Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Henry VIII

During the reign of Henry VIII, between 1509 and 1547, an estimated 57,000 English subjects were beheaded. Henry VIII's reign was have been a particularly bloodthirsty one; by contrast, his daughter who was daubed 'Blood Mary' killed fewer than 300 people during her six years as queen.

It is not only the sheer volume of people who died at the hands of Henry VIII, but the controversy surrounding them that makes Henry's reign so notorious. Henry VIII was responsible for the English Reformation, a period of great change characterized by England's break from the Catholic Church. The trouble started when Henry tried to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, after she failed to produce him a male heir to the throne. Henry claimed the marriage was illegitimate because Catherine was Henry's older brother's widow, however the Pope had originally given the permission to marry, and was not about to let them divorce.

What ensued was a political and religious fiasco. In the end, Henry cast out the Catholic Church and established himself as the head of the Church of England, God's representative on Earth. He divorced Cath­erine and married his mistress, Anne Boleyn, in the hopes of getting a son. In the process of achieving this single goal, Henry ordered the beheadings of some of the top political minds of the day, a few cardinals of the Church, at least one nun, a couple of his six wives, and countless members of the royal court who questioned the purity of his motives.

Of course, with tens of thousands of heads rolling, people were executed for a wide variety of crimes. In this blog I want to look at the ten most significant executions of Henry's reign, beginning with the beheadings he ordered immediately upon securing the throne. As one of his first acts as king, Henry ordered the executions of two of his father's top advisors, the notorious Edmund Dudley and Richard Empson in 1510.


Dudley and Empson were two of Henry VIII's unpopular father's tax collectors, blamed with impoverishing the Henry VII's subjects. The two men were claimed to have had stolen money  from subjects under the pretext of various taxes and fees. The people of England despised these men who were held responsible for Henry VII's policies. Immediately upon the death of Henry VII and succession of Henry VIII, the new king made a move to secure his popularity and his image as a king of the people. He found shaky evidence that Dudley and Empson had been embezzling money, his court found them guilty and Henry had them beheaded. They died in public executions in 1510.

Whilst Henry VIII began his reign as a popular monarch, he wasn't without powerful political enemies. Edmund de la Pole had a strong claim to the throne: he was the heir of King Richard III, who had died at the Battle of Bosworth against Henry Tudor. de la Pole was of York lineage, and whilst he had been imprisoned in 1506 Henry VIII had him executed in 1513 to secure his crown.

But that wasn't the end of the Yorks. Henry VIII faced serious opposition from another man, a popular noble and powerful politician, Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, who sealed his fate when he spoke too much of his claim to the English throne. Buckingham was a descendant of King Edward III and was very popular among the British people; he was seen as a great military leader, unlike Henry VIII. In 1521 rumours emerged of Stafford threatening Henry's kingship and Henry's top advisor at the time, the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, hated Stafford and therefore encouraged the king to take the accusations seriously. That year Henry had Stafford beheaded for treason. Henry VIII never faced another serious claim to his throne.

Threats to his policies, though, persisted throughout his reign. They became common practice once he started his quest to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. One source of significant protest came from an unlikely source, a young servant who claimed to have supernatural insight.

Elizabeth Barton had visions that it was against God's will for Henry to marry Anne Boleyn.  In 1525, with Henry VIII's pursuit to gain permission from the pope to marry Anne Boleyn in full swing, Barton's visions became supernatural evidence of God's will: Henry was not to marry Anne. Her master, the Archbishop of Canterbury made Barton join a convent, where she became a nun and so attained a degree of legitimacy. Barton's visions about the consequences of the king's pursuit eventually became so powerful that they were considered treasonous. She was arrested, and under intense interrogation, she confessed to having faked everything. She was beheaded in 1534. No consensus was ever reached on whether her visions were divinely inspired or the result of a troubled mind. To this day, the Catholic Church gives some credence to Barton's apparent mysticism.

