Friday, August 10, 2007

Cinque Ports

The Ancient "Cinque Ports" of England

In the late Anglo-Saxon era, the threat of Norse invasion was constant. For a time England had a Danish king in the person of Cnut (Canute) but after his death the Anglo-Saxon Edward the Confessor did his best to keep the Norse threat at bay.

The key to the security of the realm as Edward saw it was to control the English Channel. To this end he granted the ports of Sandwich, Dover, and New Romney, all in Kent, the right to keep all legal fees assigned in court cases. This was quite a profitable concession for the towns involved, and made them far more prosperous than most towns of similar size elsewhere in the country.

Seven Sisters cliffs in Sussex
Typical Sussex coastline

In exchange, the towns agreed to provide ships and sailors for defense when required by the crown. To the original three ports were later added Hastings in Sussex, and Hythe, in Kent.

These five coastal towns made up the Five Ports (in Norman French the "Cinque Ports"). In the 13th century Rye and Winchelsea joined nearby Hastings and in the next century gained legal status as "Antient Towns", affiliated with the Cinque Ports.

The need for defense was so great that a large number of other towns became allied to the major ports. Thus, inland Tenterden became an ally of Rye, and Pevensey an ally of Hastings. This 'coastal confederation' reached a total of 42 towns at its medieval peak.

The ports took full advantage of their special legal status to spread their economic reach far beyond their local areas. Thus Rye battled fiercely with Yarmouth in Norfolk for control of the herring fishery on the Norfolk Broads.

The fortunes of the Cinque Ports varied. Dover, with its excellent coastal harbour, prospered. Others fared less well. The sea receded over the medieval period, and rivers silted up, leaving Winchelsea and Tenterden totally isolated from the coast. Rye transformed from a coastal port into a river one, with subsequent loss of trade.

Once bustling, prosperous towns (perhaps a little puffed up with their own importance) dwindled into villages or tourist centres as the need for their defensive contribution declined.

Walmer Castle near Deal (Kent) is the official residence of the Warden of the Cinque Ports, a post little more than ceremonial today, but once of huge national importance. The current (2005) Warden is Admiral the Lord Boyce, and past wardens include the Queen Mother, Winston Churchill and the Duke of Wellington. The "Cinque Ports" and the two Antient Towns still retain their unique legal status in Britain.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Traitors Gate

Traitors Gate, interior shotTraitors Gate was originally known as Water Gate, but was later changed when it was used as the landing for the Crown's enemies. All important prisoners entered the Tower through this gate. According to legend when Princess Elizabeth arrived on Palm Sunday 1554 she refused at first to land at the gate, angrily proclaiming that she was no traitor. A sharp shower of rain however, caused her to change her mind. Later when as Queen she visited the Tower she insisted on passing through Traitors Gate. "What was good enough for Elizabeth the Princess is good enough for Elizabeth the Queen", she is supposed to have told the Constable.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Catherine de Medici - wife of King Henry II of France

The cuckolded wife of Henry II, Catherine de Medici of Italy however maintained a much longer role in French politics than her husband, and through her over indulgence to their son who became Henry III, is thought by some historians, to be at the root of discontent that gave birth to the general revolt that ultimately led to the French Revolution.
  • Said to be dumpy and unappealing, she was not without ambition, intelligence and knowledge of the ways of Kings and those in power. She became the ultimate 'Queen Mother' with three sons in a row to reign as kings of France in the Valois line.
  • Even while her husband Henry I showered his mistress Diane de Poitiers with jewelry, and made no secret of his passion for her, it was Catherine who bore his children. Some say, because Diane de Poitiers told the king he had to do his duty and sire legitimate children. It is said the Queen tolerated their affair, while her rival moved into the royal household, even nursed her through scarlet fever. On Henry's death (1559 killed in a joust) Catherine finally reveled a little of her feelings "...for never has a woman who loves her husband liked his whore; for even though this is an ugly word.... one cannot call her anything else."
  • She doted on their third son who ultimately became Henry III, who, from all accounts was openly a transvestite surrounded by a obsequious band of gay men called mignons, some of whom had more hold over Henry than his mother, and indeed would kill rivals for the position of King's favorite. Henry III was prone bouts of manic religious behaviour, and extravagant orgies, and Catherine even went so far as to arranging the latter.However when she tried to bring his attention back to matters of state and the looming war with Spain he paid no heed and continued in his extravagant way of life emptying the coppers and she despaired telling him that he raised money by 'robbing his people'.
  • She was instrumental with her son King Charles IX, in the plot to assassinate the protestant Huguenot leader, and those who had gathered in Paris to celebrate the wedding of her very Catholic and youngest daughter Marguerite to King Henry of Navarre in what became known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. (oddly enough King Henry of Navarre ultimately became King Henry IV of France and began the Bourbon Line)
  • Although blame is placed with members of the Valois family, Catherine was said to be behind the hangings and murders of her daughter, Margot's subsequent lovers, of whom Don Juan of Austria was claimed to have said, " [Margot] looks like a goddess of Heaven, ....better suited to ruin men than save them. Her beauty was sent to damn us."
Catherine died in 1589 (HenryIII was assassinated in the same year leaving Margot the sole surviving heir to the throne, and being a woman she was unable to inherit it so it passed to her husband King Henry of Navarre.)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hunting History

