Monday, 29 November 2010

Teashop Walks in Sussex - The Video

Teashop Walks in Sussex
Watch the video HERE
Learn more and buy the book HERE

The Siege of Calais by Edward III 1346

Having won a spectacular and bloody victory at the Battle of Crecy, Edward faced up to the changed situation in which he found himself. He no longer had to worry about any sort of pursuit by Philip nor, in all likelihood, to any sort of opposition at all from a French field army. He could march where he liked and do what he liked.

As ever, things were not so simple as they might appear. The English were short of almost every sort of supply that could be imagined. Without the fear of a French army on their track, they could now spare the time to attack towns and castles. Knowing this, most garrisons chose to surrender as soon as a force of Englishmen appeared. As a result the immediate food problem was soon solved. But the army was still short of arrows, horseshoes and other military necessities. Many men were wounded, needing care and rest.

On 2 September Edward and his army reached Boulogne. He demanded the prompt surrender of the town, but the garrison rightly guessed that Edward lacked serious siege equipment and refused. Edward moved on to the port of Wissant, which was captured. Edward stayed there long enough to write his letter home announcing the great victory, and to ask for reinforcements and supplies to be sent to him. Wissant was then burned, and by 4 September the army was outside the gates of Calais.

The city of Calais was one of the largest and most prosperous ports in northern France. That was enough to make it a tempting target for attack, but its position was strategic, both militarily and economically. If Edward had control of Calais and Dover he would be able to secure a tight grip on any shipping moving between the North Sea and the English Channel. Not only that but the port was ideally placed to handle English exports to the continent, easing the intractable and complex issues about customs and taxation that had bedevilled English government for decades.

The failure of any important noblemen or significant sections of the population to join Edward’s cause since he landed at St Vaast had by now convinced the English king that he was not going to get the French to accept him as their rightful king. Instead he was now looking for a very practical and solid gain from his campaign. He decided that Calais would be his.

The English began to build their siege works on 5 September.

This is an extract from the Battle of Crecy by Rupert Matthews

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Rise to Power of Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan united the nomadic tribes of the Asian steppes and set them on course to conquer the largest land based empire the world has ever seen. His ruthless pursuit of power, wealth and prestige makes Genghis Khan one of the most astonishing and cruel conquerors of history.

Genghis Khan was born with the name of Temujin in Mongolia in about the year 1162. His father was chief of the Borjigin, a small and rather insignificant Mongol tribe. When Temujin was about 10 his father was murdered by a neighbouring tribe as part of a feud. The Borjigin refused to be led by a boy, so they abandoned Temujin and his family to poverty. In 1182 Temujin was captured by the Tayichiut tribe and enslaved. He escaped and took to leading a band of young men who raided tribes for food and wealth. In 1178 Temujin completed an arranged marriage to Börte of the Konkirat tribe, a match put in place by Temujin’s father before his death.

The link to the Konkirat proved to be a turning point for Temujin. It gave the young warrior access to a larger force of men willing to follow him in his raids. Temujin offered himself and his men as allies to his father’s blood brother, Toghrul who was chief of the powerful Kerait tribe. Soon after, Temujin teamed up with a boyhood friend named Jamuka who was now chief of the Jadaran tribe. By a succession of alliances, wars and treaties, Temujin gradually came to be the leader of the most powerful confederation of tribes the nomadic Mongols had ever seen.

Those opposed to Temujin’s growing power grouped behind Jamuka, who also won the backing of the Naiman, another nomadic tribe. A series of battles between the followers of the two former friends followed, but before a final showdown took place Jamuka was betrayed by a group of his own men and handed over in chains to Temujin. Temujin offered Jamuka a position as a general in his army, but Jamuka replied “There can be only one sun in the sky” and requested an honourable death.

After Jamuka’s execution in 1206, Temujin was appointed supreme chief of all the Mongol tribes. It is by this title of Genghis Khan that he is generally known today.

