Friday, 27 January 2012

Charles I - England’s most stupid king? Part III

The march to the scaffold

During 1640 Charles raised an army in Ireland to deal with the Scots. Although never used, Charles refused to accede to parliament’s request to disband the force of 8,000, although. 45% of the troops were paid off in May. The king’s influence in Ireland had been weakened by the loss of Stafford, who had headed the able administration there, among other duties.
Irish tempers had worsened over the years, as land gradually transferred from Catholic Irish to Protestant English ownership.

On 19th October 1641 an uprising in Ireland resulted in massacre & arson. Members of the disbanded army had been incited by their officers & Catholic priests from the Netherlands & Spain. The ringleaders in Dublin had been discovered & rounded up the night before. Elsewhere 5,000 English settlers were murdered, another 10,000 dispossessed & driven away.

The uprising exacerbated fears of Catholics in Protestant England & protestations of the Catholic Irish army’s loyalty to the crown increased suspicion in London that the Court was somehow implicated in the massacre of ‘good’ Protestant Englishmen & that this army would be used against parliament. The possibility of religious compromise was now a thing of the past, if indeed it had ever been possible. Alarmist pamphlets circulated throughout the country denouncing Papist conspiracies. There were rumours that the queen herself was to be impeached, for intriguing with the Pope.

In November 1641 Parliament presented the king with The Grand Remonstrance – detailing all the misdeeds of the king & his ministers during their rule without parliament. It demanded the right to approve all officers, ministers, councillors & ambassadors, who would be nominated by the king. This was needed, the Remonstrance stated, to give parliament confidence in the executive. The division resulted in a narrow majority of 11 in favour of the Remonstrance.

On 23rd December, fearing tumult in the capital, Charles appointed Thomas Lunsford, to be Lieutenant of the Tower of London. The City of London protested the appointment, backed by the House of Commons (the Lords having refused to petition the king) & the Lord Mayor. On the 26th Charles backtracked replacing Lunsford, a man of unsavoury character, with Sir John Byron.

Lord George Digby
On 1st January; having rejected the Grand Remonstrance, on the advice of Lord George Digby – the hothead son of the Earl of Bristol - & without the knowledge of Edward Hyde, Chancellor of the Exchequer; Charles ordered the King’s Attorney to impeach 5 of his principal enemies in the House of Commons – John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, William Strode & Sir Arthur Haselrig & Lord Montague of Kimbolton of the House of Lords. Both houses defied the king’s order.
Digby suggested to Charles that he take action of his own behalf. Accordingly on the morning of January 5th Charles, accompanied by 300 - 400 officers & swordsmen arrived at the Houses of Parliament. The king’s men forced their way into the building, where the six had already absented themselves. Charles failed to do anything but centralise resistance to his policies.  . 

Dismissing Charles’ offer of 200 armed men to protect them, Parliament now illegally appointed a Captain Skippon to be Sergeant Major General to command 8 companies of trained bands, thus challenging the king’s sovereignty. On 10th January Charles & his family left the Palace of Whitehall, abandoning his capital & moved to Windsor. The missing five members of the Commons now returned to Westminster in a triumphal procession up the Thames.
Princess Mary
In February Charles escorted Henrietta Maria & Princess Mary of Orange to Dover, where they set sail for the Netherlands. They were joined by Digby, who fled the country & was impeached by Parliament on 26th February. Charles & his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, rode for York, where the king became the centre of local patriotism & a new Royalist party. In March, despite Charles’ refusal, Parliament passed the Militia Ordinance, asserting control over the armed forces & empowering their agents to lead, conduct & employ the militia.

On 27th March Charles issued a Royal proclamation forbidding his subjects to obey the Militia Ordinance. On 1st June Parliament responded with an ultimatum of 19 propositions that Charles found outrageous – the king’s council, court officials & tutors for his children were to be appointed by Parliament, the Militia ordinance was to become statutory and the Church of England was to be settled to Parliament’s liking. Charles immediately repudiated the propositions.

Meanwhile in London Parliament was raising its forces, whilst in the north the Royalists were gathering to the support of their king. On the 4th July the two houses of Parliament appointed a Committee of Safety & on the 12th nominated the Earl of Essex as Lord General, while anxious to ‘preserve the safety of the King’s person’ and ‘the true religion liberty and peace of the kingdom’. Parliament had already taken control of the navy, the Lord High Admiral – the Earl of Northumberland taking parliament’s side in the collision between the king & parliament. Parliament controlled most of the ports.

On 22nd August Charles raised the Royal banner at Nottingham, to make war on his own subjects. His inability to compromise & his staunch belief in the divine right of his kingship gave him no other option. Lacking the navy & a regular income[i] were to prove drawbacks that the king could not overcome.

