Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Luther and his Theses

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95-Theses to the door of a Wittenberg church. It was a strong condemnation of the catholic church and its utter corruption. Most notably, Luther railed against the granting of indulgences. These were bought grants which remitted sin and reduced the time spent in purgatory. The more one paid, the more time and sin was removed.

It was Luther's actions which sparked the growing religious powder keg, incinerating all of Europe in the heat and furor of religious discord. Some nations resisted stronger than others. Spain, France and Italy all remained catholic strongholds while many German states and eventually England, fell under protestantism.

In England, it was Henry VIII who broke with Rome and established the Church of England. He remained, however, a catholic. It wasn't until his son Edward VI that protestant teachings became commonplace. Upon hearing of Luther's attack on the church, Henry actually penned a book in the Pope's defense known to us as the "Assertio Septum Sacrementorum". For his efforts, the Pope granted Henry the title of "Fideli Defensor" - Defender of the Faith. This title remains tied to the monarchy to this day and can be found on some official documents, arms and coins.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Ghosts of Bess

Nothing sparks the imagination like a set of ruins: What stood here? How did it look? Who lived here? With Hardwick Old Hall, we can have some questions answered thanks to the extensive level of remains. Built over nine years by the formidable Bess of Hardwick, it was a grand Elizabethan manor house which held a dominating position on the landscape. Bess could take her guests up on the rooftop and, on a clear day, point out her other holdings at Chatsworth and Wingfield.
The legacy of the Countess of Shrewsbury lives on through the descendants of her second son who was the patriarch of the Cavendish family (the Dukes of Devonshire). Their legacy can be seen at Chatsworth Manor.
Our concern, over the next three articles, is with Hardwick. So let's take a look. Link to the full article is on your right under UK Tour: Hardwick Old Hall.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

"Once More Unto The Breach!"

Those are the infamous words given to Henry V at the Seige of Harfleur courtesy of one William Shakespeare. Today, however, does not mark the anniversary of this battle but rather one of far more importance to the English and arguably one of the greatest in the annals of warfare: AGINCOURT.

Sing along to the Agincourt Carol (Click it!)

On this day in history, 597 years ago, Henry V earned a decisive victory against the French during the Hundred Years War. While the overall war was a conflict over French dominions and the right to it's crown, Agincourt was a desperate gambit for the English to retreat to their stronghold of Calais.

Suffering from widespread dysentery and disease, Henry V's once glorious force of 11,000 was a pitiful ~6,000 only two months later. The King wanted to retreat for the English held town of Calais before returning to England. In his way stood a force of up to 20,000 French lead by Constable Charles d'Albret (The French King Charles VI suffered from mental illness and could not lead his troops effectively).

The greatest battles in history usually involved some sort of tactical renaissance or cutting-edge weaponry. In the case of Agincourt, terrain won the day. The battlefield was a narrow pass sandwiched between the dense woods of Agincourt and Tramecourt. This made flanking a non-factor which immediately gave Henry's much outnumbered force a distinct advantage. It had also rained quite hard the night before and the field was mess of water and mud.

Henry ordered his archers to deploy on both flanks as well as at the front of his vanguard. To combat the 1,200 French who were mounted, the archers sharpened wooden stakes and hammered them diagonally into the ground which immediately neutralized the effectiveness of a French cavalry charge. The rest of the King's knights and men-at-arms deployed in the center.
The French deployed in three battles, one behind the other. Many nobles placed themselves in the first battle (vanguard) because they wanted a reckoning with the English who embarassed their fathers and grandfathers at Poitiers and Crecy years before. This meant that critical troops such as archers and crossbowmen were sent to the rear. In hindsight, the last battle line didn't even fight as the press of bodies was too thick.

