John Balliol was a King of Scotland, who reigned between November 30th 1292 and July 10th 1296. He was chosen to succeed Margaret, Maid of Norway, who died in September 1290 leaving no obvious heir. Following her death the Guardians of Scotland, who had been appointed to govern the realm during the young Queen's minority, called upon Edward I of England, to decide between various competitors for the Scottish throne in a process known as the Great Cause. Edward and his council would choose John, but the English king used it as an opportunity to turn Scotland into one of his vassals and what ensued was the bitter struggle of the First War of Scottish Independence.
Little of Balliol's early life is known. He was born between 1248 and 1250 at an unknown location; possibilities include Galloway, Picardy and Barnard Castle, County Durham. He derived his claim from being the great-great-great-grandson of David I (who reigned between 1124 and 1153), being senior in genealogical primogeniture but not in proximity of blood. His main rival was Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale (grandfather of Robert the Bruce, who later became king) and so following the Margaret's death there was a great risk that this rivalry would descend into a catastrophic civil war.
In an attempt to avoid conflict Guardians and other Scots magnates asked Edward I to intervene. Edward issued the ultimatum that his involvement would be on the condition that the realm of Scotland become a feudal dependency of the English throne. This was a long held ambition of the English monarchy, and while it was not unusual for Scottish kings to pay homage to their English neighbours, the practical implications were usually non-existent. What Edward sought was something more legally binding. This condition was not forthcoming, however a compromise was reached where Edward was put in temporary control of the principal royal castles of Scotland and for his part, Edward agreed that he would return control of both kingdom and castles to the successful claimant within two months.
Fourteen nobles put themselves forward as candidates for the throne. In reality only four had genuine claims, namely Balliol, Bruce, John Hastings, 1st Baron Hasting and Floris V, Count of Hooland. Of these only Bruce and Balliol had realistic grounds on which to claim the crown. The rest merely wished to have their claims put on the legal record. Edward gave judgement on November 17th 1292 and Balliol was chosen as king, with Edward’s son, the future Edward II, becoming heir designate. This decision had the support of the majority of Scots nobles and magnates. Balliol was crowned King of Scotland at Scone on November 30th 1292, St. Andrew's Day.
With the new king in place, Edward I coerced recognition as Lord Paramount of Scotland, the feudal superior of the realm, and steadily went about undermining John's authority. He demanded homage to be paid towards himself, legal authority over the Scottish King in any disputes brought against him by his own subjects, contribution towards the costs for the defense of England, and military support was expected in his war against France.
The Scottish nobility soon became weary of their king’s compromised position and so John’s authority was taken from him by the leading men of the kingdom, who appointed a council of twelve at Stirling in July 1295. They went on to conclude a treaty of mutual assistance with France, known in later years as the Auld Alliance.
The Franco-Scottish negotiations did not go unnoticed in England and in early October, Edward began to make preparations for an invasion of Scotland. One of Edward’s key appointments was that of Robert Bruce, 6th Lord of Annandale (father of the future King Robert the Bruce) as the governor of Carlisle Castle. He also ordered John to relinquish control of the castles and burghs of Berwick, Jedburgh and Roxburgh. Bit by bit, the English king began to build up his forces along the Scottish border.
In response John summoned all able-bodied Scotsmen to bear arms and gather at Caddonlee by March 11th 1296. Several Scottish nobles chose to ignore the summons, including Robert Bruce. On the 30th March, Edward sacked Berwick and then moving his forces north, met the Scots on the April 27th at the First Battle of Dunbar. The battle was a crushing defeat for the Scots, effectively ending the Scottish war effort. John retreated north, reaching Perth on June 21st, where he received a message from Edward, inviting him to surrender.
John abdicated at Stracathro near Montrose on July 10th 1296. Here the arms of Scotland were formally torn from his surcoat, giving him the abiding name of "Toom Tabard" (empty coat). By the end of August, most of Scotland was under Edward’s control and, after removing the Stone of Destiny from Scone Abbey and transporting it to Westminster Abbey, Edward convened a parliament at Berwick, where the Scottish nobles paid homage to him as King of England.
John was imprisoned in some comfort at the Tower of London until July 1299, when he was allowed to go to France on the request of Pope Boniface VIII. While initially he was required to stay with the Pope, in 1301 he was released and spent the rest of his life on his family’s ancestral lands in Picardy, France. He died in late 1314. He was survived by his son Edward Balliol, who later revived his family's claim to the Scottish throne and with the support of the English, would manage to briefly establish himself as king in opposition to David II.
These scenes were built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on the Kings and Queens of Scotland. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Good news folks, we're going to be attending our first show of the year - a totally online show - which will be held on the 25th and 26th July! This is all new to us so we're excited to see how it goes. So what is Bricks at Home?
Well, Bricks At Home is a virtual event for adult fans of LEGO® in the UK. It's two days of virtual LEGO fun on Zoom, including the latest MOCs from builders across the country, as well as activities and a chance to chat to fellow LEGO® fans.
On the 26th our builder Dan Harris will also be giving a talk about how we carry out research and build our models - so if you're interested in what we do it's well worth dropping in.
The event is being run by by Brick Alley LEGO User Group and London AFOLs and is totally free. You can find out more and sign up on the Bricks at Home website - we hope to see you there!
