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  • Agincourt - October 1415: The Long March by W. B. Bartlett

    The English army set out for Calais. No doubt there was much grumbling in the ranks. Thousands had been invalided home through the effects of dysentery and the expedition would have to survive on the rations it could carry with it and those that they could obtain from the lands through which they passed. Enough food was carried to last the men for eight days which was how long it was expected to complete the march if it was unimpeded. This turned out to be a hopelessly optimistic assumption.

    To add to the dangers, it was now very likely that a French army was waiting to intercept the English force. Even early on during the march there were skirmishes between French and English forces though these were minor. Henry managed to negotiate passage past several important local towns, Arques and Eu. There was no time for a siege so the English had to do what they could to negotiate their way past these places unimpeded.

    They had one specific target in mind, a crossing of the River Somme at Blanchetaque. This was a crucial destination, a ford which had been forced successfully by the invading armies of Edward III during his Crecy campaign over half a century before to his great glory; it was an action that resonated in recent English history. If Henry V could get across here then there was every chance of making it to Calais and then England without a fight.

    Then disturbing news came in. A Frenchman was captured and interviewed. He told the English that an army lay ready and waiting for them at Blanchetaque. It has taken up a strong defensive position to block the way ahead. Henry pondered on the news, realising that a powerful army opposing him here could lead to disaster. Eventually he decided on his move: another way across the Somme must be sought.

    So the English army diverted inland, moving along the southern bank of the Somme seeking in vain for a way over. Each mile they moved away from the coast was a mile further from Calais. Each day that passed extinguished another day’s rations. There was only a very limited supply of provisions easily available from the areas through which the army journeyed and it was no position to involve itself in a fight. Morale began to plummet and petty pilfering broke out. In one incident that deeply disturbed the pious English king a church was robbed. The offending archer was discovered and promptly hanged as an example to his comrades.

    But then, a glimmer of hope. The army was thinking that it would have to make its way to the very source of the Somme before they could cross it. However, spies came in with the news that a crossing had at last been found. The French had taken steps to damage it beyond repair but had failed to do so. The army crossed gingerly over, just in time for French cavalry rode up to impede them but in insufficient numbers to successfully do so.

    The English army advanced towards Calais once more, the Duke of York in the lead. His men reached the village of Blagny where a small river was traversed. They climbed the hill that hid the way ahead from them. As they crested it, they drew up their horses in a state of shock. Before them they saw a huge army barring the way. Many of the men had hoped desperately to reach Calais without a fight. It was now clear that this was unlikely to happen. Few can have had any hope that the result would be in their favour.

    This must have been a blow to King Henry. His march across France had been a huge gamble and it is probable that he did not want to provoke a fight. The outcome of medieval battles was uncertain and defeat could destroy not only his claims to the throne of France but also his powerbase in England. He was young and inexperienced and, although he had fought in battle before, never in a position where the stakes were so high. The days ahead would provide the sternest test he was ever likely to face and the outcome of the battle that loomed would determine his place in history.


    W.B. Bartlett's book Agincourt is available for purchase now

  • Evesham, for battle it was none by Darren Baker

    The battle of Evesham, which was fought under a dark, rainless cloud 750 years ago, truly changed everything. It put an end to England’s fledgling constitutional monarchy and wiped out the Montfortian leadership that had imposed it upon the king. The years of strife and uncertainty ushered in by the reforming Provisions of Oxford of 1258 culminated in a slaughter of the nobility on this field not seen since the Norman Conquest. In its own time Evesham was lamented not as a battle of any sort, only murder, and the particularly gruesome mutilation of Simon de Montfort’s body when it was over makes recalling it with any fanfare a rather dubious prospect. But the English are nothing if not inured to harsh experience, so the festivities will go on.

    Evesham - Microsoft Word - Document5 Greenhill

    The basic facts are these: in May 1265 Montfort led his caretaker court to Gloucester to try and appease his disaffected partner in the new government Gilbert de Clare, not realizing that Clare had already put a plan of betrayal in motion. It called for the landing of royalist exiles, making allies of the Marcher insurgents, and organizing the escape of the king’s son Edward. Within a month they had Montfort, with Henry III still at his side, on the run. Their last hope was to cross the River Avon at the vale of Evesham and link up with reinforcements coming in from the north, but Edward cut them off at Greenhill. Montfort led a desperate charge to break through, but outnumbered and exhausted, they were beaten back, hemmed in, and massacred.

    That date of 4 August 1265 started off with Montfort anxious to get his troops moving, but Henry insisted on having breakfast and attending Mass at the Evesham abbey church. Montfort had always been deferential to Henry’s personal needs and agreed to a halt despite knowing that Edward was shadowing their movements. This raises the question of why Montfort simply didn’t leave the king behind and continue on their way.