(Image released to public domain by creator)

After an exchange of bowfire, the French cavalry charged the English lines. The galloping tread of thousands of hoofs broke up the already wet and muddy ground, making the terrain conditions even worse for subsequent French units who had to advance through. Meanwhile, the English longbow (feared for its "Arrow-Storm" volleys) decimated the ranks of horses. Injured steeds threw their riders and fled back through the advancing French, knocking them over and even killing some.
With the failure of the cavalry charge, the main body of French troops advanced. This contained most of the dismounted knights and nobles who were all heavily armored. They had to advance 300 yards through thick mud and, eventually, over the bodies of their dead comrades. With each knight wearing at least 60 pounds of armor, the walk must have been draining let alone surviving the continuous onslaught of arrows. Knights who fell in the sucking mud could oftentimes not free themselves and drowned.
As the lines finally met, the English archers dropped their bows and attacked with blade and hammer. Being lightly armored, they easily outmaneuvered the cumbersome knights. With more of the French forces pushing in from behind, the press of bodies became so thick that only the first two ranks could fight effectively with their weapons thus negating the numbers advantage. The battle soon turned to a route.

(Image in the public domain)
The French suffered between 6,000 and 10,000 casualties while the English numbered somewhere around 700. Even worse for the French was the capture of hundreds of noblemen who had to be ransomed. The kingdom lost three dukes, eight counts and an archbishop. The flower of French civalry was destroyed. Five years later, Henry V was recognized as heir to the French throne.

Though the English won the battle and the throne, Henry's sudden death left his sixth month old son in a perilous position. Nowhere near the capabilities of his father, Henry VI proved to be ineffective in maintaining his kingdom as England spiraled into the Wars of the Roses. With the destruction of English forces at the Battle of Castillon in 1453, all English claims and territories in France (minus Calais) were lost. The Hundred Years war was over and it was the French who were victorious.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A Trip So Big... needs 3 installments!

My trip to Cambridge was a great success. I came away with plenty of Tudor related photography as well as the entire collection of Strickland's "Queens of England" from 1875. Given that I took over 200 photographs, I think it would be better to split my review over three installments to focus on particular sites. That means we have the following breakdown:

Installment 1: King's College Chapel
Installment 2: Queen's College, Trinity College, St John's College
Installment 3: The Round Church and other sites of Cambridge

After nearly four hours of work, the first installment is finally up! You can find it on the right side under UK Tour: Cambridge (1)

EDIT: Part 2 is now up as well! Check out UK Tour: Cambridge (2)
EDIT: Part 3 is complete! Last installment on the right under UK Tour: Cambridge (3)

Friday, 19 October 2012

To Tour Or Not To Tour?

What type of a silly question is that? Grab your guidebooks and cameras, its off to Stratford Upon Avon- the birthplace of William Shakespeare!
Link to the adventure is on your right under UK Tour: Stratford    ---->

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Updates...And A Video To Make It Interesting

Right; the trip to Stratford Upon Avon was quite fun and shall be posted soon. In the meantime, I am frantically trying to finish "The King's Glass" by Carola Hicks in preparaton for my trip to Cambridge this Saturday. The book analyzes the Tudor dynasty through the building of the chapel at King's College, particularly its 26 stained glass windows. They are considered the finest example of renaissance glass in existence. I have already seen them first hand and they are breathtaking. It will be even better this second time around as I now know what to look for within each piece.

Besides King's College, I also hope to visit St. John's College (founded by Margaret Beaufort, Henry VIII's grandmother and Bishop John Fisher) as well as Trinity College (founded by Henry VIII himself). While I may not be able to go into all of them, the artwork and statues along the outside provide some satisfying history.

In other news, I just received my official job responsibilities at the Sheffield Manor Lodge. I am to research the Talbot family from the Wars of the Roses until 1560 and tell their family story as it pertains to the house. This information will then be used for official guides and tours. To say I'm excited is an understatement!

Lastly, for those who don't know, I gave a presentation at UNH in March on the subject of Henry VIII and his courtship of the Lady Anne Boleyn. It was recorded and can be seen via the link below. It's about an hour long with Q&A at the end. Volume will adjust and no, I don't lisp. Enjoy!