This is an extract from Conquerors by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 22 November 2010

A ghostly duel in York

At the south end of  Tower Street you will see a tree-shaded stretch of grass known as St George’s Field. In centuries past this patch of land formed part of a much larger meadow that filled the area outside the city walls and between the Foss stream and the River Ouse. Much of the area is now covered by a car park, but before the land was properly drained in the early 20th century, it tended to be boggy and marshy throughout the winter - and muddy even in the summer after rain. It flooded often and was never built upon. It made a convenient meeting point for duellists, lovers and others who wanted to be away from prying eyes within the city.

It floods still, though not so often, and the city council has deemed it useful for nothing except being covered in asphalt to serve as a car park. Maybe they are right. The ghosts, however, have another use for it.

So far as the phantoms are concerned, St George’s Field is still an open meadow dotted with trees. They come back time and again about their own business, ignoring the humans and their motorised contraptions that dominate the scene today.

The first of the ghosts here is a gruesome, but unusual figure. This is Baron Stafford, who came from one of the oldest and proudest families in England. The family descends from a minor Norman knight who fought at the Battle of Hastings with William the Conqueror and was granted Stafford Castle and surrounding lands by way of thanks. Over the centuries the family has been promoted through the ranks of nobility to be earls, dukes or marquises, lost their titles through rebellion, rebuilt their fortunes, passed through the female line, lost titles again, regained them and gone through periods of penury and affluence. Through all this, however, they have managed to hang on to both Stafford Castle and the title of Baron Stafford - a quite remarkable feat.

In 1694 one of these Staffords came to York on business, but got into a quarrel with a local gentleman. The details of the argument have been lost, but they were considered serious enough by the two men to be the cause of a duel. At this date the duel was - officially at least - illegal in England. In earlier centuries the duel had been considered a better option than a blood feud which might claim the lives of dozens, but there had been too many scandals for it to survive. More than once a highly skilled swordsman had challenged a man with less ability over a mere trifle with the intent of murdering him and there had been instances of seconds tampering with guns. By he 1690s a duel between consenting adults of approximately equal ability was unlikely to attract the attentions of the magistrates, but anyone duelling still risked a charge of attempted murder. That was why the Stafford duel was fought on St George’s Field at dawn.

The fight was short and fatal. Stafford received a rapier thrust through the chest just minutes into the fight. He could not believe it, staring in bewilderment at the spreading blood stain on his shirt before he dropped to the ground. He was dead in seconds.

It is this fatal duel that is replayed time and again in spectral form on St George’s Field as the cold light of dawn creeps up over the city. What makes this haunting so peculiar is that only Stafford is seen, the other participants in the duel have not returned. So the ghost of the nobleman is seen apparently dancing around thrusting his sword at some invisible opponent, parrying non existent thrusts and finally receiving his death wound from a weapon that none can see but himself. As in the real duel the phantom Stafford stares for a moment at the wound, then collapses. And then the ghost vanishes.

This is an extract from Haunted York by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Hampshire Regiment at the Battle of Blenheim

Meredith’s Regiment (later 37th North Hampshire Regiment) was in the Netherlands in early 1704, forming part of Ferguson’s Brigade in an army led by the Duke of Marlborough. News arrived that a large French-Bavarian army was advancing on Vienna, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, so Marlborough set off on an epic march of 250 miles from Bedburg to the Danube at Donauworth in order to get between the French and Vienna. Having linked up with the Imperial commander, Prince Eugene of Savoy, Marlborough advanced to attack the French in their entrenched positions around Blenheim (now Blindheim).

French Marshal Tallard positioned his infantry in three fortified villages: Blenheim on his right and on the north bank of the Danube, Oberglau on the left and Lutzingen on the far left. Covering the gaps between the villages were artillery and cavalry, with infantry in reserve. The boggy Nebel stream ran along his entire front. He took command of the right himself and gave the left to Marshal Marsin with the Elector of Bavaria. He had about 56,000 men in all.

