Tag Archives: History

Pepys’ Book Presses – 350th Anniversary year

Follow the link below for a really interesting post on Samuel Pepys’ book presses, the first of their kind! I worked at the Pepys Library for almost a year and never got tired of looking at those lovely pieces of practical furniture (the books inside were pretty good too). I heartily recommend a visit to anyone, it’s a wonderful, wonderful place (and FREE!!!):

Source: 350th Anniversary year


*dust dust, cough cough*


Dusting off the blog

Just dust of Mr Sykes’ blog will you, he wants the bloody thing back on the internet for some reason.

*dust, dust, cough cough* The great thing about blogs is that even if you make them private and stash them away in your sock drawer for three years, the pages don’t go all foxed and yellow and you’re only ever one button press away from sharing your amateur history ramblings with the world all over again.

This blog has been hidden away largely because I’ve spent the last three years encased in a library cacoon, emerging earlier this year as a beautiful qualified librarian butterfly (moth). I hated the idea of being sat here unloved and unupdated so I stashed it away, oh and some bugger stole the domain name.

Recently, I had the idea to track my very early efforts in learning to code  in the form of a blog. I’m still considering this but it did also make me stupidly Nostalgic for this old history blog, which charted a massively important part of my life during which I met some wonderful people interested in history (on the twitter and in real life) and drastically changed my life. So here it is. It’s under a new name: ‘History Botherer’ (formerly ‘In Pursuit of History’, formerly formerly ‘The Gentleman Administrator’).

Will I update it? Meh, dunno. Maybe. But rest assured, if I do, all I will subsequently do on twitter will be to pimp the living hell out of it until I lose all my followers ;)

Death of King Charles – the story of a father and son.

This is a combination of three posts I put up two years ago to mark the anniversary of Charles’ execution, his deathday if you like. It covers three letters written by Charles Snr and Jnr and in my eyes they highlight the personal nature of the crisis at hand, the matter of a son about to lose his father.

An act of desperation

Reading an old post by @daintyballerina recently, which featured an account of the ‘last words’ of King Charles before his execution, reminded me of a series of letters send by the King and Prince Charles in the lead up to the King’s execution. To modern eyes they seem highly formal, concerned in restating ideological positions, but I think that some of the emotion and desperation does seep through in the detail. While accounts of the execution are compelling, the letters give us a first hand glimpse into the concerns and fears of father and son in the midst of events that had spiralled from their control.

.On hearing that his father was to be tried the 18 year old Prince Charles wrote a desperate letter to General Fairfax and his Council of War in England. It’s unsurprising that the the letter was utterly ineffective, the tone in which it is written is unlikely to have endeared him to his enemies, though it is fair to say that it would have played to their doubts. The letter is significant in demonstrating both the dawning comprehension of what was to come and the powerless position that the heir to throne was now in. The letter shows that Charles is not part of any official negotiations and claims to be gaining his news through the press. The Prince was to become a better politician and a more eloquent letter writer in his future years, but this letter shows us the desperation of a young man to save his father from the mortal fate that was now sharply coming into focus. With the letter Charles included a single sheet of paper, blank except for his signature at the bottom (see picture above). It was an invitation for the Council to impose any condition on him in return for his father’s life. As we will see in the second post in this series, the King would have been appalled by his son’s action in this respect, but Charles was clearly desperate to save his father.

The Hague, January 13.23, 1648/9.

We have no sources of information regarding the health and present condition of the King, our father, but the common gazettes which come into this country, our servant, Symons, whom we lately sent to present our humble respects to His Majesty, not having been able to obtain permission to do so, or to see him. We have reason to believe that, at the end of the time assigned for the treaty made with his Majesty in the Isle of Wight, His Majesty has been withdrawn from that island to Hurst Castle, and thence conducted to Windsor, with some intention of proceeding against him with rigour, or of deposing him from the royal dignity given him by God alone, who invested his person with it by a succession undisputed, or even of taking his life; the mere thought of which seems so horrible and incredible that it has moved us to address these presents to you, who now have power, for the last time, either to testify your fidelity, by reinstating your lawful King, and to restore peace to the kingdom – an honour never before given to so small a number as you- or to be the authors of misery unprecedented in this country, by contributing to an action which all Christians think repugnant to the principles of their religion, or any fashion of government whatever, and destructive of all security. I therefore conjure you to think seriously of the difference there is in the choice you make, and I doubt not you will choose what will be most honourable and most just, and preserve and defend the King, whereto you are by oath obliged. It is the only way in which any of you can promise himself peace of conscience, the favour and good will of His Majesty, the country, and all good men, and more particularly of your friend.