Kingdom For A Heart: The Courtship Of Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Hastings, 1066

Today marks the 946th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, one of the most important conflicts in the history of the world. It was just a few miles inland within East Sussex that the invading Norman forces under William Duke of Normandy met the Saxons and their King, Harold II over a dispute for the English crown.
Edward the Confessor (England's sainted king) died in January of 1066. On his deathbed he had to make a choice of his successor. One tale suggests he grabbed then hand of Harold Godwinson and the latter took this to heart as his right to rule. Off in Normandy, William was furious as he was supposedly promised the crown, at least verbally, by the late king. His forces mustered and he invaded the islands towards the end of September and finally engaged Harold just northwest of Hastings on October 14.
The Normans suffered heavy casualties early in the battle as Williams's tactic of softening the enemy lines with arrows failed due to a strong Saxon shield wall. Subsequently charging up a hill did not help matters either. It was only when William regained control of his forces that the Saxon force began to waver. The duke ordered the arrows to be fired over the shield wall and the result inflicted heavy casualties. Legend has it that King Harold II met his end via an arrow to the eye (this is also depicted in the famous Bayeaux Tapestry which chronciles events leading up to, during and after the battle).
With the death of the king, William was able to march inland and secure England and the crown for himself. He was crowned William I on Christmas Day, 1066. Now known as William the Conqueror, he quickly set about securing his foothold. That legacy includes fortifications which still stand: the White Tower (Tower of London) and Windsor Castle.

One last note: Westminster Abbey was built as a monument and memorial tomb for Edward the Confessor. His grave and tomb sit behind the main altar and prayers can still be made at it to this day. Similarly, his arms of a cross mounted on a shield and surrounded by five birds can still be seen carved into the stonework.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Thorns of the Red Rose

Kirkstall was not the only site visited on Tuesday. As we returned to Sheffield, we stopped at Sandal Castle which was an important stronghold during the Wars of the Roses. It was here on Dec 30, 1460 that the Lancastrians won a prominent victory over the Yorkists. It is known to us as the Battle of Wakefield.
To read and see more about the castle, look to the right of this page under the UK Tour section!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


And for the record, its pronounced Vahn-der-loost!

Attending school in another country always contains a further bonus of being able to do some extensive travelling. I am fully aware of this and plan to take some serious advantage of my happy situation. As such, I will be documenting every visit with photographs and text. These updates can then be found on the right side of this blog under the UK Tour pages.

First up is Kirkstall Abbey. Have at it!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Much Cooler Than State Quarters

If you get your hands on British coinage from the past few years, you'll be able to piece together the shield of Britan's Royal Coat of Arms. The three passant guardant lions of England are represented twice. In heraldry, the positioning of animals is called an "attitude". In this case, passant means striding forward while guardant means the beast is facing the viewer. Up next is the rampant (rearing on hind legs) lion of Scotland surrounded by a two layered tressure flory-counterflory border. Last but not least is the harp which represents Northern Ireland.


Heraldry played its most important role in the middle ages and early modern period as it was one of the primary ways to identify dynastic houses and loyalties. With the Wars of the Roses, battles were fought under countless banners and troops would wear badges and colors to show allegiance to their respective lords. To keep order, King Richard III created the Royal College of Arms who are tasked with validating proper heraldry for families, creating new arms and making sure all are correctly kept.

I may or may not have two books on heraldry because of how awesome it is.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

History In Sheffield Pt 5

To complete the historic walk in part four, I give you the "Shepherd's Wheel": Sheffield's only remaining water wheel workshop on the Porter Brook.

Digs at the site suggest there there was a workshop on the brook since the 16th century. It was this tidbit of information that prompted me to hunt for the building. What I came across was the conserved (and functioning) wheel attached to a workshop built in the mid 1700s. Of the 115 or so mills that were in the valley, only Shepherd's remains standing. This again underscores the importance of conservation though the idea of preserving sites/ buildings for public education is a concept that has only been around for 180 years at the most. Shepherd's benefited from restorations in the 1960s and as recently as 2010.

