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  • Brexit, King Charles I and Henrietta Maria by Dominic Pearce

    When I look for something in history that is like Brexit, I find the Scottish prayer-book rebellion against Charles I.

    Charles I - poised and withdrawn. Daniel Mytens. (c. Private collection, Henrietta Maria, Amberley Publishing)

    In summer 1637 the Scots in their thousands rejected the religious liturgy which the king wanted to impose on them. The year before he had introduced new Canons (church law) and now asked his northern kingdom to accept and use a new prayer-book. It was drafted largely by Englishmen under the guidance of Archbishop William Laud of Canterbury. The Scots had not objected to the Canons. They said no to the prayer-book.

    On 28 February 1638 the rebel Scottish leaders produced their manifesto: the National Covenant. It was signed throughout Scotland and is one of the great documents of history. The Covenant proclaimed loyalty to the king but said no to the changes he wanted.

    This was the Brexit moment. A nationalist response to foreign imposition. That was then, this is now. The National Covenant of 1638 was an agreement not only with the other subscribers but with God.

    The prayer-book rebellion was not secession. Scotland was a separate and independent country. It just happened to have the same king as England. The Scots had their own Privy Council, their own parliament, their own laws, their own church (the Kirk). They wanted to keep it that way.

    On the path to war

    It began with a riot in church after the congregation pelted the Dean of Edinburgh, when he started to read from the new prayer-book, with whatever came to hand, including the stools on which they sat (23 July 1637). According to legend the first to attack was Jenny Geddes who rose to her feet yelling ‘Daur ye say Masse in my lug (ear)?’ To Jenny the project seemed ‘Romisch superstition.’ The Bishop of Edinburgh was attacked in the street after the service (but survived).

    The Covenanting movement led to war. First the two Bishops Wars of 1639 and 1640, between the Scots and their monarch.

    They were Bishops Wars because the Scots wanted to get rid, not just of the new prayer-book, but of their bishops. In the first Bishops War not a blow was struck. In the second, contrary to the king’s plan, a Scottish army invaded northern England and occupied Newcastle. Incidentally this army was led for a time by the subject of the book I am now writing, James Graham, first Marquis of Montrose.

    More dramatically the Scottish prayer-book rebellion led to the outbreak of civil war in England. There are a hundred twists and turns on the way. But there is no doubt that it was trouble in Scotland that opened the floodgates in England (also in Ireland, the third Stuart kingdom).

    Henriette Marie and Charles I. Engraving by Robert van Voerst, 1634. (c. Rijksmuseum, Henrietta Maria, Amberley Publishing)

    Fast and loose…

    My feeling, when I wrote my biography of Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, was that Henrietta Maria would have made a better king than her husband, and it remains my feeling. She certainly did what she could for Charles I and the Stuart family, including literally standing in the line of parliamentary fire. As thing were, could she have prevented the Scottish collapse? It seems unlikely.

    Not that I wish to deny the king’s qualities. He was an admirable person, much more so than some of his predecessors and successors on the throne. He was energetic, high-principled, a devoted family man, aesthetically discerning, a stickler for the law up to a point. His eleven years of personal rule in England (1630-1641), the period when he dispensed with parliaments, were unpopular with many influential people. But they were years of legalistic government.

    Still one cannot deny that Charles I played fast and loose with that delicate animal, the English constitution. He imprisoned a number of the men who refused to pay or assist in the collection of his forced loan of 1628. He imprisoned Members of Parliament after undignified scenes in the House of Commons in the last days of the 1628-1629 parliament. One, Sir John Eliot, died in the Tower.

    Those undignified scenes included physical assault. The Speaker, Sir John Finch, when he tried to adjourn the session by leaving the House, was wrestled and held in his chair by Denzil Holles and Benjamin Valentine. Finch was held down to allow a protestation to be read (by Sir John Eliot) against royal policy in religion and finance.

    Charles I, at St Margaret's Westminster. (c. Author's collection, Henrietta Maria, Amberley Publishing)

    The nature of the king

    Scholars have gone almost mad trying to pin down what went wrong in the seventeenth century. It is hard to exaggerate the importance of the Civil War. It scared the life out of the ruling classes of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and led to the parliamentary system which distinguishes British history.

