The Reformation Begins
On this day in 1517, Martin Luther presented his letter, which would become known as the Ninety-Five Theses, to Bishop Albrecht of Brandenburg in what is often identified as the start of the Reformation. According to one account, Luther nailed his Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, and while this has become a symbolic event in Protestant Christianity, it may not actually have taken place. Whether it took place or not, it does not detract from the importance of the event to world history.
Luther's letter protested the pope’s sale of reprieves from penance, or indulgences, insisting that the Pope had no authority over purgatory and that the Catholic doctrine of the merits of the saints had no foundation in the Bible. Although it is argued that he had hoped to spur renewal from within the church, he was met by hostility from its hierarchy. Albrecht did not reply to Luther's letter but instead had the theses checked for heresy and in December 1517 forwarded them to Rome. It was unlikely to have ever been well received, for the Bishop needed the revenue from indulgences to pay off a papal dispensation for his tenure of more than one bishopric. As Luther later noted, "the pope had a finger in the pie as well, because one half was to go to the building of St Peter's Church in Rome". in 1521, Luther was summoned before the Diet of Worms and excommunicated.
Protection was provided by Friedrich III, Elector of Saxony and so began the organisation of a new church. The key ideas of the Reformation, central to which was the belief that the Bible, not tradition, offered the sole source of spiritual authority, were not themselves new or novel. However, Luther and the other reformers, including John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, were able to skillfully use the power of the printing press to give their ideas a wider audience.
The Catholic Church responded with a Counter-Reformation initiated by the Council of Trent. However by 1545, when the Council was first convened, the Reformation's ideas had gained wide support. In general, Northern Europe came under the influence of Protestantism, with Henry VIII's establishment of the nascent Church of England being a notable event. Southern Europe remained Catholic, while Central Europe would be the theater for fierce conflict, culminating in the devastating Thirty Years' War, which saw the major powers clash in what has been argued to be Europe's last religious war.
This scene was built by James Pegrum to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Henry VII was crowned King of England on the 30th October 1485, founding the royal Tudor dynasty. He had become king following the defeat and death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485, bringing an end to the civil conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. He was the last king of England to win his throne on the field of battle. He would rule until his death on 21st April 1509.
Henry VII was born at Pembroke Castle, Wales, on 28th January 1457 to Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond. His father Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, died three months before his birth. It was through his mother, who was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, fourth son of Edward III, that Henry derived his strongest claim to the throne, though he later cemented it by marrying Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and niece of Richard III. By 1483 he had become the senior male Lancastrian claimant, after the deaths in battle, by murder or by execution of Henry VI, his son Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, and the other members of the Beaufort line.
Henry also made some political capital out of his Welsh ancestry, for example in attracting military support and safeguarding his army's passage through Wales on its way to the Battle of Bosworth Field. He came from an old, established Anglesey family that claimed descent from Cadwaladr (in legend, the last ancient British king), and on occasion Henry displayed the red dragon of Cadwaladr. In reality, however, his hereditary connections to Welsh aristocracy were not strong, with his most immediate ancestors having had their lands forfeited due to their support for Owain Glyndŵr’s revolt in 1400.
Following his father's death Henry's uncle, Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke, undertook to protect his siater-in-law and her son; she was 13 years old when she gave birth to Henry. When Edward IV became King in 1461, Jasper went into exile abroad. Pembroke Castle, and later the Earldom of Pembroke, were granted to the Yorkist William Herbert, who also assumed the guardianship of Margaret Beaufort and the young Henry. Herebert was however later captured and killed and when Henry VI was restored in 1470 Jasper Tudor returned. It would not however be long until the Yorkist Edward IV regained the throne in 1471, and Henry was forced to flee with other Lancastrians to Brittany, where he spent most of the next 14 years under the protection of Francis II, Duke of Brittany.
