Wednesday 7 August 2013

The Reise Kaiser Song

Attention Year 13-this will be good to use as a stimulus for revising Domestic Policy in Wilhelmine Germany (1890-1914).  

Monday 22 July 2013

Thomas Cromwell: History's greatest Rise and Fall?

Thomas Cromwell

One of the most monumental falls from grace; the story of Thomas Cromwell is one of the most interesting in the history of rises and falls.  Cromwell was a man from relatively humble beginnings, considering the power he wielded in later life-his father was a brewer and a pretty shady one at that!  Records show that Walter Cromwell was fined up to 50 times for watering down his ale and once for fighting!
How did Thomas Cromwell become the second most powerful man in England? How was he able to make such changes to the political and religious landscape of England? Was he power hungry and ruthless? Or a true reformer?
 Born in Putney in 1485 as a child Cromwell lived on Brewhouse Lane where his family ran a brewery.  In the strict hierarchy of Medieval England, Cromwell's family was near the bottom-for an uneducated man not born of nobility to become Henry VIIIs 'go to guy' is pretty spectacular! 
 Cromwell started his climb to the top in 1502 when aged 17 he left England for mainland Europe.  Historian John Foxe states Cromwell acted as a mercenary for the French and then ended up in the employ of a wealthy financier working in Europe's biggest bank in Florence.  Whatever Cromwell got up to in his 14 years away from England, when he returned he was a well-educated man that knew the law and spoke several languages and was well-respected enough to marry a wealthy widow.  Cromwell was readily accepted into Tudor high society.
 It would be a very special mission on behalf of the Guilds of Boston, Lincolnshire that would get Cromwell noticed by influential people at King Henry VIIIs court.  The Guilds made the bulk of their money from the sale of the 'stairway to heaven' indulgence to congregations of their churches in Lincolnshire.  The license for this indulgence, granted by the Pope, was about to expire-without it the Guilds would see their revenues plummet.  Cromwell was employed by the Guilds to negotiate to get the license re-issued.  Cromwell went directly to Rome and sought out the Pope-it can only be said that he beguiled the Pope with flattery and indulged the Pope's sweet tooth with fancy English cakes! But, whatever the means, Cromwell was successful in his mission.  It didn't take long before bigger and better things came knocking on Cromwell's door-upon his return from Rome he was offered prominent legal work in London.  Cromwell became known as a man that could get things done, and rightly so as he had a proven track record-he was soon called to serve Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry VIIIs right-hand man.

Cardinal Wolsey
Like Cromwell, Wolsey came from humble beginnings but he had benefited from a university education, unlike Cromwell.  Wolsey wanted other boys like him from his hometown of Ipswich to benefit from an education and wanted to set up twin colleges-one in Ipswich and one in Oxford.  Cromwell was employed to acquire funding to set up the two colleges, both to be named Cardinal College.  It was  during this assignment working on behalf of Wolsey that Cromwell first got a taste for dissolving monasteries for financial gain.  To set up the college at Ipswich he shut down 12 monasteries and priories and to set up Cardinal College, Oxford he dissolved another 12.  
When Cardinal Wolsey became embroiled in the King's 'great matter' Cromwell's position in court became tenuous. As a man of low birth status Cromwell needed the support of someone like Wolsey to further his career and continue to be successful.  But, despite his tenuous position, Cromwell opted for a risky strategy of standing by his employer and spoke up for Wolsey-this could have backfired spectacularly. But it did not.
Cromwell was very worried for his position-he could see what he had worked hard for start to slip away.  But, King Henry VIII still needed a solution to his 'great matter' and it was Cromwell that seized the opportunity to fix it for Henry.
Cromwell understood that the only way to galvanise support for a break from Rome, thus enabling the King to divorce Katherine of Aragon, was through parliament.  Cromwell set to change the nature of the constitution and quash laws that saw the power of the Pope supersede those of the King  Cromwell sought to demonstrate that since the 12th century England had been an empire and its ruler, therefore, an emperor.  Cromwell based his 'facts' on myths and legends contained in a 12th century book written by Geoffrey of Monmouth.  Cromwell succeeded turning myth into law and put England on the path to parliamentary democracy, as Cromwell's new law gave parliament the fundamental right to intervene in the constitutional affairs of the nation.  As a reward Henry VIII made Cromwell Master of the Jewels and invited to join Henry VIIIs royal court.