    In the nineteenth century the Civil War became a romantic dream of cavaliers and roundheads. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Scottish nationalism was reborn and is growing up fast helped by the Brexit vote of 2016. This blog is not the time to explore the history of Ireland but that country above all bears the marks of those struggles four centuries ago.

    On the whole historians agree that the character of Charles I was at the heart of the matter. If he was dealt a difficult hand, he played the wrong cards. However it is hard to challenge the proposal that the king, if perhaps he succeeded as a martyr, was a failure as king.

    The failure of Charles I was not the iron fist of autocracy. His failure was political clumsiness. He could not read minds. He could not, until very late in the day, read situations. He did not judge loyalty well. Unlike his father and his eldest son he could not see that even a king must embrace, from time to time, the art of compromise, perhaps a king most of all. And, far from being his wife’s lapdog, as his enemies proclaimed, it could be said he did not listen to her enough.

    Dominic Pearce's new paperback edition of Henrietta Maria is available for purchase now.

  • The Countess 'Frances Villiers' by Tim Clarke

    The Scandalous Life of Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey

    I did not really mean to write the biography of Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey (1753-1821).

    At school I had enjoyed history. So when I went to university to study law with a view to becoming a lawyer, I promised myself that I would retire early from the law and once more become a historian. I even identified the lady whose biography I would write.

    Unfortunately, some years before I could achieve my ambition, someone else wrote that biography – and there was no room for another.

    Frances, Countess of Jersey, mezzotint by Thomas Watson, after Daniel Gardner, (1774). (c. National Portrait Gallery, London, The Countess, Amberley Publishing)

    But in fact I was lucky. Somehow I lighted instead on Lady Jersey, an extraordinary woman who led an extraordinary life, a leader of Society in the late 18th century. Writing her biography, the first one ever, was a wonderful journey of discovery which took me to some marvellous places, including the bowels of Chatsworth, the Round Tower at Windsor Castle, Duke Humfrey’s Library in the Bodleian and the private side at Castle Howard. From these and other collections I used, in writing the book, some 500 printed sources dating back to the 18th century, many hundred contemporary press reports and thousands of original manuscripts.

    My research showed that the Countess was the victim of history. Mention her name and everyone thinks ‘Ah yes, the mistress of King George IV when he was Prince of Wales – the one who behaved so badly’. She was, they say, the woman who amongst her many other sins spiked Princess Caroline’s drinks to get her drunk, put Epsom salts in the Princess’s food to make her sick, tormented her by curtailing her liberty and in jealous pique at her dismissal by the Prince hounded him for years in revenge. In short, she is seen as a disreputable footnote to history with no more to be said.

    Based on that research my biography, whilst telling the untold story of her life, demolishes the pantheon of mythology which surrounds the Countess, even in the highest academic circles. Disreputable she was indeed. But she was also beautiful, witty, the epitome of style, and charming beyond belief. Indeed the press of her day christened her ‘the Enchantress’ – she could bend others to her will even against their better judgment. And I show that many of the specific stories which surround her to this today are false. In some cases they are just made up – for example she is accused of humiliating Princess Caroline by making her dress in white, a colour which did not suit her. In fact, Caroline’s mother, the Duchess of Brunswick, had recommended that she dress in white for the very reason that that colour did suit her. In other cases the acts of another Countess of Jersey are wrongly attributed to Frances. So it was not Frances Jersey who waltzed with the Emperor of Russia to annoy the Prince of Wales, it was her daughter-in-law, Sally, Countess of Jersey who did that. Wrong-doing was attributed to the lady with the reputation.

    George IV as Prince of Wales, by John Hoppner. (c. Trustees of the Wallace Collection, The Countess, Amberley Publishing)

    Still, there is no denying that she was disreputable. She lived in the fast set of Society. Her children had at least four different fathers and she had a continuous stream of lovers over 40 years. One was the Earl of Carlisle and another was his son, 30 years Frances’ junior. Another she discarded so he could marry one of her daughters. The most famous lover, when Frances 18 years his senior and was already a grandmother, was the Prince of Wales and this was where her reputation really suffered.

    Whilst mistress of the Prince, she became the most hated woman in the land, burned in effigy, her carriage pelted by the mob and ostracized by Society. Her actions whilst his mistress, and the Prince’s behaviour at her behest, destroyed forever the reputation of an already unpopular Prince, leading to the Times describing his death as King in 1830 as unregretted by his subjects. Indeed, his reputation, as a result of the Countess’s actions, was so bad that one future Prime Minister, Robert Peel, feared that the monarchy itself might fall.

