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.
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.
On the 30th May 1381 revolt broke out in Essex following the arrival government official John Bampton to investigate non-payment of the poll tax. The revolt, which would be known as The Peasants' Revolt, Wat Tyler's Rebellion or the Great Rising spread across large parts of the kingdom of England. A contingent of rebels even managed to enter London and gain, albeit temporarily, concessions from the young king, Richard II, who was just 14 at the time. Ultimately however, the revolt would end in failure and by the end of November of the same year, most of the rebel leaders had been tracked down and executed.
The revolt had various causes, including the socio-economic and political tensions generated by the Black Death in the 1340s, the high taxes resulting from the conflict with France during the Hundred Years' War, and instability within the local leadership of London. In particular, people were unhappy with the operation of serfdom and the use of the local manorial courts to exact traditional fines and levies.
The final trigger for the revolt was the arrival of John Bampton in Essex on May 30th 1381 to investigate non-payment of the poll tax. Brampton was a Member of Parliament, a Justice of the Peace and well-connected with royal circles. He based himself in Brentwood and summoned representatives from the neighbouring villages of Corringham, Fobbing and Stanford-le-Hope to explain and make good the shortfalls on June 1st. The villagers however turned up armed and organised, carrying with them old bows and sticks and when two sergeants under Brampton attempted to arrest a representative for non-payment, violence broke out. Brampton escaped to London, but three of his clerks and several of the Brentwood townsfolk who had agreed to act as jurors were killed. By the next day the revolt had spread across the region and by June 4th groups of rebels, now thousands strong, marched north and south, to London and Suffolk to escalate the revolt.
In Kent, violence also flared up following the arrest and imprisonment of a Robert Belling, who was claimed to be an escaped serf. On June 6th, rebels stormed the gaol at Maidstone and then advanced on Rochester Castle, where Belling was held. Faced by the angry crowds, the constable in charge of Rochester Castle surrendered it without a fight and Belling was freed.
From this point, the Kentish peasants appear to have been led by Wat Tyler, whom the Anonimalle Chronicle suggests was elected their leader at a large gathering at Maidstone on June 7th. Little is known about Tyler prior to the Revolt, though it is suggested that he may have served in France as an archer and was a charismatic and capable leader.
Tyler and the Kentish men advanced to Canterbury, entering the walled city and castle without resistance on June 10th. The rebels deposed the absent Archbishop of Canterbury, Sudbury, and made the cathedral monks swear loyalty to their cause. They attacked properties in the city with links to the hated royal council, and searched the city for suspected enemies, dragging the suspects out of their houses and executing them. The city gaol was opened and the prisoners freed. Tyler then persuaded a few thousand of the rebels to leave Canterbury and advance with him on London the next morning.
The Kentish advance on London appears to have been coordinated with the movement of the rebels in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Their forces were armed with weapons including sticks, battle axes, old swords and bows. Along their way, they encountered Lady Joan, the King's mother, who was travelling back to the capital to avoid being caught up in the revolt; she was mocked but otherwise left unharmed.
Word of the revolt reached the King at Windsor Castle on the night of June 10th and by the next day he had taken up residence in the powerful fortress of the Tower of London. The king was in a difficult position, having perhaps only a few hundred soldiers at his disposal. Most of his troops and experienced commanders were abroad and the nearest major military force was in the north of England, guarding against a potential Scottish invasion. A delegation, headed by Thomas Brinton, the Bishop of Rochester, was therefore sent out from London to negotiate with the rebels and persuade them to return home.
At Blackheath, the Lollard preacher John Ball gave a famous sermon to the assembled Kentishmen. Ball was a well-known priest and radical preacher from Kent, who was by now closely associated with Tyler. Ball rhetorically asked the crowds "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then a gentleman?" and promoted the rebel slogan "With King Richard and the true commons of England".
The phrases emphasised the rebel opposition to the continuation of serfdom and to the hierarchies of the Church and State that separated the subject from the King, while stressing that they were loyal to the monarchy and, unlike the King's advisers, were "true" to Richard. The rebels rejected proposals from the Bishop of Rochester that they should return home, and instead prepared to march on.