For the latest on all our shows, news and models, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
The Rebecca Riots are perhaps one of the more unusual British protest movements of the 19th century. Taking place in west and mid Wales between 1839 and 1843 they were undertaken by local farmers and agricultural workers in response to deteriorating economic conditions in the countryside. Nothing unusual there, however what marks these riots out is that they were usually undertaken by men dressed as women. Rebecca was their mythical leader and the name came from the Bible:
“And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, by thou the mother of thousands of millions and let thy seed possess the gate of those that hate them” (Genesis 24 Verse 60).
The rioters targeted toll-gates which were seen as the property of the gentry ('those that hate them') and were therefore tangible representations of high taxes and tolls. Consequently, the gates became a symbol of many different discontents about the land and the church. The rioters became known as Merched Beca (Welsh for "Rebecca's Daughters") or merely the Rebeccas.
In the late 1830s and early 1840sm the agricultural communities of West and Mid Wales were in dire poverty. Most farmers did not own their own land but paid rent to wealthy landlords (known as gentry) for the use of their farms. Rents were quite high - and out of proportion to what farmers could earn from their produce. The prices they received for cattle and sheep were falling. The common lands which were once available for the use of all the people in a village were now enclosed - that is they had become the property of the landlords and were leased out to farmers. Labourers (who worked for the farmers) had used the common to graze animals or for gathering firewood, suffered as a result.
The farmers also had to pay burdensome tithes to the church, to support the local vicar. But most people who went to religious services regularly went to chapels rather than the church. They still had to pay, even if they went elsewhere.
To compound matters, in 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed. The Act meant that if people did not have enough money to support themselves, they would be forced into one of the new workhouses where conditions were meant to be worse than the worst paid labourer outside. Families were split up; husbands separated from wives and sisters from brothers. The financing of the new system fell upon the local rate payer. In the past, farmers had often given food and goods to the poor but now they were expected to pay for building the hated workhouses. Therefore, the new system was not only seen as cruel, but expensive too.
The farmers and agricultural workers were therefore hit with a combination of a drastically reduced incomes, static rents and other business costs and an increase in local rates. Seeing themselves as victims of 'tyranny and oppression', the farmers and their workers took the law into their own hands to rid themselves of these unjust taxes. The first institutions to be attacked were the hated toll-gates.
In the early 19th century many toll-gates on the roads in Wales were operated by turnpike trusts, which were supposed to maintain and improve the roads, funding this from tolls. However, many trusts charged extortionate tolls and diverted the money raised to other uses. Even where this was not done, the toll-gate laws imposed an additional financial burden on poor farming communities.
The 'oppression', felt by the farmers, began in the late 1830s, when a group of toll-renters took over the region's trusts. This group was led by Thomas Bullin, who was hated by those who paid his tolls. The main reason for his dislike was the exacting method of the toll collection and the big toll increases of side-bars. The side-bars were simple toll gates, away from the main trunk roads, placed strategically on by-roads to catch any traffic that had tried to bypass the main toll booths via side lanes. These side-bars increased the cost dramatically of farmers' carting lime to their fields that was needed as fertilizer or to counteract acidity in soil: e.g. it was said that it cost an amount to buy a load of lime in Cardiff docks, and then ten times as much in road tolls to cart it to a farm in the hills inland.
The first riots took place in May 1839 when a new toll-gate at Efailwen in Carmarthenshire was destroyed. The Whitland Turnpike Trust rebuilt the gate, only for it to be destroyed again in June. A second new tollgate was attacked at Llanboidy while the new workhouse in Narbeth in Pembrokeshire was also attacked. Landlords were sent threatening letters to intimidate them into lowering rents and Anglican clergymen from the established Church of England were targets on several occasions. Trouble died down when it was agreed by the authorities that the gates would not be rebuilt.
It would however not be until 1842-43, when economic conditions were even worse that the movement would not become popular. In 1842 the Whitland Trust built a new gate at The Mermaid Tavern, on the lime road at St Clears in Carmarthenshire. This was destroyed in November, as were the tollgates at Pwll-trap and Trevaughan. The gates were rebuilt, but all gates in St Clears were destroyed by December 12th. The government refused to send soldiers and so the magistrates called in the marines from Pembroke Dock and the Castlemartin Yeomanry Cavalry. The rioting continued.
In May 1843, the tollgates at Carmarthen were destroyed and in June a crowd of 2,000 tried to burn down the workhouse there. Troops were called in as the movement became more violent. On July 6th the Bolgoed tollgate near Pontarddulais was attacked and destroyed by a group of some 200 rioters and in August riots took place in Llanelli.
The riots resulted in at least two deaths, the first on September 7th 1843, in which a young woman and gate keeper named Sarah Williams was shot and another in October when the tollhouse keeper of Hendy Gate near Swansea was killed.
From August 1843 things had begun to change with the farmers generally moving away from riots and instead holding open protest meetings. This was partly in response to an increasing presence of troops in the area but also because a group of petty criminals had started opportunistically masquerading as Merched Becca to commit crime. This group, led by known trouble-maker John Jones (Shoni Sguborfawr) and his associate David Davies (Dai'r Cantwr), were eventually convicted and transported to Australia, but before this they were enough to turn more respectable people away from Rebecca.
By late 1843, the riots had stopped completely. Although Merched Becca had failed to produce an immediate effect on the lives of the farmers they had sought to serve, the very nature of a leaderless uprising of the downtrodden peasantry in an attempt to obtain justice from an unfair system, was an important socio-political event within Wales. In the aftermath of the riots, some rent reductions were achieved, the toll rates were improved (although destroyed toll-houses were rebuilt) and the protests prompted several reforms, including a Royal Commission into the question of toll roads, which led to the Turnpikes, South Wales Act 1844. This Act consolidated the trusts, simplified the rates and reduced the hated toll on lime movement by half. he ending of the Corn Laws in 1846, and attempts in 1847 to make the Poor Law less cruel, also helped.