Marlborough planned to assault the three villages to tie down the French and Bavarian infantry, then smash through the French centre between Blenheim and Oberglau. The plan called for precise timing and close co-operation between Marlborough on the left with his army of 40,000 British and German allies, and the 12,000 strong Imperial army of Prince Eugene on the left. Meredith’s Regiment was positioned with Ferguson’s Brigade as a reserve on the British left wing. It was to support the assault on the village of Blenheim by the five regiments of Row’s Brigade.

The battle began with desultory artillery and infantry skirmishing around Blenheim and along the Nebel while Prince Eugene moved his troops over difficult ground to get to his start lines. At 12.30 all was ready. The infantry moved up to attack the three villages. On the left, Row’s Brigade reached the barricades, but after a fierce fire fight were driven back. Row himself had been killed, so his deputy rallied the men out of range of the French muskets. Ferguson’s Brigade now advanced with cavalry support, pausing only while a French cavalry charge was beaten back, then charging into Blenheim. Ferguson’s lead troops got over the barricade and were engaged in street fighting when the commander of the garrison Clerambault called in the French infantry reserve to support him.

This was the moment that Marlborough had been hoping for. He ordered Ferguson to pull his men out of the village, then to surround it and pour heavy and continuous musket fire into the village. Meredith’s Regiment was among those that pulled out, then formed up in line to fire again and again.
Behind this dense cloud of musket smoke, Marlborough moved his main force of cavalry and German infantry over the Nebel. He then launched a massed assault on the French centre — now held by cavalry and artillery without infantry support. First into action was the German cavalry which crossed the Nebel and advanced up the slope toward the French guns. The French heavy cavalry charged down the slope, tumbling Marlborough’s horse before them. Meanwhile, Lord Orkney had been crossing the Nebel with Hamilton’s Brigade of British infantry in line, four pieces of artillery and fresh cavalry on the flanks. The French charge broke against the new force and fell back up the hill. Orkney advances, supported by the mass of the German infantry and cavalry.

In the centre, the Allies now had 80 squadrons of cavalry and 23 battalions of infantry marching to attack just 60 squadrons of French cavalry, most of which had already been in action that day. The French fought well, but they could not hold back the tide. At about 4pm the French turned and fled. Marshal Tallard was taken prisoner while the Bavarians on the French left pulled out in good order and marched home.

The French infantry in Blenheim village were rapidly surrounded. As dusk came on Meredith’s Regiment was fixing bayonets ready to assault the village once again, when Clerambault came forward under a flag of truce. No less than 24 regiments of infantry and 4 regiments of dragoons surrendered, some 11,000 men. In all the French-Bavarian army had lost 40,000 men killed, wounded or captured and had ceased to exist as a fighting force. Marlborough and Eugene had lost about 12,000 men. Vienna was saved. The Battle Honour of Blenheim was one of those confirmed many years later.

This is an extract from The Battle Honours of the Royal Hampshire Regiment by Rupert Matthews, published by Bretwalda Books

Friday, 12 November 2010

Who was the Real King Arthur?

The History Man travelled to Shilton in Oxfordshire to talk to the Shilton Historical Society on the subject of "Who was the Real King Arthur".

The talk began with the legend as we have it, then ranged back to the dimly known Dark Ages that followed the fall of Roman Britain. The talk embraced characters such as Vortigern, Ambrosius, Hengist, Horsa, Aelle, Cerdic, Gildas, Merlin, Gawain, Kai and - of course - Arthur himself. The true historical background to Arthur's time was explained, after which the History Man put forward his own views and theories regarding this most enigmatic of British heroes.

To book Rupert to speak at your event contact him via HIS WEBSITE.