In this blog I aim to share tidbits I learn researching for my novels. It will include links to other history posts, blogs and the like and I hope will intrigue and entertain you as much as it does me.
As this site is still being developed bear with me while I fine tune it and give me feed back. I love to hear from you.
I am currently researching King James I - this is for a sequel to my paranormal romance novel, Witch Hunter's Moon, which is currently with LUNA Books, which dealt with the early days of the notorious witch hunts in Scotland.

King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) (1566-1625)
  1. Son of Mary, Queen of Scots and Darnley
  2. He had a lonely, isolated childhood and a physical deformity that gave him an unsteady gait resulting in many accidents and injuries, a tongue too large for his mouth that made him dribble and slur his words. He suffered from extreme pain from crippling arthritis, abdominal colic, gout and kidney stones. On the death of Queen Anne he suffered severe depression.
  3. He was well educated, well-read and an intelligent man. Was said to be an intellectual King but a poor statesman.
  4. Crowned King of Scotland after his mothers abdication in 1567, he was aged 13 months.
  5. He was brought up as a Scottish Presbyterian though his mother was Catholic
  6. 1589 Married Anne of Denmark when he was 23, she was 15
  7. They had 3 sons and 4 daughters
  8. Became King James I of England on the death of Queen Elizabeth I,
  9. He was the first of the Stuarts
  10. He was responsible for the Unicorn of Scotland being incorporated in the royal coat of arms.
  11. He believed in the 'divine right of the King', maintaining the King was above the law (this became the downfall of his son, Charles I)
  12. His high personal ideals did not flow into his statesmanship. His reign was troubled, his court favorites ill-chosen and extravagant which roused lots of animosity.
  13. 1605 he and his government were the target of catholic sympathisers in the failed Gunpowder Plot which brought a new wave of anti-Catholicism
  14. Small religious groups found little tolerance leading to the Puritan demands for Elizabeth I Church settlement. The Pilgrim Father's 1620 departure for America on the Mayflower, and the 1611 printing/publishing of the Authorised Version of the Bible - a landmark for religion in England and literature. It eclipsed all past and future version and is still the best-selling book of all time.
  15. He was a prolific writer and many were among the most important and influential British writings of their period. (Basilicon Doron - he wrote as a manual for his son on what it took to be King and his duties to God that despite the secrecy and the fact that only 7 copies were printed, news of it got out and in the end demand for it was so great that the King released it for general publication and it became a best seller in English, Welsh, Latin, French, Swedish, and German for over 50 years.)
  16. Was rumored to be a homosexual though this is disputed, many historians admit that he was more than likely bisexual - his close relationships to male partners including Esme Stuart, Earl of Lennox, and Francis Stewart Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, and George Villiers being some involved in the rumors surrounding the King. This spawned the saying -"Elizabeth was King, now James is Queen" leading to a label 'queen' often applied homosexuals to this day.
  17. He was responsible for the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh at the behest of Spain on a charge that was thirteen years old.
  18. He was patron to William Shakespeare
  19. He was the first monarch to unite Scotland England and Ireland into Great Britain - a name he coined.
  20. He was one of the few monarch to die peacefully in his bed, and pass Royal power on, in tact, to his adult son (King Charles I)
Sites to visit: