which greatly surprised the French. And when the English saw that the French did not approach them, they marched dashingly towards them in very fine order, and again raised a loud cry as they stopped to take breath.

Then the English archers, who, as I have said, were in the wings, saw that they were near enough, and began to send their arrows on the French with great vigour.

Then the French seeing the English come towards them in this manner, placed themselves together in order, everyone under his banner, their helmets on their heads. The Constable, the Marshal, the admirals, and the other princes earnestly exhorted their men to fight the English well and bravely; and when it came to the approach the trumpets and clarions resounded everywhere; but the French began to hold down their heads, especially those who had no bucklers, for the impetuosity of the English arrows, which fell so heavily that no one durst uncover or look up.

Thus they went forward a little, then made a little retreat, but before they could come to close quarters, many of the French were disabled and wounded by the arrows; and when they came quite up to the English, they were, as has been said, so closely pressed one against another that none of them could lift their arms to strike their enemies, except some that were in front.

The French knights struck into these English archers, who had their stakes fixed in front of them, their horses stumbled among the stakes, and they were speedily slain by the archers, which was a great pity. And most of the rest, through fear, gave way and fell back into their vanguard, to whom they were a great hindrance; and they opened their ranks in several places, and made them fall back and lose their footing in some land newly sown; for their horses had been so wounded by the arrows that the men could no longer manage them.

The French men-at-arms without number began to fall; and their horses feeling the arrows coming upon them took to flight before the enemy, and following their example many of the French turned and fled. Soon afterwards the English archers, seeing the vanguard thus shaken, issued from behind their stockade, threw away their bows and quivers, then took their swords, hatchets, mallets, axes, falcon-beaks and other weapons, and, pushing into the places where they saw these breaches, struck down and killed these Frenchmen without mercy, and never ceased to kill till the said vanguard which had fought little or not at all was completely overwhelmed, and these went on striking right and left till they came upon the second battalion, which was behind the advance guard, and there the King personally threw himself into the fight with his men-at-arms.

“When the King of England perceived them coming thus he caused it to be published that every one that had a prisoner should immediately kill him, which those who had any were unwilling to do, for they expected to get great ransoms for them. But when the King was informed of this he appointed a gentleman with two hundred archers whom he commanded to go through the host and kill all the prisoners, whoever they might be. This esquire, without delay or objection, fulfilled the command of his sovereign lord, which was a most pitiable thing, for in cold blood all the nobility of France was beheaded and inhumanly cut to pieces, and all through this accursed company, a sorry set compared with the noble captive chivalry, who when they saw that the English were ready to receive them, all immediately turned and fled, each to save his own life.

Many of the cavalry escaped; but of those on foot there were many among the dead.”

Anne Boleyn: On the Scaffold

“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 heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.”

An eyewitness to the execution provided an account:

19 May 1536, 8 am.

All these being on a scaffold made there for the execution, the said Queen Anne said as followeth: Masters, I here humbly submit me to the law, as the law hath judged me, and as for mine offences, God knoweth them, I remit them to God, beseeching him to have mercy on my soul; and I beseech Jesu save my Sovereign and master the King, the most goodliest, and gentlest Prince that is, and long to reign over you, which words she spake with a smiling countenance: which done, she kneeled down on both her knees, and said, To Jesu Christ I commend my soul and with that word suddenly the hangman of Calais smote off her head at one stroke with a sword: her body with the head was buried in the choir of the Chapel in the Tower.

Observing the Murder of Thomas Becket

Edward Grim was a monk who, observed the attack on Thomas Becket from a safe hiding place.

The murderers followed him; ‘Absolve’, they cried, ‘and restore to communion those whom you have excommunicated, and restore their powers to those whom you have suspended.

He answered, ‘There has been no satisfaction, and I will not absolve them.’

‘Then you shall die,’ they cried, ‘and receive what you deserve.’

‘I am ready,’ he replied, ‘to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace. But in the name of Almighty God, I forbid you to hurt my people whether clerk or lay.’

Then they lay sacrilegious hands on him, pulling and dragging him that they may kill him outside the church, or carry him away a prisoner, as they afterwards confessed. But when he could not be forced away from the pillar, one of them pressed on him and clung to him more closely. Him he pushed off calling him ‘pander’, and saying, ‘Touch me not, Reginald; you owe me fealty and subjection; you and your accomplices act like madmen.’

The knight, fired with a terrible rage at this severe repulse, waved his sword over the sacred head:

‘No faith’, he cried, ‘nor subjection do I owe you against my fealty to my lord the King.’

Then the unconquered martyr seeing the hour at hand which should put an end to this miserable life and give him straightway the crown of immortality promised by the Lord, inclined his neck as one who prays and joining his hands he lifted them up, and commended his cause and that of the Church to God, to St. Mary, and to the Blessed Martyr Denys. Scarce had he said the words than the wicked knight, fearing lest he should be rescued by the people and escape alive, leapt upon him suddenly and wounded this lamb who was sacrificed to God on the head, cutting off the top of the crown which the sacred unction of the chrism had dedicated to God; and by the same blow he wounded the arm of him who tells this. For he, when the others, both monks and clerks, fled, stuck close to the sainted Archbishop and held him in his arms till the one he interposed was almost severed.

Then he received a second blow on the head but still stood firm. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living victim, and saying in a low voice:

‘For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church I am ready to embrace death.’

Then the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay, by which the sword was broken against the pavement, and the crown which was large was separated from the head. The fourth knight prevented any from interfering so that the others might freely perpetrate the murder.

As to the fifth, no knight but that clerk who had entered with the knights, that a fifth blow might not be wanting to the martyr who was in other things like to Christ, he put his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to say, scattered his brain and blood over the pavement, calling out to the others:

‘Let us away, knights; he will rise no more.’