Wednesday, August 24, 2016

24 August AD 79 – Pompeii is engulfed by ash

The Last Day of Pompeii (1830), by Russian painter Karl Bryullov, was inspired by the artist’s visit to the site in 1828. The town was buried by volcanic ash after Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, killing large numbers of residents. (Getty Images)

On the afternoon of 24 August 79, the commander of the Roman fleet, Pliny the Elder, was at home in Misenum at the northern end of the Bay of Naples. He was working on some papers after a leisurely lunch when his sister noticed “a cloud of unusual size and appearance”, rising above the peak of Vesuvius. Pliny immediately called for a boat but, even before he had set out, a message arrived from the town at the foot of the mountain where residents were terrified of the looming cloud.
By the time Pliny had crossed the bay to the town of Stabiae, it was obvious that something terrible was afoot. Vesuvius now seemed ablaze, wrote Pliny’s nephew, known as Pliny the Younger, while “ashes were already falling, hotter and thicker as the ships drew near, followed by bits of pumice and blackened stones, charred and cracked by the flames”. With ash filling the sky, the unnatural darkness seemed “blacker and denser than any ordinary night”.

Barely three miles away on the volcano’s fertile slopes stood Pompeii. That wealthy town was no stranger to disaster – it had been damaged by an earthquake just 17 years earlier – but as the ash began to fall, it was obvious that this was far, far worse.

Almost certainly thousands were killed, though the true figure will never be known. Even at Misenum, where the elder Pliny’s relatives waited in vain for his return – he collapsed and died in the chaos – utter panic took hold. “You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives,” wrote Pliny’s nephew. It felt, he added, as though “the whole world was dying with me, and I with it.”
Dominic Sandbrook is a historian and presenter.

12 things you (probably) didn’t know about the Wars of the Roses

History Extra

Battle of Towton, 1461. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

But, argues historian Matthew Lewis in his new book, the roots of these dynastic civil wars went deeper and the branches reached further than this timeframe suggests. Here, writing for History Extra, Lewis shares 12 lesser-known facts about the conflicts…

1) Jack Cade’s rebellion rocked the Lancastrians

In July 1450, a mysterious man known as Jack Cade led a huge force of common men from Kent into London to protest against the ailing government of the Lancastrian king Henry VI. This episode is generally regarded as being outside the bounds of the Wars of the Roses, but those edges are blurred and elastic.
When Jack Cade entered the capital he struck the London Stone, which can still be seen on Cannon Street, and, according to Shakespeare, proclaimed: “Now is Mortimer lord of this city!” After this, Cade openly adopted the provocative name John Mortimer. The Mortimer line was considered by many to be senior to the Lancastrian line, since the Mortimers were heirs apparent to Richard II – so adding weight to the later Yorkist claim to the throne.
In 1460 Richard, Duke of York would trace his lineage from Edward III’s second surviving son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, whose only daughter had married Edmund Mortimer. The House of Lancaster was descended from John of Gaunt, Edward III’s third son. The Mortimer Earls of March had been considered the lawful heirs of the childless Richard II before he was deposed, and the Lancastrian kings eyed them with suspicion. Was Jack Cade a son of this deposed line seeking restitution?
Many would later claim that Richard, Duke of York had arranged for Cade to use the name ‘Mortimer’ to measure the response to it. Stow’s Chronicle, a Tudor source, claimed that the object of the uprising was to place York upon the throne, and Baker’s later A Chronicle of the Kings of England called Cade “an instrument of the Duke of York”.
Cade – who was captured and fatally wounded following the failure of his rebellion – is a fascinating, elusive figure. Was he a genuine claimant to the throne, a social campaigner, or a puppet?