More importantly, the riots inspired later Welsh protests. These included opposition to the privatisation of salmon reserves on the River Wye in the 1860s and 70s, which became known as 'the second Rebecca Riots', and the formation in the 1970s of the radical arts collective known as the BECA group.
These scenes were built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
This year we are building and, Corona Virus notwithstanding, hoping to display a huge model to commemorating the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflwower. Over the coming months we will be publishing a series of blogs about the events that paved the way for her voyage and the reasons for those on board, who have been called the Pilgrim Fathers, for making the risky voyage across the Atlantic and establishing an English colony at Plymouth (or Plimoth) Colony, Massachusetts, America. In this blog we look back to the dissolution of the monastries.
Following the Acts of Supremacy in 1534 and the break with Rome, power to administer the English Church, to tax it, appoint its officials, and control its laws passed into Henry VIII hands. It also gave him control over the church's doctrine and ritual. While his religious views remained conservative he embraced a programme of reform to further promote the Royal Supremacy. To do this, he relied on men with Protestant sympathies, such as Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer.
For Cromwell and Cranmer, a major step on the Protestant agenda was attacking monasticism, which was associated with the doctrine of purgatory. Henry was not actually opposed to religious houses on theological grounds, there was concern over the loyalty of the monastic orders, which were international in character and resistant to the Royal Supremacy.
The Crown was also experiencing financial difficulties, and the wealth of the church, in contrast to its political weakness, made confiscation of church property both tempting and feasible. The church owned between one-fifth and one-third of the land in all England and Cromwell realised that he could bind the gentry and nobility to Royal Supremacy by selling to them the huge amount of church lands, and that any reversion to pre-Royal Supremacy would entail upsetting many of the powerful people in the realm.
In 1534, Cromwell initiated a visitation of the monasteries ostensibly to examine their character, but in fact, to value their assets with a view to expropriation. The visiting commissioners claimed to have uncovered sexual immorality and financial impropriety amongst the monks and nuns, which became the ostensible justification for their suppression. There were also reports of the possession and display of false relics.The Compendium Competorum compiled by the visitors documented ten pieces of the True Cross, seven portions of the Virgin Mary's milk and numerous saints' girdles.
Leading reformers, led by Anne Boleyn, wanted to convert monasteries into "places of study and good letters, and to the continual relief of the poor", but this was not done. In 1536, the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act closed smaller houses valued at less than £200 a year. Henry used the revenue to help build coastal defences against expected invasion, and all the land was given to the Crown or sold to the aristocracy. Thirty-four houses were saved by paying for exemptions. Monks and nuns affected by closures were transferred to larger houses, and monks had the option of becoming secular clergy.
The Royal Supremacy and the abolition of papal authority had not caused widespread unrest, but the attacks on monasteries and the abolition of saints' days and pilgrimages provoked violence. Mobs attacked those sent to break up monastic buildings. Suppression commissioners were attacked by local people in several places. In Northern England, there were a series of uprisings against the dissolutions in late 1536 and early 1537, including The Pilgrimage of Grace, which saw around 50,000 rebels restore 16 of the 26 northern monasteries that had been dissolved. The revolt was violently put down.
The failure of the Pilgrimage of Grace only sped up the process of dissolution and may have convinced Henry VIII that all religious houses needed to be closed. In 1540, the last monasteries were dissolved, wiping out an important element of traditional religion. Former monks were given modest pensions from the Court of Augmentations, and those that could sought work as parish priests. Former nuns received smaller pensions and, as they were still bound by vows of chastity, forbidden to marry. Henry personally devised a plan to form at least thirteen new dioceses so that most counties had one based on a former monastery (or more than one), though this scheme was only partly carried out. New dioceses were established at Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford, Peterborough, Westminster and Chester, but not, for instance, at Shrewsbury, Leicester or Waltham.
Following the dissolution of the monasteries, official religious policy began to drift in a conservative direction. This was due in part to the eagerness of establishment Protestants to disassociate themselves from religious radicals. It was becoming clear that the King's views on religion differed from those of Cromwell and Cranmer. In 1539 Parliament passed the Six Articles reaffirming Roman Catholic beliefs and practices such as transubstantiation, clerical celibacy, confession to a priest, votive masses, and withholding communion wine from the laity.
On June 28th 1540 Cromwell, was executed. Different reasons were advanced, including that he would not enforce the Act of Six Articles; that he had supported heretics; and that he was responsible for Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife. Traditionalists now seemed to have the upper hand. By the spring of 1543, Protestant innovations had been reversed, and only the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries remained unchanged.
However they overplayed their hand when the attempted to persecute Henry's last wife, Katherine Parr, of heresy. Leading traditionalist politicians, who would have formed a regency council on the event of Henry’s death, were disgraced or arrested, enabling the Protestant Edward Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife (and therefore uncle to the future Edward VI), to gain control over the Privy Council.
