Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Plantagenets - An Intractable Quarrel

Thomas Becket – Man or Saint? Henry II – King or Sinner?

Thomas Becket was born in circa 1118 of a middle-class Norman family. Becket was the son of a merchant who served a term as sheriff of London. Thomas was educated at Merton Priory, and later attended school in London and studied for a while in Paris. After schooling Thomas worked as a clerk and accountant for the sheriff’s office. At some point in his youth Becket made a vow of chastity. He joined the household of Archbishop Theobald. Formerly Abbot of Bec, Theobald had been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by King Stephen in December 1138.

Stephen had been in conflict with his cousin Matilda (also known as Maude) since the death of Matilda’s father Henry 1 in December 1135. Both had claimed the crown and the country was divided in a civil war that lasted until 1153. The period was described at the time as a period ‘when Christ and his saints slept’

Matilda’s son Henry had taken up the reins of the fight from Matilda in 1149 at the age of 16. His father Geoffrey of Anjou was by that time already de facto Duke of Normandy, but had offered to hand the dukedom over to his son as soon as he was old enough to take over the responsibility inherent in ruling. At some point between November 1149 and March 1150 Geoffrey made good on his word and Henry Plantagenet was made Duke of Normandy. The King of France, who had only just returned from a crusade, was not prepared to confirm Henry in his dukedom, especially as there was the prospect of his being made King of England.

Geoffrey advised his son to part with the lands known as the Vexin to assure royal recognition of his dukedom. Peace was made in Paris in August 1151. Henry paid homage to King Louis and was invested as Duke of Normandy. On 7th September Geoffrey, Count of Anjou died suddenly and Henry had to journey to Anjou to be invested as its count.

Henry’s Marriage

Eleanor's marriage to Louis
On 18th May 1152 Henry, Duke of Normandy, married Eleanor of Aquitaine, daughter and heiress of the Duke of Aquitaine and former Queen of France. They were married eight weeks after a council of French clergy had agreed with King Louis’ wishes to be parted from his wife. Louis had loved his wife, although they were two very different characters – she was outgoing and enjoyed flirtations while Louis as ascetic. The marriage had produced two daughters and Louis needed a son to inherit his throne. It is believed that this was the reason for the divorce.

Henry was eleven years Eleanor’s junior but was the most eligible of those wanting to marry this exceptionally rich heiress, whose vast estates (nearly half of France) were not directly controlled by the French crown. Eleanor avoided being waylaid by the Count of Blois and an ambush by Henry’s younger brother Geoffrey on her journey to Poitou where she married Henry

His Grandfather’s Heir

It was not until November 1153 that Stephen finally met with the son of his adversary at Winchester, in an attempt to resolve the question of inheritance of the throne of England. Stephen's elder son Eustace had already died suddenly earlier int he year. Now Stephen agreed to make Henry his heir, dispossessing his son William. Henry agreed to allow Stephen to reign for the remainder of his life, providing that the king, bishops and other magnates would swear to allow Henry to become king without denial after Stephen’s death. Henry also agreed to allow William all the honours his father had bestowed upon him.

Stephen died on 25th October 1154 and on 7th December Henry and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine set sail from Barfleur. Theobald crowned the couple king and queen of England at Westminster Abbey on 19th December. Henry was twenty-one, the first of the Angevin monarchs of England.

England’s Chancellor

Full extent of Angevin Empire
Theobald entrusted Thomas Becket with several missions to Rome and sent him to Bologna and Auxerre to study canon law. In 1154 Becket was made Archdeacon of Canterbury and given several benefices. In 1155 Theobald recommended Becket to Henry as Lord Chancellor. Henry had already appointed one of Stephen’s men as head of the administration – Richard de Lucy and created one of his own supporters, Robert de Beaumont, his co-justiciar. Robert had been energetic in attempting to bring both sides of the civil war together, but his support was given to Duke Henry. Henry accepted Theobald’s recommendation, giving him Theobald’s support and that of the English church.

As Chancellor Thomas was much in the company of Henry and the two men became friends, as much as any man could with the peripatetic king, whose realms stretched from the far north of England to the Pyrenees. He was the companion of a young and relatively inexperienced king. But even as a young man Henry was able to extract deference from those around him. Barons and bishops bowed down before Henry’s wrath and or intransigence.