War comes to Bindon, Devon, in 612

The Dark Ages did not get their name for nothing. After the Romans left the skills of writing and reading were restricted to a very few people, and most of the books that did remain were subsequently lost, destroyed or simply fell to pieces. Not until the coming of literate Christians from Rome in the 590s does some semblance of recorded history return to Britain. During those lost years much happened: Roman Britain collapsed, King Arthur ruled, the English invaded and countless battles and campaigns were fought.

One of the very first military campaigns to be recorded as writing spread across Britain with Christianity was the Battle of Bindon Hill, fought in 612. In truth the records of the event were not written down until some years later – perhaps as may as fifty or more – so the details are lacking, but the general outline of what happened has been preserved and it is possible to put together a good idea of the battle.

In 612 Britain was a very different place from how it appears today. The English then occupied only part of what is now England. In the north they were restricted east of the Pennines, while in the south they had crossed neither the Severn nor the Axe. Nor were they united: Kent, Sussex, Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria were all independent kingdoms. The Welsh were no less disunited with at least 7 kingdoms in what is now Wales, plus Rheged in Cumbria and Strathclyde in southern Scotland. The counties now known as Cornwall and Devon, plus parts of Somerset, then formed the Kingdom of Dumnonia.

It was the Welsh kingdom of Dumnonia and the English kingdom of Wessex that clashed at Bindon Hill.

At this date Wessex stretched from the Axe to Portsmouth and north to the Thames. It was one of the larger English kingdoms, though was rather smaller than Mercia or distant Northumbria. It was ruled by a king named Cynegils, who was probably half Welsh himself and may have been descended from the Celtic aristocracy of Hampshire as much as from English invaders.

This Cynegils was a pagan king of an English kingdom that relied almost exclusively on agriculture for its wealth. The complex trade routes of Roman Britain had vanished. There seems to have been only local trade in agricultural products such as flour or cheese. The ruler gained his wealth by taxing the farmers of his kingdom. For Cynegils and others like him, the only way to get richer was to be king of more land. It was this land hunger that drove the wars of the period.

Cynegils father, King Ceolwulf, had occupied what is now Dorset in around the 590s. Whether this expansion of Wessex was by conquest, diplomacy or dynastic marriage we do not know, but it did bring Wessex on to the borders of Dumnonia.

This prosperous Welsh kingdom had emerged around the year 450 when the tribal aristocracy of the Dumnoni declared themselves independent of the authorities of post-Roman Britain. The records of Dumnonia have been lost, but later legend makes them among the most loyal supporters of King Arthur in his attempts to unite the post-Roman Britons against the invading English. They are also known to have acquired, apparently  by marriage, a ruler from the royal dynasty of the Cornovii, a tribe in east-central Wales. In 612 Dumnonia covered all of Cornwall and Devon, and eastern Somerset at least as far north as Glastonbury.

We do not know the name of the King of Dumnonia in 612, but he was clearly in communication with the King of Gwent in south Wales. The rulers of Dumnonia and Gwent had both been eyeing the expanding might of Wessex with concern. When Ceolwulf died in 611 they decided that the time had come to strike. The new king, Cynegils, was young and inexperienced. His nobles may not have fully trusted the abilities of their new king. Wessex was vulnerable.

It seems that the King of Dumnonia believed that the people of Dorset, being mostly Celtic, were unhappy with rule by the English of Wessex. Perhaps the Dumnonians believed that they could raise a popular rebellion. They certainly launched the campaign by gathering a mighty army at Exeter, then marched east towards Dorchester. Meanwhile, the King of Gwent had mustered his own army and was marching southeast past Gloucester toward Bath.

Cynegils decided to meet the Dumnonian threat first, perhaps that army was marching first. His scouts told him the route being taken by the invading Welsh, and he decided to meet them at Bindon Hill.

