Friday, April 28, 2017

Behold the head of a traitor - of the sad fate of Edmund of Woodstock

by Anna Belfrage

In March of 1330, a parliament was held at Winchester. As always since 1327, the young king Edward III officially presided, but the real power lay with his regents: his mother, Queen Isabella, and her favourite & purported lover, Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March.

The men assembling in Winchester fell into two categories: those who supported the regents and those who didn’t. The king himself belonged among the latter, but as things stood, our seventeen-year-old king had no option but to smoulder and bear it—for now.

Among Mortimer’s more vociferous enemies were Henry of Lancaster, cousin to the king, and Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent and the king’s uncle. When the Winchester parliament opened, Edmund was not among those present. He was under arrest—for treason.

Edmund's coat of arms
Let us take a few steps back: Edmund of Woodstock was born in 1301, the second son in Edward I’s second marriage. As can be deduced from his name, he was born at the palace of Woodstock, and we can assume there was quite some rejoicing at his birth—Edward I now had three sons to safeguard his bloodline.

When Edward I died in 1307, Edmund’s half-brother, Edward II, became king. The age-gap between the new king and his much younger brothers was such that we can assume their relationship was somewhat distant—Edward was busy governing his kingdom and enjoying the freedom his new role brought with it and likely had little time for Edmund and his brother Thomas of Brotherton.

Edward I had made plans for his two younger sons, but had not followed through on them prior to dying. His intention had been to settle an earldom each on his sons, but early on in his reign Edward II decided to invest his beloved favourite Piers Gaveston with the earldom of Cornwall, which was one of the titles earmarked for his brothers. Edmund’s mother seethed, Edward likely shrugged—but as his brothers grew older he invested Thomas as Earl of Norfolk and granted Edmund sufficient land to keep the lad in style.

Edward II dining in splendid isolation

Where Thomas of Brotherton rarely emerges from the shadows in what documents we have, Edmund has left a substantial impression. He quickly proved himself a capable servant of his king, especially during those tumultuous years when Roger Mortimer and Thomas of Lancaster led the baronial revolt against Edward II in 1321-22. Edmund was in the thick of things—all the way from the initial conflict at Leeds Castle to the signing of the execution order for the captured Thomas of Lancaster.

The baronial rebellion was quashed, Mortimer was thrown in the Tower, and Edward was very pleased with his young brother, who emerged from the fray as the Earl of Kent and holder of substantial lands in the Welsh Marches. Our Edmund had every reason to be grateful to his royal brother—except, of course, that where Edmund got some land, Edward’s new favourite, Hugh Despenser, got much, much more land. In fact, so generous was the king to Hugh that he had an annual income almost four times higher than Edmund’s. Not something that pleased Edmund—or anyone else, to be honest, seeing as the English barons were getting very tired of the grasping Despenser.

In the aftermath of the baronial rebellion, Edward II, together with his trusted advisors Bishop Stapledon and Hugh Despenser, implemented what is best described as a dictatorship. Anyone suspected of colluding with the rebels risked losing everything they had, including their lives. Their paranoia increased tenfold when Mortimer managed to escape from the Tower and flee to France. Suddenly, the baronial opposition had a leader again, and the more heavy-handed Edward II and Despenser became, the more attractive the option of joining Mortimer became.

Not only did Edward manage to aggravate his barons. He also alienated his wife when he deprived Queen Isabella of her dower lands. Isabella was closer in age to Edmund than to her husband, and seeing as she was drop-dead gorgeous and Edmund was just as mouth-wateringly handsome, I imagine these two shared a common admiration for each other. Besides, they were cousins, grandchildren to Philip III of France.

At the time, being French to any degree was not an advantage in England: yet again, England and France were at war, this time over Gascony. In 1324, Edmund was sent to France to attempt a diplomatic solution, and when that failed he was put in charge of defending Gascony, an almost impossible task seeing as Edmund lacked both men and means. But he did his best, holding out until late September of 1324 before he was forced to surrender and agree to a six-month truce.

Edmund chose to remain in France. Maybe he preferred not to face his brother’s wrath at having failed him in Gascony, or maybe he was sick and tired of dancing attendance of the royal chancellor, Hugh Despenser. Whatever the case, he was in France when Isabella arrived in March of 1325, charged by her husband with the delicate task of negotiating a permanent truce between him and his French counterpart, Charles IV.

How Isabella had managed to convince Edward to entrust her with this mission is unknown, but I suppose Isabella was smart enough to hide her anger and humiliation at being deprived of all her income while promising herself she would have revenge—some day. Whatever her feelings, she successfully negotiated a treaty with her brother Charles. All Edward II had to do was to come to France and do homage for his French lands and everything would be peachy-pie.

Edward of Windsor doing homage to Charles IV with his mama at his side
Except that Edward II didn’t want to come to France—or rather, Hugh Despenser didn’t want him to go, worried that the moment the king left the country, the baronage would rise in rebellion and kill poor Hugh. Probably a correct assessment of the sentiments of the time, and apparently Edward agreed. Instead of going himself, he sent his young son and heir, Edward of Windsor. Unwittingly, he had thereby handed Isabella the weapon with which to destroy him.

Young Edward came to France, young Edward did homage, young Edward did not go straight back home as instructed by his father. Instead, he stayed with his mother, who simply could not bear to let him go. Isabella had collected several disgruntled English noblemen as her admirers, including Edmund of Woodstock. I imagine there were already whispers of invasions, of doing something to oust that despicable Despenser. When Roger Mortimer rode in to present himself to Isabella, the invasion had found its leaders: the extremely capable and ruthless combo of Isabella and Mortimer.

Edmund would likely not have been entirely thrilled at seeing Mortimer rise so rapidly in Isabella’s favour. Mortimer would not have been delighted at coming face to face with the man who’d been rewarded with Mortimer land for his efforts in putting down the rebellion of 1321. For the moment, whatever differences they had were laid aside, and to reinforce this fragile truce Edmund married Margaret Wake, Mortimer’s first cousin. By doing so, he sent a clear signal to his half-brother that he’d changed his allegiance, and in March of 1326 Edward II retaliated by stripping Edmund of all his lands and titles. (As an aside, Edmund and Margaret were to have four children, one of whom is Joan of Kent, famous for her beauty and her somewhat complicated marital life)

Isabella leading the siege at Bristol

Mortimer’s and Isabella’s invasion of England was a resounding success. Soon enough, Hugh Despenser was dead and Edward II was locked up in Kenilworth, his son crowned as Edward III in his stead. Edmund expected to be part of the inner circle that guided his young nephew, but neither Isabella nor Mortimer were all that interested in sharing their power. This did not go down well with Edmund, who was also struggling with feelings of guilt related to his deposed brother. That guilt became a crushing burden when it was announced in 1327 that their former king, Edward of Caernarvon, had died while in captivity.