Since the Blackheath negotiations had failed, the decision was taken that the King himself should meet the rebels, at Greenwich, on the south side of the Thames. Guarded by four barges of soldiers, Richard sailed from the Tower on the morning of June 13th, where he was met on the other side by the rebel crowds. The negotiations failed, as Richard was unwilling to come ashore and the rebels refused to enter discussions until he did. Richard returned across the river to the Tower.
The rebels entered London via London Bridge on June 13th, the bridge’s gates having been opened from the inside. Another contingent arrived at Algate and where let in by those already inside. The Kentish rebels had assembled a wide-ranging list of people whom they wanted the King to hand over for execution. It included national figures, such as John of Gaunt, Archbishop Sudbury and Hales. The city’s prisons were attacked and emptied and the houses of Flemish immigrants targeted. Smithfield and Clerkenwell Priory, the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller, were also destroyed while the Knights’ legal offices on Fleet Street were emptied of their contents, books and paperwork, which were burnt. Next to be attacked along Fleet Street was the Savoy Palace, a huge, luxurious building belonging to John of Gaunt, which was ripped apart and burnt to the ground. In the evening, rebel forces turned their attention to the Tower of London, from where the young King watched his city burn.
The next day the houses of officials continued to be burnt and Flemings hunted. According to one source, in one city ward, the bodies of 40 executed Flemings were piled up in the street. According to historian Rodney Hilton argues that these attacks may have been coordinated by the weavers' guilds of London, who were commercial competitors of the Flemish weavers.
King Richard left the castle that morning and made his way to negotiate with the rebels at Mile End in east London, taking only a very small bodyguard with him.The King left Sudbury and Hales behind in the Tower, either for their own safety or because Richard had decided it would be safer to distance himself from his unpopular ministers.
It is uncertain who spoke for the rebels at Mile End, and Wat Tyler may not have been present on this occasion, but they appear to have put forward their various demands to the King, including the surrender of the hated officials on their lists for execution; the abolition of serfdom and unfree tenure; and a general amnesty for the rebels. Richard issued charters announcing the abolition of serfdom, which immediately began to be disseminated around the country. He declined to hand over any of his officials, apparently instead promising that he would personally implement any justice that was required.
While Richard was at Mile End, the Tower was taken by the rebels. Taking advantage of the gates, which were open to receive Richard, around 400 rebels entered the fortress, possibly under the leadership of a lady named Johanna Ferrour. They encountered no resistance, possibly because the guards were terrified by them. Once inside, the rebels began to hunt down their key targets, and found Archbishop Sudbury and Robert Hales in the chapel of the White Tower. Along with William Appleton, John of Gaunt's physician, and John Legge, a royal sergeant, they were taken out to Tower Hill and beheaded. Their heads were paraded around the city, before being affixed to London Bridge. The rebels found John of Gaunt's son, the future Henry IV, and were about to execute him as well, when John Ferrour, one of the royal guards, successfully interceded on his behalf. The rebels also discovered Lady Joan and Joan Holland, Richard's sister, in the castle but let them go unharmed after making fun of them. The castle was thoroughly looted of armour and royal paraphernalia.
Richard did not return to the Tower but instead travelled to the Great Wardrobe, one of his royal houses in Blackfriars, part of south-west London. There he appointed the military commander Richard FitzAlan, the Earl of Arundel, to replace Sudbury as Chancellor, and began to make plans to regain an advantage over the rebels the following day.
On June 15th, Richard left the city to meet Tyler and the remaining rebels, who were unsatisfied with the charters granted the previous day, at Smithfield, just outside the city walls. The King and his party, at least 200 strong and including men-at-arms, positioned themselves outside St Bartholomew's Priory to the east of Smithfield, and the thousands of rebels massed along the western end.
Richard probably called Tyler forwards from the crowd to meet him, and Tyler greeted the King with what the royal party considered excessive familiarity, terming Richard his "brother" and promising him his friendship. Richard queried why Tyler and the rebels had not yet left London following the signing of the charters the previous day, but this brought an angry rebuke from Tyler, who requested that a further charter be drawn up. The rebel leader apparently demanded refreshment and, once this had been provided, attempted to leave.