Barton is just one of the many insistent Catholics who lost their heads to Henry VIII's pursuit of a divorce. Cardinal John Fisher became a martyr and a saint when he refused to support the Supremacy Act that made Henry VIII the head of the church and the Act of Succession that made Anne Boleyn the legitimate queen of England.

Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey went to John Fisher when they first came up with the idea of annulling the king's marriage. When Henry and Wolsey approached him for advice, he was clear: An annulment would go against the will of God. They proceeded anyway, and Fisher never relented in his opposition. He openly defended Catherine, making great trouble for Henry. When the Supremacy Act passed in 1534, Fisher, with Sir Thomas More at his side, refused to take the required oath needed. The recently passed Supremacy and Treason Act made denying the king's supremacy an act of treason. Cardinal John Fisher was beheaded in 1535. The Catholic Church made him a saint 400 years later.



Catherine Howard was executed for being unchaste. Henry VIII married Catherine Howard after he annulled his fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves. However it seemed Catherine Howard had had lovers before Henry. The king didn't know this when he married her, and he was humiliated when the truth came out. To make matters worse, the queen had appointed one of her pre-marital lovers to be her secretary. Rumour had it the affair continued after her marriage to the king. The adultery aspect of the charge was never proven, but it didn't matter. Upon learning that he had married a non-virgin, Henry had Parliament pass an act declaring it treasonous for an unchaste woman to marry the king. Catherine Howard was promptly beheaded for treason.


The Seymours accused Henry Howard of supporting the Catholics and made his sister testify against him. She admitted on the stand that her brother was, in fact, a devoted Catholic. This was seen as a rejection of the king's supremacy. The Seymours combined this testimony with the fact that Henry Howard's father had had a claim to the throne before Henry VIII became king (though he never fought for it), and they convinced the king, who was by that time very ill, that the Howards intended to usurp the throne. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was beheaded in 1547, the same year the king died. It was Henry VIII's last execution.

Thomas Cromwell's poor match-making skills set him on the path to beheading. Thomas Cromwell served as the king's main advisor from 1532 to 1540. He was the one who finally succeeded in getting the king his divorce. It's possible that Cromwell was the mastermind behind the whole English Reformation. Cromwell took over after Cardinal Wolsey's fall from grace. After the death of Henry's third wife Jane Seymour, Cromwell convinced Henry to marry Anne of Cleves, of German royal lineage, for political reasons. Henry couldn't stand Anne, and he had the marriage annulled almost immediately. That was the beginning of Crowell's end. After Cromwell lost the king's support, his enemies used his connection to the Lutherans to convince the king that Cromwell was a heretic. Thomas Cromwell was beheaded for heresy in 1540. He never received a trial.



Thomas More was a statesman, writer and Catholic martyr who refused to swear to the Acts of Supremacy and Succession. This accomplished and respected man became one of Henry VIII's advisors in 1518. Leading up to the Supremacy Act of 1534, More tried to support the king as much as he could without betraying his religious beliefs. He didn't attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn, and he refused to swear to the Acts of Supremacy and Succession. The former offence angered the king, but the latter was an act of treason. He was charged with conspiring with Elizabeth Barton, the nun whose visions had troubled the king. In 1535, he was beheaded for treason. His head sat on display on London Bridge for a month after his death.

Finally, we get to one of the most ironic executions of Henry's reign. Anne Boleyn died by the same law that allowed her to become queen.

While Henry VIII held the throne, England went through changes that would eventually lead to the creation of modern sovereignty -- a nation not beholden to the church -- though Henry never intended it. He was a walking contradiction, a devoted Catholic who rejected the Pope and founded his own religion; a king of the people and an educated humanist who executed tens of thousands of subjects. In the end, Henry VIII produced one male heir, Prince Edward, his son by Jane Seymour. Edward took the throne when his father died; he was 10 years old. He died of illness five years later, passing the crown to Henry's daughter by Catherine of Aragon, Princess Mary. Queen Mary's primary objective became reinstating Catholicism in England. She failed in her quest, though she burned hundreds of people at the stake in the process. Elizabeth I succeed her older sister and reigned for 45 years.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Seamus Heaney

For my English Literature GCSE I studied Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet, who shortly became one of my favourite poets. Sadly, Heaney passed away on the 30th August this year, and so I thought I would write a short post on his life and achievements, in memory of the great poet.