In our next blog, we will look at the reign of the young Edward VI.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on the English Reformation; follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
the noble Mortimer,
Leading the men of Herefordshire to fight,
Against the wild and irregular Glendower,
Was by the rude hand of that Welshman taken,
A thousand of his people butchered
William Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part 1
On this day in 1402 a Welsh army under Owain Glyndŵr won a significant victory over a larger English force at the Battle of Bryn Glas, near the towns of Knighton and Presteigne in Powys. The English were there to crush the war of independence that was being waged by Glyndŵr and his supporters. However, instead of bringing the rising to an end it renewed Welsh enthusiasm in the cause while also inflicting a destabilising blow upon English politics, from which it would take years to recover.
Glyndŵr had declared himself the true Prince of Wales and raised the banner of rebellion in 1400 after Reginald Grey, 3rd Baron Grey de Ruthyn, had unlawfully seized some of his lands and falsely caused charges of treason to be brought against him. In England, Richard II had just been overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke, the Duke of Lancaster, who became Henry IV of England, leaving the kingdom in a precarious position. Most of the nobility in Wales and the Welsh Marches were supporters of Richard, so the opportunity for insurrection was very much alive.
Despite leading a punitive expedition into north Wales, which initially appeared to have suppressed the revolt, Henry had not been able to deal a killing blow. Then in 1401 the Welsh captured Conwy Castle and won a victory at the Battle of Mynydd Hyddgen, boosting the resolve of the Welsh.
Early in 1402, Glyndwr's men ambushed and captured Grey de Ruthyn and held him for ransom. Then in June, Glyndwr moved his men towards Knighton and within 12 miles of Leominster, then an important English garrison and market town in the Welsh Marches.
There he was met by "almost all the militia of Herefordshire" under the command of Sir Edmund Mortimer. Mortimer was uncle to the young Edmund de Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, who both had a better hereditary claims to be King of England than Henry. However, Sir Edmund had so far loyally supported the new king. In any case, as a substantial holder of lands in Wales and on the borders, Mortimer had already suffered from the depredations of Glyndŵr's rebels and appeared to have much to lose should the revolt continue.
It's estimated that Mortimer had around 2,000 men under his command and so he sought to face Glyndŵr's smaller force in a decisive battle. Although the location was only just inside Wales, Glyndŵr undoubtedly had many local informants and sympathisers, and was therefore able to hatch a plan that would counter these odds. He had also probably been able to summon reinforcements from other parts of Wales, which moved rapidly over hill tracks, and was therefore far stronger than Mortimer realised. It's estimated that Glyndŵr was able to deploy around 1,500 men on the day.
Though always a risky tactic, Glyndŵr divided his army. Part of the army, including many archers armed with the powerful longbow, was placed on the slopes of the hill. The remainder were concealed in a valley to the left of the hill, camouflaged by thick foliage.
Mortimer's army formed up and advanced up the slope, against the Welsh archers clearly in view. With the advantage of height, Glyndwr's archers outranged Mortimer's (themselves armed with longbows). As Mortimer's men-at-arms tried to close with Glyndwr's archers, the Welsh troops who had been concealed in the valley emerged to attack Mortimer's right flank and rear.
At some stage, contingents of Welsh archers in Mortimer's army defected, and loosed arrows against their former comrades. It's not known whether their defection was planned in advance, or whether they chose to back Glyndŵr in the middle of the battle as the likely winner. Their action contributed to the confusion of Mortimer's army which, attacked from the steep slopes above, and from their flank and rear, was destroyed. The slaughter was said to be horrendous, and accounts put the numbers killed at between 200 and 1,100. Among those killed were Sir Walter Devereaux of Weobley, and Sir Robert Whitney, who was Henry IV's Knight-Marshal.
The outcome was one of the greatest Welsh victories against an English army in the open field; an English county levy had been utterly overwhelmed by the Welsh. News of it brought many Welshmen who had hitherto been undecided to openly support Glyndŵr. On the English side, it resulted in some panicked appointments of officers and hasty reinforcements of garrisons all over Wales.
Mortimer was captured in the battle. Henry, who was in financial difficulties, made no effort to ransom him. Mortimer subsequently renounced his allegiance to King Henry IV, put forward his nephew's claim to the throne of England and married Glyndŵr's daughter Catrin.
It was claimed by contemporary accounts that immediately after the battle, many English corpses were mutilated by Welsh women camp followers in revenge for the punitive expeditions of Henry IV in the previous years, which had been marked by many acts of brutality and rape. Whether these mutilations took place remains open to debate, as some historians suggest it was a story perpetrated by the English parliament to portray the Welsh as savages. According to the historian Philip Warner, the English dead lay unburied, and the stench caused the area to be avoided for months.
This scene was created by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on Welsh history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Tlahuicole or Tlahuicolli (1497–1518) was a leading warrior of the Tlaxcaltec and was noted for his skill and ethical standards.
The Tlaxcala lived adjacent to the Aztec Empire in what is now the present-day Mexican state of Tlaxcala. Tlahuicole was regarded as their most formidable hero, and commanded the Tlaxcaltec forces in the civil war in 1516 between the partisans of Cacamatzin and Ixtlilxochitl II. He was taken prisoner by stratagem and brought to the city of Mexico; but his bravery and character had made such an impression on Moctezuma II that instead of ordering the captive’s execution, he ordered his release; an act that had no precedent in Mexican history. But Tlahuicole refused to profit by the monarch's generosity. He said to Montezuma that it would be infamous for him to return to his country after being conquered, and insisted on undergoing the fate of the other prisoners. Montezuma, wishing, at any cost, to save his life, offered him the command of an army about to be sent to drive back the Purépechas, who had invaded his frontiers.