Becket’s chancellorship was partly notable for the state that he kept, displaying an eagerness for marks of status and the privileges of rank. Henry’s tastes were far simpler and his household was far less impressive. On a visit to France in 1157 Becket travelled with a great entourage, while the king’s visit was on a far smaller scale. Becket had the king’s confidence and was entrusted with matters above and beyond those normally given to a chancellor.

Archbishop of Canterbury

Theobald died on 18th April 1161 and Henry pressed the suit of his friend Thomas as candidate to the Archbishopric. An unsuccessful campaign in Toulouse had led to a waning of Thomas’ influence on Henry. Henry was apparently warned against the appointment, including by Thomas himself who said that the appointment could lead to a breach in their friendship.

But Henry was loyal to his friends and hoped to have some influence on church affairs through his friendship with Thomas. However Thomas as Archbishop seemed to go out of his way to insult the king, never a sensible option with a man of Henry’s temper. Rather than follow his predecessor’s more subtle approach Thomas may have been trying to impress his new subordinates, to prove that he was his own man, rather than the king’s.

When he received the Pope’s approval to his appointment Thomas resigned as Chancellor, much to Henry’s surprise. The joining of two posts was not unusual and the emperor of Germany had an archbishop as chancellor. Thomas claimed that he could not manage the two roles. Thomas was also provocative in other matters, demanding homage from one of Henry’s barons for a castle within the jurisdiction of Canterbury. If the case had been taken to the royal court he may have been successful, but his strategy merely inflamed the Angevin temper.

Criminous Clerks

Henry was set on reforming the English legal system and it is for this work that his reputation should be based on, rather than for the unfortunate events that followed his quarrel with Thomas. The introduction of the system of trial by jury was Henry’s triumph. The anomalous position of members of the clergy who committed crimes was an issue that Henry wanted resolved.

As many as one on six of the population were clerks in minor orders, most of whom would never be ordained as priests. But they all claimed the privilege of clergy; to be tried by the religious rather than secular authorities for any crimes. As a result ‘clerks’ were getting away with rape, murder and worse courtesy of the church. Henry wanted to ensure that criminous clerks were brought to justice. Becket wanted the church to retain secular immunity for crimes committed.

Early in his reign Henry had allowed Theobald to try and punish an Archdeacon accused of poisoning his Archbishop. This was an action Henry no doubt now regretted. It was however a precedent for Thomas to use. Notorious abuses of the clerical courts were brought to the king’s attention and there can be little doubt that the secular officials, irritated by the over 100 murders by clerks reported to the king along with numerous cases of theft and robbery with violence, were supportive of a change to the law.

Thomas did realise that some cases were too flagrant breaches of law and did try to impose harsher sentences, but in doing so he encroached upon the royal prerogative.


Henry II – WL Warren, Yale University Press 2000

Eleanor of Aquitaine – Alison Weir, Jonathan Cape 1999

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Rebecca Elizabeth Lashbrook

4th October 1974 – 20th June 2008

My Tears

Like Falling Rain

Water Your Grave

Sunday, 17 June 2012

On This Day in the Third Reich 1936

Heinrich Himmler is made Chief of German Police & empowered to unify control of police duties in Reich, with a position as State Secretary in the Interior Ministry. Himmler is responsible for legal matters concerning the press/carrying of arms/arms traffic/passports/personnel issues concerning police officials.

Reinhard Heydrich is placed in charge of the Sicherheitspolizei - Gestapo/criminal police/Security service and has complete control over committal & release of prisoners from concentration camps. Despite his best efforts Himmler refuses to give Heydrich control of the camps themselves, leaving them in the care of Theodore Eicke. Kurt Daluege was placed in charge of the uniformed police (Orpo) .From now on the police are infiltrated by members of the SchutzStaffel (SS), who take increasing numbers of posts. Many policemen join the SS.

Himmler was overlooked in the original handing out of posts to Nazi chieftains. From February 1933 until April 1934 Himmler gradually collected control of the political police in the Lander. With pressure from Hitler, Goering handed over de facto control of his Gestapo (Geheime Staats Polizei) to Himmler on 20th April 1934. This was in part pre-payment for the eradication of the Sturmabteilung (SA) as a potent political force. Himmler’s SS was subordinated to the head of the SA, an old crony of Hitler’s Ernst Rohm - a notorious homosexual and Himmler wanted autonomy for his SS.