Seamus Heaney was born on 13th April 1939. He was an Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer. In the early 1960s, Heaney became a lecturer in Belfast after attending university there, and began to publish poetry. Heaney also lived in Sandymount, Dublin from 1972 until his death. He received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney was a professor at Harvard from 1981 to 1997 and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. In 2012, he was awarded the Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry. Heaney's literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

Heaney died in the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin on 30 August 2013, aged 74, following a short illness. After a fall outside a restaurant in Dublin, he entered hospital the night before his death for a medical procedure but died at 7:30 the following morning before it took place. His funeral was held in Donnybrook, Dublin, on the morning of 2 September 2013, and he was buried in the evening at his home village of Bellaghy, in the same graveyard as his parents, young brother, and other family members. His son Michael revealed at the funeral mass that his father's final words, "Noli timere" (Latin for "do not be afraid") were texted to his wife, Marie, minutes before he died.

A crowd of 81,553 spectators applauded Heaney for three minutes at an All-Ireland Gaelic football semi-final match on September 1. His poetry collections sold out rapidly in Irish bookshops immediately following his death.

Bill Clinton, former President of the United States, said: "Both his stunning work and his life were a gift to the world. His mind, heart, and his uniquely Irish gift for language made him our finest poet of the rhythms of ordinary lives and a powerful voice for peace...His wonderful work, like that of his fellow Irish Nobel Prize winners Shaw, Yeats, and Beckett, will be a lasting gift for all the world." Harvard University issued a statement: "We are fortunate and proud to have counted Seamus Heaney as a revered member of the Harvard family. For us, as for people around the world, he epitomised the poet as a wellspring of humane insight and artful imagination, subtle wisdom and shining grace. We will remember him with deep affection and admiration."

Upon his death, Heaney's books made up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in the UK. His work often deals with the local surroundings of Ireland, particularly in Northern Ireland, where he was born.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Léon Foucault

Today marks the 194th birthday of Léon Foucault, a French physicist best known for his demonstration of the Foucalt pendulum, a device demonstrating the effect of the Earth's rotation. He also made an early measurement of the speed of light, discovered eddy currents and named the gyroscope.

Jean Bernard Léon Foucault was born on 18 September 1819, in Paris and died on 11 February 1868, also in Paris. Foucault was educated at home, then studied medicine and later went on to study physics. In 1850, he did an experiment using the Fizeau–Foucault apparatus to measure the speed of light; it came to be known as the Foucault–Fizeau experiment, and is often viewed as the final piece of information needed to show that light travels more slowly through water than through air.

In 1851, he provided an experimental demonstration of the rotation of the Earth on its axis. Foucault achieved the demonstration by showing the rotation of a long and heavy pendulum suspended from the roof of the Panthéon, Paris. The experiment caused a sensation and "Foucault pendulums" were suspended in major cities across Europe and America which attracted large crowds. In the following year he used (and named) the gyroscope and in 1855 he received the Copley Medal of the Royal Society for his 'very remarkable experimental researches'. Earlier in the same year he was made physicien (physicist) at the imperial observatory at Paris.

In 1862 Foucault was made a member of the Bureau des Longitudes and an officer of the Legion of Honour. He became a member of the Royal Society of London in 1864, and member of the mechanical section of the Institute a year later. His chief scientific papers can be found in the Comptes Rendus, 1847—1869. Near his death he became an observant Roman Catholic again.

Foucault may possibly have died from fatal multiple sclerosis and was buried in the Montmartre Cemetery.
The asteroid 5668 Foucault was named after him and his name is one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Picture of the Month

Following last week's blog about the first driving lesson, I found this picture of the first car advertisement in history, in 1898

Embedded image permalink

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Over 100 Years of Driving Lessons

Since turning seventeen just over a week ago I have been taking driving lessons and studying for my theory test (which I passed!) in order to gain a driving licence. As I was driving around the suburbs of North London with big "L'' plates plastered onto the front and back of my battered baby blue Vauxhall Corsa, I began to think about the origins of driving lessons.