    The easiest answer is Henry was his surety. If he lost the king and his son, it would be only a matter of time before they reclaimed the government under their terms, much the way they did in 1263 after Montfort first swept into power. Only this time there would be no arbitration, rather retribution. Setting the king loose would also deprive them of their feudal advantage. Whoever marched into battle against the king was the rebel, so in this case Edward and Clare. Simon, however, was keen not to advertise Henry’s presence, lest Edward’s men snatched him in the course of the battle, and had him accoutered without any emblem distinguishing his royal rank.

    It was said at the time that he did this because he knew they were doomed and wished the king to die with them. A higher explanation might be that this was the Simon de Montfort imbued with the idea of justice for all that heralded in the reform movement. His army consisted mostly of peasants and freeholders, men trying to eke out a living in that difficult age, who saw hope for a better life under the Provisions. They would have known about them because, unlike Magna Carta, they were written and proclaimed in English, the first instance of a political initiative aimed directly at the people. If they had to put their lives on the line for better government, it was only fair the king should do the same.

    Evesham - Microsoft Word - Document5 Looking down from Greenhill

    An equally intriguing question is what if any last words passed between Simon and Henry on that fateful morning. Their history went back three and a half decades when Simon, born and raised in France, stepped ashore and brazenly asked Henry to grant his tenuous claim to the earldom of Leicester. Each man was pious, shrewd, and very conscious of his place in the world, and they became great friends until court politics and family squabbles drove a gulf between them. They had always meant the other well, but all the troubles had now made them seem more like an old married couple whose relationship had soured for good. As they rode off together to meet Edward’s army, they probably had nothing more to say to each other.

    Late research has revealed that before the battle Edward assembled a hit squad to find Montfort and kill him. Legend credits Roger Mortimer with delivering the actual death blow for no other reason than the two men were feuding (about what has never been made clear) and he got Simon’s head from among the spoils. On the other hand, a contemporary source says he was felled by an unnamed knight who later met a ridiculous end by drowning at the court of Edward’s sister in Scotland.

    No doubt Simon got special attention one way or another, but we can safely assume that Edward did in fact order his men to kill whoever they got their hands on. That was no incentive for medieval warriors who counted on collecting ransoms from the prisoners they took, but he had a greater prize, their land and property. Admirers of the chivalric Edward who loved tournaments and King Arthur will find this disreputable action disturbing and may hope that it was thrust upon him by the likes of Clare and Mortimer. Remembering the earlier reforming spirit in Edward, when he joined his uncle Simon in the showdown with Henry over control of Parliament in 1260, an argument can be made that his order mirrored Simon’s opinion about justice for all, namely that knights would have to take the same chances as ordinary foot soldiers. Hm, wishful thinking.

    However it came to pass, the slaughter was horrific, with Simon, his son Henry, and top lieutenants Hugh Despenser and Peter de Montfort among those cut down. Just like at Lewes, Edward got into the killing and carried it all the way into the church. He was sadly mistaken if he hoped to find his father alive in there. In all probability, Henry had been behind Montfort with a bodyguard of young knights consisting of Simon’s son Guy and the younger Peter de Montfort. The fact that all three were wounded suggests that they were each a stroke or two away from death when Henry cried out in the din of battle that he was the king. His attackers verified that was indeed the case and, unsure about the identity of the knights with him, chose to play it safe and take them prisoner. The survival of Guy de Montfort would go on to haunt Edward for many a day.

    Evesham - Microsoft Word - Document5 The battle in medieval rendering

    In a contemporary source, Henry is made to look like a cowering fool as Edward’s men move in on him. ‘Don’t hit me,’ he supposedly keeps crying out, ‘I’m Henry your king, I’m too old to fight.’ This seems to reflect the need to want to see the king in such a pathetic state, as the mere shadow of his former self. That would pave the way for the Edward of later legend, the great warrior who saved his father from the clutches of that other great warrior Simon de Montfort. The problem is it doesn’t square with the description of Henry at Lewes the previous year, when he had two horses killed from under him and had to be forced off the field by his attendants. It was his brother Richard who did the cowering then, in a nearby windmill, this after Edward cost them the battle by going off on a murderous joyride after it began.

    The act of disinheritance that followed Evesham may have been the lure that enabled Edward to build up a large army in so short a time span, but the decision was ultimately Henry’s and he may have decided to go that course whatever his son might think. Certainly his actions in the run-up to Lewes show rebellion had hardened him, made him determined not to put up with it anymore as he had done on no less than four occasions (1227, 33, 38, 58). When the perennially grumpy Clare occupied London after a spat with Edward, it took the intervention of the papal legate to save him from the king’s wrath.