Between them Himmler and Goering appear to have persuaded Hitler that Rohm and the SA were planning a pre-emptive strike on power. Rohm had made public his plans for the SA to take over defence of the Reich from the Reichswehr. In 1934 Hitler still needed the support of the army generals, who felt threatened by Rohm’s plans. The SA by this time numbered over 3 million members.

To many Germans the SA seemed out of control, with SA members attacking German citizen’s at will, happy to wear their uniforms while creating mayhem. On the 31st January members of the SA burst into the Hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin & broke up an army officers’ celebration of the Kaiser's birthday.

Himmler with Rohm
There was conflict between Hitler and Rohm. Many of the SA believed in the socialism implicit in the name of the National Socialist party. They and Rohm believed in a ‘second’ revolution that Hitler had refused to contemplate. The result of the pressures, at the head of the Nazi state, was the downfall of Rohm and his SA during the Night of the Long Knives, engineered by Himmler and Goering. The SS took the lead role in the killings on 30th June 1934, ordered by Hitler. The SA survived, although Rohm did not, in a truncated form that never again held any real political power.

Himmler continued to build on his control of the political police, by working towards take-over of the ordinary police. The Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick (who was eventually to be replaced by Himmler in 1943) was also planning to take control of the German police. During the latter part of 1935 and the first half of 1936  Frick attempted to persuade Hitler to place him in control. It took a two pronged attack led by Himmler and Heydrich to persuade Hitler that his best interests would be served by giving control of security to his loyal Heinrich.

On the 22nd June Heydrich notified the Interior Ministry that Himmler had increased his demands to absorb a number of sections & desks in the ministry & consolidate complete control over police affairs. It was in this manner that power gradually became consolidated in Prinz Albrechtstrasse, where Himmler and Heydrich had taken up residence after April 1934.

The merging of roles of Reichsfuhrer SS & the Chief of German Police was significant in Himmler’s rise to take complete control of the German security apparatus. Control of and merging of the two organisations created a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The SS became synonymous with terror. The SS was to play major roles in the Austrian Anschluss in March 1938 and the incorporation of the Czech Sudetenland in October 1938 as well as the outright annexation of the remainder of Czechoslovakia in March the following year. By the time war broke out in September the core of the future Waffen SS was already blooded in the Czech take-over.

The name of the Gestapo resonates even today; though few people know of its head and the game changing death of Reinhard Heydrich, in June 1942. This led to the vengeful levelling of the Czech village of Lidice and the murder of its inhabitants; all a direct result of the events of 17th June 1936.


Hitler’s Enforcers – George Browder, Oxford University Press 1996
Foundations of the Nazi Police State – George Browder, University of Kentucky Press 2004

Heinrich Himmler – Peter Longerich, Oxford University Press 2011
Heinrich Himmler – Roger Manvell & Heinrich Fraenkel, Greenhill & Lionel Leventhal 2007

Himmler – Reichsfuhrer SS – Peter Padfield – Cassell & Co 2001

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The SS - Mr and Mrs Himmler

An Unlikely Couple
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was born on 7th October 1900 to middle class Bavarian parents. Professor Himmler had been tutor to Prince Heinrich of Bavaria, who agreed to be his godfather. Like many of his generation the Great War was to be a defining element in Heinrich’s boyhood. The army mad boy suffered from poor health and wore glasses.

This standard bearer for racial health, whose face betrayed traces of possible Mongol ancestry, was a virgin when he met his future wife Margarete, who was his senior by 7 years. They met in December 1927, sheltering in a hotel lobby during a downpour. Their relationship was speedily consummated and they corresponded by post, before their marriage on 3rd July 1928. The couple had got engaged in the February and met several times in the intervening period.

Marga was a nurse and part owner of a clinic, which she sold before she married Himmler. As a Protestant divorcee Himmler was afraid that his parents would not approve of the first woman he had ever come into contact with, apart from a few female friends of the family in his student days.