2) Wiltshire took to his heels to protect his face

James Butler, 1st Earl of Wiltshire and 5th Earl of Ormond, was a good-looking man. So good-looking, in fact, that it hampered his performance on the battlefield.
Loyal to the Lancastrian cause, Butler rose to prominence under Henry VI and fought for the king at the first battle of St Albans on 22 May 1455. The Lancastrian forces lost to those led by the Duke of York, the Earl of Salisbury and the infamous ‘kingmaker’, the Earl of Warwick. Several Lancastrian leaders were killed and Henry VI was injured and captured, but Butler escaped.
Gregory, a resident of London who kept a detailed chronicle covering the early Wars of the Roses, quipped that Butler, then in his early thirties, “fought mainly with his heels for he was frightened of losing his beauty”. Butler wrote to the Duke of York from Petersfield to ask if he could return to the king’s side and, if not, to be allowed to retire to his estates in Ireland.
Butler was on the losing side once more at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross (February 1461) and again at Towton (March 1461), after which he was captured and executed – his looks finally lost for the Lancastrian cause.

3) The friar’s cannon fooled Queen Margaret’s army

The first battle of St Albans was followed by a period of peace, but it wasn’t to last long. By the autumn of 1459, Yorkist forces were massing at Ludlow in Shropshire, from where they planned to take the fight to King Henry VI’s Lancastrians again. Among those marching south to join them was an army under the Yorkist Earl of Salisbury. Yet Salisbury wasn’t to reach his destination unimpeded. Henry VI’s wife, Queen Margaret, got wind of the movements and sent a force twice the size of Salisbury’s to intercept him at Blore Heath in Staffordshire.

Henry VI, son of Henry V, king of England from 1422 to 1461 and again from 1470 to 1471, c1450. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Against the odds, Salisbury won the day but his tired, battered column still needed to reach Ludlow. Thomas, Lord Stanley had a large force in the field within a few miles of Blore Heath, and the Lancastrian army might still have regrouped and pursued their Yorkist foes. Salisbury’s answer, according to Gregory, was to leave one of his cannons behind and pay an Augustinian friar to fire it “all that night in a park that was at the back side of the field”.
In the dark the Lancastrian army and Stanley’s force were disorientated and kept looking for a battle that had ended hours earlier. The clever ploy ensured that Salisbury reached Ludlow safely.


4) Lord Stanley had a lucky escape

When parliament met at Coventry in November 1459 to deliver punishment for those rebels involved in the recent Yorkist uprising, a small piece of business was recorded among the rolls of the session that might have radically altered the course of the Wars of the Roses.
Following the battle of Blore Heath (September 1459) and the subsequent clash at Ludford Bridge at Ludlow (October 1459), Richard, Duke of York and his allies had been forced to flee and were all attainted, stripped of lands and titles for their treason. At the end of the parliament rolls is a call from the commons for Thomas, Lord Stanley to also be attainted for treason. According to the charge, Henry VI had summoned Stanley to Nottingham, but “Lord Stanley, notwithstanding the said command, did not come to you; but William Stanley his brother, with many of the said lord’s servants and tenants, a great number of people, went to the Earl of Salisbury, and they were with the same earl at the attack upon your liege people at Blore Heath”.
Further accusations are levelled, but Henry deferred consideration of them. Given the Stanleys’ later prominence and their part in the battle of Bosworth (1485) – playing a critical role in Henrv Tudor’s victory over the Yorkist Richard III – the landscape of the second half of the 15th century might have been very different had Henry taken umbrage in 1459.

5) An Italian bishop helped the Yorkist cause

Bishop Francesco Coppini of Terni played a crucial but often overlooked role in the Yorkist seizure of power in 1461. Pope Pius II had sent Coppini to England as a papal legate in 1459 to seek Henry VI’s assistance in a crusade against the Turks. His secondary mission, given him by his patron Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, was to encourage Henry to invade France.
Henry’s French queen sent the legate away with a flea in his ear and Coppini retreated to Burgundy nursing his bruised pride. On the continent, he came into contact with the exiled Yorkists at Calais. The Earl of Warwick’s silver tongue flattered the bishop’s wounded ego, promising that a Yorkist government would see his master’s aims met.

Pope Pius II, who sent Bishop Francesco Coppini of Terni to England as a papal legate in 1459, pictured in c1459. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Thus Coppini enthusiastically took up their cause, landing at Sandwich in 1460 when Warwick invaded. When they arrived in London, he preached to the English bishops in York’s support and wrote to Henry VI advising that he grant the Yorkists an audience.
Coppini was present at the battle of Northampton (July 1460) when Henry VI was captured again, but when the tide turned against the Yorkists in late 1460 he was forced to flee to the continent. After defeating an army fighting in the name of, though not led by, Henry VI at the battle of Towton (March 1461) and replacing him as king, the Yorkist Edward IV sought Coppini’s return – only for Coppini to be replaced as legate.
Although Coppini accompanied the new legate, the French and Lancastrians protested against his presence and he was sent back to Rome. He had, however, played a vital role in the establishment of Yorkist government.