The first battle of the war, on 23rd October 1642 at Edgehill, proved inconclusive. Throughout the remainder of 1642 & the whole of 1643 a series of battles failed to give either side a real advantage. Reconciliation between the two sides was made impossible by John Pym’s impeachment of the queen on 23rd May 1643. And in the August of that year Parliament agreed the Solemn League & Covenant – agreeing to the preservation of the Church of Scotland & reforming the religion of England & Ireland. First raised in Scotland in February 1638, the Covenant railed against transubstantiation, the devilish mass, monuments & crosses, confessions, praying & speaking strange languages (to wit Latin).   

It was not until the 14th June 1645 that the decisive battle of the war was fought at Naseby. The king’s nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine and one of his most successful generals, advised refusing the offered battle & retiring to Newark. Charles preferred to accept his courtiers’ advice to fight. The troops of Parliament’s two foremost generals– Fairfax & Cromwell - now combined, outnumbering the Royalists two to one. The king fled the battleground leaving his Banner Royal, most of the regimental colours, his own coach and his private papers (which, when edited by Parliamentarians, proved the king’s duplicity in many matters).

Prince Rupert of the Rhine
Charles retreated to Hereford, hoping to raise more troops & hoping for aid from the Irish Catholics. He was crushed by the news that Fairfax had stormed the strategically essential Bristol. To save a useless slaughter of the 1,500 troops at his disposal, Prince Rupert capitulated as he had insufficient men to mount a proper defence.

Charles saw the surrender as a personal betrayal by Rupert, already tainted by having proposed a negotiated peace in the spring. Charles dismissed Rupert & ordered the arrest of one of Rupert’s closest colleagues, Colonel Legge, the able governor of Oxford. Another friend of Rupert’s was relieved of the governorship of Newark later in the year – probably because of the friendship, rather than an inability to do the job. Charles also demanded that Prince Rupert should swear never to fight for the king again.

In January 1646 a copy of a secret treaty negotiated by Charles’ agent, Lord Glamorgan, an English Catholic, arrived before parliament. All Catholic demands in Ireland were to be granted in return for an Irish army to invade England. Charles repudiated the treaty, but the damage had already been done.  

It was not until May 1646 that Charles placed himself under the protection of the Scots. He had not abandoned the hope that his Scottish subjects would come to his aid. In the ‘protective custody’ of his own subjects, Charles was now pressured to sign the Covenant. He ordered the surrender of the Royalist stronghold at Newark & the disbanding of Montrose’s army & leave Scotland. On the 25th June Charles consented to the surrender of Oxford.

Parliament agreed to pay the Scots £400,000[ii] to leave the country & put the land of the archbishoprics & bishoprics in England & Wales to pay the ‘ransom’. Charles delayed signing the Covenant, prevaricating in the hope of some form of deliverance. The Scots refused to take Charles back to Scotland & stayed in Newcastle. On the 28th January 1647 they handed the king over to the representatives of Parliament & received the first instalment of their ransom. Meanwhile tensions between the army & Parliament were growing. Charles, now down in Northamptonshire, hoped to take advantage of these tensions.
By June 1647 the army were considering a march on London to demand their arrears of pay. New proposals for coming to agreement with Charles were suggested by General Ireton. They were more favourable than those made at Newcastle. However the army was not in a position to dictate to Parliament, where the conservative Presbyterians threw the proposals out.

On 24th December 1647, now at Carisbrooke, Charles signed an Engagement with the Scots Commissioners – the Covenant was to be imposed by statute, there was to be no toleration of any sects, there was to be a Presbyterian hierarchy imposed for three years, pending a final religious settlement between king & parliament & the army was to be disbanded. Determined to regain his divinely ordained rights Charles decided to throw the country back into the horrors of another civil war, this time backed by a foreign army.

Oliver Cromwell
The fighting in the second stage of the civil war started in south Wales & then spread to the north. The army was now determined to call Charles to account for the blood he had spilt. By May Royalist revolts were spreading across the country. But Generals Fairfax & Cromwell mobilised quickly to stem the uprising. It was not until early July that the Scots crossed the border with a small army that was in no rush to move down towards Yorkshire; where they were routed by Cromwell on 17-8th August.
On 2nd December the army seized power, declaring the dissolution of the Long Parliament & fresh elections. On the 6th Parliament was purged by soldiers – 47 members were arrested & 96 were turned away – the remaining members sat as the Rump Parliament. Charles was transferred to Windsor.

In January the decision was taken - the king was to be tried. To the Parliamentarians it was the second Civil War that Charles held personal responsibility for; organised & effected while imprisoned at Carisbrooke – the invitation to the Scots to invade England, the country Charles was by right bound to protect. This was High Treason, which in law was punishable by death. Charles was therefore held personally responsible for all the deaths resulting from that war.