Charles P.

Charles I during his trial

The next letter was written while Charles was in the hands of the army and prior to the trial that would eventually lead to his execution, on 30th January 1649. It is one of the last pieces of correspondence that he sent to Charles. What stands out about this letter to me is its reflective nature and the air of dignified sadness, even melancholy. While the trial that was to condemn him had not yet begun, I think the letter shows that the writing on the wall was coming into focus for this man and he had begun to put his mind to how he might guide his heir. Some of the lessons that Charles extols to the young Prince in this epistle are ones he singularly failed to adhere to in life, and there is a sense in which the King is acknowledging this. The blame is still in the hands of others, but he has clearly looked deep into his soul at this late point. A final point I would make is that while this is a letter to his son, the future King, it is also written from the point of view of a man who considers himself father of a nation, bear that in mind when reading it.

Newport, November 29, 1648.


By what hath been said, you may see how long we have laboured in search of peace. Do not you be discouraged to tread those ways, to restore yourself to your right; but prefer the way of peace. Show the greatness of your mind, rather to conquer your enemies by pardoning than punishing. If you saw how unmanly and unchristianly this implacable disposition is in our evil willers, you would avoid that spirit. Censure us not, for having parted with too much of our own right; the price was great; the commodity was security to us, peace to our people. And we are confident another Parliament would remember how useful a King’s power is to the people’ s liberty.

Of how much we have divested ourself, that we and they might meet again in a due Parliamentary way to agree the bounds for Prince and people! And in this, give belief to our experience, never to affect more greatness or prerogative than what is really and intrinsically for the good of our subjects (not satisfaction of favourites). And, if you thus use it, you will never want means to be a father to all, and a bountiful Prince to any you would be extraordinarily gracious to… if princes, like the sea, receive and repay all the fresh stream and rivers trust them with, they will not grudge, but pride themselves, to make them up an ocean.

These considerations may make you a great Prince, as your father is now a low one; and your state may be so much the more established, as mine have been shaken. For subjects have learnt (we dare say) that victories over their Princes are but triumphs over themselves; and so, will be more unwilling to hearken to change hereafter.

The English nation are a sober people; however at present under some infatuation. We know not but this may be the last time we may speak to you or the world publicly. We are sensible into what hands we are fallen; and yet we bless God we have those inward refreshments, that the malice of our enemies cannot disturb. We have learnt to own ourself by retiring into ourself, and therefore can the better digest what befalls us; not doubting but God can restrain our enemies’ malice, and turn their fierceness unto his praise.

To conclude, if God give you success, use it humbly and far from revenge. If He restore you to your right upon hard conditions, whatever you promise, keep. Those men which have forced laws which they were bound to observe, will find their triumphs full of troubles. Do not think anything in this world worth obtaining by foul and unjust means. You are the son of our love; and, as we do not more affectionally pray for you (to whom we are a natural parent) than we do, that the ancient glory and renown of this nation be not buried in irreligion and fanatical humour… that you may in due time govern, and they be governed, as in the fear of the Lord.


Charles the Martyr

I switched on the BBC news coverage of the Egyptian protests earlier today [This was two years ago at the height of the Arab Spring]. As I watched the Egyptian people attempt to emulate their Tunisian neighbours in deposing their head of state, I wondered how many people on that chilly London day on 30th January 1649 had felt the same way about their ‘tyrant’ during the war and if they were now happy to be seeing his execution.

.As we saw from the last letter, Charles had begun to prepare for the most extreme outcome of his capture. The King had clearly begun to gather his thoughts in order to prepare his son in case the tide ever turned back in their favour.

.The letter I am featuring in this final post in the series (part 1, part 2) is the last letter that Charles communicated to the world. The letter was to his son, Prince Charles, and was handed over to the Bishop of London as he readied himself for the moment. The full letter is very long and a little repetitive, so I have edited it down to capture its key points. I hope I have managed to capture its nature as well. Here we see a father imparting his last thoughts and hopes to his son, both political and personal.