Anne Boleyn

But Cromwell was motivated by more than just a willingness to please the King.  By 1533 a revolution was sweeping through Europe-the Reformation.  The Evangelicals wanted a more simple religion based on God's word and believed every other teaching was superstition and should be rejected. In 1533 Cromwell started to reveal his reformist credentials and found a growing number of powerful Evangelicals within the royal court; one of whom was Anne Boleyn, King Henry's great love (for the time at least).  Anne Boleyn persuaded King Henry VIII to appoint an unknown clergyman, Thomas Cranmer, as Archbishop of Canterbury, another Evangelical supporter.  Cranmer quickly, and thanks to Cromwell's new law, annulled King Henry's marriage to Katherine and just 5 days later married Henry to Anne.  As a result, Cromwell was promoted again; this time it would make him the second most powerful man in the country, second only to the King himself. 
Cromwell's new role saw him gain massive power over churches and monasteries and it was during this period that he began his controversial dissolution of the monasteries.  Cromwell knew from his days of working for Wolsey that closing monasteries was a lucrative business. Now, as a keen reformer of the church in England too, he saw it as an opportunity not only to raise funds for the King but to also make the move away from the Catholic religion and pursue his own evangelical agenda.
Cromwell began to discredit the monasteries by exposing certain truths about their religious and 'holy' relics that they used to attract scores of pilgrims and thus extort a lot of money out of them.  In 1538 Cromwell sent the holy blood (said to be that of Jesus) that belonged to Hailes Abbey to be examined.  The 'blood' turned out to be nothing more than clarified honey coloured with saffron.  It was a hoax. And it was all Cromwell needed to close this monastery down.  Revenue from this monastery alone was twice the income of  the King.  In all Cromwell was responsible for the closure of 800 monasteries and religious houses-money poured into the coffers of the King.
The dissolution of the monasteries showed Cromwell to be both a dedicated reformer and a ruthless politician.  Monasteries provided for the poor and homeless of England on a massive scale. Once Cromwell started to close significant numbers of them did people start to notice the problem of the poor and homeless.  This spurred Cromwell into creating a think tank to work out how to help the poor and homeless. Cromwell passed a law that stated the poor and homeless had to be put to work, which, some argue, was the first step to the Poor Law of 1601.  However, the ruthless politician emerged when he and Anne Boleyn spectacularly fell out over the money gained from the closure of the monasteries-she wanted it used for good causes rather than it just going to the crown.  Anne Boleyn may have gotten her way if her most important ally, King Henry VIII, had not fallen out of love with and if she had not have had a second miscarriage.  Henry's go to guy had to solve the problem of Anne Boleyn and Cromwell did this most ruthlessly-he tortured false confessions out of Anne's closest friends and conjured up stories of incest with her brother.  Anne was beheaded.
Cromwell was becoming more and more confident in his evangelical pursuits, even going as far as risking his life to reform the church.  Cromwell took the opportunity to gift a copy of the English Bible to King Henry VIII-at a time when granted Henry VIII was in high spirits; his wife, Jane Seymour, was on the brink of giving birth, with what Henry believed was the long awaited heir.  Cromwell was risking his life because Henry detested the idea of an English Bible and had executed the man, William Tyndale, responsible for its translation.  But, just ten days after receiving his copy from Cromwell Henry approved the English Bible and Cromwell was quick to pass a decree stating that every parish church should have a copy.  For the first time in the history of the church in England people had access to their religion-it was no longer for the privileged few that could read Latin.  Also, with the introduction of the English Bible Cromwell had widened the gap even further between the church in England and the church in Rome. The road to true reformation was set.