There could only be one verdict. Following his trial Charles was found guilty of high treason by the High Court of Justice in January 1649. He was executed on 30th January in front of the Banqueting Room at Whitehall Palace, having refused to accept the court’s ruling of his guilt & sentence.
James had not had an easy ride in his dealings with parliament, but Charles excelled at upsetting his MPs, seemingly unrivalled at making stands over issues that inflamed his subjects. Charles was a ruler who seems to have dealt solely in the present, rarely if ever planning ahead. An inflexible & unsubtle man, Charles did not adjust to the world around him, but expected the world to adjust to him. Charles was intransigent, unable to make concessions that crossed his notion of what was right & contradicted his Divine Rights. Charles seemed unable to make decisions in his own best interest evidenced by his refusal to redeem his promise to a loyal & able administrator - Stafford & his dismissal of his best general Rupert, at a time when good soldiers were thin on the ground - pure folly.

The most stupid king? Perhaps not, but surely a close contender?

The English Civil War – Robert Ashton, 1978 Wiedenfeld & Nicholson
Charles the First – John Bowle, 1975 Wiedenfeld & Nicholson
The Early Stuarts – Godfrey Davies, 1987 Oxford University Press
The Civil Wars of England – John Kenyon, 1988 Wiedenfeld & Nicholson

[i] In 1640 the king’s lack of monies was so dire that even his apothecary had remained unpaid for ten years
[ii] Nearly £51 million pounds using RPI to 2010 –

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Charles I - England’s most stupid king? Part II

On The road to civil war

King Charles 1
England’s new king, a dogmatic & inflexible man, retained the old favourite and George Villiers kept the power & influence bestowed upon him by the old king.
James died owing the city of London over £200,000 & Charles immediately borrowed another £60,000 to stage a splendiferous funeral for his father. Mourning garb was distributed to nine thousand people.

Ignoring his parliament’s objections Charles married Henrietta Maria, the 15 year old sister of Louis XIII of France, on13th June 1625. The secret agreement with his brother-in-law to relax restrictions on Catholics was contrary to his statement to parliament & the very reason that his parliament had objected to the marriage in the first place.
Duke of Buckingham
In October 1625, nearly 18 months after the declaration of war with Spain, Buckingham sent a fleet of 100 ships, under the command of Sir Edward Cecil, a veteran soldier but unused to naval combat, to Spain, where he attempted to emulate Drake’s feat of singeing the King of Spain’s beard in Cadiz. His men took the fort that defended the harbour. The city’s defences were modern & the Spanish ships at anchor were able to sail away as Cecil had failed to give the necessary orders. The plan to intercept the annual treasure fleet also failed. Errors came thick & fast – the fleet was under-supplied & the troops were poorly disciplined.
Cecil returned to England in December, where the king ignored the whole embarrassing debacle. When House of Commons attempted to impeach the Duke of Buckingham, whose swift rise to his current exalted position had earned him many enemies, Charles dissolved parliament to protect his favourite.
Meanwhile the king turned to forced loans as a means of raising much needed funds.  The Court of Wards was used to bring Charles an income of £35,000[i] per annum, more than he received from the royal estates. He raised monies by grant of patents & monopolies & sold knighthoods (subjects were fined for not paying for the honour). In 1634 there were soap riots, over soap monopolies granted to courtiers. Charles imprisoned 76 men of ‘substance’ without trial. In the autumn of 1627 the Trial of the Five Knights; one of whom had been denied Habeus Corpus, had raised great public anger, when the judges had decided in the king’s favour.

The third parliament of Charles’ reign was called in March 1628 – Buckingham planned to attack Calais & raise a royal standing army. Twenty seven of the 76 men of ’substance’ came as MPs in the new parliament. Parliament felt that the king was twisting the law, using it for purposes for which it had not been intended. Both Lords & Commons petitioned against arbitrary taxation without Act of Parliament. Charles prorogued parliament in June, as parliament was considering removing Tonnage & Poundage, one of the major sources of the king’s income.

In April 1628 a fleet under the Earl of Denbigh set sail for la Rochelle, but returned home without engaging the enemy. Buckingham now set to organising a second fleet, but was stabbed to death in August by an army officer, who felt that Buckingham had passed him over for promotion

. Deeply saddened by Buckingham’s death, Charles now turned to his wife for sympathy & support. The capitulation of la Rochelle to Louis XIII & Cardinal Richelieu, in October, meant that the disastrous war with France could be ended.
John Pym
Parliament was recalled in January 1629, when Charles again raised the issue of Tonnage & Poundage. Parliament was not minded to be helpful to the king over his financial problems & his critics started attacking the practices of customs officers & the rituals now creeping into church services – the ‘cults’ of angels, crucifixes, saints, candles & altars were attacked by John Pym. The king dissolved parliament in March, having issued arrest warrants for 6 of the MPs who led the attacks on his policies.