Tlahuicole accepted Moctezuma's offer, hoping to meet a glorious death in the ensuing battle. He advanced at the head of the Mexican troops to the city Tangimoroa, called by the Mexicans Tlaximaloyan, cut through the Purépecha army, which made a desperate resistance, and defeated them several times. He returned to Mexico, laden with spoils and accompanied by a long train of captives. Moctezuma lavished fresh honors on him, but failed to persuade him to accept the perpetual office of commander-in-chief or to return to his native country. He refused constantly, alleging that to do the first would be treason to his country, and to do the second would be a stain on his glory.
At last Moctezuma consented to satisfy the desire of his general, and ordered him to be tied to the stone of the gladiators. He was armed in the usual fashion, and Moctezuma, with all his court, was present at the spectacle. Eight famous warriors of Anahuac attacked him one after the other, and were all disabled: the ninth, however, stunned him with a blow, and he was then put to death, with the customary ceremonies.
On this day in 173 AD, or 172, or not even on this day at all, but a different day (the sources are contradictory and a bit imprecise and to be honest it doesn’t really matter… we just wanted an excuse to post a blog) the Roman army of Emperor Marcus Aurelius defeated and subdued a much larger force of Quadi in what become known as the ‘Miracle of the Rain’. The event, which took place in Marcus’ first Marcomannic War, is depicted on the Aurelian Column, which was completed in 193, and contemporaries and historians attributed it to divine intervention. Cassius Dio stated that it was called by an Egyptian magician praying to Mercury, while Christian writers such as Tertullian attributed it to a prayer by Christians.
By 161 AD, the pressures along the Roman frontier had reached a critical point as the Germanic tribes along its borders at the Rhine and Danube came to the conclusion that their survival meant breaking into Rome's territories. Beginning in 162 and continuing until 167, contingents of Chatti, Chauci, Langobardi and Lacringi invaded Roman provinces along this frontier and though these were repulsed with relative ease they gave a taste of what was to come. In their aftermath, the military governor of Pannonia, Marcus Iallius Bassus, initiated negotiations with 11 tribes, with the Marcomannic king Ballomar, a Roman client, acting as a mediator. A temporary truce was agreed and the tribes withdrew from Roman territory, however shortly after, Vandals and the Sarmatian Iazyges invaded Dacia, and succeeded in killing its governor, Calpurnius Proculus. In response the Empire began to mobilise, sending the Legio V Macedonica, a veteran unit of the Parthian campaign, to Dacia Superior to act as a counter force.
In the winter of 169 Marcus Aurelius gathered his forces and marched north with the intention of subduing the independent tribes who lived between the Danube and the Roman province of Dacia. Initially things did not fall favourably for the Roman’s, who were unable to fully commit due to a plague ravaging the Empire. While they were bogged down, Ballomar of the Marcomanni managed to form a coalition of Germanic tribes and crossed into Roman territory sweeping away all opposition that stood before him. Significantly, a large part of his army managed to invade Italy, razing Opitergium (Oderzo) and besieging Aquileia. This was the first time that hostile forces had entered Italy since 101 BC, when Gaius Marius defeated the Cimbri. The army of praetorian prefect Titus Furius Victorinus tried to relieve Aquileia, but was defeated and possibly killed during the battle (other sources have him die of the plague).
The invasion of Italy forced Marcus to re-evaluate his priorities and an army was sent to drive Ballomar out; this was achieve by the end of 171. Marcus was now once more able to turn his attention to the northern frontier. Intense diplomatic activity followed as the Romans tried to win over various barbarian tribes in preparation for a crossing of the Danube. A peace treaty was signed with the Quadi and the Iazyges, while the tribes of the Hasdingi Vandals and the Lacringi became Roman allies.
In 172, the Romans crossed the Danube into Marcomannic territory where they appear to have had some success, defeating both the Marcomanni and their allies. However during this period the Quadi broke their treaty and came the aid of their Germanic kin, forcing the Roman army into a perilous position. It is during this campaign that the Miracle of the Rain occurred, when the Twelfth Legion Fulminata became trapped by a much larger Quadi force. The event was described by Cassius Dio, however his history is partly lost, with only an excerpt by the Byzantine author Xiphilinus surviving. It is quoted below, including an addition by Xiphilinus, who accuses Dio of fraud:
“[71.8] So Marcus subdued the Marcomanni and the Iazyges after many hard struggles and dangers. A great war against the people called the Quadi also fell to his lot and it was his good fortune to win an unexpected victory, or rather it was vouchsafed him by heaven."
"For when the Romans were in peril in the course of the battle, the divine power saved them in a most unexpected manner. The Quadi had surrounded them at a spot favorable for their purpose and the Romans were fighting valiantly with their shields locked together; then the barbarians ceased fighting, expecting to capture them easily as the result of the heat and their thirst. So they posted guards all about and hemmed them in to prevent their getting water anywhere; for the barbarians were far superior in numbers. The Romans, accordingly, were in a terrible plight from fatigue, wounds, the heat of the sun, and thirst, and so could neither fight nor retreat, but were standing and the line and at their several posts, scorched by the heat, when suddenly many clouds gathered and a mighty rain, not without divine interposition, burst upon them. Indeed, there is a story to the effect that Harnuphis, an Egyptian magician, who was a companion of Marcus, had invoked by means of enchantments various deities and in particular Mercury, the god of the air, and by this means attracted the rain."