    Evesham - Microsoft Word - Document5 The fabled Battlewell

    The last major question about the events at Evesham goes to the climax itself, the mutilation of Montfort’s body. It’s the one feature that anyone coming into contact with the battle for the first time is guaranteed to take away from it. Even if it was the hit squad’s work, it seems unlikely that Edward had anything to do with it. His later reign demonstrated that he was quite capable of committing such atrocities, but he had to know that his uncle King Louis of France, for one, would be aghast at the disgraceful treatment of a man who had once been his good friend. He was astute enough to know, moreover, that it would leave him with a blood feud with the Montfort family, whose political reach stretched from France to the Holy Land. That would explain his later attempts to make amends, at least with money. Alas, there was no buying his way out of this one and Guy de Montfort exacted a brutal revenge that destroyed any hope of reconciliation between the families.

    The other consequence to be expected from chopping up Montfort on the field was making a martyr out of him. It was the last thing Henry needed for clamping down on the disinherited rebels, and he was forced to outlaw any talk about miracles to be had at Battlewell, the spring that supposedly arose on the spot where his adversary fell. He was probably justified in being angry at Simon for all he had put him through, though. After all, he was the lone magnate who refused to be cowed into accepting an emasculated form of the Provisions. Had Simon fell in line with the others, there wouldn’t have been any war or the nightmare of Evesham. It’s possible the evolution of government begun by Magna Carta in 1215 would have stayed the same course without Simon’s almost fanatical need to impose the Provisions that he swore an oath to uphold at that solemn ceremony in Oxford in 1258. Just like Henry and Edward.

    Evesham - 9781445645742

    Darren Baker's With All For All: The Life of Simon de Montfort is available for purchase now.

  • Looking at the Women of Ancient Roman by Iain Ferris

    Rome - Microsoft Word - Document2 Lifesize bronze statue of Victory from the Capitolium, Brescia, Northern Italy

    Today's visitors to the archaeological museums of Rome will see many statues of the imperial and elite women of ancient Rome and of Roman goddesses on display and numerous other kinds of Roman objects such as reliefs, tombstones, coins, and mosaics adorned with images of women of many sorts. Some of these images were intended to be taken at face value by their ancient, contemporary viewers, but others were imbued with more subtle and nuanced meanings depending on their original context of display.

    Rome - Microsoft Word - Document2 Statue of the empress Sabina in the guise of Ceres

    In my latest book for Amberley Publishing The Mirror of Venus: Women in Roman Art I attempt to make sense of this plethora of images of women and to explain their original meaning and significance in what was a male-dominated society and a highly visual culture. As well as looking at such images in Rome itself I also examine their occurrence in provincial contexts in places like Roman Britain.

    Particular attention is paid to analysing the images of the Roman imperial women and the elite women who often emulated their portrayals, to consideration of the significance of imagery on funerary monuments, and to the investigation of the remarkable phenomenon of the portrayal of working women from Rome, Ostia and Pompeii and elsewhere in the Roman world and of barbarian women.

    Rome - Microsoft Word - Document2 Mummy-portrait of a Romanised woman from Hawara, Fayum, Egypt (Photo copyright of the Trustees of the British Museum)

    I also look at the widespread use of images of goddesses, common personifications such as Victory, and mythological women such as the war-like Amazons in various contexts, including their appearances on major civic monuments in Rome. Finally, I try to come to grips with the concept of the Roman male gaze and its relationship to male power in Roman society and how this may have impacted on the reception of the many sexualised or erotic images discussed in the book.

    My book is intended to counteract the old cliché that the vast majority of women in the ancient world could be classified either as goddesses, whores, wives, or slaves and to illustrate the multiplicity of positive and sometimes complex identities revealed by a careful analysis of images of Roman women.

    Rome - 9781445633725

    Iain Ferris' The Mirror of Venus is available for purchase now.

  • Oxford Pubs by Dave Richardson

    I have written books before but unlike some of the authors in Amberley’s Pubs series, I’m not a local historian. But it really was a no-brainer when Amberley approached me to write the volume about Oxford, as I knew most of the pubs already and the history of some is well documented.

    Oxford Pubs - Microsoft Word - Document4 Angel & Greyhound Pub

    I decided from the outset that I wanted to give a flavour of what these pubs are like today, to act as a guide book as well as a historical record. So I have included only a few which are no longer with us – the Golden Cross, now Pizza Express; the Roebuck, now Wagamama; and the Swindlestock Tavern, which closed over three centuries ago. I also tell the stories of the Angel and the Greyhound coaching inns, both on High Street, whose names live on at the Angel and Greyhound pub in St Clement’s.