The couple bought land at Waltrudering and set up a chicken farm, which was not as successful as the happy pair had hoped. Himmler was totally committed to the Nazi party; he was Deputy Propaganda Leader for the party as well as Deputy leader of the Schutzstaffel (SS), the protection squad for the party’s leader, Adolf Hitler. His duties kept Himmler away from home and Marga saw little more of her husband than before their marriage. Heinrich had passed his driving test 6 days before the marriage.

Marriage to Heinrich Himmler was a great disappointment to Marga, who appears to have hoped for romance in her second marriage to this much younger man. She was never involved in the Nazi party, unlike Magda Goebbels, who married Josef Goebbels in December 1931. Himmler’s first loyalty was to the Party, Marga came an unhappy third, far behind the couple’s daughter.

To the Devil a Daughter

Gudrun Himmler was born on 8th August 1929. She was to be the couple’s only child. Himmler was a devoted father and, even after he lost interest in Marga, would phone her regularly throughout the rest of his life. During the war years especially Himmler was constantly on the move, but even then he frequently phoned Puppi (his pet name for Gudrun). The doting father even had photographs of himself on the move taken for Puppi.

Eight months before his daughter’s birth Himmler was made Reichsfuhrer SS and he immediately took action to increase recruitment of the fledgling stepchild of the Sturmabteilung (SA); which came under the control of Himmler’s mentor Rohm in January 1931. Rohm immediately put paid to Himmler’s move for autonomy for his SS, which was not achieved until July 1934.

In June 1932 Himmler found for his SS, the man whose name became synonymous with terror – Reinhard Heydrich. He was a disgraced naval officer who formed the nascent Sicherheinstdiest (SD), building it up as an intellectual twin of the terror that was to be the Gestapo.

To Berlin
Himmler with Daleuge (L) and Rohm (R)
The Machtergreifung, bringing the Nazis to power did give Himmler some power; but he lost out on the big prizes seized by his future rivals Goering and Goebbels. In 1933 Himmler was regarded as a small time crank, who just happened to be the leader of the SS

Sometime in 1933 Himmler and Marga sold the property at Waldtrudering; buying a villa at Gmund on the Tergensee. Marga and Puppi were to live here until May 1945. During this year the couple fostered Gerald von der Ahe; the son of an SS man shot during February. Gerald was to cause problems in 1939, when he was expelled from a National Socialist school and his mother did not want him back.
It was not until April 1934, following his appointment as chief of the Gestapo, that Himmler moved his base of operations to Berlin, where he took an apartment at Tiergartenstrasse 6a, while Marga and Puppi remained in Gmund.
 In June 1936 Himmler was made Chief of the German Police, a job that he used to infiltrate his SS staff into the bowels of the security apparatus and then taking it over entirely. Himmler moved to a villa in upmarket Dahlem in July 1937, near to the home of his friend Joachim von Ribbentrop, the future foreign minister.

Private Life
Marga had a few friends; she was friends with Annalies von Ribbentrop, but this friendship may have withered when the two husbands fell out in May 1941. The wife of Hermann, Frieherr von Schade (a member of her husband’s SS) was a close friend.

As was Nini Rascher, wife of Sigmund Rascher, who conducted experiments on concentration camp inmates. Nini was possibly Heinrich’s mistress in the late thirties, although there appears to be little evidence for this. The friendship with Nini Rascher probably finished abruptly when Nini’s husband was arrested in May 1944. Nini and her husband had fraudulently claimed to the credulous Reichsfuhrer SS that they had fathered three children for the Fuhrer, despite Nini’s relatively advanced age.

One woman who decidedly did not get on with the bosses’ wife was Lina Heydrich. Early in 1936 the pair fell out. Marga had been giving coffee mornings for SS wives. Lina organised rival tea parties. Lina made rude comments about the size of Marga’s underpants and blamed her size on Marga’s love of cream cakes.

Lina and Reinhard Heydrich
Himmler quarrelled with Lina in August 1936. She objected to Himmler’s attempts to pressurise her husband into divorcing her. This attempt followed a falling out between Lina and Marga; after Lina had abused Marga. Himmler arranged for Lina to attend Kiel Regatta with the wife of another senior officer Meanwhile Himmler discussed the possibility of divorce with Heydrich, who informed Lina. Lina returned post haste to Berlin.