6) A double-crossing fighter was knighted for his pains

Andrew Trollope was knighted in the aftermath of the Lancastrian victory at the second battle of St Albans (February 1461). Trollope had been the leader of the Calais garrison, the only standing army in the pay of the crown and therefore the closest thing to a professional force in the kingdom. The Earl of Warwick had brought Trollope and his men to Ludlow to bolster the Yorkist force there, but it was Trollope’s midnight flit to the king that destroyed the Yorkists’ hopes at Ludford Bridge (October 1459).
Chronicles record Trollope visiting the Duke of York at Wakefield and tricking him into believing that he was returning to the fold. York’s subsequent foray out of Sandal Castle cost him his life and increased Trollope’s standing at the Lancastrian court.
At the second battle of St Albans, Trollope was prominent once more in the Lancastrian assault on the Yorkists within the town. The newly freed Henry VI had his son, Prince Edward, knight Trollope on the field, even though, Gregory reports, Trollope had trodden on a caltrop (a weapon made of two or more sharp nails or spines, placed in the ground to slow the advance of horses and human troops) during the battle and been unable to move, protesting “I have not deserved it for I slew but 15 men, for I stood still in one place and they came unto me”.
Trollope’s star was soaring, but it would fall at the apocalyptic battle of Towton (March 1461), where he was killed leading the Lancastrian attack.

7) The siege of Bamburgh cost Sir Ralph Grey his head

By 1464, Edward IV had been king for three years and was establishing himself, but he had not quite eradicated Lancastrian resistance. The battles of Hedgeley Moor (April 1464) and Hexham (May 1464) had seen Lancastrian rebels from over the Scottish border attack Neville envoys from Edward IV heading north. During the incursion, the Lancastrians seized Alnwick, Dunstanburgh and Bamburgh Castles. Two were swiftly surrendered after Lancastrian defeats, but Sir Ralph Grey remained at Bamburgh Castle.
After refusing to leave, Grey was issued with a grisly threat: King Edward did not want to have to damage a vital castle near to the Scottish border, and so promised Grey that the first cannon ball fired at the walls would cost his head. Each subsequent shot that damaged a wall would cost another head, working down the line of command until every man was executed.

Bamburgh Castle in Bamburgh, Northumberland, c1965. (Photo by Lambert/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Two guns named Newcastle and London pounded the walls. A smaller cannon named Dijon found its range and consistently fired shot directly through Grey’s apartment window. The siege was brief, and in spite of the threat the men within were spared. Sir Ralph, though, was stripped of the honour of being a Knight of the Bath and sentenced to be beheaded.

8) A Latin scholar became butcher of England

John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester was constable of England, responsible for the administration of the king’s justice. Tiptoft was a widely respected academic, a talented lawyer and a Latin scholar. His early career had been brimming with promise, and his star had continued to rise under the new Yorkist regime.
In 1470, while Edward IV was threatened by his brother George, Duke of Clarence and his cousin the mighty Earl of Warwick, a clutch of Warwick’s men were captured on the south coast trying to escape. Tiptoft oversaw the trials of 20 of what Warkworth’s Chronicle described as “gentlemen and yeomen”, probably representing the highest-status prisoners taken. After what was little more than a show trial, all 20 were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
To drive home the fate of those opposing Edward, all 20 bodies were subjected to further humiliation: Tiptoft ordered each of the dismembered corpses to be hung upside down. Twenty wooden stakes, sharpened at both ends, were then driven through the buttocks of the 20 corpses and the heads stuck on the end protruding from the bodies. Tiptoft was reviled, named the butcher of England, and when the Lancastrians retook the country, he found himself unable to escape their retribution. He was executed on Tower Hill on 18 October 1470.