Charles now moved away from working with parliament, to the more centralised continental style of monarchy. He appointed Viscount Wentworth (former opponent in parliament) to positions of authority in Dublin & York. Wentworth, later to become the Earl of Strafford, was an excellent administrator and worked in collaboration with Bishop Laud of London, now a privy councillor. The two men were however overbearing, tactless & bitterly unpopular.

The most inflammatory of the money raising devices was the levy of ‘ship money’ in 1635. Originally coastal towns were responsible for paying ship money for the defence of the realm & £104,000[ii] was collected. Now the whole country was to share the responsibility & £218,500[iii] was demanded. The country’s landowners felt threatened by a taxation not approved by parliament.

Charles & Henrietta Maria
The country was beginning to feel the winds of recession. The king & queen were patrons of the arts & spent money on houses & artworks – Mytens, Rubens & van Dyke were commissioned to paint the king, his wife & children. In 1628 Charles’ agents outbid Cardinal Richelieu for the Gonzaga collection of Titian, Raphael & Tintoretto paintings. Masques became increasingly elaborate & expensive. The Puritans looked askance on the king’s artistic expenditure.

In June 1633 Charles paid his first visit to Scotland, where he alienated most of his subjects by commanding a coronation with the full Anglican ritual. His attitude towards the Calvinists thoughout the visit seemed almost designed to irritate & annoy. Before leaving he ordered that all Scottish ministers should wear white surplices, instead of their customary black.
By the end of July the England had a new archbishop – Laud was raised to the throne of Canterbury. The king, influenced by his Catholic wife, was leaning towards re-union with Rome.
Archbishop Laud
The king was also concerned by the rise of Puritanism in the country & with Laud was determined to stem its influence. Ideological enemies of the king were savagely punished. In 1630 a Scotsman who had called bishops ‘Ravens & Magpies’ was arraigned before the Court of the Star Chamber for declaring ‘the prelacy in Church’ to be ‘satanical’. He was whipped, imprisoned, fined, had his ears clipped, nose slit on either side & branded on the cheeks.
Egged on by Laud, the Court of the Star Chamber was in frequent use to deal with political & religious dissent. Three of the chamber’s victims won popular acclaim in 1637 – Prynne, Bastwick & Burton all had their ears chopped off as well as being imprisoned. They became martyrs in the eyes of their fellow countrymen.
The Treasury was under the control of Bishop Juxon, who in June 1636 was also made First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1637 a test case opposing the Ship money was brought before the court by John Hampden, a Buckinghamshire gentleman, as a matter of principle. Hampden believed that parliament should be responsible for deciding how money was to be raised. By a narrow margin the Chief Justice brought in a judgement for the king.

In 1637 Charles ordered the use of a new prayer book, almost identical to the Book of Common Prayer, for use in Scotland without consulting its parliament or the Kirk. This led to rioting & formalised opposition in the National Covenant. Unable to control the situation from London, Charles agreed to a General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which in November 1638 decided on the removal of the bishops from the Kirk and the abolition of the prayer book.
By early summer in 1639 Charles had raised an army & marched up to Berwick on Tweed. With neither army prepared to risk more than the occasional scuffle the Pacification of Berwick was agreed in June, Charles accepting that disputed questions be referred to a new General Assembly or parliament. The Scottish parliament thereupon abolished the Scottish bishops, while the General Assembly re-enacted all the provisions passed the previous year.
Marie de Medici

Charles was further beleaguered by the arrival of his mother-in-law, Marie de Medici, at the end of October 1638. Marie had fallen out with her son who, with Cardinal Richelieu, had wrested control of France from his mother’s domineering hands. Following involvement in a number of plots aimed at putting her younger son Gaston on the throne, Marie had been exiled from her adopted country. Charles found himself paying the dowager Queen of France £3,000[iv] a month – another strain on already stretched resources.
Believing the Scots were in league with the French, Charles called a parliament in April 1640 (known as the Short Parliament) hoping for monies to fight his Scottish subjects. Parliament called for the abolition of ship money, redress of grievances & a complete change in the ecclesiastical system. These terms were unacceptable to Charles & he dissolved parliament in May. By September 1640 the Scots had invaded Northumberland & Charles’ army fared so badly that Charles had to leave Northumberland & County Durham in the care of the Scots under the Treaty of Ripon in October. The Scots were to be paid £850[v] per day.
Thomas Wentworth,
Earl of Strafford