By 1483, Henry's mother was actively promoting him as an alternative to Richard III and in the same year he married Elizabeth of York. Following an early abortive attempt to land in England, and with support from the Woodvilles, in-laws of the late Edward IV, he sailed with a small French and Scottish force, landing in Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire, close to his birthplace. He marched towards England accompanied by his uncle Jasper and the Earl of Oxford and in part playing on his Welsh ancestry, he amassed an army of around 5,000 soldiers. His army met Richard III's at the Battle of Bosworth Field, where they won a decisive victory. Richard III's death at Bosworth Field effectively ended the Wars of the Roses, although it was not the last battle Henry had to fight to keep his throne.
Henry was successful in restoring the power and stability of the English monarchy after the civil war, and after a reign of nearly 24 years, he was peacefully succeeded by his son, Henry VIII. He credited with a number of administrative, economic and diplomatic initiatives. In particular his economic policies, and in particular the reform of the English tax system, restored the fortunes of an effectively bankrupt exchequer. The thrust of his foreign policy was both to maintain peace and to create economic prosperity. Recognising the importance of the newly united Spanish kingdom he concluded the Treaty of Medina del Campo, by which his son, Arthur Tudor, was married to Catherine of Aragon. Following Arthur’s death in 1502, Catherine would become the future king Henry VIII’s first wife. He also concluded the Treaty of Perpetual Peace with Scotland, which betrothed his daughter Margaret to King James IV of Scotland; the marriage would eventually lead to the union of the English and Scottish crowns under Margaret's great-grandson, James VI of Scotland and I of England.
Henry VII died at Richmond Palace on 21 April 1509 of tuberculosis and was buried at Westminster Abbey, next to his wife, Elizabeth, in the chapel he commissioned. He was succeeded by his second son, Henry VIII (reign 1509–47).
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see them first.
Æthelstan was King of the Anglo-Saxons from 924 to 927 and then King of the English from 927 to 939. He was the son of Edward the Elder and grandson of Alfred the Great. He is often regarded as the first King of England and has a reputation of being an able and successful ruler. According to the twelfth century chronicler William of Malmesbury "...no one more just or more learned ever governed the kingdom".
On Edward's death his realm appears to have been divided with the Mercians recognising Æthelstan and the West Saxons recognising his brother, Ælfweard. Ælfweard would however be dead within weeks of his father and Æthelstan was inaugurated as king of all of Edward's lands, being crowned on the 4th September 925, having finally eliminated any remaining resistance to his succession.
He was a talented military leader, in 927 conquering the last remaining Viking kingdom, York, and in doing so becoming the first Anglo-Saxon ruler of the whole of England. His lands may even have extended as far north as the Firth of Forth in present day Scotland. His relationship with the Kingdom of Scotland, known then by the Gaelic name Alba, would be fractious and in 934 he led an army against it, perhaps reaching as far north as Dunnottar and Fortriu in present day Aberdeenshire. No significant battles appear to have been fought and a settlement negotiated, with the Scottish King Constantine II acknowledging Æthelstan's overlordship, on September 13th 934. However, in 937 he would face an invasion from an alliance of Scots, Britons of Strathclyde and Vikings from Dublin. The resulting Battle of Brunanburh is reported in the Annals of Ulster as follows:
“…a great battle, lamentable and terrible was cruelly fought... in which fell uncounted thousands of the Northmen. ...And on the other side, a multitude of Saxons fell; but Æthelstan, the king of the Saxons, obtained a great victory".
At home Æthelstan centralised government, increasing control over the production of charters and summoning leading figures from distant areas to his councils. These meetings were also attended by rulers from outside his territory, especially Welsh kings, who thus acknowledged his overlordship. More legal texts survive from his reign than from any other 10th-century English king. They show his concern about widespread robberies, and the threat they posed to social order. His legal reforms built on those of his grandfather, Alfred the Great.
He was also known for his piety, collecting many relics and founding many churches. His household was the centre of English learning during his reign, and it laid the foundation for the Benedictine monastic reform later in the century. No other West Saxon king played as important a role in European politics as Æthelstan, and he arranged the marriages of several of his sisters to continental ruler
Æthelstan died at Gloucester on October 27th 939 and was buried at Malmesbury Abbey. He had no legitimate children and was succeeded by his by his half-brother Edmund, then aged 18. His empire collapsed in little more than a year after his death when the Viking chief Olaf Guthfrithson sailed from Ireland and seized Northumbria and the Mercian Danelaw. Edmund would rule between 939 and 946 and his brother Eadred between 946 and 955; most their reigns would be spent attempting to regain control of the lost lands. This would not be achieved until 954.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum and Dan Harris as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 874 to 899 and by the time of his death, the dominant ruler of England. He is one of only two English monarchs to be given the epithet "the Great", the other being the Scandinavian Cnut the Great. He was the first to style himself as King of the Anglo-Saxons and so is often identified as the first English King in many regal lists.
During his reign he had to repeatedly deal with Viking invaders, including the struggle with the Great Heathen Army, which he inherited on his succession to the throne of Wessex on 23rd April 871. He would win some significant military victories in doing so, including the Battle of Edington in 878.
Alfred had a reputation as a learned and merciful man of a gracious and level-headed nature who encouraged education, proposing that primary education be taught in English rather than Latin, and improved his kingdom's legal system, military structure and his people's quality of life.
Alfred died on 26 October 899. He was originally buried in the Old Minster in Winchester but was moved to the New Minster four years later. In 1110, the monks were transferred to Hyde Abbey along with Alfred's body, which was presumably interred before the high altar. He was succeeded by his son Edward the Elder, who ruled until 924.
Much of what we know of Alfred comes from his biography by Bishop Asser, which Alfred himself commissioned. It is therefore unsurprising that this work emphasised the king’s positive aspects. Later medieval historians, such as Geoffrey of Monmouth, perhaps influenced by this text, also reinforced Alfred's favourable image. Alfred’s promotion of English rather than Latin meant that he continued to be viewed positively during the time of the Reformation. Consequently, it was writers of the sixteenth century who gave Alfred his epithet as 'the Great' rather than any of Alfred's contemporaries. The epithet was retained by succeeding generations of Parliamentarians and empire-builders who saw Alfred's patriotism, success against barbarism, promotion of education and establishment of the rule of law as supporting their own ideals.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Charge of the Light Brigade
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
On this day in 1854 the Battle of Balaclava was fought between the Russian Empire and the allied armies of the Ottoman Empire, The Second French Empire, and the United Kingdom. It is perhaps the best known event of the Crimean War, largely due to the popularity of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, Charge of the Light Brigade.
Following the allied victory at the Battle of the Alma on September 20th, the allies failed to press their advantage with the Russian army able to regroup, recover and prepare a defence of the city of Sevastopol. The allies were forced into a siege, one that would last until September 1855 and involve many battles and naval bombardments. The British, under the command of Lord Raglan, and the French, under Canrobert, positioned their troops to the south of the city: the French Army occupied Kamiesh on the west coast whilst the British moved to the southern port of Balaclava. However, this position committed the British to the defence of the right flank of the Allied siege operations, for which Raglan had insufficient troops. On October 25th, recognising the weakness of the allied position the Russians, under General Liprandi decided to try an break the siege and attacked.
The Russians' first assault, which focused on the Ottomans, was successful and resulted in the retreat of the besieging force. With the first line of the Allies defences beaten the Russian cavalry moved to attack the second defensive line. This was held by the Ottomans and the British 93rd Highland Regiment, and since became known as the 'Thin Red Line'. This line of Allied defences held and repulsed the attack and was followed by the British Heavy Brigade charging and defeating the larger proportion of the Russians cavalry advance.
In the later stage of the battle, the Allies undertook a further cavalry charge. To this day the exact intentions of the orders given by the high command are still unclear but what ensued was one of the most famous ill-fated events in British military history - the Charge of the Light Brigade. The brigade made use of light horses, as opposed to heavy ones, which made these units fast and mobile, attributes good for reconnaissance and skirmishing, but not frontal assaults against well-armed artillery batteries, as the 4th and 13th Dragoons, 17th Lancers and 8th and 11th Hussars found themselves heading towards during the charge.
Led by Lord Cardigan, the Light Brigade charged the Russians and after going through devastating fire engaged the Russians. Due to heavy casualties, they were forced to retreat, under further fire from the Russians. Although the brigade was not completely destroyed, 118 men were left dead, 127 wounded and around 60 taken prisoner. After regrouping, only 195 men still had a horse. Despite this, the British cavalry’s reputation was significantly enhanced from the charge, though the same cannot be said of the commanders.
This little model was built by Steve Snasdell. It's an unusual build for us as it based around a literary character, namely the Harry Paget Flashman. Flashman was created by Thomas Hughes (1822–1896) in a semi-autobiographical Tom Brown's School Days (1857) and later developed by George MacDonald Fraser (1925–2008). Steve has built a series of models based on MacDonald Fraser’s novelisation, in which Flashman appears at the Siege of Sevastapol in the 1973 novel, Flashman at the Charge. You can see Steve’s whole series in this Flickr album:
On this day in 1805 the Battle of Trafalgar was fought between the British Royal Navy and the combined Imperial French and Spanish fleets. The British triumphed, however during the battle the British Admiral and leader of the fleet Horatio Nelson was mortally wounded.
During the battle Nelson and his flag captain Sir Thomas Hardy kept watch, until shortly after 1pm, Hardy realised that Nelson was no longer by his side. He had been shot. As Hardy turned he saw Nelson kneeling on the deck, supporting himself with one hand. Nelson fell onto his side and smiling says to his captain:
"Hardy, I do believe they have done it at last… my backbone is shot through."
What had happened was common during the naval melees of the time. Whilst the Victory had been engaged with the French ship Redoutable, a French marksman in the mizzentop (which is a platform at the top of each mast and not to be confused with a crows nest), who would have been no more than 15m away, had taken aim and found his mark. The trajectory of the bullet entered Nelson's left shoulder, passin through his spine at the sixth and seventh thoracic vertebrae and lodging itelf 50mm below his right shoulder blade, in the muscles of his back.
Nelson wascarried below by deck Robert Adair, sergeant-major of marines, and two seamen. As he was being carried , he asked them to pause and then Nelson gave some advice to a midshipman on the handling of the tiller. He then draped a handkerchief over his face to avoid causing alarm amongst the crew. He was taken to the lower decks, where surgeon William Beatty was waiting and said to him:
"You can do nothing for me. I have but a short time to live. My back is shot through."
Nelson is made comfortable, fanned. He shortly complained of feeling hot and thirsty and was brought lemonade and watered wine to drink. Over the next hour, he asked several times to see Hardy, who was still on deck supervising the battle. Nelson also asked Beatty to remember him to his daughter Emma and his friends.
At half-past two, Hardy informed Nelson that a number of enemy ships had surrendered. At this point, the chaplain Alexander Scott, the purser Walter Burke, Nelson's steward, Chevalier, and Dr Beatty were with Nelson. Nelson then passed away at four thirty in the afternoon, three hours after he was shot.
After the battle Nelson was venerated as Britain's greatest naval war hero and in the following years a number of monuments were erected in is honour; the most famous being Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London. HMS Victory continued in military service until 1831 when the British Admiralty issued orders to break the ship up and reuse her timbers. However, there was a public outcry resulting in the dismantling being stopped. The ship has since been used as a military school, suffered accidental ramming by HMS Neptume and further threats of scrapping. Fortunately for us today, Edward VII prevented the last efforts to scrap the ship and she can now be visited in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see them first.
George II of Great Britain & Ireland
On this date in 1727 George II was crowned King of Great Britain and Ireland. Hanoverian by birth, he was the last British monarch to be born outside of the British Isles. He was also the last British monarch to lead an army in battle when in 1743 he participated in the Battle of Dettingen, an engagement in the War of Austrian Succession.
In 1745 supporters of the Stuart claim to the throne, led by Charles Edward Stuart ("The Young Pretender" or "Bonnie Prince Charlie"), rose up in what would be the last Jacobite Rising. In this doomed attempt to depose George of his throne the Jacobites would win battles at Prestonpans and Falkirk and capture cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester. It would be George’s son, Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, who would finally quash the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the last pitched battle to be fought on British soil. In the wake of the rising Cumberland's reprisals would be brutal, earning him the epithet of “The Butcher”.