    Oxford Pubs - Microsoft Word - Document4 The Mad Hatter Cocktail Bar

    Research was long and arduous, but someone had to do it.

    I ventured into pubs I had never been in before despite living in Oxford for 35 years, including the Mad Hatter cocktail bar which is a bizarre place where, in true Alice in Wonderland style, you have to answer a question before they let you in. Beware the tea served from ornate teapots, though -- it tasted like a boozy cocktail to me!

    I took most of the external photographs myself, while a professional photographer friend, Phil Gammon, took most of the internal shots. The pubs chosen for their interesting interiors include the Bear, Chequers, King’s Arms, Turf Tavern, White Horse, Old Bookbinders, Rose & Crown, Victoria, and Angel and Greyhound. For archive photographs I went to the Oxford Mail/Oxford Times archives where the librarian, Chris McDowell, was particularly helpful, providing many photographs from the 1950s onwards.

    I’m pleased with the many stories I unearthed about Oxford’s pubs, so I hope you enjoy reading the book. For example, where’s the Oxford pub with a witch’s broomstick plastered up behind a wall? Where did Shakespeare used to stay, possibly fathering an illegitimate child with the landlady? Which pub has a ceiling painted to resemble the Sistine Chapel in Rome? And which pub was a sixteenth century brothel? You’ll have to read the book to find out…..

    Oxford Pubs - 9781445647289

    Dave Richardson's Oxford Pubs is available for purchase now.

  • An essential guide to faking it in WW2 Britain by Megan Westley

    It’s generally accepted that life in wartime Britain was tough. Civilians on the ‘Home Front’ were faced with a multitude of regulations and restrictions to follow, governing their diets, wardrobes and workplaces. But beyond these well-known rules were many others that came into force only between 1939 and 1945. Some were social, and could instantly mark you out as insider or outcast, whereas others were legal and carried heavy fines (or worse) for non-compliance.

    So, let’s imagine you’ve somehow taken a wrong turn and travelled to wartime Britain. What shouldn’t you do?

    Britain - Microsoft Word - Document1Help yourself: Spotted a tin of Spam lying in a bombed-out shop? Even if it looks like nobody’s coming back for it, leave it where it is. Helping yourself to things isn’t a cheeky win; it’s looting. Any form of looting carried a severe sentence. Technically, those found guilty could face the death penalty. Regardless of this, the opportunities offered up by the blitz were too great for many to resist. Some thieves kitted themselves out in an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden’s uniform in order to walk into damaged houses and shops unchallenged.



    Britain - Microsoft Word - Document1 The smiling faces of this couple, bombed out of their house in Coventry, show that the spirit of Britain was not easily broken. (Image courtesy of

    Bring down the mood: So you’re having a rotten war and think the Germans may win? Keep it to yourself. Defeatist talk caused extreme contempt and could lead to a conviction for weakening national defence. Despite this enforced optimism, householders in their thousands tuned in to the broadcasts of ‘Lord Haw Haw’, an Irishman based in Germany who spoke to the British public with the aim of damaging their morale. Though his communications were upsetting, many listened in the hope of gleaning valuable news about their loved ones overseas.


    Britain - Microsoft Word - Document1 A shopkeeper is seen stamping a ration book, having weighed out all the items. (Amberley Archive)

    Waste money: If you’d like to avoid making friends with the ‘squander bug’, be sure to spend your money wisely. The War Savings Campaign encouraged householders to invest any spare cash in a fund for the war effort. It was seen as unpatriotic to waste money or keep it stuffed under your mattress when the country was in need. The squander bug was a nasty, swastika-emblazoned character who boasted “Go on! Keep your wallet stuffed with notes! I’ll help you squander them!”


    Step off a moving bus: Black and white films show people hopping on and off moving buses as a matter of course. But if you want to be a good civilian, you’d better not do it at night. London Transport released a number of advertisements warning of the dangers associated with getting around in the extreme darkness of the blackout. Every good campaign needs a character, and theirs was Billy Brown, a man ‘much too sensible and knowing to jump down off a bus that’s going.’


    Britain - Microsoft Word - Document1 (Amberley Archive)

    Talk too much: If, by any chance, you should come across some interesting information, do remember to ‘keep it dark’. The ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ campaign was rolled out in 1940, warning the public about potential spies in their midst. The Ministry of Information even screened films showing how the smallest piece of leaked information could result in loss of life. Keeping secrets wasn’t just a social nicety: in 1944, a Civil servant was sentenced to three months in prison on two charges ‘arising out of careless talk’.

    Find out more about negotiating everyday life in Home Front Britain in Living on the Home Front by Megan Westley.