The second parliament of the year, or Long parliament, was now called by Charles. Of the 493 MPs, 399 were in opposition to the king. Parliament began impeachment proceedings for Archbishop Laud. Parliament passed the triennial bill, whereby the members could mobilise a parliament, if the king did not call one within three years. Charles gave his royal assent in February. The following month Stafford, Charles’ most able supporter, was tried for high treason & was found guilty. Having assured Stafford that under no circumstances would he sign a death warrant, Charles sent Stafford to his death on 10th May 1941.
In the same month Charles assented to an act, which forbade the dissolution of the English Parliament without Parliament's consent. Ship money, fines in destraint of knighthood and forced loans were declared unlawful, monopolies were cut back severely, and the Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission were abolished. All remaining forms of taxation were legalised and regulated by the Tonnage and Poundage Act. Throughout May, the House of Commons launched several bills attacking bishops and episcopalianism in general, each time defeated in the Lords.

The country was moving ever closer to civil war.


The English Civil War – Robert Ashton, 1978 Wiedenfeld & Nicholson

Charles the First – John Bowle, 1975 Wiedenfeld & Nicholson

Richelieu and His Age – His Rise to Power – Carl J Burckhardt, 1967 George Allen & Unwin

[i] £4.63 million RPI as at 2010 - all calculations from
[ii] £13.5 million as above
[iii] £28.3 million as above
[iv] £363,000 as above
[v] £112,000 as above

Friday, 20 January 2012

Charles I - England’s most stupid king?

The moulding of the man

Prince Charles - age 11
Born in Dunfermline in November 1600, Charles Stuart was the second son of King James VI of Scotland & his wife Anne of Denmark. A sickly child, who was baptised immediately after birth (not being expected to live), Charles was left in Scotland under the care of a guardian, when his father ascended to the throne of England following the death of Elizabeth in March 1603. James had been brought up a Protestant, a king since the age of thirteen months following the enforced abdication of his Catholic mother, Mary Queen of Scots. James’ children were also brought up as Protestants.
In July 1604 Charles finally made the journey down to England where he was placed in the care of Lady Carey, the wife of one of his father’s courtiers. Lady Carey taught him how to walk properly, giving him boots made of Spanish leather & brass to support his weak ankles. She also taught him how to speak, although his stammer was never cured. Charles stayed in the care of the Carey’s until he was eleven.
Henry, Prince of Wales
Charles inherited his artistic & aesthetic tastes from his mother, who spent her immense income liberally on masques & clothes, bringing the standards of the northern renaissance to England. She died in 1619 deeply in debt &, as his father was almost as feckless with money, Charles grew up with no real sense of the value of money. The queen’s flirtations with Rome led her to pursue a marriage for her beloved elder son, Henry Frederick, with a daughter of the de Medici family – a proposal that came to nothing.
On 6th November 1612 Charles’ elder brother Henry Prince of Wales, died at the age of 18 of typhoid fever. Henry had been trained to be king, had an interest in books, ships, farming & paid close attention to the management of his household. He was deeply mourned. At 12 years old Charles now succeeded his brother as Prince of Wales & Duke of Cornwall. Less than 6 months later Charles lost his sister, who married Frederick V, the Elector Palatine, in February 1613.
During his attendances at court the shy Charles was privy to his father’s infatuations with favourites; the Duke of Lennox, the Earl of Somerset & the then Earl of Buckingham were all reputed to be the king’s lovers. On one occasion Charles was forced to return a ring taken from Villiers, being forbidden his father’s presence until the ring was restored to its rightful owner. Charles had become a good scholar & linguist with interests ranging from models of war engines (imported from the Netherlands), coins, books & paintings, many inherited from his brother.
George Villiers Duke of Buckingham
James hoped to wed his heir to the Spanish Infanta Maria Anna, a proposal unpopular with his subjects. Tribal memories of the terrors of Mary Tudor’s reign ran deep & the scars of the Catholic attempt to blow up the king & Houses of Parliament in 1605 were still raw. In 1623 Charles & the royal favourite &, since 1619 – despite no qualifications for the post - Lord Admiral, George Villiers, Earl of Buckingham (the Dukedom was created in May), set out on a private visit to Spain in an attempt to speed up the stalled negotiations for the marriage. En route they visited the French court, where Charles caught a glimpse of his future queen.
The pair & their entourage arrived in Madrid on 8th March 1623, to the horror of the British ambassador. After several days without sight of the proposed bride, Charles impetuously climbed the wall of a private garden, where the Infanta often walked. Frightened by the intruder the princess ran off. This breach of etiquette, in a court bound by strict codes of behaviour, arose possibly from a misunderstanding. Being brought up in the ramshackle, very relaxed & disorganised court of James I could not prepare the prince for the Spanish royal court in Madrid, where every waking moment was fixed by protocol.
Infanta Maria Anna
Buckingham’s imperious behaviour infuriated the Spanish. At one point he suborned an official into disclosing the whereabouts of gold & jewel mines in south America and a plan for intercepting the annual treasure fleet. Charles refused to consider changing his religion, but signed a marriage treaty giving Catholics the same rights as were to be awarded to the Princess of Wales, while promising to rescind the penal laws against Catholics; seemingly unaware that these provisions would be intolerable to his future subjects. His father, less naive, was shocked by the proposals, well aware that parliament would not accept the provisions, even if James himself had been prepared to implement them. Reluctantly the Prince of Wales & the new Duke of Buckingham returned home, after finally realising that the Infanta & her £600,000 dowry were not going to be allowed to leave Spain. The Spanish had pressed Charles to stay a further year, but James was pressing for his & Buckingham’s return.
The young Princess Henrietta Maria