9) Nibley Green was the scene of the last private battle in England

On 20 March 1470, two private armies took to the field on Nibley Green at North Nibley in Gloucestershire. One army was led by Thomas Talbot, Viscount Lisle, and the other by William, Lord Berkeley. They had been involved in a long-running dispute over an inheritance that had been stalled in the courts without a resolution for either side.
As King Edward IV’s grip on power slipped in the face of rebellion by his cousin, the Earl of Warwick, men of power began to exploit the vacuum of royal authority created by the trouble at the top. Lord Berkeley won the small battle. Lord Lisle was killed and his adversary paid for building work to the church where many of the casualties were buried.
The battle of Nibley Green was the last battle between private armies in English history, but was a symptom of the coming storm. Sieges at Caister Castle and Hornby Castle were further evidence of the breakdown of law and order.

10) A loyal duke rose from the ‘dead’

Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter was a perfect example of the problems created by the Wars of the Roses. The Holland family had close ties to the Lancastrian royal line. Henry was a great-grandson of John of Gaunt but had married Anne, the eldest surviving child of Richard, Duke of York and his wife, Cecily.
Henry remained loyal to the Lancastrian cause, fighting against his father-in-law and brothers-in-law. At the battle of Barnet on 14 April 1471, Easter Sunday, Holland supported the Earl of Warwick’s attempts to prevent the return of King Edward IV – who Warwick had helped to overthrow the previous year – and to preserve the throne of the newly reinstalled Lancastrian Henry VI.

Battle of Barnet, 1471 - the death of Richard Neville, 16th earl of Warwick. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)
Early in the fighting, at around 7am, Henry Holland was cut down. At the end of the battle he was stripped of anything of value, as the victorious forces looted the bodies littering the field. At around 4pm, as the battlefield was being cleared, Henry Holland was discovered clinging on to life. His wounds were treated and once he was well enough he took sanctuary in Westminster Abbey.
In 1475 Henry volunteered to serve during Edward IV’s invasion of France. On the return journey he drowned in the Channel amid a storm of rumours that Edward had ordered him to be pushed overboard to rid himself of another with Lancastrian blood.


11) The archbishop of York was tricked out of his treasure

George Neville, Archbishop of York was a brother of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (the ‘kingmaker’).
After Edward IV’s triumph at the battle of Barnet (April 1471) – when he won back the throne, killing the ‘kingmaker’ in the process – George hid his vast wealth. He was, after all, uncertain of his future – even though he personally handed London and King Henry VI to the returning king.
In spite of his brother’s role in the expulsion of the Yorkist king, George seemed to continue in favour on Edward’s return. In 1472, George was with the king at Windsor enjoying the hunting when Edward announced that he would honour the archbishop with a visit to his manor at Moore. The excited George hurried to Moore and began recalling all of his hidden plate and finery to prepare to welcome the king, even borrowing large sums of money.
The day before Edward’s visit, a messenger delivered a summons to George to attend the king at Windsor. As soon as he arrived, George was arrested for treason. His property was seized by the king, his mitre broken and the jewels from it used to make Edward a new crown. Men were sent to Moore to recover all of the archbishop’s conveniently gathered goods.
Imprisoned at Hammes near Calais, George was later released but died in 1476 in poverty and disgrace.


12) A pirate earl created a king

In September 1473, John de Vere, Earl of Oxford captured St Michael’s Mount off the south coast of Cornwall. King Edward IV sent Sir Henry Bodrugan to lay siege to the tidal island fortress. Eventually, word reached Edward that each day at low tide Bodrugan was allowing the earl to leave the fortress and then return unmolested. When Oxford complained that his provisions were running low, Bodrugan had fresh supplies brought to the earl.
The king was furious and sent a squire of the body (a close personal servant of the king), John Fortescu, to replace Bodrugan. Finally, on 15 February 1474, after several engagements and after promises of pardons had lured some of Oxford’s men away, St Michael’s Mount was relinquished. Upon entering the castle, Fortescu found enough supplies to last for many more months.
Oxford was imprisoned at Hammes Castle until his escape during the reign of Richard III, when he joined the exiled Henry Tudor. He would go on to lead Tudor’s army at the battles of Bosworth in 1485 and Stoke Field in 1487 to create and defend the Tudor monarchy.
A soldier, an earl, a pirate, a prisoner, a general and a favourite of the early Tudor regime, John de Vere’s career was a perfect example of the changing fortunes of the Wars of the Roses.