In 1328, Edmund joined Henry of Lancaster’s rebellion against the regents, demanding that Mortimer be set aside in favour of the true peers of the realm. Mortimer acted with speed and determination. Edmund, knowing just how efficient Mortimer could be, abandoned Lancaster’s cause and returned to the royal fold just before Lancaster’s final humiliation.

By now, Edmund had acquired the reputation of being a weather-vane: first he’d supported his royal brother, then he’d joined Mortimer and Isabella, then he’d thrown his lot in with Lancaster only to change his colours yet again when things got sticky. Not a man to count on, one could say, even if Edmund would probably have disagreed, protesting that he’d been driven into rebellion against his brother and king by the grasping and conniving Despenser.

Whatever his reputation, Edmund was concerned with other matters: there were rumours that his brother had not died but was still alive behind the thick walls of Corfe Castle. Disenchanted with Isabella’s and Mortimer’s continued rule, Edmund chose to investigate further. One little piece here, another there, and soon enough Edmund was convinced his brother was alive. If so, what better way to right the wrongs he’d done his brother than to spring him from his prison and help him retake his throne?

This was the plot Mortimer uncovered early in 1330, his agents presenting him with a letter Edmund’s wife had written on his behalf to the imprisoned king. (In itself interesting: does this mean Edmund did not know how to write or was it a matter of penmanship?) Being somewhat gullible, Edmund had handed the sealed missive to an intermediary who’d promised to smuggle it into Corfe and hand it to the unhappy erstwhile king. Instead, the rascal gave it to Mortimer, and so Edmund was arrested and brought before parliament where his confession was read out loud.

There was only one verdict: death.

Appalled, Edmund threw himself on his nephew’s mercy, begging piteously for his life. He’d do anything—anything!—to prove his loyalty. He’d even walk all the way to London with a noose round his neck to atone for his actions. But there was nothing Edward III could do. Mortimer had seen to that, making it impossible for Edward to pardon his uncle without implicitly admitting there could be some truth in Edmund’s assertions that the former king was alive.

Whether or not Edward II was alive is, as per some historians, an open question. The men named as co-conspirators included several barons and bishops, men who would be in a position to know—and surely they’d not risk Mortimer’s displeasure for a dead man? We will never know, of course. It does, however, seem probable that Mortimer very much on purpose fed Edmund the little bits and pieces that convinced him his brother was alive, thereby luring the earl into treason. Ultimately, Mortimer’s behaviour in this matter would lead to his own death: the king, disgusted at having been duped into signing away his uncle’s life did not forgive. Or forget.

On a cold March morning in 1330, Edmund of Woodstock was led out to meet his maker. The executioner had done a runner, refusing to soil his hands with the blood of a man condemned for trying to help his brother. None of the assembled men-at-arms volunteered in his stead, neither did their captains. Poor Edmund shivered in only his shirt as the hours passed and no one was found willing to strike off his head. At long last, a condemned man undertook the task in exchange for a reprieve. The earl knelt. The axe fell. The severed head was held aloft, accompanied by the traditional cry of “behold the death of a traitor.” Usually, the crowd would cheer. This time, no one did.

All pictures in public domain and/or licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons

~~~~~~~~~~~

Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Edmund of Woodstock appears quite frequently. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016, and the third, Under the Approaching Dark, was published in April 2017.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

More about Anna on her website or on her blog!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Eadric of Mercia: History or Calumny?

By David Mullaly

Making sense of the past is a challenging enterprise, especially when historians have generally concluded that a man or woman was demonstrably a villain, or when we are left with little actual reliable information because the person lived so long ago. In the case of Eadric of Mercia, a.k.a. Eadric “Streona,” both elements are involved.  However, I would suggest that another factor is involved in a realistic assessment of this controversial figure: the potential bias of the chroniclers who have provided the only narratives about him.

A little historical background might be helpful. King Edgar (959-975), had been very generous to the Church, and the ecclesiastical land holdings had increased substantially during his reign. That meant that there were potentially many more armed men available to do the bidding of the church authorities, and fewer who would be required to answer the call of the king or his representative and join the citizen army or fyrd.

King Edgar - detail from New Minster Charter

In Mercia, a man named Aelfric Cild served as ealdorman for only two years, and in 985 he was convicted of treason and exiled. The current king, Aethelred II (978-1016), did not replace him for over twenty years. As a result, for two decades there was no secular authority in that domain, and the Church was probably even more successful at expanding its holdings there than elsewhere.

Perhaps distracted by continual threats from the Vikings, King Aethelred did nothing to curtail Church expansion in Mercia until he named the youthful Eadric to be the ealdorman in 1007.  In fact, I would suggest that the king’s primary reason for re-establishing a representative in that domain was to recover lands and men which had been lost to the Church, and to reassert a secular authority there. He needed another strong ally.

Eadric began to get approval of charters--essentially land transfers--with the consent of the witans, which were assemblies of powerful men headed by the king himself. Presumably, the ealdorman was doing all of this with the encouragement of the king. Of course, churchmen were outraged to see lands and men being returned to private hands at the expense of the Church. Holdings in both Mercia and in nearby areas--including within the diocese of Worcester--were lost.

The young Eadric was not the only official from that part of the country accused of stealing from the Church.  Leofwine was the ealdorman of Hwicce, a domain subservient to Mercia which included Worcester itself. He--and his sons--were also accused of despoiling the Church for their own benefit.  And, like Eadric, Leofwine was probably acting with the approval of the king.

A charter from the reign of Aethelred II

Unfortunately for Eadric’s reputation, most of the clerics who wrote the chronicles--the thin narrative accounts which provide us with virtually the only historical information we have about the early 11th century in England-- lived and worked at Worcester Priory.  The one narrative roughly contemporary with Eadric was a part of what we now call The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  While we don’t know who the writer was who made the earliest scandalous accusations about Eadric, it wouldn’t be shocking if he turned out to be a cleric at the Worcester Priory.

He accused Eadric of being responsible for the murders of two thegns from the Daneland, although it was Edmund, the heir to the throne, who directly benefited from their deaths, defying his father by illegally marrying the widow of one of the victims and taking control of that family’s estates. The writer blamed Eadric for the killing of the ealdorman Uhtred, although two other accounts gave responsibility to an enemy of Uhtred’s family.  And of course he reviled Eadric for betraying the English army and leaving the battlefield at Assandun , which gave Cnut the victory--and ultimately the throne of England.  That may be the only factual accusation that this chronicler made about Eadric.

A page from Hemming's cartulary
Who else contributed elements of the Eadric story? A monk named Hemming, who lived at the Worcester Priory around fifty years after the death of Eadric, wrote his Cartulary summarizing the property losses suffered by his diocese at the hands of powerful people, and included both Eadric and Cnut among the evil takers of Church lands. He likely originated the appellation Eadric “Streona” (the grasper or taker) as he has been named ever since. One should remember that in this document intended to support land claims of the Church, he provided between twenty-five and thirty fraudulent land charters to buttress his case.

Two other monks from the area added to the condemning narrative. John of Worcester, living at the priory, wrote about Eadric being responsible for the assassination of Ealdorman Aelfham while they were hunting together. He provided this story, as well as other condemning descriptions, approximately one hundred years after the death of Eadric. William of Malmesbury, a monk living in the early twelfth century at Malmesbury Abbey, from a neighboring diocese which probably also lost property to the ealdorman, railed against Eadric’s calumny and deceptions.

Malmesbury Abbey - image Adrian Pingstone

In fact, some have suggested that a denunciatory saga about Eadric, presumably produced at the Worcester Priory, existed during the eleventh century, but no copy has ever been found. Whatever were the sources of these stories, Eadric was reviled by churchmen from that small area of England, and the chances that his role in the history of the period would be presented without malice or distortion are pretty small.

A little information about an eminent churchman may be instructive in this regard.  The Bishop of Worcester Wulfstan, for much of his life also Archbishop of York, was one of the most highly regarded clerics of his day. He is most famous for his homily entitled Sermon of the Wolf to the English, in which he identified the attacks by the Vikings as God’s punishment for the lax ways of the English people.

However, he also created from whole cloth two non-existent historical works, Laws of Edward and Guthrum and the Canons of Eadgar because they were useful to him as precedents from the past. He had points to make, and he had no problem fabricating early writings to support them. I do not believe that he was the only cleric to be “creative” in his writing. In fact, he may have been more honest and reliable than many of his contemporaries, who were more concerned with defending the Church than they were with providing completely factual narratives.

A page from a Wulfstan manuscript

All of these chroniclers were among the very few literate people in England during this period, and their writings help us to tentatively add to what would otherwise be an almost empty slate. We can be grateful for their accounts, no matter how flawed they might be. However, we cannot forget that these churchmen had powerful agendas to further, some ecclesiastical, some political, and some personal.

Is it conceivable that a collection of Christian monks were responsible for the same sort of distortions involving Eadric of Mercia as Shakespeare committed in his portrayal of Richard III? The Bard did a wondrous hatchet job merely because he wanted the favor of Queen Elizabeth, whose ancestors were the Tudor adversaries of Richard III, and the House of York. The recent discovery of Richard’s remains has confirmed that he was not significantly deformed physically, and it’s almost certain that Shakespeare’s portrayal was less than accurate in other ways as well.

Ironically, the people who were most hostile toward Eadric of Mercia were the only historians whose accounts have survived. The monks, especially those from the Worcester diocese, saw Eadric as an enemy of the Church and its interests, and we should expect that they savaged him and his reputation in retribution. As someone suggested on a history blog a few years ago, “History is not written by the winners but by those who know how to write.” Perhaps they won’t--or at least shouldn’t--have the last word.

[all above images are in the Public Domain]