    Britain - 9781445645278

    Megan Westley's new paperback edition of Living on the Home Front is available for purchase now.

  • What We Did Before Selfies by Robert Hallmann

    Celebrities do it. Politicians do it. Tourists, travellers and friends do it. People even do it with sticks at arm’s length in some very dangerous situations.

    They take their own photographs - selfies.

    What we did not do before the proliferation of image catching devices was to then share our efforts with all the world and her aunt.

    We did have self-timers, where the camera was placed on a tripod or somewhere else secure and then after pressing the button we joined the group of friends or family before the delayed moment of exposure. I never owned a self-timer; I never felt that self-important. But I did experiment.

    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic

    1) Germany, 1950s:

    A small printing company’s party in a private house. I had been asked to bring my camera, which was a simple Agfa box similar to the Kodak Brownie. That camera had been my father’s and while the house burnt down under phosphor grenade attack in 1945 the camera survived the inferno in the cellar, almost intact. It has two levers – exposure and time exposure.

    The flash available before flash bulbs was a small sachet of magnesium powder, somewhat resembling a tea bag with a strip of paper attached to it, about a foot long. This could be hung up, well away from flammable material – my favourite support was a broom handle balanced on tall furniture or a door. I had told the company of typesetters, printers, bookbinders and office staff, including the boss’s wife to huddle together as it was difficult to gauge exactly the area that would be included. Of course, to some of my colleagues this was great fun when the light had to go out before I set fire to the hanging strip of paper and opened the shutter before piling onto the heap of celebrants myself (far left).

    Most people’s attention is expectantly focused on that burning strip of paper. Somehow my boss managed to avoid the crush, but of course one of our group chanced his luck with the nearest lady in the darkness, a fact he found difficult to live down once the 60 x 90 mm evidence was developed and printed.

    Magnesium powder burning in air produces a brilliant-white light, hence its use in photography. The downside is the flammability. I ruined a perfectly good friendship once when I had placed the flash powder sachet too close to the curtains at a girlfriend’s home…

    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic

    2) Dublin 1960-61:

    Commuting between my lodgings and my place of work in Dublin I passed a very boring end-of-terrace edifice, which I decided needed some artistic embellishment. A double exposure was needed.

    My landlady was not best pleased. Well, what self-respecting house-owner would not be surprised to find someone hopping to the bathroom on one leg, the other foot dripping red paint that looked like blood? I’d painted the sole of my foot and pressed my footprint on a large sheet of black card and photographed it. Then, without winding the film on, I went out with my camera and photographed the bland wall in question onto the same peace of film. It’s perhaps not perfectly placed, but of course this was long before Photoshop. But does a foot count as a ‘selfie’?

    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic

    3 & 3a) Reflections in Essex, late 1960s:

    As a special experimental background I had covered a wall in metallic foil, but of course it will never reflect with the clarity of a mirror. That was the point. Distortions were very acceptable and if Pablo Picasso could do it, one could at least try. Among the experimental results were a self-portrait with an abstract dimension, and even one where I turned myself into a pair of very humdrum trolls with rather odd-shaped cameras. Oh, my beloved Kowa 66.


    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic4) Cumbria shadow, 1970s

    Never have I felt so alone and been so far removed from any other human being as on Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, one 1st of November. And I loved it, even while carrying a cumbersome camera case with me. It was time to leave. The sun was sinking, but when I saw this giant shadow bestriding the snow scape beside me, following me about, I had to record it, even gave a wave to another snow-capped top. I trust that’s Great Gable in the background?





    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic5) London reflection, June 1977

    Balancing on tiptoe on the kerb of Savile Row, I caught my reflection in a doorway of a gentlemen’s outfitters, while trying out a new 35 mm camera. My London selfie. Did I actually frequent the premises? Not on my income.

    London was rich in reflections. Every shop window would reflect something of the street scenes about it. You were never alone. Along the large glass panes your twin would follow you everywhere at a sideways glance. You and the thousands of others. Photographing the window displays, the shops and the shoppers in juxta-position was great fun. I often pretended to photograph something particular while including Londoners, too.

    As an antidote to crowds, an escape to quiet places like Scafell Pike out of season offered a kind of balance.

    Selfies - 9781445645629

    Robert Hallmann's Londoners Street Scenes of the Capital 1960-1989 is available for purchase now.

  • The Year of Four England Cricket Captains 1988 by Neil Robinson

    When Adam Lyth took the field for England at the start of this year’s final Ashes Test match at the Oval in August, his presence served as a potent reminder of how much has changed in England’s cricket team over the past quarter of a century. Lyth, who made his Test debut against New Zealand back in May, has struggled to establish his place in the national team; despite scoring a century in only his second Test, he later found runs against Australia harder to come by and his record of 86 runs at an average of 12.28 in the first four Ashes Tests led cricket fans and commentators alike to question whether Lyth was indeed the right man to open England’s innings alongside captain Alastair Cook.