"[71.9] This is what Dio says about the matter, but he is apparently in error, whether intentionally or otherwise; and yet I am inclined to believe his error was chiefly intentional. It surely must be so, for he was not ignorant of the division of soldiers that bore the special name of the "Thundering" legion - indeed he mentions it in the list along with the others- a title which was given it for no other reason (for no other is reported) than because of the incident that occurred in this very war. It was precisely this incident that saved the Romans on this occasion and brought destruction upon the barbarians, and not Harnuphis, the magician; for Marcus is not reported to have taken pleasure in the company of magicians or in witchcraft. Now the incident I have reference to is this: Marcus had a division of soldiers (the Romans call a division a legion) from Melitene; and these people are all worshippers of Christ. Now it is stated that in this battle, when Marcus found himself at a loss what to do in the circumstances and feared for his whole army, the prefect approached him and told him that those who are called Christians can accomplish anything whatever by their prayers and that in the army there chanced to a whole division of this sect. Marcus on hearing this appealed to them to pray to their God; and when they had prayed, their God immediately gave ear and smote the enemy with a thunderbolt and comforted the Romans with a shower of rain. Marcus was greatly astonished at this and not only honoured the Christians by an official decree but also named the legion the 'thundering' legion. It is also reported that there is a letter of Marcus extant on the subject. But the Greeks, though they know that the division was called the "thundering" legion and themselves bear witness to the fact, nevertheless make no statement whatever about the reason for its name."
"[71.10] Dio goes on to say that when the rain poured down, at first all turned their faces upwards and received the water in their mouths; then some held out their shields and some their helmets to catch it, and they not only took deep draughts themselves but also gave their horses to drink. And when the barbarians now charged upon them, they drank and fought at the same time; and some, becoming wounded, actually gulped down the blood that flowed into their helmets, along with the water. So intent, indeed, were most of them on drinking that they would have suffered severely from the enemy's onset, had not a violent hail-storm and numerous thunderbolts fallen upon the ranks of the foe. Thus in one and the same place one might have beheld water and fire descending from the sky simultaneously; so that while those on the one side were being consumed by fire and dying; and while the fire, on the one hand, did not touch the Romans, but, if it fell anywhere among them, was immediately extinguished, the shower, on the other hand, did the barbarians no good, but, like so much oil, actually fed the flames that were consuming them, and they had to search for water even while being drenched with rain. Some wounded themselves in order to quench the fire with their blood, and others rushed over to the side of the Romans, convinced that they alone had the saving water; in any case Marcus took pity on them. He was now saluted Imperator by the soldiers, for the seventh time; and although he was not wont to accept any such honour before the Senate voted it, nevertheless this time he took it as a gift from heaven, and he sent a dispatch to the senate.”
The remainder of the war saw the Romans mopping up the remaining opposition and by the end of 175 they succeeded in their subduction of the main Germanic tribes in the region. Marcus may have intended to campaign against the remaining tribes, and together with his recent conquests establish two new Roman provinces, Marcomannia and Sarmatia, but whatever his plans, they were cut short by the rebellion of Avidius Cassius in the East, which forced him to divert his attention.
On December 23rd 176, together with his son Commodus, he celebrated a joint triumph for his German victories ("de Germanis" and "de Sarmatis"). In commemoration of this, the Aurelian Column was erected, on which the ‘Miracle of the Rain’ was represented. Peace between Rome and the Quadi and Marcomanni would however be short lived, with the Second Marcomannic War flaring up the following year.
On this day in 1832 the Representation of the People Act 1832, also known as the 1832 Reform Act, Great Reform Act or First Reform Act, gained Royal assent. The Act was a landmark step towards Britain becoming a more representative democracy, reforming the electoral system by abolishing tiny districts, giving representation to cities, giving the vote to small landowners, tenant farmers, and shopkeepers and to householders who paid a yearly rental of £10 or more and some lodgers.
The Act was designed correct abuses: to "take effectual Measures for correcting divers Abuses that have long prevailed in the Choice of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament". Before the reform, most members nominally represented boroughs. The number of electors in a borough varied widely, from a dozen or so up to 12,000. Frequently the selection of MPs was effectively controlled by one powerful patron: for example Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk, controlled eleven boroughs. Criteria for qualification for the franchise varied greatly among boroughs, from the requirement to own land, to merely living in a house with a hearth sufficient to boil a pot.
There had been calls for reform long before 1832, but without success. For example the demonstrators at Peterloo in 1819 and the workers participating in the Radical and Merthyr Risings, of 1820 and 1831 respectively, were amongst other things, all calling for the reform of Parliament. The Act that finally succeeded was proposed by the Whigs, led by Prime Minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. It met with significant opposition from the Pittite factions in Parliament, who had long governed the country; opposition was especially pronounced in the House of Lords. Nevertheless, the bill was eventually passed, mainly as a result of public pressure. The Act granted seats in the House of Commons to large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, and removed seats from the "rotten boroughs": those with very small electorates and usually dominated by a wealthy patron.
In all, the act:
Another change was the formal exclusion of women from voting in Parliamentary elections, as a voter was defined in the Act as a male person. Before 1832 there were occasional, although rare, instances of women voting.
The Act also increased the electorate from about 400,000 to 650,000, making about one in five adult males eligible to vote.
The Act applied only in England and Wales; the Irish Reform Act 1832 brought similar changes to Ireland. The separate Scottish Reform Act 1832 was revolutionary, enlarging the electorate by a factor of 13 from 5,000 to 65,000.