~~~~~~~~~~

David Mullaly’s first book is Eadric And The Wolves: A Novel Of The Danish Conquest of English. He bought and sold Viking artifacts for a dozen years, and he lives in Annapolis, Maryland. However, he remains desperately in love with English history, and is fascinated by what we know and what we don’t know about the Viking Age, especially in England and Ireland.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Commons Decides: Strafford Must Die

by Annie Whitehead

Last month, I wrote an overview of the careers of William, Archbishop Laud (1573-1645) and Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford (1593-1641), who were both executed. This time I'm going to look at why the House of Commons was so determined to secure Strafford's execution.

Wentworth c. 1639

Thomas Wentworth, himself a long-serving parliamentarian, nevertheless feared absolute rule by parliament and believed in constitutional monarchy. In 1628, he was in effect the leader of the house, yet he suddenly changed sides.

He had been part of the parliamentarian stonewall which had opposed Charles I's attempts to muzzle the commons in 1626 after the Earl of Buckingham's' disastrous war policy and the incident at La Rochelle, after which the wheels were set in motion for Buckingham's impeachment. The following March parliament was recalled, and Wentworth was the man who brokered a deal by which charges against Buckingham would be dropped if Charles assented to the Petition of Right, which would, in Wentworth's words, enforce their "ancient , sober and vital liberties."

When he changed sides, leading members of parliament never forgave him for his volte face, and renowned parliamentarians Eliot, Hampden and Pym in particular were very strongly opposed to him.

Wentworth's character made him enemies too; he was arrogant and ruthless and a proponent of the Policy of Thorough - a belief that a higher standard of efficiency and honesty was needed to put the country in order. He was a puritan, but approved the Arminian idea of order and discipline and became a great friend of Laud's. People distrusted Laud, fearing that he was moving England back to Rome, i.e. towards Catholicism. Ergo, by association, Wentworth was distrusted too.

Because he had angered parliament, he was moved by Charles I away from London and appointed President of the Council of the North. Wentworth proved to be an able administrator, but this alone was enough to secure him unpopularity in the north, where great families had hitherto enjoyed a fair amount of autonomy.

Van Dyck painting of Strafford with his secretary, Mainwaring

Wentworth was determined to enforce respect not only for the king, but for himself as the king's representative. He set about reviving the decaying administration and was successful in making the council an efficient governing body. But he was high-handed, and through the council's efficiency the great families thus lost their power, losing any profit from corrupt practices. Furthermore, he saw to it that the Yorkshire weavers worked to rule, obeying all regulations. He would not tolerate any production of sub-standard cloth, causing production rates to slow down, and thus in effect, reducing wages.

On paper, though, his appointment was a success, and Charles I was pleased. He appointed him Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1631, but here Wentworth was to make even more enemies.

The previous incumbent, Lord Falkland, had been recalled and the Irish administration had deteriorated badly. The man nominally in charge was Lord Justice Kilmallock, who was being aided by corrupt Protestant colonists, the Earl of Cork and the Earl of Loftus, who were also on friendly terms with the Catholic queen, Henrietta Maria.

Wentworth arrived in Ireland in 1633 and began establishing the king's authority, using the Policy of Thorough. However, influenced by the nobles Wentworth was ruining, the queen developed a dislike of Wentworth and began working against him.

Wentworth built up the court of Castle Chamber and used it as a prerogative court; he fined the Earl of Cork £40,000 for corruption and dishonesty and dismissed Loftus as Chancellor with the aid of the Council of Ireland. He upset the landowners by setting up a commission to investigate defective titles and rights of ownership of land. It caused landowners to increase rents they paid to the crown, and some had to restore tithes to the Church.

The official State religion was a sort of 'Calvinist Anglicanism', and there were a vast number of Scottish Presbyterians in Ulster who did not approve of bishops. In 1639 Wentworth forced the bishops of Ireland to accept the 39 Articles of the English, and he forced many Anglican ideas onto the Irish which were at odds with their Calvinist ideas.

Wentworth also proved to be extremely efficient at collecting taxes, and this won him few friends, especially among the old nobles who had been making money out of Ireland; few of them sympathised with his attempts to introduce order.