    Nevertheless, Lyth retained his place, and even one more failure at the Oval did not completely rule out a place for him in England’s party to take on Pakistan in the Middle East this autumn. Lyth is not the only batsman to have benefitted from the England selectors’ new-found sense of patience in recent times. His opening partner and team captain Alastair Cook endured a prolonged barren run of nineteen Test matches without a century beginning with the first Test of the 2013 Ashes and ending only in the final Test in the West Indies this spring. The experienced Ian Bell’s record of 692 runs at under 19 from his last 23 Tests also makes for less than impressive reading.

    Yet both Cook and Bell, as well as Lyth, have retained their places throughout these periods of poor form and under-achievement. The willingness of the team’s management to support struggling players is something that few England cricketers of earlier generations would have experienced themselves. There are countless examples of England selectors’ patience stretching about as far as a dried out elastic band – take Graeme Hick being dropped in 1993 after averaging 57 from his previous four Tests – but few years in the history of English cricket have seen the selectorial axe come down with more crushing frequency than 1988.

    A season that began with such promise – a 3-0 whitewash of the West Indies in the Texaco Trophy series, followed by a creditable draw in the first Test – descended into chaos after Mike Gatting lost the captaincy following a trumped-up tabloid scandal. A total of 28 players gained Test caps that summer, with no fewer than 33 being called up to the England squad across six Tests and four one-day internationals. There were, in some cases, circumstances which mitigated the selectors’ decisions: in axing Gatting they acted under obligation to the Test and County Cricket Board, which had announced a crackdown on player indiscipline that spring.

    There were injuries too, most famously the bruised foot that prevented Chris Cowdrey from leading England for a second match and forced England to appoint their fourth captain of the summer, Graham Gooch. But most of the selectors’ decisions are harder to account for. In the third Test at Old Trafford, David Gower made 34 of England’s meagre second innings total of 93; not his most significant innings perhaps, but more than twice the number of runs made by any of his team-mates. Chairman of Selectors Peter May suggested Gower should be dropped for the next match. Thanks to the persuasive persistence of Chris Cowdrey Gower survived, but one match later when Allan Lamb’s torn calf muscle left him as England’s sole experienced middle-order batsman, May still insisted Gower be dropped.

    Then there was Chris Broad. Broad had scored three centuries in seven Tests overseas the previous winter, while also accumulating fines and censure for on-field petulance. Two Tests into the summer, he was dropped amid accusations that he had muttered – to himself, but captured by TV cameras – his displeasure at an lbw decision, and that he never made runs in England. By the fifth Test at the Oval, England’s accomplished and experienced batting order, which even the West Indies had respected a few weeks earlier, had been decimated, and Gooch led out a team which included four batsmen sharing two Test caps between them.

    England’s inevitable defeat – 4-0 in the series – was greeted by much soul-searching within English cricket. Was the defeat down to the pitches in county cricket? The balls? The excess of overseas players? But staring English cricket in the face was the fact that you are unlikely to succeed against the finest team in the world when fielding your second and third eleven. Selectors, journalists and fans alike had fallen into the trap of thinking that somehow a magic combination of eleven players could be found to take on the West Indies and win. It might even have been possible, had they stuck with the same team they began the series with.

    Twenty-seven years later, English cricket has developed a very different culture. Questions may be raised when a player like Adam Lyth struggles to make runs over the course of a series, but not over one or two matches. The need for a young player to be given time to establish himself, and for an experienced one to battle through poor form without being consigned to the outer darkness of county cricket has been generally accepted. The sort of frenzy that could lead to four captains and three entire teams being picked in one summer is now unthinkable. England fans might yearn for a Gower or a Gatting today; the players themselves probably wish they had played their cricket twenty-seven years later.

    Cricket - 9781445637587

    Neil Robinson's Long Shot Summer The Year of Four England Cricket Captains 1988 is available for purchase now.

  • Agincourt - September 1415: Disaster Beckons by W. B. Bartlett

    Agincourt - The attack by Henry V's army on Harfleur The attack by Henry V's army on Harfleur

    The days were hurrying past and Harfleur showed no sign of losing its will to fight. An action that was supposed to last for days had now turned into a siege, a slogging match. The determination of the defenders to slug it out increased the chance that the French king and his generals would be able to raise an army to counter-attack and drive Henry and his men back into the sea.