    Frances Jersey, though, was not all bad. She was not, in a lot of respects, much worse than many of her contemporaries, just less discreet – even if some described her as Satan’s Representative on Earth. She was brave to the point of foolishness. She lived for the moment, and for herself. She fought for her children and she helped both the poor and her (rich) friends when they were in trouble. Her life had many ups and downs, and many dramatic twists, but she did what she thought was right, even if she was wrong – or Society thought she was wrong.

    History has been unkind to the Countess, she was vilified on her death and in the 200 years since no one has challenged the myths which surround her. Whilst another prime minister, Lord Melbourne, did indeed say to Queen Victoria when comparing the Countess to her contemporary beauties ‘she was a handsomer but a wickeder woman… little with large black eyes… very handsome’, for the first time since her death my biography of the Countess puts the record straight and tells the true story of a remarkable woman and a remarkable life.

    Tim Clarke's new book The Countess: The Scandalous Life of Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey is available in a new paperback format now.

  • The Count of Scotland Yard by Stephen Wade

    The Controversial Life and Cases of DCS Herbert Hannam

    Homage to the Count- at last!

    Hannam on the Prowl in Eastbourne. (c. Detective, 3 September 1956, The Count of Scotland Yard, Amberley Publishing)

    Stephen Wade explains his long-standing interest in a top detective, Bert Hannam, the subject of his new book The Count of Scotland Yard.

    Around thirty years ago, in Halifax, I became acquainted with the name ‘Emily Pye.’ It was one of those local stories which are founded on something deeply sad and violent. It was a story of murder. Emily, an old lady who kept a corner shop, had been brutally murdered on her premises. The name lodged in my mind, and years later, when I became a true crime writer and a historian of our dark and criminous past, the name was back in my orbit again, and I found out that the case had brought one of the Yard’s top sleuths: the debonair and charismatic, Bert Hannam.

    I discovered that he was known as ‘the Count of Scotland Yard’ – with reference to his looking rather like a toff. But in fact he was more than a stylish, showy character. He did not track down Emily’s killer, but his record does show that he was involved in several remarkable cases, from fraud to murder.

    DCS Hannam started life as a pastry-cook, but soon switched to a career in the police. By the Second World War he was a Detective Sergeant and he showed his flexibility by dealing with investigations into thefts in government locations and then he looked into police corruption. The beginnings of his work in murder investigation were in the immediate post-war years, and he worked with and learned from several established chief inspectors. But Hannam really became something of a celebrity when the sensational case of Dr Bodkin Adams, of Eastbourne, brought him into press reports and into the realm of the paparazzi of his day.

    Adams was charged with two murders, and the case brought to light the legal and ethical issues related to euthanasia. Here was a family doctor who only worked with the super-rich, and he was in the habit of acquiring a high level of wealthy material and pounds sterling in their wills.

    Hannam was the man who led the investigation, which took months, as he gathered evidence from a number of places, domestic and foreign. It was one of the most notorious criminal trials in British history, and he was ably aided by Detective Sergeant Charles Hewett. Adams was acquitted, but struck off by the BMA (later to be reinstated).

    The Yard as it looked around 1940. (Author's Collection, The Count of Scotland Yard, Amberley Publishing)

    As for Bert Hannam, he was soon to retire, and worked in security, but for me, he will always be the dapper man who was called in when there was big trouble.  From a writing point of view, it was an unusual biographical project, because he was a very private man, and never wanted to be in the limelight. His grandson and the son of Sergeant Hewett, was very helpful in my process of research, and although I found it hard to uncover much about the detective’s personality, I think that I did succeed in offering the reader more than a simple string of cases and court reports.

    Hannam did have many friends, and was highly respected as a tutor and mentor at the Police College; if I had to sum him up, I would define him as a man with real presence: the sort of copper we would like to have on the scene when something horrendous had happened. Writing the book made me want to uncover other detectives who have perhaps been overlooked by the biographers of crime since the war. In those post-war years, up to the 60s, ‘The Yard’ was a phrase that suggested the aristocracy of the police, and indeed, Bert does deserve to be remembered as ‘The Count’ of Scotland Yard.

    Stephen Wade's new book The Count of Scotland Yard is available for purchase now.

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