In 1640, Wentworth was recalled to London as his help was needed with the 'Scottish Problem'. He was made Earl of Strafford and became the king's supreme counsel. It was he who persuaded Charles to call the 'Short' Parliament, and he had meant to dominate it. It was to be his enemy, John Pym, however, who was to have that pleasure.

Strafford's Trial
The Short Parliament, under Pym's leadership, would vote no money for a military campaign. When it became clear that Pym was in touch with the Scots, or at least acting in concert with them, Strafford gave up any hope of a constitutional or legal solution, and at a meeting on May 5th, he urged Charles to dissolve parliament, telling him that he was "loosed and absolved from all rules of government." Upon the dissolution, three Members were imprisoned and their houses searched, mob rioting was punished by vigilante justice, and two youths were summarily hanged, one having been tortured first. When the City Aldermen declined Charles' request for a loan, Strafford committed four of them to prison and told the king, "Unless you hang up some of them, you will do no good with them."

Strafford returned to Ireland and was later called back to lead the army against the Scots in the Second Bishops' War. However, the northern earls were not inclined to be led into battle by Strafford, no doubt disliking him more than the Scots whom they were supposed to be fighting. The Bishops' War was lost, and Parliament was called. It was determined to punish those responsible for Charles I's eleven years of personal rule, which meant, in effect, Laud and Strafford.

Strafford on his way to execution, being blessed by Laud
The king's ministers were blamed for the defeat by the Scots, and Strafford was accused of treason because he had offered the Irish army to Charles for use against the Scots. Although he argued his defence and eliminated most of the charges against him, it was John Pym who won this particular battle. Strafford had made himself so unpopular - with the people because of his efficiency, with the nobles because of his efforts to wipe out corruption - that Pym's efforts to impeach him were supported by most people. By this time, Strafford was a hated man.

The decision to impeach Strafford was one driven by personal hatred. Parliament had never forgiven Strafford for changing sides and had certainly never trusted him again. He dismissed almost all the charges against him, and still they pushed for his execution, this turncoat who had become a king's man, a traitor to their cause against the monarchy.

Previous article on Laud & Strafford

Further Reading:

Archbishop Laud - Hugh Trevor-Roper
Archbishop Laud - Arthur Stuart Duncan-Jones
Strafford - C.V. Wedgwood
Strafford in Ireland 1633-1641: A Study in Absolutism - Hugh F. Kearney
The King's War, 1641-47 - C.V. Wedgwood
The Stuarts - JP Kenyon