Matthew Lewis is the author of The Wars of The Roses: The Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy (Amberley Publishing, 2015). To find out more, click here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Remnants of Gigantic Wooden Henge Found Two Miles from Stonehenge

Ancient Origins

Archaeologists carrying out excavations at the Durrington Walls earthworks, just two miles from the world-famous stone circle of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, have discovered evidence of an enormous 500-meter diameter circle of timber posts. Experts have said the finding is of international significance.

In a world exclusive, The Independent has revealed that the newly-discovered wooden henge at Durrington Walls consisted of 200-300 timber posts measuring 6-7 meters in height and 60 – 70 centimeters in diameter. The posts were buried in 1.5-meter-deep holes, two of which have been fully excavated so far.

The discovery was made just two miles from the world-famous stone circle of Stonehenge
The discovery was made just two miles from the world-famous stone circle of Stonehenge (public domain)
Durrington Walls is the name given to a giant earthwork measuring around 1,640 feet (500 meters) in diameter and surrounded by a ditch of up to 54ft (16 meters) wide and a bank of more than three foot (1 meter) high.  It is built on the same summer solstice alignment as Stonehenge. The enormous structure is believed to have formed a gigantic ceremonial complex in the Stonehenge landscape.
The most intriguing aspect of the finding is that the construction of the wooden circle stopped abruptly before it was finished, around 2460 BC. The posts were removed from the holes, which were then filled in with blocks of chalk and then covered by a bank made of chalk rubble. In the bottom of one of the excavated post holes, archaeologists found a spade made from a cow’s shoulder blade.

A tool made from a bison shoulder blade, which would be similar to the spade found in the bottom of one of the post holes.
A tool made from a bison shoulder blade, which would be similar to the spade found in the bottom of one of the post holes. (
According to The Independent, researchers believe this sudden cessation in construction is indicative of a dramatic change in religious and/or political direction, possibly due to the arrival in Britain around this time of the Beaker culture (2800 – 1800 BC). The Beaker culture is thought to have originated in either the Iberian Peninsula, the Netherlands or Central Europe and subsequently spread out across Western Europe. They are known for a particular pottery type they developed, but also a complex cultural phenomenon involving shared ideological, cultural and religious ideas.
The distinctive Bell Beaker pottery drinking vessels shaped like an inverted bell (
The distinctive Bell Beaker pottery drinking vessels shaped like an inverted bell (public domain)
“It was as if the religious "revolutionaries" were trying, quite literally, to bury the past,” reports The Independent. “The question archaeologists will now seek to answer is whether it was the revolutionaries’ own past they were seeking to bury – or whether it was another group or cultural tradition’s past that was being consigned to the dustbin of prehistory.”
“The new discoveries at Durrington Walls reveal the previously unsuspected complexity of events in the area during the period when Stonehenge’s largest stones were being erected – and show just how politically and ideologically dynamic British society was at that particularly crucial stage in prehistory,” said Dr Nick Snashall, the senior National Trust archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site [via The Independent].

Top image: Main: An aerial photograph of Durrington Walls. In the North, West and South, a line of trees handily outlines the shape of the bank, a faint impression can be seen in the East, however, to the right of the road. The River Avon, and the area where the avenue connected it to Durrington Walls, can be seen in the bottom-right ( Inset: An illustration of a similar wooden henge located at Cairnpapple Hill, Scotland.

By April Holloway

By April Holloway

Monday, August 22, 2016

Q&A: When did Italian replace Latin as the language of Italy?