An argument then broke out between Tyler and some of the royal servants. When the Mayor of London, William Walworth, stepped forward to intervene, Tyler made some motion towards the King, and the royal soldiers leapt in. Either Walworth or Richard ordered Tyler to be arrested, Tyler attempted to attack the Mayor, and Walworth responded by stabbing Tyler. Ralph Standish, a royal squire, then repeatedly stabbed Tyler with his sword, mortally injuring him.
The situation was now precarious and violence appeared likely as the rebels prepared to unleash a volley of arrows. Richard rode forward towards the crowd and persuaded them to follow him away from Smithfield, to Clerkenwell Fields, defusing the situation. Walworth meanwhile began to regain control of the situation, backed by reinforcements from the city. Tyler's head was cut off and displayed on a pole and, with their leader dead and the royal government now backed by the London militia, the rebel movement began to collapse. Richard promptly knighted Walworth and his leading supporters for their services.
The royal suppression of the revolt began shortly after, with Sir Robert Knolles, Sir Nicholas Brembre and Sir Robert Launde being appointed to restore control in the capital. A summons was put out for soldiers, probably around 4,000 men were mustered in London, and expeditions to the other troubled parts of the country soon followed. The revolt in East Anglia was independently suppressed by Henry Despenser, the Bishop of Norwich, who defeated a rebel army at the Battle of North Walsham on the 25th or 26th of June.
The rebel leaders were quickly rounded up. John Ball was caught in Coventry, tried in St Albans, and executed on July 15th. A wide range of laws were invoked in the process of the suppression, from general treason to charges of book burning or demolishing houses, a process complicated by the relatively narrow definition of treason at the time. The use of informants and denunciations became common, causing fear to spread across the country; by November at least 1,500 people had been executed or killed in battle.
Despite the violence of the suppression, the government and local lords were relatively cautious in restoring order after the revolt, and continued to worry about fresh revolts for several decades. Indeed, low-level unrest continued for several more years.
There were no further attempts by Parliament to impose a poll tax or to reform England's fiscal system. The Commons instead concluded at the end of 1381 that the military effort on the Continent should be "carefully but substantially reduced". Unable to raise fresh taxes, the government had to curtail its foreign policy and military expeditions and began to examine the options for peace. The institution of serfdom declined after 1381, but primarily for economic rather than political reasons. Rural wages continued to increase, and lords increasingly sold their serfs' freedom in exchange for cash, or converted traditional forms of tenure to new leasehold arrangements. During the 15th century the institution vanished in England completely.
Another effect was that due to the Lollard element within the revolt, the Lollards lost the support and protection of their noble and royal sympathisers. By the mid-1400s, the word Lollard had essentially become synonymous with 'heretic.'
These scenes were built by James Pegrum and Dan Harris; follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Elizabeth Fry was one of Britain's most influential 19th century social reformers and is best known for her work on improving the conditions of Britain's gaols. Because of her work, first on the treatment of female prisoners at Newgate Prison and then more generally on the conditions in British and European gaols, she has often been referred to as the "angel of prisons".
Elizabeth was born on May 21st 1780 in Gurney Court, off Magdalen Street, Norwich, Norfolk, England into a prominent Quaker family, the Gurneys. Her father, John Gurney (1749–1809), was a partner in Gurney's Bank. Her mother, Catherine, was a member of the Barclay family who were among the founders of Barclays Bank. Her mother died when Elizabeth was twelve years old so as one of the oldest girls in the family, she was partly responsible for the care and education of the younger children.
She married Joseph Fry, who was also a Quaker, in August 1800 at the Norwich Goat Lane Friends Meeting House and moved to St Mildred's Court in the City of London. In 1811 she was recorded as a minister of the Religious Society of Friends.
Prompted by a family friend, Stephen Grellet, Fry visited Newgate Prison in 1813. The conditions she saw there horrified her. The women's section was overcrowded with women and children, some of whom had not even received a trial. The prisoners did their own cooking and washing in the small cells in which they slept on straw.