By 1537 Cromwell had been made a Knight of the Garter and the Earl of Essex-Cromwell was now part of the hereditary nobility of England.  He must have felt invincible.  But the political skill and evangelical drive that had taken Cromwell so far would also be his downfall.  After the death of Jane Seymour in 1537 Henry was in need of a new wife-Cromwell as Henry's go to guy was to fix this for Henry too.  Cromwell took the opportunity to forge closer ties with the powers of the reformation and suggested a German Princess, Anne of Cleves.  Cromwell dispatched his favourite artist, Hans Holbein, to capture the virtues of the 24 year old princess.  The above miniature was sent directly to King Henry VIII and he liked what he saw-he promptly agreed to Cromwell's suggestion.  When Henry rushed to meet his wife-to-be he did not like what he saw and immediately returned to London and rounded on Cromwell.  In order to get the marriage annulled Henry had to stand before a court in his own church and publicly declare his impotence-an incredible humiliation.  Henry needed someone to blame-Cromwell would be the person.
During Cromwell's rise to the top he had made many enemies, especially amongst the conservative nobility. But before the Anne of Cleves debacle Cromwell had had the support of King Henry VIII and was almost invincible-now that he did not have Henry's support he was vulnerable and the conservative nobility took the opportunity to bring him down.  The Duke of Norfolk headed a campaign against Cromwell and convinced the King, whom did not take much convincing, that Cromwell was a traitor.  Cromwell was quickly arrested and carted off to the Tower of London.
Cromwell made a grovelling apology to the King, appealing for mercy many times-but to no avail.  Cromwell was beheaded on 28th July 1540 at Tower Hill.  He asked the axeman to cut his head off with one blow so that he would not suffer.  It took several blows and up to 30 minutes of hacking away before Cromwell's head was severed from his body.  Cromwell's head was put on a pike and displayed on Tower Bridge and his body was buried yards away from the very queen he was determined to see die as a traitor (ah, the irony).  Within months Henry was lamenting the death of his go to guy, describing Cromwell as the most faithful servant he had ever had.
Cromwell was no doubt ruthless and not afraid of using extreme measures to his own ends.  But he was also a great statesman-overseeing the end of a thousand years of Roman obedience, masterminded a religious revolution and lay the foundations a constitutional monarchy.
Cromwell went from the son of a pub landlord to the second most powerful man in England, changing the country's political and religious landscape forever, to a humiliated 'traitor'.  The fall was a great one.  Can you think of one greater?

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Queen Victoria I and her Daughters


Queen Victoria I

The past week I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of my second daughter-today she is 8 days overdue. Needless to say I have been a little bored waiting, especially since my first born daughter came on her due date-waiting is something I have not been used to! So when I saw a programme on TV about Queen Victoria and her relationship with her daughters I was very keen to watch with my blog in mind. 
I will point out that none of this is my own original research and when I use a direct quote from the programme I will accredit it to the relevant historian.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had 5 daughters; Princesses Victoria (Vicky), Alice, Helena, Louise and Beatrice.  Victoria had a somewhat complex relationship with all of her children in one way or another and reasons for these sometimes difficult relationships varied from child to child-if she considered particular children to be unattractive she would harshly criticise them for it in her letters, or if they supported particular causes that she did not, for example women's suffrage, she would harangue the child in question.
Leading historians in this field, like Dr Piers Brendon and Helen Rappaport describe Victoria as 'controlling' and 'selfish' in her behaviour towards her children.  And her behaviour towards her children seemed to get worse when her beloved Prince Albert died in December 1861.  Princess Beatrice was only 4 when her father passed away and bore the brunt of her mother's intense grief.  Victoria would wake Beatrice up in the middle of the night to take her into her bed to clasp Beatrice to her bosom, sobbing into the small child.  Historian Matthew Dennison describes this behaviour towards Bea as a type of abuse as it had 'a profound affect on Beatrice's psyche, on her outlook [and] on her whole personality'.
Princess Beatrice on her Wedding Day
Queen Victoria began to rely on her youngest daughter for emotional support and envisioned Bea, her Baby, staying with her until she died, as a sort of replacement for Albert (when Beatrice eventually did get engaged to be married in 1884 Victoria did not speak to Bea for 6 months, despite living side by side in the same house).  Victoria's eldest daughter, Vicky, had already married and was living in Prussia and her second eldest daughter, Alice, was married in July 1862 and soon moved to Hesse-but not before becoming her mother's rock in the months after Albert's death.  Alice in a way took the place of her father in the sense that she began helping her grieving mother with official business, and was a stable presence in her mother's company, never crying in front of her.  But being her mother's rock took its toll on Princess Alice-to the point that the next time her fiance saw Alice following her father's death she was almost unrecognisable to him-according to Dr Karina Urbach Alice went from 'a nice podgy [sic] girl to an anorexic wreck'.  Needless to say Alice's impending nuptials filled Victoria with dread as she had come to rely on Alice, and when they did take place just seven months after Albert's death it was a sorry affair, with Victoria herself describing the atmosphere as more of a funeral than a wedding.  After 'losing' two daughters abroad to marriage, Victoria would later be determined to keep the other three at home and close to her, as she would often place herself and her needs before those of her own children.