[all above illustrations are in the public domain, and sourced from Wiki Commons]

~~~~~~~~~~

Annie Whitehead is an historian and novelist who writes about the Anglo-Saxon era, although she has a keen interest in the seventeenth-century. The author of two award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon Mercia, she was also a contributor to 1066 Turned Upside Down, a re-imagining of the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings. She is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an editor of the EHFA blog. Currently she is working on a contribution to a non-fiction book to be published by Pen & Sword Books in the summer of 2017.
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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Prince Bernard of Lippe-Beisterfeld: A German Prince in the RAF

by Linda Fetterly Root

A replica of the Beech 17S flown by Prince Bernard of the Netherlands
in WWII; Courtesy of Mike Freer, Touchdown Aviation,
with Robert Lamblough in the cockpit

When I discovered the post I had planned to display on my birthday was too similar to one I had published here two years ago, I frantically searched for another event occurring on the 24th of April which readers might find equally interesting.

In desperation, I researched the date on several sites including www. OnThisDay, and found an intriguing snippet there: on April 24, 1941, Prince Bernard of the Netherlands became a pilot in the RAF.  I had never heard of the gentleman and would have glossed had it not juggled a personal memory. My  Cleveland-born cousin Guy Patterson had joined the RCAF as a glider pilot in April, 1940. In my family, everything about Guy became a legend.  He had been a musician in the 30's, a bassist in the George Duffy Orchestra, who expatriated a few weeks after his heiress wife, my godmother Helen Cooper Patterson, died of tuberculosis. Their tragic romance had a very Eddie Duchin Story tone to it. Although I knew what had prompted my kinsman to renounce his citizenship and risk his life, I wondered what might have precipitated such a move on the part of a European royal. I searched further and discovered Prince Bernard was German by birth, and in his youth had been a National Socialist. I was hooked.

Ian Fleming, by Andrew Lycett
The more I read, the more I became convinced I had uncovered the material for a blockbuster historical novel. I did not discover until much later that a British spymaster and author named Ian Fleming had beat me to it.

The Early Life of Bernard (Bernhard) Lippe


Prince Bernard (Bernhard) of Lippe-Biesterfeld was born in Jena, Germany, in 1911. He was the elder son of the brother of Leopold, Prince of Lippe, an independent German principality until the disasters of WWI. Bernard’s parent’s marriage was morganatic, that is a royal marriage between people of divergent social classes, which did not effect Bernard’s legitimacy but did limit him from the succession unless there were no other Lippes left. At birth, he was given the title of Count, but he was not considered a prince. That deficit was remedied in 1916, when Leopold elevated Bernard and his mother to royal status. The figure at the right is his Coat of Arms.

The family principality and its related revenues were lost at the end of World War I, but the Lippes were far from destitute. Prince Bernard's branch established a base in East Brandenburg in what now is modern Poland, where Bernard was home schooled until age twelve, possibly due to his fragile health. According to an obituary published in the Telegraph in 2004, his nurse was Chinese and English, and English became his first language Thereafter, he attended gymnasiums in Switzerland and Berlin before advancing to the University of Lausanne in Switzerland to study law in 1929. At some point, he studied in Munich and later transferred to The Humboldt University Unter den Linden in Berlin. At this time, his life took a turn that continued to vex him whenever his character came under scrutiny.

The Political Metamorphosis of Bernard Lippe

While Bernard was a law student at Humboldt, he joined the Nazi Party and was a member of its paramilitary wing, the S.A., commonly known as the Brownshirts. He also was on the rolls of the Reiter-SS. Although he had not yet resigned his membership, he ceased his participation in the movement when he graduated and went to work for I.G. Farben in Paris in 1934. His membership in Nazi organizations during his years as a student has been one of several sources of controversy, especially since he denied them when his participation was well documented. He later excused them as necessary if he wished to earn a law degree, although he conceded that space to garage his car was a compelling perk of membership.

There is some evidence he harbored a growing concern about Hitler's seizure of power well before he resigned his membership in the Nazi party. Apparently by 1935-36, his apprehensions had grown to a point where he considered leaving Europe. Acquaintances described the youthful Bernard Lippe as a nationalist but not a racist. Although he had met Hitler on at least two occasions, he was never considered a protégé. One story has Hitler referring to him an an idiot. Bernard had not spoken out publicly against Hitler at the time he formally resigned from the party in 1937, and he signed the letter 'Heil Hitler.' When asked about it later, he confessed to being an pragmatist, not a Nazi.

How Bernhard Lippe Became Bernard of the Netherlands

In 1936 while attending the Olympics, Bernard met Princess Juliana of the Netherlands. After serious vetting by Queen Wilhelmina, he and Juliana became engaged. Not all Dutch were enthusiastic about the match, but there was a paucity of suitable Protestant royals on the horizon, and the forceful queen had her way. She is quoted as stating: "This is the marriage of my daughter to the man she loves...not the marriage of the Netherlands to Germany."

Following the engagement, Bernard became a Dutch citizen and changed the spelling of his names to the Dutch versions. He avoided speaking German on public occasions. Living in the Netherlands, he was comfortable going public with his criticism of Adolf Hitler.

Once married to Princess Juliana, he adopted the attitudes of a royalist Dutchman, and severed all connections with members of his family who were Nazis. Insofar as his politics were concerned, it appeared Queen Wilhelmina had chosen well.

WWII and the Birth of James Bond: The British Connection

There were other causes of concern beyond Bernard's political past, not the least of which was the bridegroom’s tendency toward acts of derring-do. Some analysts speculate that he translated his survival of poor health in childhood as a victory over death. Whatever the case may be, Prince Bernard enjoyed living on the edge of the abyss. He raced, collected and demolished expensive high-powered race cars. Ferraris were his favorites. He crashed two airplanes. In one of his misadventures, he broke his back and fractured ribs. He had at least two extramarital affairs yielding daughters, risky business when your mother-in-law is the queen. He showed no fear in confronting Hitler’s advancing army. When Hitler’s forces invaded the Netherlands, Bernard organized the Palace Guard into a fighting force to shoot at German airplanes with machine guns. He was critical of the queen when she elected to flee to England. He preferred to stay and fight. But, when Hitler’s forces overran the country and German victory seemed inevitable, he escorted his family to England but returned to lead the resistance. When the overwhelmed Dutch defenders surrendered, he escaped to England with a remnant of his men.

During the Blitz, Bernard escorted Princess Juliana and their daughters to safety in Canada, but he returned to England to resume the fight. He learned to fly a variety of fighters and bombers and sought a commission with the RAF. At first the English did not trust him quite enough for that, but trained pilots were scarce and eventually they relented. During his days with the RAF, the Prince flew thousands of air miles of missions into occupied Europe under the alias Wing Commander Gibbs. Among his many medals are English campaign ribbons for service in France and Germany. He was an advisor on the Allied War Council, and the military head of the Royal Dutch Army in exile. However, not all of his wartime exploits were in the air.

When Prince Bernard expressed a desire to aid the intelligence efforts, the request met with the same reluctance he had experienced earlier. Flying was one thing, but trusting a former member of the S.A. with military secrets was quite another.

However, Sir Winston Churchill was reluctant to let a man of such obvious talent and connections go to waste so he ordered him assessed by his famous spymaster, Ian Fleming. Fleming was impressed and cleared him for work at the highest levels of planning of the Allied Offensive.

There are rumors that the suave Fleming and fearless Bernard were combined to give life to the spy James Bond. In an article that appeared at the MI6 Community site [1], Gustav Graves recalled an incident from Andrew Lycett’s biography Ian Fleming, describing a caper of Bernard’s during a dinner with Fleming at the Lincoln Inn. A German bomb exploded, destroying a 200 year old staircase leading to the entrance of the hotel. Bernard descended with great panache to the lowest point and loudly thanked Fleming for ‘a most enjoyable evening,’ as if the incident was an everyday occurrence. Fleming does not report how Bernard made it down to the demolished lobby. Gingerly, I presume. Lycett also notes that according to Fleming, Prince Bernard's cocktail of choice was a martini made with ‘Wodka’ rather than gin, an unusual cocktail made to His Highness's exacting specifications.

Bernard served on the Allied War Council and personally led the Dutch forces during the Allied Offensive in the Netherlands. He was present at the negotiations for the Armistice and the surrender of Germany. Throughout the proceedings, he spoke English and Dutch, but not a word of German. He was highly decorated by governments throughout the world, was friendly with Harry S. Truman and a colleague of the usually distant Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, as seen in the photo below.


In spite of post war scandals regarding his financial dealings and a reluctance of some to overlook the affiliations of his youth, he remains a popular hero in the Netherlands and a larger-than-life character of flamboyance and charm to the rest of us--the quintessential sophisticated man of action who took his vodka martinis straight up, always shaken, not stirred, a deviation from the customary martini of which Ian Fleming took note and used. How much else of Commander Bond is borrowed from the Prince is a matter of conjecture?

Prince Bernard followed Princess Juliana in death by mere months in 2004 [2]. There is no question that he suffered from an advanced cancer, nor is there any doubt his remaining days were shorten by Princess Juliana's death. I am delighted to have made his acquaintance.
Queen Juliana and Prince Bernard
Sculpture by Kees Verkade

Author's Note
There is much more to Prince Bernard Lippe-Biesterfeld’s story after WWII. However, this chapter is the one most appropriate to the timeline and subject matter of the English Historical Fiction Author’s blog. As stated above, both he and Juliana died in 2004. Referring to Juliana as a Princess in this post and not as a queen is not an error. The times mentioned are before she succeeded her mother or after she abdicated in favor of her daughter Queen Beatrix.

References


Linda Fetterly Root is a retired major crimes prosecutor and a historical novelist writing of events in 16th and 17th century Scotland, France and England. She lives in the Morongo Basin area of the California desert with two wooly malamutes, a flock of chickens and assorted wild things. Her books are on Amazon.

Editors' Weekly Round-Up, April 23, 2017

by the EHFA Editors

Never miss a post on EHFA. This week we featured several wonderful posts -

by Arthur Russell



by Kim Rendfeld



by Mark Patton


Friday, April 21, 2017

