Guy Fawkes

In the year 1606, on the last day of January, Guy Fawkes was executed for his part in the Gunpowder plot of the previous year.

He was born in York in 1570.  As a young man, he went to the continent to fight for the Catholic Spanish armies against the Protestants.

When King James VI/I came to the throne of England, upon the death of Elizabeth I, he brought his protestant views with him, which angered many English Catholics.  A plot to kill the King was devised and Fawkes was an integral part.

A cellar under Westminster was leased and barrels of gunpowder stored there.  Fawkes was put in charge of these barrels and was the conspirator who was found with the gunpowder in the cellar on the evening of 5th November.

Taken to the Tower dungeons, he was tortured and questioned to within an inch of his life, while his co-conspirators were rounded up.

Found guilty of treason, his fate was sealed and he was taken to the scaffold on the 31st January.  The punishment was to be hung, drawn and quartered.  It is said that he fell from the scaffold immediately prior to his execution and broke his neck, depriving the crowd of watching his suffering.

Being hung, drawn and quartered was a hellish death.  We have all seen the scene where William Wallace is killed in this way on Braveheart, but the reality was even bloodier.

The accused would be stood on the scaffold and a noose placed about his neck.  He would be lifted into the air, the noose tightening about his neck, slowly suffocating him.  He would swing for a few minutes, taking him to the brink of unconciousness but not allowing him to slip into that, so that he could suffer the pains that were to follow.

He would then be tied down on a bench on the scaffold (have to be up high enough for the crowd to see him bleed!), and his clothes ripped open down his front.

His genitals (am being polite!) would be cut off and sometimes forced into his mouth or sometimes burned in a brazier beside him, where he could watch.  His head would often be held facing the brazier so that he could watch as parts of himself were burned while he lived.

Next a knife would slice through his belly, no anaesthetic, you can imagine how painful that would have been, and his bowels pulled out and sliced off.  These would be shown to the crowd then also burned as he watched.  Other organs such as the stomach, kidneys, liver etc were sometimes removed and burned, depending on the ways of the executioner.  The heart was the last thing to be removed and burned as this obviously killed the prisoner.

Once he had been disembowelled and killed, his head would be taken from his body and placed on a spike.  It was traditional that the executioner would lift the head high and declare “So dies the traitor!” or similar words, before impaling it on the spike.

The body would then be cut into four pieces and displayed in various quarters of the city or country, as their sentence decided.

Crowds would come to watch the executions, bringing their families.  Food sellers would come to sell their wares, a bit like a cup final match nowadays!!

Sometimes I hear of people in the news who I think probably deserve this punishment to be brought back, but maybe I am just cruel !!!!

Might be more interesting than some of these reality shows to watch, don’t you think??


A King’s revenge for his father

This day has two interesting anniversaries.  One of them in 1649 and one of them in 1661.  The two anniversaries are related too.

In 1649, on this day, Charles I was beheaded at Whitehall Palace in London, on the orders of the new protectorate, led by Oliver Cromwell.

He had been King for twenty-four years, most of that time spent in arguments and battles with his parliament.

Charles was the second son of James VI/I, so was not originally intended for the throne, until his elder brother Henry, died.  He believed in the divine right of kings, the right to order his parliament to do as he wished, not what they wanted or thought was best for the country.

The parliament obviously disagreed and this caused a civil war throughout the country, from around 1642.  King Charles was handed over to the parliamentarians in 1647 and he was imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle until his trial in January 1649.

Charles did not recognise the authority of the court who tried him, believing still in the divine rights of his role as King.  He refused to interact with them at all and was eventually found guilty of high treason.

The sentence for treason was death and his execution was planned for the 30th January.

Soon after noon on that day, he was taken to the scaffold that had been erected and he lay his head on the block.  His head was removed with one stroke of the axe.

The following day, his head was sewn back onto his body and he was placed in a lead coffin.  This was then removed to Windsor where he was interred in the same vault as Henry VIII and Queen Jane.

The anniversary in 1661 involves the leader of the parliamentarians who had executed Charles twelve years earlier, Oliver Cromwell.