It is a building of essentially two rooms with each room housing 10 men. Grinders rotated on belts powered by water in the mill dam flowing through the pentrough sluice and onto the wheel.
Sluice and Wheel

The wheel's gears inside the building
Conditions, as can be imagined, were terrible. Metal shards and ground dust ensured that those who worked continuously in the mills suffered terrible illnesses or early death. Still, the metal industry was Sheffield's lifeblood and the mills played their part in the grinding of cutlery knives.

The building did not initially have windows so the brutal winter cold was kept at bay by two fireplaces, one in each room.

For those interested, Shepherd's Wheel is open on Saturdays and Sundays so if you happen to be strolling through Bingham Park, make sure you take a look!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

History In Sheffield Pt 4

Endcliffe park lies to the south-west of city center along Ecclesall Road. It was created around 1887 to commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria. As such, the park is home to two jubilee memorials which originally stood at Fargate within the city. First up is a statue of the Queen herself:


An obelisk from the same celebrations can be found further down the park's open area:

Porter Brook is the stream that runs through Encliffe, Bingham Park and Whiteley Woods. It is dammed in several areas to create small ponds for wildlife. The brook was also used as the driving force for many wheeled mills. Part 5 will discuss one such location.

One last memorial within the park is a source of pride and sorrow for us Americans. On Feb 22, 1944, a wounded B-17 Flying Fortress Bombed called "Mi Amigo" crashed within the park with the loss of all 10 crewmen. In an effort to minimize civilian casualties, the pilot guided the bomber to the open park area where it landed almost intact. Ammunition started to cook off and the bomber exploded into an inferno with any remaining crewmen unable to receive assistance from the citizens of Sheffield.
A memorial honors the men's sacrifice and a service is held annually in their name.

Stay tuned for Part 5 tomorrow as this will look at the Shepherd's Wheel Mill located in neighboring Bingham Park. It is the last surviving mill on Porter Brook and one of the last in all of Sheffield out of an original count of 115!


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Simple European Enjoyment

I had some time to kill before my Wars of the Roses archeology class so I went to the Peace Gardens across from Town Hall and read a book while enjoying a coffee. This is one of the simple pleasures that I really enjoy. It's great to just relax and watch everyone else move on by.

The book is entitled "Our Man In Rome: Henry VIII & His Italian Ambassador". It's an interesting read that focuses on a man whom we know almost nothing about. Quite sad considering he was the king's ambassador to the Vatican when the divorce proceedings were at full speed! Even better, the author is Dr. Fletcher who happens to be one of my professors!

And what European lounging experience isn't complete without bells, fountains and pigeons?

...and now that class is over, its raining. Again.


Monday, 1 October 2012

The King Is Dead, Long Live The Queen

As the Tudor period is my favorite area of study, I figured I'd include some important events. Quick bullets of these can be found, in time, to the right under the "On This Day" page.

(Master John, 1544. National Portrait Gallery, London)

October not only kicks off my favorite season in style, but this first day of the tenth month also happens to be the coronation day of Mary I, Queen of England. Quite the survivor, Mary managed to elude sickness and threats from the likes of Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell, Edward VI and even her own father Henry VIII. She ascended the throne in 1553 when her brother, Edward, died of tuberculosis after a very brief reign. Henry's desire for a strong male heir gave way to his ultimate fear (and he moved heaven and earth to avoid it): having a woman on the throne. Perhaps his fears were realized for Mary started to tear into her father's work on religion by restoring the abbeys, restoring catholicism and reversing her mother's divorce. Even worse was the idea of an English queen marrying a European prince and thus becoming subjected to his dominance with England serving a menial supporting role. Mary's marriage to Prince Phillip of Spain was a terrible mistake and her xenophobic subjects quickly recoiled at the pairing. Similarly, Mary's prosecution of protestants, most notably the Oxford Martyrs, caused deep resentment across the country. It was these burnings that gave her the title "Bloody Mary".

Still, one must also look at positives for her reign did include a few. Under Mary, there were fiscal and naval reforms as well as advancements in English colonialization efforts. Unfortunately for Mary, her half-sister Elizabeth receives most of the credit for these as they only truly blossomed under her long reign.

(By Anthonis Mor, 1554. El Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid)