Magazine article History Today


Magazine article History Today


Article excerpt

Courting Disaster

I was sorry that John Miller (`Britain 1600', September) did not mention the Earl of Hertford's rampages through southern Scotland in 1544 and '45. Known as `Henry's Rough Wooing' they were designed to pursuade the Scots to marry their infant queen, Mary, to Henry VIII's son, Edward. In the 1544 expedition, the city of Edinburgh, palace of Holyroodhouse and port of Leith burned for three days and 192 `towns, towers, stedes, barnekyns, parish churches and bastell-houses' were destroyed and some 25,000 beasts. The second in 1545 was confined to the borders and destroyed the great abbeys of Kelso, Melrose, Jedburgh and Dryburgh along with nearly 300 towns, castles, villages, mills, etc. Little wonder that the Borders were `notoriously lawless' leading up to the Union of Crowns'.

Mrs Isabel Gordon Roxburghshire

Boy before George

I much enjoyed the piece on St George by Sam Riches (October) and appreciated some of the issues it raises about saints patronised by royalty but acquiring a more popular following.

I just wanted to broaden the background (perhaps Ms Riches does this in her book) by drawing attention to Edward, King and Martyr (c.962-979). Throughout the medieval period the martyred boy saint was certainly as important as Edward the Confessor whose cult was largely developed by Henry III in constructing around the Confessor's tomb a new Westminster Abbey to act as the English monarchy's Saint Denis, a royal mausoleum. But while the Confessor represents a pious exemplar for the Plantagenet royal house and helps to stress their legitimacy as heirs to the old Wessex dynasty, Edward King and Martyr combined all those qualities with the appeal of a wronged child cut down in his youth.

Just as important, in the context of sainthood, is that Edward's cult was popular. He was not just a family saint for the monarchy. His relics moved from Wareham to Shaftesbury evoking a considerable pilgrimage traffic and his healing miracles were well known. He still has, uniquely, two commemorative dates in the calendar, March 18th for his feast and June 20th for his translation. As late as the fifteenth century Robert Hallum (Bishop of Salisbury, 1407-17) was granting indulgences to visitors at the shrine.

One can well appreciate the `rise' of St George, but he was ousting more than the Confessor and St Edmund, for Edward, King and Martyr, was a popular saint and not just one used to project the royal family's image.

Malcolm Oxley Leeds

Wellington's Last Victory?

In his letter (November) Niall Fergusson corrects John Clark's claim that it was Queen Victoria herself who proposed the celebrated remedy for the eradication of the Crystal Palace sparrows. In fact, as Professor Norman Gash has shown in his Wellington Anecdotes (Southampton, 1992), the origins of the story lie in a fictitious account which appeared in a northern newspaper. According to this the Queen asked the prime minister what should be done. Lord John Russell proposed that the Foot Guards should be called upon to shoot the birds. Prince Albert pointed out that this was out of the question; the shot would shatter the glass roof. A solution proposed by the Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, that birdlime should be put on the branches of the trees was equally impracticable: the sparrows had left the trees for the iron girders. …

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