A Victorian woman breastfeeding

One issue that did bring Victoria into conflict with two of her daughters was the up and coming trend of breastfeeding your own babies, instead of using the services of a wet nurse. Upper class women in Britain were even getting involved in this trend and both Princesses Vicky and Alice expressed an interest in breastfeeding their babies.  This absolutely disgusted the Queen, who thought that it was not the place of a princess of the royal blood to be doing such a thing.  Victoria commanded  her daughters not to partake in such an 'undignified' act (Victoria's own repulsion towards babies is evidenced in her letters-she always found them to be ugly creatures).  But, it seems, both Vicky and Alice were a little too far away from their over bearing Mother to take any notice of her condemnation and breast fed their children regardless.  Princess Alice did not escape the wrath of Victoria though who delighted in writing to her daughter to tell her that she had named one of her dairy cows after her.

File:Alice e victoria em osborn.jpg
Princesses Vicky and Alice in the 1850s at Osbourne

Alice would end up in Victoria's bad books on more than one occasion-mother and daughter clashed over Princess Helena's marriage and when Alice took a keen interest in nursing and medicine during the Austro-Prussian war.  Alice could see Helena's marriage for exactly what it was-a ploy to keep Helena at home in Britain within the grips of the Queen.  A pauper Prince was set up for Helena which guaranteed seeing her staying near her Mother and under her Mother's influence.  The cash strapped royal in question was Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein (Princess Helena and Prince Christian were given as estate in Windsor Great Park where Christian was to become Ranger-concerning himself mostly with the frog population).  Princess Alice openly accused her mother of sacrificing her daughter's happiness for her own convenience-this led the Queen to remark that Alice was the true devil of the family.  But the upset would get worse when in 1871 Alice set up beds for the wounded in Palace gardens, managing the field hospitals herself whilst heavily pregnant.  This of course saw another rise out of Victoria who believed that a princess of the royal blood should not be working so closely with the human body.

Princess Louise

Victoria's most rebellious daughter was the beautiful Princess Louise.  Dr Piers Brendon describes Victoria as a 'domestic dictator' because of the extent she went to in order to control her daughters.  But Princess Louise was not content to just take it and would be the Queen's most rebellious daughter.  Louise was keen to become a sculptor and not content with it being just a hobby at home, she wanted to train as a sculptor at a public school.  Victoria did not consider Louise's interest in sculpture as very ladylike and did not, at first, want Louise to attend school to study the art form.  But Victoria was to give in and Louise enrolled at the National Art  Training School-this did not mean, however, that Victoria gave Louise complete freedom to study but rather closely controlled the number of days Louise would attend the school.  If Victoria wanted Louise to stay at home any particular day she would just tell Louise that she was to stay at home and help with Victoria's correspondence.  Despite this Louise did persevere, becoming the first female sculptor to have a statue erected in a public place (the statue was of Queen Victoria aptly enough). 
Princess Louise was also very determined that she was not going to marry some obscure German royal but to marry someone of her own choosing instead.  Louise said she would like to marry John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne-at the time this perfectly suited the Queen as she recognised that foreign alliances were seen as unpopular and Victoria quite liked the idea of having fresh blood in the family (it also meant, of course, that another daughter would not be lost to her).  It was the first time in centuries that a British princess was allowed to marry outside of royalty.  Unfortunately, Louise's marriage was not a happy one and on a rare occasion a child of Victoria had her sympathy rather than her criticism (When Prince Alfred was shot whilst on a visit to Sydney in 1868 Victoria was quite unnaturally unsympathetic). 
Queen Victoria may have been overly critical and sometimes quite harsh towards her children, but what she was was loyal to them, especially when they were in need. For example, if there was an impending crisis or a malacious rumour Victoria would use her power to make it right.