She returned the following day with food and clothes for some prisoners. She was unable to personally further her work for nearly four years because of difficulties within the Fry family, including financial difficulties in the Fry bank.
Fry returned in 1816 and was eventually able to fund a prison school for the children who were imprisoned with their mothers. Rather than attempt to impose discipline on the women, she suggested rules and then asked the prisoners to vote on them. In 1817 she helped found the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate. This association provided materials for women so that they could learn to sew patchwork which was calming and also allowed skills to develop, such as needlework and knitting which could offer employment when they were out of prison and then could earn money for themselves. This approach was copied elsewhere and led to the eventual creation of the British Ladies' Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners in 1821. She also promoted the idea of rehabilitation instead of harsh punishment which was taken on by the city authorities in London as well as many other authorities and prisons.
Elizabeth Fry also campaigned for the rights and welfare of prisoners who were being transported. The women of Newgate Prison were taken through the streets of London in open carts, often in chains, huddled together with their few possessions. They were pelted with rotten food and filth by the people of the city. The fear was often enough to make women condemned to transportation riot on the evening before. Fry's first action was to persuade the Governor of Newgate prison to send the women in closed carriages and spare them this last indignity before transportation. She visited prison ships and persuaded captains to implement systems to ensure each woman and child would at least get a share of food and water on the long journey. Later she arranged each woman to be given scraps of material and sewing tools so that they could use the long journey to make quilts and have something to sell as well as useful skills when they reached their destination. She also included a bible and useful items such as string and knives and forks in this vital care package. Elizabeth Fry visited 106 transport ships and saw 12,000 convicts. Her work helped to start a movement for the abolition of transportation. Transportation was officially abolished in 1837, however Elizabeth Fry was still visiting transportation ships until 1843.
Fry wrote in her book Prisons in Scotland and the North of England that she stayed the night in some of the prisons and invited nobility to come and stay and see for themselves the conditions prisoners lived in. Her kindness helped her gain the friendship of the prisoners and they began to try to improve their conditions for themselves. Thomas Fowell Buxton, Fry's brother-in-law, was elected to Parliament for Weymouth and began to promote her work among his fellow MPs. In 1818 Fry gave evidence to a House of Commons committee on the conditions prevalent in British prisons, becoming the first woman to present evidence in Parliament.
Her humanitarian work didn’t stop at prisons. For example, she helped the homeless, establishing a "nightly shelter" in London after seeing the body of a young boy in the winter of 1819/1820. She also campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade and opened a training school for nurses. Her programme inspired Florence Nightingale, who took a team of Fry's nurses to assist wounded soldiers in the Crimean War.
Her work gained her admiration from people in high places. One such was Queen Victoria, who granted her an audience a few times before she was Queen and contributed money to her cause after she ascended to the throne. Another admirer was Robert Peel who passed several acts to further her cause including the Gaols Act 1823. The act was however largely ineffective, because there were no inspectors to make sure that it was being followed.
Fry died from a stroke in Ramsgate, England, on October 12th 1845. From 2001–2016, Fry was depicted on the reverse of £5 notes issued by the Bank of England.
These scenes were built by Dan Harris and James Pegrum as part of a series on important people in British history; follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
On this day in 1568 the Battle of Langside was fought between forces loyal to Mary, Queen of Scots and forces acting in the name of her infant son James VI. The battle, which can be regarded as the start of the Marian Civil War, was a crushing defeat for Mary, who was forced into exile and captivity in England.
In 1567, Mary’s short period of personal rule ended in recrimination, intrigue and disaster when, after her capture at Carberry Hill, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her son James, who was little more than a year old at the time. Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle, while her half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray was appointed Regent on behalf of his nephew. However, on May 2nd 1568 Mary escaped, heading west to the country of the Hamiltons, high among her remaining supporters, and the safety of Dumbarton Castle with the determination to restore her rights as queen.