During the ensuing years, Parliament adopted several more minor reforms. Acts of Parliament passed in 1835 and 1836 increased the number of polling places in each constituency, therefore reduced polling to a single day. Parliament also passed several laws aimed at combating corruption, including the Corrupt Practices Act 1854, though these measures proved largely ineffectual. Neither party strove for further major reform; leading statesmen on both sides regarded the Reform Act as a final settlement.
There was considerable public agitation for further expansion of the electorate, however; the property qualifications meant that the majority of working men still couldn't vote. In particular, the Chartist movement, which demanded universal suffrage for men, equally sized electoral districts, and voting by secret ballot, gained a widespread following. The Chartists staged several risings in an attempt to force reform, the largest of which was the Newport Rising in 1839, which saw some 10,000 Chartists march on the town. But the Tories were united against further reform, and the Liberal Party (successor to the Whigs) did not seek a general revision of the electoral system until 1852. The 1850s saw Lord John Russell introduce a number of reform bills to correct defects the first act had left unaddressed. However, no proposal was successful until 1867, when Parliament adopted the Second Reform Act.
These scenes were built by Dan Harris and James Pegrum as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
In May and June 1831 the workers of Merthyr Tydfyl, Wales, rose up against the British Government in what would become known as the Merthyr Rising. It is believed that the red flag of revolution was flown as a symbol of workers' revolt for the first time during this event.
In 1829 the iron industry entered a depression that would last three years and as a result Merthyr Tydfil’s Ironmasters took action by making many workers redundant and cutting the wages of those in work. This was set against a background of rising prices and combined this forced many people into unsustainable debt. Consequently, creditors turned to the Court of Requests, which had been set up in 1809, to allow the bailiffs to seize the property of debtors.
In 1830 the Radicals of Merthyr, as part of the National movement for political reform, organised themselves into a Political Union and in November of that year held demonstrations to protest against the Truck System and the Corn Laws. By the end of 1830 the campaign had broadened to embrace the Reform of Parliament.
In March 1831 William Crawshay announced cuts in the wages of his workers and redundancies at Cyfarthfa Ironworks, which would take effect in May. It was this, combined with similar situations in other ironworks, the hatred of the activities of the Court of Requests, and some stirring up by political agitators which lit the spark of rebellion. On May 30th 1831 at the Waun Common above Dowlais a mass meeting of over 2,000 workers was held and tensions were high.
On May 31st bailiffs from the Court of Requests attempted to seize goods from the home of Lewis Lewis (Lewsyn yr Heliwr) at Penderyn, near Merthyr. However, neighbours rallied behind Lewis and the bailiffs were prevented from entering his home. The Magistrate, John Bruce, was called and he arranged a compromise between Lewis and the bailiffs which allowed the latter to remove a trunk belonging to Lewis. The next day workers from Merthyr marched to the Ironworks of Richard Fothergill at Aberdare where they demanded bread & cheese and created a disturbance. At the same time, at Hirwaun, a crowd led by Lewis Lewis marched to the home of a shopkeeper who was now in possession of his trunk, took the trunk back by force, and prepared to march to Merthyr.
On the march to Merthyr the crowd went from house to house, seizing any goods which the Court of Requests had taken, and returning them to their original owners. By this time the crowd had been swollen by the addition of men from the Cyfarthfa & Hirwaun Ironworks. They marched to the area behind the Castle Inn where many of the tradespeople of the town lived and in particular the home of Thomas Lewis, a hated moneylender and forced him to sign a promise to return goods to a woman whose goods he had seized for debt. Bruce arrived at the scene and recognising what was the start of a revolt withdrew. He then quickly enrolled about 70 Special Constables, mainly from the tradespeople, to help keep the peace. He also advised the Military Authorities at Brecon that he might need troops.
On June 2nd an attempt was made to persuade the crowd to disperse and when this failed the Riot Act read in English and Welsh. This was ignored by the crowed who drove the magistrate away and attacked the home of Thomas Lewis. That evening they assembled at the home of Joseph Coffin, President of the Court of Requests, seizing the books of the Court, which they burned in the street along with his furniture. On hearing of the attack Bruce called for troops to be deployed and so soldiers of the Royal Glamorgan Light Infantry were dispatched from Cardiff and a detachment of the 93rd (Sutherland) Highlanders were sent from Brecon. Meanwhile the crowd had marched to the various ironworks in the town and persuaded the workers to join them.
By the time the Highlanders had reached the Castle Inn where they were met by the High Sheriff of Glamorgan, the Merthyr Magistrates and Ironmasters and the Special Constables, a crowd of some 10,000 had gathered. The Riot Act was once more read and once more it was ignored. The crowd pressed towards the Inn with the soldiers drawn up outside. The workers demanded the suppression of the Court of Requests, higher wages, the reduction in the cost of items they used in their work and parliamentary reform; these were refused outright. They were told that if they did not disperse that the soldiers would be used. The result was to anger the crowd, which surged forward throwing stones and clubs at the soldiers. In the fight the soldiers outside the Inn were bludgeoned and stabbed, eventually provoking the soldiers stationed within to open fire, killing three of the rioters with their first shots. The fighting continued for a further 15 minutes before the crowd withdrew. Altogether 16 soldiers were wounded, 6 of them severely, and up to 24 of the rioters had been killed. The authorities withdrew to Penydarren House while rioters sent word to the Monmouthshire ironworks in an attempt to obtain further support.