Augustus Pugin: Architect of the Victorian Gothic

By Mark Patton.

The skylines of Britain's great cities, London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff, are dominated by two great architectural styles, which compete with one another for the attention of the visitor: the "Gothic," and the "Classical." Whilst some really significant buildings (Westminster Abbey, York Minster, the Cathedrals of Salisbury, Winchester, Ely and Durham prominent among them) are genuinely Gothic (i.e. Medieval), none are genuinely Classical (i.e. Roman - this is in contrast, say, to France, where significant Roman buildings are still standing). Most of the prominent buildings in British cities are more accurately described as "Neo-Gothic" or "Neo-Classical," and were built in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.

The skyline of Edinburg in c 1895. Photo: Library of Congress (image is in the Public Domain).

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) was one of the leading architects of Victorian Neo-Gothic. He was not the first British architect of the modern era to look to the Medieval past for inspiration, but he took the attachment to the Gothic world view to a new level, and, in doing so, created some of Britain's most iconic buildings.

Augustus Pugin, c 1840. Image: National Portrait Gallery (Public Domain).

Pugin's father, A.C. Pugin, himself an architectural illustrator, came to England as a refugee from the French Revolution. As a boy, Augustus traveled through Germany and the Netherlands with his father, helping to survey and sketch the great Gothic churches and cathedrals of the continent. By the age of fifteen, he himself was designing Gothic furniture for Windsor Castle.

"Specimens of Gothic Architecture," by A.C. Pugin (image is in the Public Domain).

Pugin's great break came in 1834, when a fire destroyed the greater part of the Palace of Westminster. A committee was established to commission a replacement, and the contract went to Pugin's collaborator, the architect, Charles Barry. The committee had specified that the new building should be either in the Gothic or the Elizabethan style: the capital already had its share of Neo-Classical buildings - Somerset House, St Paul's Cathedral, the Greenwich Hospital, the British Museum, still under construction - and the style had been discredited by association with the nation's defeated enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte. Britain was not a secular republic, it was argued, but a Christian kingdom, and this identity should be reflected in the nation's most prominent public building. Pugin argued, successfully, for a Neo-Gothic building, not least because one of the few surviving elements of the original Medieval building was Westminster Hall, built during the reign of Richard II.

The Medieval Westminster Hall, as depicted by Pugin's father (image is in the Public Domain).

Arguments have subsequently raged over which man was responsible for which elements of the building, but it seems likely that, whilst Barry designed the floor-plan and managed the budget, Pugin took responsibility for much of the detail, including the design of what is now referred to officially as the Elizabeth Tower (but, popularly, as "Big Ben" - actually the name of the bell), and almost all the features of the interior.

The Palace of Westminster, as designed by Barry & Pugin. Photo: Alvesgaspar (licensed under GNU).
The thrones in the House of Lords, as designed by Pugin. Photo: US Government (image is in the Public Domain).

For Pugin, however, the choice of Gothic was not simply an aesthetic, but also a moral, even a religious one. In 1836, he converted to Roman Catholicism, and, in the same year, he published a tract called Contrasts, arguing that the Gothic was the authentic Christian style, which embodied the principles of true religion. Classicism, on the other hand, he saw as rationalistic, atheistic, and ultimately utilitarian, going hand in glove with the tendency to treat human beings merely as means to an end. His tract came with a series of provocative illustrations.

"Contrasted Towns," by Augustus Pugin, showing the supposed contrast between a civilised Medieval town and a dehumanised modern one (image is in the Public Domain). The Medieval image, however, is highly sanitised, with no evidence (for example) for capital punishment or poverty.
"Contrasted Residences for the Poor," by Augustus Pugin (image is in the Public Domain). In fact, the "modern" design at the top (a modified, but not a true, "pan-opticon"), though widely used for Victorian prisons, was never used for workhouses; and the corpses of workhouse inmates, though they may have been buried in mass-graves, were never supplied to anatomists.   

As a refugee, Pugin's father had adopted the Anglican faith to avoid the prejudices that might have prevented him from finding work. During the reign of Queen Victoria, however, Britain became more tolerant of other religious traditions, including Catholicism and Judaism. The Catholic Church re-established a hierarchy of bishops, and new Catholic churches sprang up around the country, largely in response to the influx of Catholic, Irish labourers. Pugin was well-placed to be the architect of preference to the new dioceses, although he sometimes came into conflict with the bishops, both over budgets (like many architects, he didn't like working within them), and over his ultra-traditional views on church architecture.

The Roman Catholic Church of St Giles, Cheadle, Staffordshire, designed by Pugin. Photo: Oosoom (licensed under GNU).

Pugin did not only design public buildings and churches, however, but also private houses, schools and colleges.

Scarisbrick Hall, Lancashire, designed by Pugin as a private home, now a school. Photo: PC78 (licensed under CCA).

His later years were troubled by apparent mental health difficulties: syphilis and hyperthyroidism have been suggested as possible causes of these, but he had also suffered tragedy in his personal life (his first two wives died young), and he seems to have responded to this by immersing himself in his work, so perhaps exhaustion was also a factor. He would have died in the Bethlehem Hospital had his third wife, Jane, not engineered his release, against medical advice. He died at home in Ramsgate shortly afterwards, at the age of just forty, and is buried nearby, in St Augustine's Church, which he designed himself.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Yes, the Anglo-Saxon Spring Goddess Eostre Did Exist

By Kim Rendfeld


The Venerable Bede probably did not realize he would create a controversy for centuries when he wrote about the months of the year. In De Ratione Temporum (The Reckoning of Time), he mentioned the English used to call April Eosturmonath.

“Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated ‘Paschal month’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.” (Translated by Faith Wallis, Liverpool University Press, 1988)

Eostre might have been a goddess of spring. Or of the dawn. Or both. Worshipers might have lit bonfires, drawn healing waters during her festival, and have maidens wearing white. (Tales of Eostre, also known as Ostara, transforming a wounded bird into an egg-laying rabbit are from the 19th century, apparently from Germans influenced by the Romantic Nationalist movement.)

The problem is, Bede’s mention of Eostre is the only one in historical records. Even scholars have debated whether she existed among the deities pagans worshiped. Some argue Bede got it wrong.

Bede (672/3-735), a monk at Wearmouth-Jarrow in Northumbria, penned the famous Historia Ecclesiastica (Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation) about the English peoples’ conversion to Christianity in the seventh century. Anyone who has studied the Middle Ages will tell you the writers of that time were far from objective observers and would have been less than meticulous about how they portrayed pagan beliefs, especially if the followers of those religions officially converted about 100 years before.

Despite the lack of evidence, it is possible Eostre was real to early medieval pagans in today’s England and Germany. There is a dearth of information about anything that early medieval pagans believed and how they worshiped, much to the frustration of a novelist trying to depict pagan characters in eighth-century Saxony. The faithful didn’t write their mythology down. In fact, the Continental Saxons had no written language as we know it, and among cultures that used pens and parchment, only a select few could read. Even fewer could write—that task was often left to clerks employed by aristocrats, the only people who could afford book. So, there might be a lot of god, goddesses, and other supernatural beings that we’ll never know about.

"Ostara" (1901) by Johannes Gehrts


Paganism Not Completely Dead

A lot of what we do know about Saxon mythology comes to us in remnants such as poems, folk tales, rituals, and what their literate enemies had to say. On top of that, the eighth-century Church made every effort to obliterate a religion it believed to be devil worship when Charlemagne conquered territory in Saxony and Avaria and used increasingly harsh measures to get the indigenous peoples to convert.

Even after a populace accepted baptism, pagan practices did not vanish. In fact, they continued for generations. The Church officially prohibited what it called sorcery, but the faithful, including the clergy, still turned to white magic—vestiges of paganism. It was common for Christians to wear amulets beside their crosses. A priest might employ someone to interpret his dreams. A manuscript copied by a monk might have a magical square with the letters of a patient’s name and the number of the day on which they fell ill. The epic poem Beowulf has both Christian and pagan elements. The monsters, Grendel and his mother, are descendants of Cain, but human warriors wear helmets with boar figures, a symbol of a pagan god.

Keep in mind that the practice of a religion differed from region to region. Even Christian rites varied with geography. So it would not be a surprise if Eostre was revered in one place but ignored in another.

In arguing for Eostre’s existence, Jacob Grimm, one of the Grimm brothers who collected German folk tales, takes a look at the language. The holy day to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection is Easter in English and Ostern in German. Other languages, including French, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, and even Latin, are a variation on Pasch. Easter comes to us through Old English and is akin to Old High German. Pasch originates in pesah, the Hebrew word for Passover. Eostre is also similar to the Austri, mentioned in the Norse Edda. The gender is different, but both are spirits of light.

"Frigg as Ostara" (1882)


If You Can’t Beat Them ...

Like other pagan practices, the rites associated with Eostre were probably so much a part of the culture that rather than ban them, Church leaders used them to celebrate a holy day occurring about the same time. The reason would be to celebrate Jesus conquering sin and death rather than the arrival of a goddess. It wouldn’t be the first time a seasonal celebration was adapted to a new religion. And it was a happier and more peaceful way to get converts to accept their new faith.

In other words, I conclude that Bede got it right. As Grimm states, Eostre “seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted to the resurrection-day of the Christians' God.”

At this time of year, life returns. Birds are singing again, flowers bloom, green shoots emerge from the earth, and gardeners can start planting crops. And isn’t that a cause for celebration, no matter what religion?

Sources

Bede, on ‘Eostre’

Ostara’s Home Page

Jacob Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology, Volume 1, pp. 288-291

“The Goddess Eostre: Bede’s Text and Contemporary Pagan Tradition(s)” by Carole Cusack, The Pomegranate 9.1 (2007) 22-40

Pierre Riché’s Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, translated by Jo Ann McNamara

Ostara and the Hare: Not Ancient, but Not As Modern As Some Skeptics ThinkFolklife Today by Stephen Winick

Merriam-Webster