2010 marked the 100 year anniversary of the first driving lesson. From driving to being a rarity to nowadays, where more than a quarter of a million learners take the practical driving test each year, driving lessons have drastically changed.

The first driving lesson was given in 1910 in South London by Stanley Roberts. He realised that motoring was going to be big business and set up his own driving school before naming it - rather grandly - the British School of Motoring. Now known simply as BSM, it’s the biggest driving school in Britain. Previously an engineer’s apprentice Roberts was a keen motorist and persuaded his parents to rent out their garage to his fledgling business. Offering a “Popular Course of Mechanism and Driving”, Roberts’s first pupil was, tellingly, a former coachman, whom he trained to become a chauffeur.

Demand for tuition exploded and, as entrepreneurs launched rival driving schools around the country, Roberts boosted his fleet. Business was so brisk that he swiftly expanded, moving to Coventry Street in Piccadilly, later expanding countrywide.

Unlike today, when the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) says the average learner needs 52 hours of tuition before they’re ready to take what has become a demanding driving test, Roberts’s early driving courses lasted just four days, placing special emphasis on “correct procedure, discretion and behaviour”. The cost of a lesson was about 10 shillings (50p) for an hour, compared to about £20-£30 an hour today.

Traffic at the dawn of the motoring age, however, was light, so learning how to negotiate the roads - which were still dominated by the horse and cart - was easy compared to today. There were only 53,196 cars on British roads compared to 28.5 million now.

Early driving lessons focused on basic car control, elementary hand signals - and common sense. There was no such thing as a government-administered driving test; that didn’t come for another quarter of a century. Drivers simply applied for a licence and if they could prove they had undergone instruction it was issued automatically. In 1935 a government issued 25 minute test was issued, and in the first year 154,636 tests were conducted, compared to more than a million practical tests and 1.3 million theory tests. The pas rate was 63%, which fell to 50% in 1950 and 43% nowadays.

Today, the test has changed beyond recognition and learners need to master a vast repertoire of skills. There are now about 46,600 approved driving instructors in Britain. 

Sunday, 8 September 2013

What Makes A Speech Great?

I have always had a passion for english, and I recently began to think about how I could combine this with my passion for history. I soon realised that english plays a huge part in forming history; for example, all of the greatest speeches that are most remembered and celebrated are so great because they have been written so well (i.e. using the tools english teaches you).

Robert Rackleff, the former speech writer for Jimmy Carter said a speech should be "stirring, inspirational and upbeat". I believe all speeches should end on a positive note, giving the audience some hope for salvation, for example ending on a joke will relax the audience and renew their attention. Ronald Reagan is famous for ending his speeches on a personal anecdote; he would single out individual people and praise them for being living, breathing proof of how correct his policies were. He used to acknowledge 'American Heroes' at the end of every State of the Union address.

Derek Bok, president of Harvard, once ended a speech by saying "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance". I think inversions such as these are brilliant endings to speech, both dramatic and effective.

When Franklin Roosevelt gave a speech before Congress asking to declare war against Japan, he changed 'a day which will live in history', which his speechwriter had written, to 'a day which will live in infamy'. Infamy was the perfect word to express what had happened at Pearl Harbor, and the right word can make all the difference in making a speech memorable. Another example of this is shown from the Carter-Reagen debates, when, at the end of his debate with President Carter, during his summation Reagen asked the audience a simple question 'Are you any better off now than you were four years ago?'. This simple question optimized the public's fears, frustrations and anger with President Carter, and opinion polls showed a dramatic shift away from him the next day.

The final way to make a speech great, I believe, is to use a great quotation. For example using this quote, by Rabbi Hillel 'If I am not for myself, then who will be? But if I am only for myself, then who am I?' is evocative and will stir emotions deep within the audience, meaning people will still remember the speech in decades to come.