If these pages, with some others, wherein I have set down the private reflections of my conscience, and my most impartial thoughts, touching the chief passages which have been most remarkable, or disputed in my late troubles, come to your hands, to whom they are chiefly designed, they may be so far useful to you, as to state your judgement aright in what hath passed; whereof a pious us is the best can be made; and they may also give you directions how to remedy the present distempers, and prevent (if God will) the like for time to come.

It is some kind of deceiving and lessening the injury of my long restraint, when I find my leisure and solitude have produced something worthy of myself, and useful to you; that neither you, nor any other, may hereafter measure my cause by the success, nor my judgement of things by my misfortunes, which I count the greater by far, because they have so far lighted upon you and some others whom I have most cause to love as well as myself, and of those whose unmerited sufferings I have a greater sense of than my own.

…But this advantage of wisdom you have above most princes; that you have begun, and now spent some years of discretion in the experience of troubles, and exercise of patience, wherein piety and all virtues, both moral and political, are commonly better planted to a thriving, as trees set in winter, than in warmth and serenity of times, or amidst those delights which usually attend princes’ courts in times of peace and plenty…

I had rather you should be Charles le bon, than le grand, good, than great; I hope God hath designed you to be both…

…Above all, I would have you, as I hope you are already, well grounded and settled in your religion, the best profession of which I have ever esteemed that of the Church of England, in which you have been educated… and not other men’s custom or tradition which you profess.

…Never charge your head with a crown as shall, by its heaviness, oppress the whole body, the weakness of whose parts cannot return anything of strength, honour or safety to the head, but a necessary debilitation and ruin.

Your prerogative is best showed and exercised in remitting rather than exacting the rigour of the laws; there being nothing worse than legal tyranny.

…the troubles of my kingdoms, have nothing else to object against me but this, that I prefer religion and laws established before those alterations they propounded.

…Time will dissipate all factions, when once the rough hours of private men’s covetous and ambitious designs shall discover themselves; which were at first wrapped up and hidden under the soft and smooth pretensions of religion, reformation, and liberty: as the wolf is not so cruel, so he will be more justly hated, when he shall appear no better than a wolf under sheep’s clothing.

…It is all I have now left me, a power to forgive those that have deprived me of all; and I thank God I have a heart to do it, and joy as much in this grace, which God hath given me, as in all my former enjoyments; for this is a greater argument of God’s love to me than any prosperity can be. Be confident (as I am) that the most of all sides, who have done amiss, have done so, not out of malice, but misinformation, or misapprehension of things.

…As your quality sets you beyond any duel with any subject, so the nobleness of your mind must raise you above the meditating any revenge, or executing your anger upon the many.

…And if neither I nor you be ever restored to our right, but God, in His severest justice, will punish my subjects with continuance in their sin… I hope God will give me and you that grace which will teach and enable us to want, aw well as to wear a crown, which is not worth taking up, or enjoying upon sordid, dishonourable, and irreligious terms.

Keep you to true principles of piety, virtue, and honour; you shall never want a kingdom.

… My prayer to God Almighty is (whatever becomes of me…) that He would be pleased to make you an anchor, or harbour rather, to those tossed and weather beaten kingdoms…

… When they have destroyed me (for I know not how far God may permit the malice and cruelty of my enemies to proceed, and such apprehensions some men’s words and actions have already given me) as I doubt not my blood will cry aloud for vengeance to Heaven; so I beseech God not to pour out His wrath upon the generality of the people who have either deserted me, or engaged me…

…And if God will have disloyalty perfected by my destruction, let my memory ever, with my name, live in you; as of your father, that loves you, and once a King of three flourishing Kingdoms…

…At worst, I trust I shall but go before you to a better kingdom, which God hath prepared for me, and me for it…

Farewell, till we meet, if not on earth, yet in Heaven.

It’s Oak Apple Day!

Today is Oak Apple Day, the celebration of Charles II birthday that was once popularly celebrated across the UK. Why Oak Apple Day? Click on the link to find out: Royal Oak.