    Sieges were a lottery. They put great pressure on the supply situation, both for those inside the walls but also for the besieging army. This was made far worse for the latter given the fact that they were far away from home. Ships scuttled to and fro from England bringing provisions with them whilst foraging parties were sent out locally to grab what food they could for the troops.

    Problematic though it was to keep up the flow of supplies, this was not the main issue for the English. Siege camps in medieval times were unsanitary places to live. Thousands of men living close to each other with little concern for hygiene made for a breeding ground for disease. And it was now that one of the medieval world’s greatest killers played its hand: dysentery.

    Soon it started to take its toll, decimating the army. It hit common soldier and knights and nobles alike. On 1 September 1415, Lord Fitzwalter, a mere sixteen years of age, succumbed, having barely reached manhood. By the middle of the month, matters were approaching epidemic proportions. It touched Henry V personally. One of his closest advisers was Richard Courtenay, Bishop of Norwich. He too fell ill with dysentery and it became clear that he had not long for this world. The king himself tended him as he was dying.

    The death of Courtenay hit the king hard. But he could not afford to be overwhelmed by it. With each passing day there was an increased risk of a French counter-attack. Time was running out so it was decided to gamble everything on a shock attack on Harfleur. When it came it was carried out by a group of men who might be thought of as his storm troopers, individuals like John Holland, Sir John Cornwall, Sir Gilbert Umfraville and Sir William Bourchier.

    The English has been busy, smashing the walls with their cannon and breaches had been made. Through the shattered defences the English charged. A counter-attack was launched but the English were ready for them. Archers carrying fire-arrows shot their missiles into the French ranks and they were forced back. The barbican, an important part of the outer defences of Harfleur, had fallen.

    Agincourt - King_Henry_V_from_NPG Henry V

    The defenders were now beginning to realise that they were running out of time. A delegation was sent to Henry V, asking for terms if no help from the French king was received. Permission was granted to allow a rider to make his way to the headquarters of the French seeing if help would be forthcoming in time. He returned with the news that they would not.

    So at 8 o’clock in the morning of 22 September a procession of hostages made its way from out of Harfleur and towards a waiting English king, seated imperiously in front of his royal pavilion with a stern look on his face. He kept them guessing. By the harsh terms of medieval war, he would have been within his rights to slaughter the menfolk of the town who had resisted his calls to surrender. But he decided that on this occasion he would be magnanimous.

    The men would be allowed to live, though the more important of them would be forced to raise ransom before they would be released. The humbler of them would be allowed to stay in Harfleur thought this would soon be turned into an English enclave, a counterpoint to Calais further to the north. The women though were forced to leave, useless mouths to feed in a town that was short of supplies. Their lot would be a harsh one.

    With Harfleur fallen, Henry entered its shattered walls, walking barefoot through its gates like a Christian pilgrim. It was a great moment no doubt but it was a worried English king who acted the part of humble conqueror. The time spent on taking Harfleur had allowed the French to organise their defences further afield. Quite what to do next was a major concern. The most obvious next move perhaps was to hold what he had taken and send the part of the army that would not be needed back home.

    That was the safe option but having thought long and hard about what to do next, the decision when it came was surprising and to some no doubt alarming. Henry would march its way to Calais and return home from there. The only problem with this was that it meant crossing over 100 miles of French territory with the strong possibility that the enemy’s army would be lying in wait for them. Henry V had turned gambler and the stakes for which he was playing could not have been higher.

    Agincourt - 9781445639499

    W. B. Bartlett's Agincourt Henry V, The Man-at-Arms & the Archers is available now

  • 10 Greatest Ships of the Royal Navy by John Ballard

    Except for possibly the legions of Ancient Rome, no military force has ever left an imprint as large as the Royal Navy.

    Royal Navy - Microsoft Word - Document1 Warspite engaged in shore bombardment off the coast of Normandy

    Napoleon and Hitler's armies both rampaged across Europe bringing destruction and death to the continent until grinding to a halt on the frozen Russian steppe. Yet for all the power they wielded even these two tyrants failed to shape or change the world as drastically as Britain's Senior Service.

    Like the Romans, the Royal Navy carved out a vast empire that created many of the countries, governments, institutions, laws, treaties and alliances in existence today.

    Royal Navy - Microsoft Word - Document1 Hood at Scapa Flow in 1940 (Michael Pocock,

    In the early twentieth century, First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher wrote that 'the British Empire floats on the British Navy.' Now this might, to twenty-first century ears at least, sound like the pompous nationalistic boast one could expect from an Edwardian establishment figure, but it wasn't simply a boast - every word of it was true. More than a quarter of the world flew the Union Flag and was run from London because the Navy gave Britain mastery of the seas and oceans and therefore control of the international trade and supply routes.