~~~~~~~~~~

Kim Rendfeld researched the pagan religion of eighth-century Continental Saxons as best she could while writing her second novel, The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, about a Saxon peasant who will fight for her children after losing everything else. The book is available at AmazonKoboBarnes & NobleiTunesCreateSpaceSmashwords, and other vendors.

Kim's first novel, The Cross and the Dragon, in which a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband, is available at Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, CreateSpace, and other vendors.

Kim is working on her third novel, Queen of the Darkest Hour, about Charlemagne's influential fourth wife, Fastrada, and his rebellious eldest son, Pepin.
Connect with Kim at her website kimrendfeld.com, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.


Monday, April 17, 2017

George William Russell (AE) - Writer, Painter, Philosopher, Social Activist

by Arthur Russell
 
George William Russell was born in the rural townland of Drumgor, near the town of Lurgan, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland on April 10th 1867 to Thomas Elias Russell and Mary (nee Armstrong). He was baptized in the nearby Shankill church. He was the youngest of three children; a brother Thomas Samuel who was 3 years older and sister Mary Elizabeth, who was one year older. When he was 11 years old, the family moved to Dublin to allow father Thomas to take up a new job in a brewery. George was sent to the Metropolitan School of Art where he befriended the principal teacher’s son, William Butler Yeats, who was destined to become the brightest light of the Irish Literary revival as well as a future Nobel prize winner for literature.

When George was 17, the Russell family was dealt a severe blow with the death of his sister Mary Elizabeth. The poignant poem “A Memory” gives indication of how her death affected him, and was an early indication of his writing talent.

You remember dear together 

Two children you and I 

Sat once in the Autumn weather
Watching the Autumn sky

There was someone around us straying 

The whole of the long day through 

Who seemed to say, "I am playing 

At hide and seek with you"

And one thing after another
Was whispered out of the air
How God was a great big brother
Whose home is everywhere

His light like a smile comes glancing
Through the cool winds as they pass
From the flowers in heaven dancing
To the stars that shine in the grass

The heart of the wise was beating
Sweet sweet in our hearts that day
And many a thought came fleeting
And fancies solemn and gay

We were grave in our ways divining 

How childhood was taking wings 

And the wonderful world was shining 

With vast eternal things.

His Cooperative Work

After leaving Art School, where he developed his painting skills, but obviously not enough to consider taking up painting as a full time profession capable of giving him an income, he went to work in his father’s employer’s brewery. Later he became a clerk in Pim’s drapery store in Dublin, where he was earning 60 pounds sterling per annum by the time he resigned to join the budding Irish Cooperative and Credit Union movements at the invitation of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS) founder, Sir Horace Plunkett.  His first job with IAOS was as Banks Organiser, but his writing ability soon saw him contributing to and then editing the Society’s magazine The Irish Homestead which later merged with The Irish Statesman. He had a strong social sense and threw himself wholeheartedly into the development of the Cooperative movement as a means of supporting the economic development and market integration of emergent small holder proprietors that the various Land Purchase Acts were creating all over Ireland at the time. His cooperative work brought him to every part of Ireland, most of which still had searing and recent memories of famine and eviction which were seen as outcomes of the centuries old landlord system of land ownership in Ireland.

He edited the IAOS publication until 1930, which provided him with an outlet to display his writing talents as well as giving him a facility to mix the practical with the visionary (the vision and the dream). His boyhood experience as the son of a small holder farming community in Armagh helped him to provide well grounded technical advice to his farmer readers, at the same time giving him opportunity to outline philosophical thoughts on what the social and political future for his rural readers might be. He was sought after as a speaker lecturer not only in Ireland, but also in the United Kingdom and pre and post Depression era United States of the 1920’s and 1930’s.  

After his death in England in 1935, his body was returned to Dublin and lay in state for a day in Plunkett House, headquarters of IAOS, before it was brought to Mount Jerome cemetery for burial.

His Literary Work

Cover of AE's first publication (1894)
Drawing by the author
His first book of poems, Homeward: Songs by the Way, published in 1894, established George William Russell as one of the leading lights of the Irish Literary Revival. His friend W B Yeats considered this little book as one of the most important literary offerings of the day.

The Origin of His Pseudonym “AE”

As his literary reputation grew he adopted the pseudonym “AE”, derived from the word Aeon. This is a gnostic term used to describe the first created being. The story is told that his printer had difficulty deciphering Russell’s handwriting and could only discern the first two letters of the 4 letter word in his manuscript. When asked to clarify the remaining two letters of the word, Russell decided not to add to what had already been composited by the printer and thereafter used AE to sign off on all subsequent offerings.  His mystic disposition had earlier caused him to join the small Theosophist movement in Dublin for several years, but he left after the death of its founder, Madame Blavatsky. While living there he met his future wife, Violet North and married her in 1897. The couple lived for some time in Coulson Avenue where they were neighbours to Maude Gonne and Count and Countess Markiewicz.

He was an active member and contributor to the Irish Literary Society, which was founded by his friend W B Yeats and others. The early moving force for the literary movement was the writings of Standish O’Grady who looked at Ireland’s romantic past for inspiration. On reading O’Grady, Russell was moved to write "one suddenly feels ancient memories rushing at him and knows he was born in a royal house - it was the memory of race which rose up within me."