There she was joined by a wide cross-section of the nobility, including the Earls of Argyll, Cassillis, Rothes and Eglinton, the Lords Sommerville, Yester, Livingston, Herries, Fleming, Ross, numerous of the feudal barons and their followers. Within a few days Mary had managed to gather a respectable force of some 6,000 men.
It was openly declared that her abdication, and her consent to the coronation of James, had been extorted from her under threat of death. An act of council was then passed, declaring the whole process by which Moray had been appointed as Regent to be treasonable. A bond was drawn up by those present for her restitution, signed by eight earls, nine bishops, eighteen lords, twelve abbots and nearly one hundred barons.
At this stage Mary wanted to avoid battle and aimed to establish herself to the west, at Dumbarton Castle. This strong position would enable here to receive reinforcements from the north and form the base for her to establish her authority by gradual expansion. With the intention of by-passing Moray, who had around 4,000 men under his command, she marched on a wide circuit around Glasgow, intending to move by way of Langside, Crookston and Paisley back towards the River Clyde, and then on to Dumbarton on the north side of the Clyde estuary.
However, Moray and his army were ready on the moor close to Langside, which is now part of Glasgow, but was then a small village. Crossing the River Cart, the Regent placed his ordered hackbutters (musketeers) and cavalry among the cottages, hedges and gardens of the village, which bordered each side of a narrow lane, through which Mary's army had to pass. The rest of the army was deployed around the village. No sooner was this complete than the Queen's vanguard, commanded by Lord Hamilton, began its advance through the village. The battle was now under way.
Mary’s army was under the command of Archibald Campbell, 5th Earl of Argyll, who was to show little in the way of real military skill, seemingly hoping simply to push Moray aside by sheer force of numbers. As Hamilton attempted to force a passage through Langside he was met by close fire from the Regent’s hackbutters. Many in the front ranks were killed, throwing the remainder back on those following, and adding to the general confusion. Hamilton pushed on, finally reaching the top of a hill, only to find the main enemy army drawn up in good order. Moray’s border pikemen advanced to intercept Hamilton’s men. Both sides now met in a 'push of pike'.
At one point it looked like Moray’s army might be turned on its right wing, however seeing this, Moray reinforced it and the counter-attack pressed with such force that it broke the Marian ranks. The remainder of the Regent’s forces were then committed and in the face of this onslaught the Queen's men crumbled. The Battle of Langside was over after just forty-five minutes.
Despite the low casualties, which numbered just one for Moray and around 100 for Mary, the defeat was a significant one for the Queen. Over 300 of Mary's men were taken prisoner, including some of her most powerful allies, such as Lord Seton and Sir James Hamilton. Mary fled, first trying to reach Dumbarton Castle, but then turning south to Dundrennan Abbey. From there she left for England, never to set foot in Scotland again. Over the next five years the Queen’s supporters in Scotland continued a civil war with the Regents of Scotland. Mary’s fate however, would now be decided by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth of England.
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.
On this day in 1945 Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies ending World War II in Europe. The day has become known as Victory in Europe Day, generally known as VE Day (United Kingdom) or V-E Day (USA), and is a celebration of this event.
Upon the defeat of Germany, celebrations erupted throughout the western world, especially in the UK and North America. More than one million people celebrated in the streets throughout the UK to mark the end of the European part of the war. In London, crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the palace before the cheering crowds. Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II) and her sister Princess Margaret were allowed to wander incognito among the crowds and take part in the celebrations.
In the United States, the event coincided with President Harry Truman's 61st birthday. He dedicated the victory to the memory of his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage less than a month earlier, on 12 April. Great celebrations took place in many American cities, especially in New York's Times Square.
Tempering the jubilation somewhat, both Winston Churchill and Truman pointed out that the war against Japan had not yet been won. In his radio broadcast at 15:00 on the 8th, Churchill told the British people that: "We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing (as Japan) remains unsubdued". In America, Truman broadcast at 09:00 and said it was "a victory only half won". It would not be until August 15th that Japan surrendered.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on important events in world history. 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 1611 and the publication of the King James Bible and how this fits in with the story of the Mayflower.
