Saturday, 28 September 2013

When Good Kings Go Bad

When Charles VI of France was approached by a leper screaming "Ride no further, noble King!Turn back! You are betrayed!" we can imagine it disturbed him a spot.  For his friends though, it was a calamity. 

  Charles hadn't been feeling too well of late.  Things had been getting rough.  A chap called Pierre de Craon had attacked a one-eyed friend of Charles', by the name of Olivier de Clisson, down a dark Parisian alleyway.  Olivier had survived, but not before being knocked out by a bakery door.  This had worried young Charles.  If chaps could go about assaulting one-eyed people with door frames, then nobody was safe?  They'd be after the King next!

  Seized with panic, Charles summoned his army and told them he wished to visit Pierre's house where he intended to throw some furniture about.  His friends complied, but they were nervous.  Charles was not himself.  He was pacing about with fervour and speaking total nonsense which nobody could make head or tail of.  They all just nodded thoughtfully at their King, for it is a tricky thing to know exactly how to go about telling ones Monarch that they are talking utter bilge.

  “Let us just amuse him.” the courtiers no doubt said to each other anxiously.  “We shall all head to Brittany, and perhaps the walk will do him some good.” proffered others.  And off the went, hoping for the best.  The procession moved on slowly through the forest of Le Mans, the summer air broken only by the sound of the King spouting garbage and whinging about delays.

Charles slugging the Bastard of Poligny - Wikipedia

  It was at this moment when the aforementioned leper popped up and began declaring his message of doom and betrayal.  Charles believed it immediately.  Here was a fellow who saw eye-to-eye with him. His friends, on the other hand, gasped in horror and bundled the wretch into the nearest hedge.  The atmosphere was tense. Charles was silent and saw ambushes in all quarters.  Then a squire dropped a lance which clunked against a helmet.  This was the last straw for Charles.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Crown and Christmas

  When Parliament decided that they were fed up of King Charles not listening to them, they declared war upon him in 1642.  They were feeling pretty confident about their chances too.  The majority of the English citizens were certain to back them, they felt.  After all, Charles had cost the English people a fair penny in tax and what was more, his Queen was a Catholic.  She kept her own confessor under the stairs and prayed for the Catholic souls whom the English Protestants had been merrily barbequing for God’s glory.  If there was one thing to win the English commoner’s vote, Parliament figured, it was the thought of an annoyed Catholic Queen.

  Despite a few setbacks at the outset Parliament, claiming God to be a forsworn roundhead, eventually stuck it to the King and his Cavaliers at the Battle of Naseby in 1646.  They were prepared to let Charles remain King if he was a good boy, but he wasn’t.  In fact he was very naughty and gave them the slip, raised another army to squash them with but was beaten and had his head chopped off as a reprimand.  His son, Charles, went to France but would return later.

Charles II in 1675
Charles II with a big hairdo - by lisby1

  Parliament now found themselves in possession of a novelty.  They had a country unfettered by a Monarch.  They began to dream great dreams of a Republican world and everybody being saintly and good and God viewing England as the finest resort on Earth.  It would appear that they got a little too over-excited though for the common man.  For, in what was possibly the worst political manifesto ever, they came up with the splendid notion of banning Christmas.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Dancing Mania

  We all do peculiar things from time to time.  It is to be expected; and people of bygone ages are certainly not exempt.  A cursory squint at the footnotes of history reveals numerous things that make ones eyebrows stretch heavenwards.  Yet, my dear reader,  there is one historical oddity which reaches out its knobbly fingers through time to absolutely snatch the biscuit as far as peculiar behaviours are concerned.  I am referring, of course, to that extremely novel habit Medieval citizens had of involuntary dancing; known in those days as St Vitus’ dance.

  It was all the rage in the Middle Age Europe by all accounts.  Between the 9th and 16th Centuries, chroniclers tell us that common folk, going about minding their business, were suddenly gripped with an irresistible urge to break out and boogie.

  It could happen at most inappropriate times too, like the 18 peasants who thoroughly disrupted a Christmas Eve Church service with their capers.  Despite the fact the priest poured mighty imprecations upon them, they simply couldn’t stop.  “I hear you Father Abbot” came the reply, “ but I just can’t control my feet.”  One cannot begin to imagine the damage this affliction could do to ones career prospects.

  However, the thing that caused most concern was the viral nature of this Dancing Mania.  Whole groups it seems could be seized simultaneously with the desire to bop.  Take the 200 souls crossing the Meuse river.  They figured that all that their day was missing was some vigorous moshing.  This they did and brought down the bridge, causing traffic delays for months.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

An Unlikely Route to Kingship

 In which William Rufus upsets his brother and the Church is shocked

  Let’s face it, when chroniclers call someone "hateful to almost all his people and odious to God" and the Archbishop refers to them as a ‘wild bull’, you just know things are going to get colourful with this person.    These things were said of William II of England, whose rise to kingship came, appropriately, from a most unexpected frolic.