This is an extract from Battlefield Walks in Devon by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Video about RAF Bomber Command at War

Watch the video HERE

Global Warming talk in Beaconsfield

Today Rupert Matthews, the History Man, travelled to Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire to give a talk to the local Probus Group. The talk gave an historical persepective on the current issues surrounding climate change and global warming. The packed meeting filled the Royal British Legion Hall and the talk was followed by a a long question and answer session that ranged widely over the Climategate email scandal, problems with Chinese metadata and the acitvities of the Royal Society.

To book Rupert for your event contact him via HIS WEBSITE

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Arthur Bomber Harris takes against barmy inventors

Back in 1916 “Bomber” Harris had been a young major leading a fighter squadron in the tough and dangerous business of protecting England against the Zeppelin airships. He was one day sent a device produced by an inventor who declared it to be a foolproof method of destroying Zepplins. The device consisted of an explosive charge on the end of a wire which was dangled down beneath the fighter. The fighter then flew over the Zeppelin so that the charge hit the airship, exploding on impact and setting fire to the aerial monster.

Harris tried it out on a routine flight and found it a positive menace. The wire and charge seriously hampered the fighter and almost caused him to crash. Next day the inventor came down to the airfield to see how his invention was doing. Harris explained the problems to the man, who at first refused to accept that his brainchild was useless.

“Well,” said Harris, “why not forget the dangling wire and just drop the charge on to the Zeppelin?”

The inventor brightened up. “Yes, that might work,” he said.

“But the charge will need to be streamlined so that it will fall accurately,” suggested Harris.

“Absolutely,” agreed the inventor.

“And you will need some way to release it from the aircraft.”

The inventor beamed. “You’re right,” he said. “I’ll get back to work and see what I can come up with.”

“Just a moment,” snarled Harris. He pointed to his aircraft. “What the Hell do you think those things are?”

The things to which Harris pointed were light incendiary bombs designed for dropping on Zepplins. From that moment on Harris was proverbially hostile to what he called “inventor chaps” armed with “half-baked plans”.

This is an extract from Bomber Command at War by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Origin of the Gladiators

The Games were vicious, violent and frequently vindictive. Hundreds of thousands of men and women died in the arena for the amusement of the mob and the ambitions of politicians.

Some of the victims who died on the sands of the amphitheatres were murderers and brigands, sentenced to death for their crimes. Others were prisoners of war or rebellious subjects of Rome sent to their deaths to provide an example to others who might be tempted to defy the might of Rome. But many of the dead were gladiators, men or women set to fight each other for the entertainment of the crowd. Thousands of these gladiators died each year, the death toll rising as each new politician or emperor tried to outdo the one before in the magnificence of the games in the arena.

The idea of setting men to fight and kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd is so brutal and bizarre that it is difficult to imagine how the bloody gladiatorial games began. In fact, the Romans had a very different attitude to these events than is often thought. The gory events of the arena were certainly entertainments, and were much appreciated for that, but in essence they were religious events which dated back to a time so ancient that the Romans themselves had largely forgotten their origins.

The gladiatorial fights were known to the Romans as munus, or munera in the plural, meaning an ‘obligation’ and in particular an obligation to the dead. They formed part of the funeral celebrations with which the living celebrated the life of a member of their family. The idea of gladiatorial contests as part of the munus owed to a deceased relative did not originate in Rome, though it was the Romans who developed the combats to the highest degree.

This is an extract from The Age of the Gladiators by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Tasks of a Pharaoh

Into Battle
One of the main tasks of the pharaoh was to lead the army during times of war. During the time of the New Kingdom the most important part of the army were the chariot units. These light vehicles galloped around  the battlefield while archers shot arrows at the enemy. Pharaohs rode into battle on chariots.

Army Organisation
The Egyptian army was divided into units named after gods. Most men in each division were infantry armed with shields and either spears or swords. Most Egyptian shields had a rounded top and a flat bottom. The infantry formed up in solid masses when going into battle.

The Sea Peoples
In around 1220bc Egypt was attacked by warriors from the north who arrived in ships. The Egyptians called these invades the Sea People. The Sea Peoples were finally defeated by Raises III in 1163bc. The warships of Raises III were designed to carry soldiers to attack the ships of the enemy.