Cromwell died two years previously, passing the mantle of protector on to his son, Richard.  His son was not a popular man, and was a failure in this role.  Charles eldest son, Charles was invited back to the throne and became King Charles II.

On the anniversary of his father’s execution in 1661, King Charles II ordered a posthumous execution of Cromwell.

The body of Cromwell was taken from it’s original burial place in Westminster Abbey, to the traditional execution place at Tyburn.

There it was hung in chains and his head removed.  The head was put on a pole and displayed, it is said, outside Westminster Hall until 1685 (I dread to think what condition the head would have been in after that long!!).

His body was thrown into a pit at Tyburn, which for centuries had been the place for traitors to be disposed of.  The head is allegedly now buried in a chapel in a Cambridge college.

And thus ended the traitor, Oliver Cromwell.  Or the hero, depending how you look at him……….


In 1986 on this day, I was sick and stayed home from school.  I laid on my gran’s couch with a blanket over me and watching her old black and white television set.

I was not a big space race fan, but the launch of the challenger space shuttle was on tv, so we watched it. I think it was the fact that there was a techer on board who would be beaming a lesson live from space that had captured many people’s imaginations and drawn interest.

I remember thinking it was quite boring really, for such a big event, and I dozed for a while.  Nana woke me to see the actual launch ( I didn’t know she was as keen on watching it until then either)so we saw it together.

The flames and billowing smoke as ignition started and the man counted back from ten were massive, I couldn’t believe that the shuttle would still be under all that smoke!

Slowly though, the shuttle moved up from the stand and up into the air.  It looked quite exhilarating.

I had not watched a shuttle launch before, so I didn’t realise that the sparking that we saw at the base of the rocket was not a good sign.  Seconds later though, the whole rocket and shuttle was a fireball.

Nana and I sat in silence as we watched it burn up.  I think it took a few minutes to take in what was happening in front of us.  She worked it out before me, obviously (I was only 11 !!), and I remember her hand covering her mouth as she said a little prayer.

“It exploded.  Are they all dead?” I asked with childish interest.

She just nodded, then cleared her throat and said that it was too early to know, maybe they had ejector seats or something.

It was a time of James Bond and he had ejector seats in his cars so I remember thinking this was plausible !!

Of course we all know now that noone survived.  It is possible and from some reports quite likely that all 7 astronauts survived the initial explosion and the 2 minute or so fall into the sea.  The impact with the sea was at over 200 mph and there was no way they could have survived that, this was probably when they died, after freefalling thousands of feet through the air, possibly knowing their fate once they hit the water.  Their last moments of life must have been hellish.

Many schools, especially in the US, were allowing children to watch the launch because of the presence of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher.  So many children were witnesses to this tragedy as it happened.

I remember exactly where I was when watching it, as I have described.  Think how much it would have affected children who knew any of the people on board.

A dreadful tragedy, that could have been avoided, if you look into the causes.  Money was put ahead of safety.  It would cost too much to delay the launch yet again, and that decision cost 7 lives.

Was it really worth it?

birth of an emporer

Today in the year 76, a boy was born in modern day Spain, and given the name Hadrian.

Growing up in the north-east of England, Hadrian was a large part of our history lessons (as our village lay on the ancient Roman road of Dere Street, roman history was inevitably going to feature highly on the curriculum!).

The wall that bears his name in the borderlands stands in amazing condition, considering how long ago it was built.  We had numerous school trips to see it over the years and the neighbouring forts.

If you are visiting, Vindolanda is a must see fort, and you really must walk along at least some of the wall.  Though watch the bairns, in some parts the wall is inches high on one side and a ten foot drop on the other!!

Hadrian succeeded his cousin Trajan to the seat of power in Rome in 117, after proving himself on the battlefields across Europe.  He travelled widely across the empire, favouring Greece where he built many temples.

Though he married his half cousin before coming to the throne, they had no children.  He was rumoured to have preferred the company of his male friends!  As he had no natural heir, he ‘adopted’ two boys when he was older, to give himself a successor.  One of them died before Hadrian, so he was followed by Antoninus.