By June 4th more troops including the Eastern Glamorgan Corps of Yeomanry Cavalry and the Royal Glamorgan Militia arrived in Merthyr. A troop of the Swansea Yeomanry Cavalry were ambushed on their arrival at Hirwaun, having apparently been greeted in a friendly manner. They were however quickly surrounded, their weapons seized and forced into a retreat back to Swansea, where they re-armed and joined the Fairwood Troop for the march back to Merthyr. A similar ambush was laid at Cefn Coed y Cymmer to stop ammunition being delivered from Brecon, forcing the Cardiff Troop of Glamorgan Yeomanry Cavalry into retreat. A troop of 100 Central Glamorgan Yeomanry was sent to assist but were unable to break through the mob. By now the rioters commandeered arms and explosives, set up road-blocks, formed guerrilla detachments, and had banners capped with a symbolic loaf and dyed in blood. Those who had military experience had taken the lead in drilling the armed para-military formation, and created an effective central command and communication system.
On Sunday June 5th delegations were sent to the Monmouthshire Iron Towns to raise further support for the riots and on June 6th a crowd of around 12,000 or more marched along the heads of the valleys from Monmouthshire to meet the Merthyr Rioters at the Waun Common. The authorities decided that rather than wait for this mob to attack them they would take the initiative, and 110 Highlanders, 53 Royal Glamorgan Light Infantry Militia and 300 Glamorgan Yeomanry Cavalry were despatched to stop the marchers at Cefn Coed. Faced by the levelled muskets of the army the crowd dispersed without bloodshed. The Rising was effectively over.
Panic spread through Merthyr and arms were hidden, the leaders fled and workers returned to their jobs. On the evening of June 6th the authorities raided houses and arrested 18 of the rebel leaders. Eventually Lewis Lewis was found hiding in a wood near Hirwaun and a large force of soldiers escorted him in irons to Cardiff Prison to await trial.
The trials began on 13 July 1831 at Cardiff Assizes. 28 men and women were tried. Most of those found guilty were eventually sentenced to transportation. Lewis Lewis and Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) were charged with attempting to murder a soldier, Donald Black of the 93rd Highland Regiment, outside the Castle Inn on June 3rd, by stabbing him with a bayonet attached to a gun. The main evidence against the two Lewis' was from Black himself, James Abbott, a hairdresser and Special Constable and James Drew, also a hairdresser and Special Constable. On the evidence it was adjudged that Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) was guilty but that Lewis Lewis was not (though he was already under sentence of death for the attack on Thomas Lewis' house). Dic Penderyn was sentenced to death.
Joseph Tregelles Price, A quaker Ironmaster from Neath, took up the case of Dic Penderyn and Lewis Lewis and presented a petition to have them transported. Evidence was produced that Abbott had threatened Penderyn prior to June 3rd and people said that Penderyn was not there when Black was attacked and that they knew who had carried out the attack but it was not Dic Penderyn. Strangely Lord Melbourn, the Home Secretary, reprieved Lewis Lewis, who was certainly one of those most responsible for the riots, and transported him to Australia, but would not reprieve Penderyn, who seems to have been much less involved. Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) was taken from his cell at Cardiff Prison on August 13th 1831 to the gallows at St.Mary Street, Cardiff and there he was executed protesting his innocence. He was 23. His body was transported across the Vale of Glamorgan to be buried at Margam.
In 1874 the Western Mail reported that a man named Ieuan Parker had confessed to a Minister on his death bed in Pennsylvania, USA that he was the man who attacked Donald Black. James Abbott, who had testified at Penderyn's trial, later said that he had lied under oath, claiming that he had been instructed to do so by Lord Melbourne.
In 2000 a legal case was started by Lewis's descendants to seek a pardon and in June 2015, Ann Clwyd MP presented a petition for a pardon in the House of Commons. However Mike Penning, Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, responded that pardons were only granted where evidence has come to light which demonstrates conclusively that the convicted individual was innocent and that the relevant appeal mechanisms have been exhausted. In July 2016, Stephen Kinnock MP presented a 600-signature petition to the Ministry of Justice, calling for a pardon. The Ministry of Justice replied that 10,000 signatures were required to trigger a parliamentary debate, and referred to the answer given by the ministry in 2015. Kinnock said that the fight for a pardon would continue.
This model was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
On this day in 1495 the first known batch of Scotch whisky was recorded. In an entry in the Exchequer Rolls for 1494/95 it is written that malt was sent "To Friar John Cor, by order of the king, to make aqua vitae VIII bolls of malt", enough to make about 500 bottles. It’s from the term “aqua vitae", Latin for” water of life”, that whiskey derives its name, coming from the Gaelic Uisge, a shortened version of uisge beatha meaning, you guessed it, "water of life.”
This is unlikely to the first time whisky was distilled in Scotland. In fact the earliest mention of whiskey comes from Ireland, with the seventeenth-century Annals of Clonmacnoise attributing the death of a chieftain in 1405 to "taking a surfeit of aqua vitae" at Christmas. So it’s likely that its distillation developed in Scotland at around the same time, or at least shortly after.
Scotland’s king at the time was James IV and he is reported to have been very fond of the drink. Brother John Cor was a Tironensian monk based at Lindores Abbey in Fife, where he probably acted as an apothecary. He was a servant at James’ court and would therefore probably have been an obvious choice of distiller for the king.
At this time the distillation process was still in its infancy; whisky itself was not allowed to age, and as a result tasted very raw and brutal compared to today's versions. Renaissance-era whisky was also very potent and not diluted. Over time whisky evolved into a much smoother drink we know today and I for one am very happy about that - Sláinte!
This scene was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on Scottish history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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