Infuriated at the failure of his ‘diplomacy’ Buckingham demanded that James declare war on Spain. Parliament was agreeable, but James wanted funding for the return of Frederick V & his wife Elizabeth to the Electorate of the Palatine included in Parliament’s bill of subsidies for the proposed war. In March 1624 war was declared on Spain, a war that lasted until 1630.
Buckingham now put forward a proposal for a marriage between Charles & the King of France’s sister – Henrietta Maria. The French required the same freedom of worship for the future queen, as the Spanish had demanded. Negotiations with Cardinal Richelieu resulted in religious concessions, despite the vows declaring this impossible, originally made by James & Charles. But France, worried about encirclement of the country by Hapsburg power & opposing the Pope in the Valtelline, was eager for the match.
James’ money man, Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex, was impeached by Parliament in May 1624. The impeachment was engineered by Buckingham, who had been refused funds by Cranfield. The prince cheered on from the sidelines, caught up in Buckingham’s enthusiasm. Now a brake on royal expenditure was removed.  
In March 1625 James caught an ague & then probably had a stroke. On the 27th when his father died Charles became king of England, Scotland & Ireland.
The English Civil War – Robert Ashton, 1978 Wiedenfeld & Nicholson
Charles the First – John Bowle, 1975 Wiedenfeld & Nicholson
Richelieu and His Age – His Rise to Power – Carl J Burckhardt, 1967 George Allen & Unwin
King James 1 of England – Antonia Fraser, 1974 Book Club Associates

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


Orreries are mechanical attempts to display the layout of the heavens. They illustrate the relative positions & motions of the planets & moons in the solar system, relative to the sun in the centre. The models were driven by clockwork, but were not normally to scale. The earliest orreries carried the moving bodies on a thin plate, while later models followed the 1764 design by Benjamin Martin, with the planets carried on radial arms. This design made it difficult to make the planets revolve & for their moons to revolve around them.
Armilllary Sphere Orrery

The first modern orrery was built in 1704 by George Graham & Thomas Tompion. This first model was copied by John Rowley of London for Prince Eugene of Savoy. Rowley was also commissioned to make a copy for his patron Charles Boyle the 4th Earl of Orrery (after whom the devices are named). An orrery & armillary sphere owned by the 4th Earl of Orrery is on loan to the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford. The museum's collection of orreries & armillary spheres is held in its historic building in Broad Street, Oxford.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

On this day in history – 1934


10th January – The man found guilty of setting the Reichstag Fire on 27th February 1933, Marinus van der Lubbe, was executed. His show trial in September 1933 with four Communists, arrested in a nationwide sweep of Communists after the fire, was an unconvincing attempt by the Nazis to lay the blame on the Communists. The four co-defendants were found not guilty, but were then re-arrested by the Gestapo, whose leader Herman Goring was allegedly convinced of their guilt.
The fire allowed the Nazis to issue the Emergency Decree for the Protection of People & State (a large step forward in their takeover of the German state) on 28th February 1933.
The fire had probably been set by van der Lubbe an unemployed Communist bricklayer, but it is unknown whether he had assistance in setting the fire & accessing the building. The day the trial started the head of the Berlin SA Karl Ernst boasted that it was he who started the Reichstag fire.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

On this day in history – 1943

Ciano in his glory days with von Ribbentrop, Hitler & Goring
7th January – the abortive attempt, by Edda Mussolini Ciano, Hildegarde (Felicitas) Beetz & Emilio Pucci, to rescue Galeazzo Ciano from imprisonment in Verona prison fails. Hitler has refused to accept the plan put forward by Reichsfuhrer SS Himmler & Obergruppenfuhrer Kaltenbrunner to swap Ciano for his highly incriminating diaries.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Cat fight at Villa Mirabella