Stuart Southampton – Study Day on 10th March

The Towne Wall is in manie places decayed & broken

The Towne Wall is in manie places decayed & broken

I don’t normally use the blog for news or notification, but I just came across this event and thought it was worth sharing. The Southampton City Museums Archaeological Society is hosting a study day looking at Stuart Southampton. I’ve not been to one of their study days before, but it sounded rather intriguing and the programme is covering some interesting topics. Personally I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about Southampton in this period and particularly about the fate of Southampton’s medieval walls and (long gone) castle, which in my opinion get a little overlooked when people think about Southampton’s heritage. I think Southampton has a very interesting history, it is one of those cities whose fortunes have fluctuated over the centuries; it’s been an influential medieval port, a spa town, an industrial hub and back to a key port over the last few hundred years. How it got on in Stuart times, well I’ll be interested to find out a little about it.


9.30 Registration. Tea and coffee.

10.00 Welcome – Martyn Dowell, Chair of SCMAS

10.10 Dr Andy Russel “The Towne Wall is in manie places decayed & broken”: changing attitudes to the defence of Southampton.

10.50 Harry Willis Fleming ‘Sir Thomas Fleming (1544-1613)’.

11.30 Coffee

11.50 Ben Jervis & Duncan Brown ‘Pottery in Stuart Southampton and beyond…’

12.40 Presentations by members of Little Woodham – the 1642 living history village’

1.00 – 2.15 LUNCH (not provided – you are welcome to bring a packed lunch or take advantage of the pubs and shops nearby or Tudor House Café)

2.20 Presentations by members of Little Woodham – the 1642 living history village’

2.40 Rosalind Johnson ‘Quakers in Stuart Southampton’

3.30 Coffee

3.50 Stan Roberts ‘Isaac Watts – “I’m not ashamed…..”

4.30 Presentations by members of Little Woodham – the 1642 living history village’

4.55 Martyn Dowell – Closing remarks

5.00 End of Study Day

If you’re interested in the history of Hampshire, maritime cities or the Stuart period it might be worth your while coming along, I’ll certainly be there. The Programme and booking form are below (download the pdf form):


Ancient History is cool

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there


Hosting the most recent Carnivalesque made me think about the enduring interest of ancient history. You’ll know from looking around this blog that I have gravitated toward early modern history in the last few years, but this is a relatively recent return to that subject area. For much of my Bachelor and Masters degree I specialised in Jewish history, and in particular ancient Jewish history. I wrote my first dissertation on the Pharisees (c.50 CE) and my second dissertation on Jewish communities in the Persian period (c.300 BCE), so I was getting further back in time as I went.

Aside from academic study, ancient history has always been one of my interests and I think that this common to many, many people who like history either as a hobby or casual interest; ancient history is cool. Ancient history has Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Celts temples, pyramids, invasions, inventions and the founding of modern philosophy and religion. I would happily place a bet that the first four on that list alone are what drew most of us to history as children, it was certainly true with me. One of my first memories of school is of drawing a Celtic warrior, along with his Golden Labrador (the teacher was kind enough not to point out the slight historical license). You could almost argue that children have an instinctive interest in the long distant past.

Romans are cool

But what draws us so instinctively to ancient times? The above quote from L.P Hartley only partly touches on it, the ‘past is a foreign country’. Curiosity about foreigners, about exotic countries with strange and unique traditions is universal, even if it is often driven by fear and suspicion. This instinct to observe, and in some to understand, foreign things is part of what draws us to the ‘foreign land’ of history. These ancients, with their strange abodes, myths, imaginative violence and curious customs are aliens to our modern eyes. Because of that we want to investigate and marvel at them.

But, that in itself is not enough, observing something that’s different in of itself doesn’t go to explain the enduring popularity of looking at our far past. Instead I would argue that it is observing the similarities amongst the differences that  draws us there, and the further back we get in time the more fascinated we are in the things we recognise. We love hearing about domestic gossip and curses discovered in graffiti or inscriptions, we love to hear about bravery and folly of soldiers and generals, we love to discover that amongst the sword and scandals were people surviving the same problems that we do today. Coming back to our metaphor, toilets in foreign countries are a constant source of fascination to English people; continental toilet seats, Japanese heated toilets that heat up and talk to you and 100 other thing, my goodness how many different ways to deal with the same bodily function. This is true of our experience of the ancient past, they often came up with solutions to, or explanations of, the same issues that we have today  that seem unusual now. The further we go back the more we are curious and delighted when we see the parallels.