The Sed Festival
Each pharaoh had to prove that he was fit and active enough to continue to rule by performing the Sed festival every 12 years. During the festival the pharaoh had to run a course around stone pillars set up in the desert within a set period of time. If the pharaoh finished within the set time he was thought to have proved that he was fit to rule. There then followed rituals at the temple.

The Window of Appearing
Every day the pharaoh had to show himself to the people by looking out of a window in whichever building he was staying in. Palaces had specially decorated windows for this purpose that were  called Windows of Appearing. This allowed people to see that the pharaoh was alive and fit enough to rule.

Dispute Settlement
It was a prime duty of the pharaoh to ensure peace and harmony. If any dispute between Egyptians could not be settled by officials, the dispute would go to the pharaoh for him to judge. The pharaoh would listen to both sides of the dispute, then announce his decision.

Quiz Question
How often was the Sed festival organised?

Games of Ancient EgyptRun the Sed
You will need:
Markers, such as sticks or pieces of cloth
A watch
Pencil and paper
A garden or park
Two or more players

First mark out the Sed course by putting the markers around your garden or in a park. Be careful not to put the markers where they will cause a nuisance to anyone else.

Take it in turns to run around the Sed course. Time the runs using the watch and write down the results with the pencil and paper.

The player who completes the course in the fastest time is the Pharaoh.

This is an extract from Action Files Egypt by Rupert Matthews.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

RAF in Surrey - talk in Guildford

On 3 November Rupert the History Man went to the Guildford Institute to give an afternoon lecture on the history of the RAF in Surrey. The meeting was packed with the largest audience of the year.

You can watch a video about my book Heroes of Fighter Command in Surrey HERE

To book Rupert the History Man to speak at your event contact him VIA HIS WEBSITE

Speaking in Spalding

The second of November found Rupert the History Man in Spalding, Lincs, talking to a Ladies Luncheon Club on the subject of "How Women Led Society in the Age of Chivalry". It was a cracking event, with a lovely lunch of lamb cutlets and jam roly poly pud. And everyone seemed to enjoy the talk as well.

To book The History Man to speak at your event, contact him via his WEBSITE HERE.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Video about Teashop and Pub Drives in Kent

Watch the VIDEO HERE


America Declares war on Germany 1917

When war broke out in 1914, the United States of America was not directly affected by any of the issues that divided the European powers. President Woodrow Wilson was supported by most Americans when he declared the USA would be strictly neutral.
A large proportion of the population of the USA in 1914 were immigrants from Europe, or their children. They tended to support their various mother countries in the European war.

The USA quarrelled with Britain in the autumn of 1914 when the Royal Navy began stopping US ships from steaming to Germany. President Wilson moved quickly to avert an open dispute.

It was agreed that no goods likely to be useful to the war effort would be sent from America to Germany, but that peaceful trade could continue.

In February 1915 a more serious quarrel broke out with Germany. The German navy announced that from 4 February it would sink without notice any merchant ships heading to Britain.

On 10 February Wilson told Germany that he would declare war if any US ships were sunk. When the British passenger ship, Lusitania, was sunk and many Americans killed, Wilson began moves to break diplomatic relations. Germany called off the campaign.

Public opinion in America was outraged by the German execution of Nurse Edith Cavell. Stories of German behaviour in occupied areas also upset many Americans.

On 31 January 1917 the German ambassador told President Wilson that Germany was once again beginning unrestricted warfare on merchant ships, as of the next day. Wilson again said he would declare war if any US ships were sunk.

On 1 March, attempts by the German government to persuade Mexico to attack the USA were discovered. American public opinion turned firmly against Germany.

On 20 March a German U-boat sank an unarmed American merchant ship. On 2 April the USA declared war on Germany.

This is an extract from 1000 Facts on World War I by Rupert Matthews