Claretta Petacci & Rachele Mussolini battle over a broken man
Following his rescue on 12th September 1943 by the Germans, Mussolini met with Hitler, who ‘persuaded’ him to head up a puppet government, based in Salo - the Repubblica Sociale Italiana. After a few day’s rest, recovering from his imprisonment, Mussolini returned to Italy to set up his new government. From now on he was never more than a figurehead – all decisions of any importance were made by the Germans, who even chose the members of the new cabinet. . It was now that the round-up & deportation of Jews in Italy began. Until now Italy, one of Germany’s allies, had been a refuge of sorts.
Vittorio, his son, took over the role of Mussolini’s personal secretary & envoy. In mid-October Mussolini set up his new residence at Villa Feltrinelli, at Gargagno on Lake Garda. He was joined in November by his wife Rachele, & his two younger children, Romano & Anna-Maria. Sometime in October Claretta Petacci, now freed by the Germans, set up home in the Villa Mirabella in nearby Gardone.
Mussolini’s ex-mistress Angela Curti Cucciati & their 21 year old daughter Elena Curti, moved to Gargnano as well. Mussolini liked to have Elena visit weekly to read the paper to him. When Claretta discovered the Curti’s presence in the area she insisted that Mussolini banish the couple to Milan. 
It did not take Rachele long to find out that Claretta was living nearby. Until the day after Mussolini’s arrest Rachele was unaware of the affair between her husband & the 34 year old Claretta. It wasn’t until she read the papers on 26th July 1943 that she discovered the existence of the affair for the first time; although it had been an open secret for years.
The stage was now set for a grand farce.
Having decided to put la Petacci firmly in her place, Rachele phoned Mussolini to inform him of her intentions. Collecting Buffarini-Guidi, the new Republic’s Interior Minister, Rachele Mussolini drove over to Gardano for her show-down with the upstart Claretta. In the pouring rain they stood outside the locked gate of the villa – Mussolini had phoned Claretta to warn her of the imminent arrival of his wife. Rachele kept her finger on the bell until Claretta’s minder, Obersturmfuhrer Spögler, came out to ask Rachele to leave. At this affront Rachele attempted to climb over the gate. Spögler then allowed Rachele & Buffarini-Guidi in, after they confirmed they were unarmed. Rachele & Claretta met at last.
Claretta Petacci
Rachele demanded that Claretta leave the area, as her presence was detrimental to Mussolini. Rachele was incensed by Claretta’s bursting into tears as Rachele called her ’la mantenuta’[i]. Further onslaughts left Claretta in a faint. The one-sided battle was interrupted by a telephone call from Mussolini. Claretta complained to Mussolini of the name-calling & Mussolini told Spögler to keep the exchange between the two women ‘reasonable’. Spögler told him that would be difficult. Petacci then took the phone back, asking permission to show Rachele his letters. Reluctantly Mussolini agreed.
Claretta fetched the letters & began to read them aloud. Rachele snatched them from her. Spögler attempted to intervene & was scratched for his pains by the feisty Signora Mussolini. Demanding back up from Buffarini-Guidi, who was attempting to stay out of the battle, Rachele lunged at Claretta & had to be restrained by both Spögler & Buffarini-Guidi. Sensibly Mussolini spent the night at his office, before becoming reconciled with his wife the next day. On Spögler’s advice Claretta moved home, but did not leave the area.
Mussolini: A New Life by Nicholas Farrell, 2004, Phoenix
The Real Mussolini by Rachele Mussolini 1974, Saxon House
Mussolini by Vittorio Mussolini 1973 New English Library

[i] Kept woman

Monday, 2 January 2012

Edda Mussolini Ciano –the tragic dénoument

 (A truth stranger than fiction)
Hildegarde (Felicitas) Beetz
On his return to Italy Ciano was taken to Verona prison; where Edda visited him on the 21st assuring him that the diaries were safe. Mussolini, now based at Gargano on Lake Garda, had reluctantly given permission for the visit the day before. Edda sent Vittorio to collect her children from her mother’s care in Germany and then set about organising a haven for them in Switzerland & in the middle of December Edda’s former lover, Emilio Pucci, took the children across the border to safety[i].

Edda was able to visit Ciano in prison three times, the final time on the 12th December when she informed her husband that the children were safe in Switzerland. Her visits were assisted by Hildegarde (Felicitas) Beetz, who had come with Ciano to Italy, as part of her work with the SS. Felicitas appears to have fallen in love with Ciano. On Marzio’s birthday Ciano wrote to Edda saying how much he missed them all. On the 23rd he wrote an introduction to his diary which was smuggled out of the prison by Felicitas.