  William was nicknamed ‘Rufus’, which means red.  This likely refers to his somewhat florid complexion brought about by going around shouting at people.  A disagreeable habit perhaps, but when one is short and has a mother who is only 4ft tall that has been called incestuous by the Pope, one probably has had to put up with a lot in the playground.

William II
Statue of William Rufus looking mischievous

  As third son of William the Conqueror, Rufus followed the custom of being packed off to get a degree in archbishop-ry.  This wasn’t for young Rufus.  In fact his care free larks seemed to get right up the noses of the Clergy.  He had indecently long hair for the Church and wore it in a blasphemous centre-part.  And his shoes ... long, pointy and curled at the ends were a scandal!

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Battle of Agincourt

 In which a man with a squint saves the day and someone gets kicked in the groin

 The Battle of Agincourt, all got started after the French took exception to King Henry V’s excessive capers around their countryside.  He’d been chivvying the town of Harfleur for a few weeks and had left a good deal of structural damage there. 

On his way back to Calais to catch a ferry to England Henry bumped into the French army who had parked straight across the main road at Agincourt.  Though they had missed the shin-dig at Harfleur their motto was “Better late than never.”

  The French army glistened in the evening light.  25,000 of them, mainly noble men-at-arms, were putting on the Ritz and plated up to the nines.  The English, who were only 8,500 and suffering bowel complaints looked at this silver road block and said “Goodness!” 

  In one thing the English were blessed.  Their captain was their very own King who had the inspirational knack needed for such occasions.  He could put a bit of spin on his words and make men feel good about things.  The French King, fearing he was made of glass, was back in Paris trying not to smash.

Battle of Agincourt
The Battle of Agincourt - by ajleon

 Next morning the French swaggered about in their new armour and ordered coffee and croissants.  Henry, at the other end of the pitch, was giving a motivational team talk to his men whom he had wedged tightly into a sort of alleyway between to woods.

  To get things going, the English Longbowmen stepped forwards and spent a few minutes confetti-ing the French like newly-weds.  Not liking it much the French ordered a cavalry charge to run the yeomen from the field.  Now the records are a bit sketchy here, but as the cavalry set off in their resplendent garb towards the archers, for some reason about 30% were missing.  Where they had gone missing to is a bit of a mystery.  Even moving the furniture and looking behind things didn’t reveal them....

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Richard the Lionheart gets Arrested

  "In which Duke Leopold gets the hump and a king is undone by a chicken"

  Late in 1192, King Richard I of England had decided that he’d better be getting back home from his Crusade.  So he hopped on a boat and said “That way boys!” and off they sailed.

  As it was winter-time Richard couldn’t expect to avoid storms and had the rotten luck of crashing his yacht into a rock near Venice.  After roundly cursing a bit whilst waiting for his clothes to dry, Richard and his chums were ready to set off for home once again.

  This time they decided to hike overland to his sister and Brother-in-law’s house in East Germany.  Unfortunately this would mean tramping through the realm of Leopold of Austria.  Leopold didn’t like Richard.  After winning the siege of Acre, Richard’s men had lobbed Leopold’s banner off the battlements and Leopold had got upset because now he could not lay claim to any of the spoils of the town.  The Englishmen may even have laughed as they did it, which would have really rankled.

Durnstein Castle
  Leopold's Castle at Durnstein

  On top of this, Leopold’s cousin, Conrad de Montferrat, had recently been done in by assassins, just days after being named King of Jerusalem.  Not only had this ruined the festivities, but rumour had it  that Richard had given the bumping-off order.  When Leopold heard this he was vexed.  The sound of smashing crockery could be heard all over his castle...

Monday, 7 May 2012

1381: The Peasant's Revolt

"In which the Queen's bed is used as a trampoline and somebodies spoons are stolen"

  Heavy taxation was certainly a big cause of the Peasant's Revolt.  But it was when the local authorities started rummaging about beneath lady-folks’ skirts, as an inventive way of deducing whether they were taxable, that the British peasantry really got a bee in their bonnets.  This eyebrow raising trivia was actually the blue touch paper that led to the Peasants Revolt.

  On May 30th 1381 a tax collector, by the name of John Bampton, sidled into the small village of Brentwood and received the bums rush from a crowd led by a Baker.  Bampton said “I’ll file a complaint with the chief Justice you know” and the villagers said “Go ahead” and Bampton was stumped.

  The next day, Bampton returned with his arm around the shoulders of the chief justice and a group of soldiers.  The Justice asked what all this was about and the villagers replied with dramatic gestures that creased the Justice’s garments.  They also loosed the heads from a few soldiers to emphasise their point and the game, as Shakespeare put it, was afoot...