Himmler and Lina did not speak again until May 1942. The rapprochement occurring, weeks before Heydrich’s assassination in Prague.

Marga was only too keen to capitalise on her husband’s important job, and upset the tradesmen in Gmund by her autocratic demands. Marga’s car had the licence plate SS2 and she was infuriated one day to be overtaken by a nobody. She insisted that the driver re-overtake the car in front. It was not appropriate for SS2 to be overtaken by anybody.

The Mistress

In 1936 a young Hedwig Potthast went to work as a secretary for the Reichsfuhrer SS. It was not until Christmas 1938 that the couple professed their love for one another. She probably became Himmler’s mistress shortly afterwards.
In early 1941 Hedwig left her job as Himmler’s secretary & became his mistress semi-formally. Himmler sent her to live in Bruckenthin in Mecklenburg, near the home of one of his most trusted senior officers – Oswald Pohl.

Hedwig and Himmler’s first child was born in February 1942, a son called Helge. He was followed in 1944 by Nanette Dorothea, born on 20th July. Himmler had already appeared in front of the SS court to claim paternity of the child Hedwig was carrying. He legalised the paternity of both children before the court in September.
Hedwig and Himmler met for the last time on 26th March at their Berchtesgarten home. Himmler had built this with an 85,000 Reichsmark loan from the party, organised by Martin Bormann, a sometime friend of the family. His son says that Himmler and his mistress kept furniture made from human bones, in the attic. Gerda Bormann made friends with the lonely young woman, but was apparently horrified by the secrets in the attic.

The Holocaust
It is unlikely that Marga ever knew about the atrocities perpetrated by her husband, on Hitler’s orders. Himmler kept Marga strictly divorced from his work and her naturally abrasive personality kept many potential friends aloof.

The End
Himmler committed suicide on 23rd May 1945, while in the custody of the British. The files on the death, over which there has been some controversy with claims of murder being raised, are still classified as Top Secret. Marga Himmler and Gudrun were imprisoned by the Allies at an interrogation camp, but were later released.


The Himmler Brothers – Katrin Himmler, MacMillan 2007

The Order of the Death’s Head – Heinz Hohne, Penguin 2000

My Father’s Keeper – Stephan Lebert, Little Brown & Co 2001

Heinrich Himmler – Peter Longerich, Oxford University Press 2011

Heinrich Himmler – Roger Manvell & Heinrich Fraenkel, Greenhill & Lionel Leventhal 2007

Himmler – Reichsfuhrer SS – Peter Padfield – Cassell & Co 2001

Sunday, 3 June 2012

In today’s Observer newspaper a headline

‘Police plan pre-emptive arrests to stop disruption at Olympics’

Olympic flame in Berlin
In July 1936 the Gestapo organised a round-up of asocials from the streets of Berlin and copies of the anti-Semitic Der Sturmer newspaper were withdrawn from display in the city. Anti-Jewish notices were removed from the city in an attempt to lower public displays of anti-semitism in preparation for the Olympics in August.


The Years of Persecution - Saul Friedlander, Orion Books 1998
Blood and Banquets – Bella Fromm, Touchstone 1992

The Architecture of Oppression – Paul B Jaskot, Routledge 2000

Friday, 1 June 2012

On This Day in the Third Reich 1934

The Jewish owners of Frankfurter Zeitung sell their shares to IG Farben (who now own 98% of the paper). The family have seen the warning lights posted by the regime.
The incident is used to create favourable publicity for IG Farben at home & abroad. Goebbels, Minister of Propoganda and Hitler value the Frankfurter Zeitung’s reputation abroad and allow a more relaxed interpretation of the rules than is acceptable for other newspapers. The paper’s masthead continues to show the Leopold Sonnemann as the paper’s owner.

The Frankfurter Zeitung publishes articles about foreign criticism of regime into the mid 1930s. The editorial staff sometimes fail to print articles, even when ordered to do so by Goebbels, Minister of Propoganda.


The Third Reich in Power – Richard J Evans, Penguin 2006

The Twisted Road to Auschwitz – Karl A Schleunes, University of Illinois Press 1990