On Christmas Day the prison governor refused Edda permission to visit her husband. He informed her that Ciano’s trial was to take place on 28th & that all defendants were to be shot 2 hours later. Felicitas gave Galeazzo the few things Edda had been able to buy; a box of sweets, a bouquet of flowers & a bottle of cologne. Ciano, a committed Christian, was allowed to attend mass sitting in his cell with the door open, although the chaplain was not allowed to enter his cell.

The following day Edda saw her father, pleading in vain for her husband’s life – their last meeting, as an understandably upset Edda railed at her father ‘Between us it is finished, finished forever, and if you knelt before me dying of thirst, and asked me for a glass of water, I would throw it on the ground before your eyes’. She then handed over Ciano’s notebooks to Pucci to hide, while Mussolini ordered a watch kept on his daughter[ii].

It seems as though Galeazzo Ciano grew up during his stay in prison – helping his fellow prisoners; rediscovering his love for his wife, who made another unsuccessful attempt to see him on 27th December. Edda & Emilio Pucci planned to leave Italy that day, but stopped for a meeting with Felicitas Beetz, who told them of a plan, approved by Himmler, to rescue Ciano. On the 3rd Felicitas again brought Edda 2 letters from Galeazzo. Edda was to meet Ciano on January 7th on the road outside Brescia. Emilio Pucci, on Edda’s behalf, then spent the next 2 days collecting Ciano’s papers, only part of which were to be handed over to the Germans. The Gestapo car he was travelling in broke down in a snow storm & he only arrived back in Verona on the night of the 6th.

Pucci & Edda set off to keep the rendezvous with Ciano the next day. But two tires on their car burst & Edda was reduced to begging a ride from two government ministers, who agreed to take her to Brescia. After further lifts from a German military convoy & a cyclist Edda arrived at the meeting place two hours late. Because of a curfew she huddled in a ditch until 5am, before getting a lift from 2 men who agreed to take her to Verona, where Edda met with Obergruppenfuhrer Harster, SS & Polizei Fuhrer for northern Italy. Harster informed her that Hitler, having finally being informed of the escape plan, had vetoed it. Edda returned to the clinic in Ramiola in despair[iii].

Execution of the 'traitors'
The trial of Ciano & other ‘traitors’ was held on 8th January – all defendants were found guilty on 10th January & all but one condemned to death. Ciano & his co-defendants were executed on 11th January, despite an appeal to Mussolini by the condemned including his son-in-law. Mussolini was afraid that Hitler would consider him weak. Before he died Ciano was informed that his wife & family were safe in Switzerland[iv].

On the 9th Emilio Pucci & Edda left for the Swiss border. Edda was disguised as a pregnant peasant woman, with Ciano’s papers under her dress;, having evaded the SS guard on the clinic - leaving via the cellar. The local guide, on discovering who he was to escort over the border, demanded a sack of rice in addition to the monies already received – fortunately this was available. Edda gave Pucci letters for her father, Hitler & Obergruppenfuhrer Harster; she then crossed the border to be re-united with her children[v].

Marquis Emilio Pucci in later life
Pucci then returned to Verona to hand Edda’s letters to Felicitas Beetz, who informed Harster that Edda had escaped. The letter to Mussolini was couriered to him, while Edda’s letter to Hitler was phoned through to Berlin. Pucci was arrested and taken to the Gestapo HQ in Verona. There he was tortured for the next two days, while refusing to tell of Edda’s whereabouts. He released by Felicitas, who had persuaded her bosses that Pucci might be able to stop Edda doing anything stupid with the diaries. Emilio agreed & was taken to Switzerland, where hemade an unsuccessful attempt to interest the British in Ciano’s diaries. He collapsed & was taken to hospital, where it was discovered that his skull was fractured in several places[vi].

Sometime in mid-January 1945 Edda gave a copy of the diary to the American OSS and on 10th April 1945 sold the newspaper rights to the Chicago Daily News, for $25,000. On 27th August 1945 she was deported by the Swiss authorities to Italy. Edda Ciano was interned on the island of Lipari for two years, but was released after only one year on 2nd July 1946. The children were handed over to Carolina Ciano by the Swiss, after Edda’s release.  Edda then sorted out the family finances, taking a trip to Argentina in the process (possibly collecting monies that Galeazzo Ciano had secreted there). She lived privately until her death in 1995, never remarrying. She allowed her flat became a refuge for stray cats[vii].

[i] My Truth - Ciano
[ii] My Truth – Ciano, Diary 1937-1943 by Galeazzo Ciano 2002, Enigma Books, Mussolini’s Shadow - Moseley
[iii] Mussolini’s Shadow – Moseley, My Truth - Ciano
[iv] Mussolini’s Shadow - Moseley
[v] Mussolini’s Shadow – Moseley, My Truth - Ciano
[vi] Ibid
[vii] Mussolini’s Shadow - Moseley