His Theatrical Work

Yeats and Russell shared a passion for the theatre and together they formed the National Theatre Company, later called the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Yeats was President, Russell Vice-President and among the Committee members were Maud Gonne and the Gaelic language scholar and later first President of the Republic of Ireland, Douglas Hyde. Russell's play Deirdre is credited to have been the spark that set the Irish dramatic movement alight. Not only did he write the play, he also designed the costumes in its first production. His brilliant but eccentric personality contributed mightily to the evolving Irish literary revival, which is popularly referred to as the “Celtic twilight”.

His Paintings:
Bathers - by AE (exhibited in 1904)
Russell had a talent for painting, which he followed during his life, mainly for his own recreation "whenever words failed him". There is a respectable gallery of his works which would lead one to question how good and enduring his painting legacy would be if he had invested more time and effort into that side of his output. We will never know. Suffice it to say, his paintings have a significant market and are well regarded by many.

The Irish Times newspaper, on the occasion of the centenary of the first exhibition of his paintings in 1904 at which he sold an amazing 68 paintings – many to the noted New York art collector, John Tobin; suggested it is high time for another exhibition to create awareness and appreciation of AE’s art.    

Russell the Social Activist

He was destined to live through troubled times in Ireland and much change. The first two decades of the 20th century were the final years of the British Empire in Ireland and ushered in the formative years of the new Irish Free State that emerged in the aftermath of the Irish War of Independence in 1919-1921. It was never in Russell’s nature to be a mere bystander or spectator in the movements of his times, and he engaged fully in trying to formulate what kind of Ireland would face into the last century of the millennium. As a visionary, poet, painter, author, journalist, economist and (finally) an agricultural expert he had views aplenty and was never slow to express them with great articulation and conviction.

He was involved in the general strike of 1913 and took part in a mass meeting in Albert Hall London in support of the Dublin strikers, where he shared the platform with George Bernard Shaw and suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. He was an Irish Nationalist, but as a committed pacifist he deplored the violence of the Nationalist inspired Dublin Rebellion in Easter 1916. This did not stop him from organising a subscription for the widow of one of the executed leaders, James Connolly, who he had befriended during the 1913 strike; both men having shared views on how to deal with the exploitative attitude of many employers of the time.

The following lines written by Russell indicates something of the dilemma he and many pacifist nationalists of the day felt. He could admire the idealism of those who followed Patrick Pearse in taking up the gun in pursuit of nationalist ideals, but like many others he had serious issues with bloodletting as a means to achieve them.    

“And yet my spirit rose in pride
Refashioning in burnished gold
The images of those who died
Or were shut up in penal cell
Here's to you Pearse, your dream, not mine
And yet the thought- for this you fell
Has turned life's water into wine”.
(from To the memory of some I knew who are dead and loved Ireland  - 1917)

He was conscious his adherence to non main stream views and opinions at a time when the extremes on both sides of the political divide were in clear ascendancy, drew sharp criticism from many, but he remained stoically unapologetic for his pacifism through that most turbulent period of Irish history.

On Behalf of Some Irishmen Not Followers of Tradition

They call us aliens we are told 

Because our wayward visions stray 

From that dim banner they unfold 

The dreams of worn out yesterday.

We hold the Ireland of the heart 

More than the land our eyes have seen 

And love the goal for which we start 

More than the tale of what has been.

No blazoned banner we unfold 

One charge alone we give to youth 

Against the sceptred myth to hold 

The golden heresy of truth.

His Relationship With the Newly Independent Irish State

George William Russell was disappointed that Irish independence was painfully slow in bringing the cultural and social flowering for which he yearned. He was of the opinion that the emerging rather puritanical state with its narrow vision, of which censorship of arts and writing was one of its most potent instruments, effectively blocked intellectual and artistic freedom as it tried to establish the new nation during the 1920s and 30s. He was particularly critical of the excessive influence the Catholic Hierarchy had manage to establish over the emergent body politic. It was his discomfort with this, along with the death of his wife a year earlier that caused him to leave Ireland in the aftermath of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress which was held in Dublin and which he considered a potent demonstration of over pervasive clerical power.

He moved to Bournemouth in England where he died in 1935.

His Support to Young Writers and Artists

During his years in Dublin, his company was much sought after and his home in Rathgar Avenue, Dublin became a meeting place for those interested in the Arts and Economics. He paid special attention to young talent, which he did all in his power to groom and encourage.

He was an endless source of support and advice to emerging writers. He first met James Joyce in 1902 and encouraged him to hone his craft as a writer. He once loaned him money, which Joyce acknowledged pithily with a written “AEIOU”.

One of his lesser known acts was to support the American writer Pamela Lyndon Travers, the future author of Mary Poppins (published 1934) at a time when her interest in myths brought her into contact with both Yeats and himself in 1924. AE encouraged her to write and even published some of her writings in The Irish Statesman.

Simone Tery the French writer in L'ile des Bards wrote about him:
"Do you want to know about providence, the origin of the universe, the end of the universe? 
Go to AE. 

Do you want to know about Gaelic literature? 
Go to AE. 

Do you want to know about the Celtic soul? 
Go to AE. 

Do you want to know about Irish History? 
Go to AE. 

Do you want to know about the export of eggs? 
Go to AE. 

Do you want to know how to run society? 
Go to AE. 

If you find life insipid - 
Go to AE. 

If you need a friend - 
Go to AE.

These lines from a contemporary are a fitting accolade for one of Ireland’s not so well known writers who played a vital role in what is now known as the Celtic revival.

Author’s Note – While I had always been aware of George William Russell, otherwise known as AE, with whom I share a surname: I was not so aware of any family connection with him until very recently, when a distant cousin with interest in genealogy put focus on a lady called Frances Mary McGee, whose mother was a daughter of our common great grandfather. This lady married the brother of George William (AE), and while his surname was also Russell, Thomas Elias was not directly related to “our” Russells. (At least we need to go much further back to find any blood linkage). This information about Frances Mary caused me to remember conversations in my own family about a distant cousin called Fanny (short for Frances) McGee, second cousin to my father who had married into a family associated with artists and poets. Who else could it have been?

It was a personal Eureka moment, as I share some of AE’s interests (though not necessarily his unique talent) for reading, writing, (I really know little about painting!) As well I share a strong belief in the positive role of self-help cooperative endeavor for solving problems facing Agriculture in feeding today's World's burgeoning population.


Arthur Russell is the Author of Morgallion, a novel set in medieval Ireland during the Invasion of Ireland in 1314 by the Scottish army led by Edward deBruce, the last crowned King of Ireland. It tells the story of Cormac MacLochlainn, a young man from the Gaelic crannóg community of Moynagh and how he, his family and his dreams endured and survived that turbulent period of history. Morgallion was awarded the indieBRAG Medallion and is available in paperback and e-book form.

Further information from s.arthur.russell@gmail.com