On this day in in 1611 the King James Bible was published for the first time in London by printer Robert Barker. To quote In our Time presenter Melvyn Bragg, it “…wasn’t the first of the several bibles translated into English but it was and remains far and away the most influential”. In this blog we explore the path to the King James Bible and how it became widely available to those in England and indeed further afield. We will also look at how this translation failed to satisfy the demands of the Puritans and how this would eventually lead to around 40 of them to board the Mayflower and sail to America to practice their beliefs.
For much of its history, the Bible in England was not available in any language other than Latin and in the 14th century this began to be seen as a real problem as ordinary people couldn’t understand it and had to rely on a priest to read and explain God’s Word. In the 1370s the English philosopher, theologian and priest John Wycliffe (c 1330–1384) began to officially criticize the Roman Church. One of his chief complaints was that that everybody should have direct access God’s word and therefore the Bible should be translated into English.
Wycliffe’s followers were known as Lollards and by 1384 Wycliffe and his Lollard colleagues had translated the entire Bible into the vernacular Middle English. Wycliffe's Bible pre-dated the printing press but was circulated very widely in manuscript form.
By now Wycliffe's teachings had been rejected by the church, but he had not been charged for fear of a popular uprising. The translation of the Bible caused great unrest among the clergy and so several defensive provincial synods were convened, such as the 3rd Council of Oxford. Under the chairmanship of Archbishop Thomas Arundel, official positions against Wycliffe were written in the Oxford and Arundel Constitutions and so from 1408 it became illegal and indeed heretical to translate scripture into English.
Wycliffe died later in 1384 and by the mid-1400s, the word Lollard had essentially become synonymous with 'heretic.' However, his bible was secretly preserved and read by followers. Wycliffe's Bible was not printed until 1731, when he was historically conceived as the forefather of the English Reformation.
The next English Bible translation was that of William Tyndale, whose Tyndale Bible had to be printed from 1525 outside England in areas of Germany sympathetic to Protestantism. However, it carries the distinction of being the first printed Bible in English. Tyndale himself was sentenced to death at the stake because of his translation work. He was strangled in 1536 near Brussels and then burned. Nevertheless, the merits of Tyndale's work and prose style made his translation the ultimate basis for all subsequent renditions into Early Modern English.
With Tyndale’s translations lightly edited and adapted by Myles Coverdale, in 1539, Tyndale's New Testament and his incomplete work on the Old Testament became the basis for the Great Bible, which was the first "authorised version" issued by the Church of England during the reign of King Henry VIII. Coverdale worked under commission of Thomas, Lord Cromwell, Secretary to Henry VIII and Vicar General. In 1538, Cromwell directed the clergy to provide "...one book of the Bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it."
When Mary I succeeded to the throne in 1553, she returned the Church of England to the communion of the Roman Catholic faith and many English religious reformers fled the country, some establishing an English-speaking colony at Geneva. Under the leadership of John Calvin, Geneva became the chief international centre of Reformed Protestantism and Latin biblical scholarship.
These English expatriates undertook a translation that became known as the Geneva Bible. This translation, dated to 1560, was a revision of Tyndale's Bible and the Great Bible on the basis of the original languages. However, soon after Elizabeth I took the throne in 1558, the flaws of both the Great Bible and the Geneva Bible (namely, that the Geneva Bible did not "conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its beliefs about an ordained clergy") became painfully apparent.
In 1568, the Church of England responded with the Bishops' Bible, a revision of the Great Bible in the light of the Geneva version. While officially approved, this new version failed to displace the Geneva translation as the most popular English Bible of the age—in part because the full Bible was only printed in lectern editions of prodigious size and at a cost of several pounds. Accordingly, ordinary people overwhelmingly read the Bible in the Geneva Version—small editions were available at a relatively low cost. At the same time, there was a substantial clandestine importation of the rival Douay–Rheims New Testament of 1582, undertaken by exiled Roman Catholics. This translation, though still derived from Tyndale, claimed to represent the text of the Latin Vulgate.