The Jacobite Risings were the subject of our big build of 2017, designed to coincide with Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. You can find out more about this enormous model on this webpage:
The Great Western Brick Show 2017
Last weekend marked the 15th anniversary of the Great Western Brick Show at Swindon's Museum of the Great Western Railway. As always, the show was packed with amazing quality models, with builders coming from all four corners of Britain and even further afield to display their work.
The Great Western Brick Show is always a big event for us, because it’s when we unveil the full extent of each year’s big build, which this year is the 16 metre square beast we call The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain's Throne. About 80% of the model had been on display at Manchester’s Bricktastic last July, but last weekend saw significant new features from Tim Goddard and Steve Snasdell added on to Dan Harris, James Pegrum and Simon Pickard's original.
The model tells the history of the Jacobite Risings, which took place between 1689 and 1746 and represent Britain's last civil wars, as supporters of the Stuart dynasty attempted to restore the family to the English, Scottish and, following the Act of Union, British thrones. The model is based on the striking geography of the Scottish Highlands, from where the Jacobites drew most of their support, and includes models of real life castles and fortresses. Perhaps most striking is the 1m high tree clad mountain range that runs down its centre, which is home to an abundance of brick-built highland wildlife including ptarmigan, grouse and golden eagle.
We were blown away by the reaction to the model, which we think might be the best we've ever had. It certainly made the gruelling 12 hour task of set up worthwhile! The model breaks a lot of our personal records, not only being the highest, but also having the most minifigures, which we estimate to be about 2,000, and most pieces, which our admittedly rough estimate places in the 750,000 – 1,000,000 range.
The Seige of Alesia
On this day in 52BC, or at least around this day given the vagaries of recording dates in antiquity and our ability to interpret them, Vercingetorix of the Arverni surrendered to Julius Caesar, bringing an end to the Siege of Alesia and an effective end to the Gaulish fight against the Romans.
In the spring of 52 BC the Gallic tribes once again rose against Caesar, this time under the leadership of Vercingetorix, a skilled leader. Though the Gauls experienced some success early on, over the summer Caesar succeeded in scattering their army. Recognising his tenuous position Vercingetorix chose to avoid further pitched battles, instead retreating to the Mandubii fort of Alesia, from where he sent cavalry to raise a fresh army.
Caesar’s response was to embark on a massive feat of engineering whereby he encircled Alesia with two lines of fortification and encamped his army between them. Food ran short in the fort and in desperation Vercingetorix forced out those unable to fight – the old, the sick, the women and the children. Though they begged to be taken into slavery, Caesar refused to accept their pleas and rejected by both friend and foe, they starved to death between the Gallic and Roman lines.
In September the Gallic relieving force, estimated to be a quarter of a million strong, arrived at the Roman lines. Both the relieving force and Vercingetorix army flung themselves at Caesar’s fortifications but were repeatedly driven back.
Two of the Roman legions were encamped together beneath a hillside to the north of the fort. Recognising this weakness, 60,000 of the relieving troops were moved round the back of hill under the cover of darkness. The following day they launched an attack from above the camp, while the remainder of the force attacked on the plane and Vercingetorix attacked from within. The Gauls on the hillside poured over the fortifications and the thinly spread legionaries could do little but hold them at bay, using their pila as spears. Meanwhile Caesar had managed to repulse Vercingetorix and the remaining Gauls and rallying his cavalry charged towards the beleaguered camp. Relieved by their general the Romans launched their pila into the Gallic throng and charged. Caught between the legionaries and the cavalry, the Gauls were slaughtered. Recognising the defeat, Vercingetorix surrendered the following day.
This little model was built by Brick to the Past's Dan Harris as part of a series of scenes on important events in Roman history. It is in fact a bit of a throwback, being the first model he built as a 'grown up'. We plan to post a lot more 'on this day' type articles in the future - be the first to first to see them by following us on Twitter and Facebook.
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