    Nowadays we often read about and watch television programmes on individuals who changed the world, but no one person has created a wake as sizeable as the Royal Navy's. It was actually while reflecting on the BBC series '100 Greatest Britons' that I formed the idea for my book. It struck me that numerous people on that list - including Winston Churchill, Horatio Nelson and Queen Victoria - probably wouldn't even be on the list had it not been for the Royal Navy. Churchill guiding the nation to wartime victory, Nelson's triumph at Trafalgar and Victoria's position as the grand monarch of empire would all have been impossible without the British Fleet.

    Royal Navy - Microsoft Word - Document1 Bulwark at Malta in December 1956 (Michael Pocock,

    So while we, quite rightly, honour our great individuals, I feel it's about time we celebrate the navy and ships that helped make them great.

    Starting with HMS Victory and ending with HMS Invincible, 10 Greatest Ships of the Royal Navy tells the stories of, what for my money at least, are the most important vessels to have served under the White Ensign. Whether through war service, revolutionary design, versatility or a combination of all three, the ships featured put the stamp of greatness on the Senior Service.

    I hope you get even a fraction as much enjoyment reading the book as I did writing it.

    Royal Navy - 9781445646527

    John Ballard's book 10 Greatest Ships of the Royal Navy is available for purchase now.

  • The Georgians in 100 Facts by Mike Rendell

    I was sitting on a beach relaxing under the Mozambique sun when I got an e-mail from Amberley – and I was delighted to see that it was a request for me to write The Georgians in 100 Facts. The last few years have seen a plethora of books about The Georgians, but most of them are about royalty and courtiers, whereas what fascinates me is the life of “the man in the street”. Yes, there were kings who made their mark – George III for his madness, his son the ‘Prince of Bling’ for his excesses and debauchery, but for me they are overshadowed by the stories of people like Clive of India, or the Reverend Edward Stone who discovered the pain-killing properties of salicylic acid (later known as aspirin). Give me the man who patented the flush toilet and invented an ‘un-pickable’ lock (Bramah). Give me the brilliance of civil engineers like Smeaton or the engineer (Maudslay). Add in the story of the man who is credited with having invented the toothbrush (Addis) and the agricultural pioneer Jethro Tull and you are beginning to paint a picture of a remarkable century.

    The Georgian Age saw so many changes - the birth of the Industrial Revolution, the loss of the American colonies and the growth of the British Empire, and the enormous changes wrought by those giants who stood head and shoulders above their fellow men – people like Mathew Boulton, James Watt and Josiah Wedgwood. But I have always been fascinated by the odd and quirky aspects of the period – not that James Watt invented the steam engine, but that he invented a portable paper-copier; not that Boulton churned out vast quantities of what were known as “toys” from his Soho Manufactory, but that he re-equipped the machinery in the Royal Mint, as well as producing millions of copper coins known as cartwheels; and that Wedgwood might never have been such a great industrialist if he had not had his right leg amputated and was therefore unable to reach the potters wheel. Also there are so many stories we all think we know about – the South Sea Bubble, the War of Captain Jenkins Ear, the voyages of Captain Cook and the extraordinary events of the Napoleonic Wars. But do we actually know the background to these stories?

    So, I was thrilled to sit down and think of a hundred facts which I thought worth developing. It took me hardly any time at all, and writing them up was a happy task. I have already covered many odd facts on my blog at - described by a friend as “history-lite” To me, I wanted it to be a book of slightly whimsical stories – not just the mainstream well-known facts, but including the everyday trivia which make history interesting.

    Georgians - John Joseph Merlin Gainsborough’s portrait of John Joseph Merlin

    If I was asked for my favourite character it might well be John Joseph Merlin – technically a Belgian clockmaker, but after he came to Britain as a young man he stayed to become the most prolific inventor. Forget about him making an appearance on the first-ever pair of roller skates while playing the fiddle – and crashing into a mirror because he had not at that stage invented a means of stopping. Instead, consider the remarkable machinery he made for the silver swan, still on display at Bowes Castle Museum at Barnard Castle, and still drawing gasps and applause after 225 years. He also invented whist cards for the blind, a mechanical garden, a ‘perpetual motion’ machine working on atmospheric pressure, a special chair for gout sufferers, a number of musical instruments – and some beautiful clocks. Perhaps even more remarkably, he helped inspire a young man who was entranced by Merlin’s mechanical automata – his name: Charles Babbage. The man went on to become the ’Father of Computing”.

    I had practically finished the book before I finished my holiday, so it is a delight to see it finally reach the printed page.

    To learn about more of the interesting facts from the Georgian period check out Mike Rendell’s book The Georgians in 100 Facts available for purchase now.

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