In May 1601, King James VI of Scotland attended the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at St Columba's Church in Burntisland, Fife, at which proposals were put forward for a new translation of the Bible into English. Two years later, he ascended to the throne of England as James I. The newly crowned King convened the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. That gathering proposed a new English version in response to the perceived problems of earlier translations as detected by the Puritan faction of the Church of England.
The Puritans were sought to purify the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices, maintaining that the Church of England had not been fully reformed and needed to become more Protestant. In church polity, some advocated separation from all other established Christian denominations in favour of autonomous gathered churches. Politics and religion being deeply entwine during this period, this was seen as a challenge not only to the church but also to James royal authority.
In 1603 the Puritans had issued James with the Millenary Petition, a Puritan manifesto of 1603 for reform of the English church, but James wanted a religious settlement along different lines. So while Puritans were present at the Hampton Court Conference, and the teachings of four prominent Puritan leaders heard there, they were largely side-lined in favour of the High Church bishops.
When it came to the Bible, instructions were given to the translators that were intended to limit the Puritan influence on this new translation. Further instructions were given to not add marginal notes, as James had identified several in the Geneva Bible that were offensive to his principles of “divinely ordained royal supremacy” and to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology of the Church of England.
The new translation had to be familiar to its listeners and readers so the text of the Bishops' Bible would serve as the primary guide for the translators, and the familiar proper names of the biblical characters would all be retained. If the Bishops' Bible was deemed problematic in any situation, the translators were permitted to consult other translations from a pre-approved list: the Tyndale Bible, the Coverdale Bible, Matthew's Bible, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible.
James' instructions also included several requirements that kept the new translation familiar to its listeners and readers. The text of the Bishops' Bible would serve as the primary guide for the translators, and the familiar proper names of the biblical characters would all be retained. If the Bishops' Bible was deemed problematic in any situation, the translators were permitted to consult other translations from a pre-approved list: the Tyndale Bible, the Coverdale Bible, Matthew's Bible, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible.
The task of translation was undertaken by 47 scholars, although 54 were originally approved. All were members of the Church of England and all except Sir Henry Savile were clergy. The scholars worked in six committees, which included scholars with Puritan sympathies, as well as High Churchmen.
The committees started work towards the end of 1604 and all sections were complete by 1608. From January 1609, a General Committee of Review met to review the completed marked texts.
The original printing of the Authorized Version was published by Robert Barker, the King's Printer, in 1611 as a complete folio Bible. It was sold looseleaf for ten shillings, or bound for twelve. In contrast to the Geneva Bible and the Bishops' Bible, which had both been extensively illustrated, there were no illustrations at all in the 1611 edition of the Authorized Version, the main form of decoration being the historiated initial letters provided for books and chapters – together with the decorative title pages to the Bible itself, and to the New Testament.
The Authorized Version's acceptance by the general public was not immediate and the Geneva Bible continued to be popular with large numbers were imported from Amsterdam, where printing continued up to 1644 in editions carrying a false London imprint. However, few if any genuine Geneva editions appear to have been printed in London after 1616, and in 1637 Archbishop Laud prohibited their printing or importation. It would not be until the first half of the 18th century, that the Authorized Version became effectively unchallenged as the sole English translation in current use in Protestant churches. However, general standards of spelling, punctuation, typesetting, capitalization and grammar had changed radically in the 100 years since the first edition of the Authorized Version, and all printers in the market were introducing continual piecemeal changes to their Bible texts to bring them into line with current practice—and with public expectations of standardized spelling and grammatical construction. Therefore in 1760s the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge both sought to produce an updated standard leading to the 1769 version edited by Benjamin Blayney. This became the Oxford standard text, and is reproduced almost unchanged in most current printings.
However, to end this blog we return briefly to the early 17th century and the Puritans. The reforms of James I and his new bible were not enough to satisfy the most ardent of Puritans. Consequently many would seek other places to worship, first in the Netherlands and then, via England and the Mayflower, North America. We will explore these individuals, their motivations and ambitions, more closely in later blogs.
In our next blog in this series we will will however jump back in time a little and tell the story of the English Reformation of the 16th century. These scenes were built by James Pegrum; follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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