Roman Toilets for the English readers

I never intended to specialise in ancient history, let alone ancient Jewish history, at university but the lure of both proved too much to resist. The Parkes centre at Southampton university is a world class research in the study of Jewish history and culture so that helped. I’ll talk about Jewish history in another post, but one aspect of ancient history that I was drawn to was biblical history, or more accurately the history of the people contemporaneous with biblical history. The actual, historical context in which the mythical, semi-mythical, and occasionally historical tales of the bible are set. Why? Well, ideas people had and the decisions that they made, two thousand years ago, still reverberate around our culture today. Like it or loathe it, if you have any significant contact with Europe or America then Christianity, that mix of greek philosophy and Jewish millenarianism, impacts on your life in a thousand little ways. I’m sure that this is not just true of Christianity but also of other ideas, religions and mythologies. My experience just happens to be in that area. So, this is another aspect of the popularity of ancient history, it’s enduring relevance to modern life. Understanding what happened then is useful, it sheds light on what is happening now.

The popularity of ancient history isn’t just about mummies, gladiators and wars, it is also about the delight in finding empathy with ancestors in a ‘foreign land’ and it is about understanding the origins of our modern cultures and beliefs. That said, romans are just cool, and the ancient Chinese buried servants alive, and I totally forgot to mention the vikings! How can the poor old early modern period compete?

The tragic tale of the Royal George – a visit to the Caird Library

National Maritime Museum has cooler stuff than anchors


This is a somewhat belated post covering my trip to the ‘bloggers preview’ of the newly refurbished Caird library at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. This was an event held to introduce bloggers (a fascinating mix of bloggers at that) to the state of the art research facilities now available to the public at the museum. I’m a little ashamed to say that prior to this trip I had never visited the National Maritime Museum, which is even worse when considering that I have visited the Greenwich observatory, which is just up the hill from the museum. You actually have to go around the museum to get to it. Bad history geek.


That said, I’m no maritime historian, which is unfortunate given that I live in Hampshire, a part of England with a rich maritime heritage. The influence of the sea on British history is profound and hard to avoid. Take more than a cursory glance at any period of our history and ships will come bobbing into view pretty soon. The opportunity to delve a little further into such an interesting area was hard to resist, so when the invite came to see the Caird library I couldn’t resist. The archives, and indeed the museum, has some very cool stuff and we were privileged to not only have a peek at some select morsels, but also to get a background talk on each of them too.


The objects that stood out to me were the collection of twenty-seven small, wood bound books commemorating the sinking of the HMS Royal George in 1782. The Royal George was a Royal navy ship that saw active service, and was for a period of time the largest of its type. Docked in Portsmouth for repair the ship had over a thousand people on board, including the crew’s families. During routine maintenance of the hull, a procedure of rolling the ship on its side using the cannons as ballast went horribly wrong, and the ship tipped too far, took on water, and rapidly sunk. Nine hundred souls were lost, including three hundred women and sixty children. Indeed according to the commemorative accounts only one child on board survived, he was found floating nearby clinging onto the carcass of a sheep.


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The twenty-seven commemorative books were published in the 1830s and 1840s, which would indicate that the events were still quite vivid to many. Part of this may be due to the problems that it caused to shipping, the ship resisted repeated attempts to be raised from its watery grave, becoming a well know obstacle. All attempts to raise it were futile and in 1839 the authorities had to resort to blowing the wreck up. This was not before some of the timber was rescued to serve as covers for commemorative items such as these books. A tragic story captured in a set of fascinating items.


An important thing to know bout the Caird library is that it is open to the public, and it is very straightforward to get membership. I’ve written before about the mental block caused by scary archives, but that isn’t a factor here. Interesting and engaged staff, comfortable surroundings, a mix of group and quiet study areas, access to internet resources on site, I could go on and on. It’s well worth a trip, indeed if you’re delving fully into British history you’re probably going to have to.


Many of the bloggers have, er, blogged on the event, here is Lara Ruffle’s post which includes links to the others posted so far.


So, a big thanks to Emma McLean the Digital Marketing Manager for inviting me and to the archive staff at the library who gave us such an interesting tour.