Seen in history as one of the ‘good’ emporers of Rome, his reign was relatively peaceful by comparison to others.  A little known fact is that he was the first to bring the image of Brittannia as a woman to coinage in England.

Wonder if the wall Trump wants to build will become as famous as Hadrian’s in the future……….

mother and baby

Sitting by the fireside, embroidery in her hands, she watched enviously as the wet nurse fed her daughter.

Her own breasts ached as she watched.  The milk swelling them against the bindings that the midwives had ordered be put on them to stop the milk coming in.

Tears stung at her eyes with the physical pain in her breasts and the longing in her heart.

This was the most natural thing, for a mother to feed her child, but she was not allowed.

She had only produced a girl and her husband needed a son and heir.  Her body had to recover quickly so that she could become pregnant again as soon as possible.

This was her punishment for only making a girl, she thought.  Though if Elizabeth had been a boy, she would still not have been allowed to feed him.  Maybe she would not have been forced to watch her baby being fed by another though.

She had begged to feed her daughter, but her husband had decreed not.

The wet nurse sat up the baby and patted her back to get her wind up.  These were simple things that an everday woman could share with her newborn, but ladies of rank were not allowed.

Ladies of rank were expected to produce the children for their husbands and then hand them over.  Was she expected not to care for her baby?  The wriggling bundle that had grown inside her for the last few months?

Her husband would have celebrated her if she had given him a boy.  Instead he had visited wife and child only twice since the birth, each time for only twenty minutes.

A month after the birth and she would be churched.  Then she would return to her husband’s bed and he would hope to impregnate her again.

A baby machine.  That was all he saw her as.  Maybe when she had a son, she would be allowed a little time off from procreating, though she doubted it.  This would be her life for the next few years, until her body stopped giving her babies.  Or she died in childbirth.  She wondered if her husband would notice if she had died.

Before their marriage, he had been so attentive, so keen to show his devotion to her.  Now that he had her, his attention had waned.

She was his trophy wife.  He had gotten what he wanted.  Now she had to serve her purpose and give him his son.

The baby was crying now, she longed to soothe her.  The baby nurse had taken her from the wet nurse and was taking her to the closet to clean the child.  Gripping the embroidery ring until it hurt her fingers, she tried her best to keep her countenance calm.  She must not show that she was upset to be kept from her baby.

When bedtime came, she would have a chance to hold her daughter and cuddle her for a whole hour.  She would spend that time telling the girl that she loved her and was sorry for all the time she had to spend with others.  The child would not understand, but it would make her feel better.

Until then, she must keep her temper and allow Elizabeth to be cared for by others.  Easier said than done…………….

RIP Queen Victoria

The 22nd January 1901 marked the end of a Queen’s reign and the beginning of a King’s.

Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, her family home that she and Albert had built many years earlier.  This was her favourite home, by all accounts, closely followed by Balmoral in Scotland.

Her eldest son would become Edward VII on her death.  The relationship between the two was quite strained, to say the least.  She blamed him for the death of his father, her beloved husband.

Also at her bedside as she died was the Kaiser of Germany, her grandson, who wouldin only a few years, play a pivotal role in World War 1 against Great Britain.

Victoria had planned her own funeral, choosing a military style one.  She went against convention in demanding that she be buried in her wedding dress, instead of black clothing.

In the coffin with her went a dressing gown belonging to Albert, and a plaster cast of his hand, who had died forty years earlier.  She had never fully coped with his death, having his clothes set out on his bed every day for many years after he died.

A couple of other interesting items went into the coffin with her as mementos of her loyal servant, John Brown who had died in 1883.  She ordered that a lock of his hair was placed in her hand, which her ladies covered with flowers so as not to upset the royal family, who had not been fans of Mr Brown.  The other thing of Brown’s was his mother’s wedding ring, which he had given to the Queen many years before.

There was a rumour that Brown and the Queen had married in secret, on one of their trips to Scotland.  As he was a commoner, the marriage would never have been accepted in royal circles, so no public announcement was made.  She was obviously very close to the man and distraught when he died, so a form of morganatic marriage might not be too far a stretch of the imagination.

After all, she wouldn’t be the first monarch to marry in secret, now, would she????