History Extra

Venice in 1338. (Bridgeman Art Library)

Languages can literally die overnight when the last of their speakers dies, but the death of Latin was very different. 
After the fall of the Roman empire in the west in AD 476, Latin evolved into a wide variety of regional dialects now known as Romance vernaculars. In the early 14th century the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri reckoned that more than 1,000 such dialects were spoken in Italy. At the time of Dante, Latin was still used in literature, philosophy, medicine and other cultural or legal written documents. Dialects were spoken, but also used in writing: the earliest examples of vernacular writing in Italy date from the ninth century. 
The early 16th century saw the dialect used by Dante in his work replace Latin as the language of culture. We can thus say that modern Italian descends from 14th-century literary Florentine. Italy did not become a single nation until 1861, at which time less than 10 per cent of its citizens spoke the national language, Italian. 
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Italy was a ‘diglossic country’ – one where a local dialect such as Neapolitan or Milanese was spoken at home while Italian was learned at school and used for official purposes. 
The First World War helped foster linguistic unification when, for the first time, soldiers from all over Italy met and talked to each other. The rise in literacy levels after the Second World War and the spread of mass media changed Italy into a bilingual nation, where Italian, increasingly the mother tongue of all Italians, coexists and interacts with the dialects of Italy.

Answered by Delia Bentley, senior lecturer at the University of Manchester.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

The hunt for the Tudor hitman

History Extra

A contemporary illustration shows a man firing a gun. In 1530s England, the arquebus was the only firearm in general use – yet it was way too cumbersome to be the weapon employed in Robert Packington’s murder. © Mercer's Company

At around 6am on Monday 13 November 1536, Robert Packington left his house in London’s Cheapside – or just around the corner in Sopers Lane – to attend early Mass in the Mercers’ Chapel on the north side of West Cheap. His journey was a short one but, in all likelihood, Packington carried a lantern: the night was dark and smoke from a thousand chimneys, mingling with a mist from the Thames, reduced visibility to a few paces.
Packington’s route took him past the Great Conduit, a square building in the middle of Cheapside containing the fountain that provided the nearby houses with their water supply. As he crossed the thoroughfare, only a few metres from his destination, a single shot rang out and he fell dead upon the instant.
Almost as soon as Packington’s body hit the floor, the crowd that rapidly gathered around his corpse was asking questions. Why would someone want to eliminate one of London’s most respectable figures – Packington was not only a prominent merchant, and a leading light in the Worshipful Mercers’ Company, but also a member of parliament. Why did the assassin select such a busy part of London – a daily gathering point for unemployed men hoping to be hired as day labourers – to commit the crime?
And why did no one notice the gunman or his weapon? The only firearms in general use at the time were matchlock arquebuses – and these were hardly tailor-made for assassins wishing to carry out a swift, surgical strike. Arquebuses were more than a metre long and had to be held using both hands. The powder was ignited by means of a glowing match which would show up in the dark.
Even in the gloom of that November pre-dawn, anyone carrying, let alone using, such an unwieldy firearm would have attracted attention. Yet this assassin, apparently, stood a mere matter of yards from a crowd, put the gun to his shoulder, and pulled the trigger. There was a flash and an explosion. And yet no one saw him.

A wheellock pistol, the lethal new weapon used in a 1536 killing that seemed to be a professional 'hit'. © Bridgeman
The reason that the murderer was able to melt into the darkness was, as it transpires, that he wasn’t using an arquebus at all, but the much smaller, more discreet wheellock pistol. In fact, poor Robert Packington probably holds the dubious distinction of being the first person in England to be killed with a handgun.
By the time the autumn sun had dispelled the early mist, the shocking news of the merchant’s murder was all over town. And, by now, one more question was on everyone’s lips – and, four days later, that question was still unanswered. Writing to his master, Viscount Lisle, in Calais, Francis Hall reported: “The murderer that slew Mr Packington with a gun in Cheapside cannot be yet known.” Despite the offer of a large reward by the lord mayor, no one was brought to book for the crime.
But this did not mean that there were no suspicions. John Bale, the Protestant controversialist, writing a decade later, was sure that the instigators of the killing were the Catholic bishops – the “byfurked ordinaries”. Soon Edward Hall’s history of England from the reigns of Henry IV to Henry VIII – the Union of the Two Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (commonly called Hall’s Chronicle) – was on the bookstalls, containing a more detailed account of the incident. It added that because Packington had denounced “the covetousness and cruelty of the clergy” it was most likely that “by one of them [he was] thus shamefully murdered”.

Cruelty of the clergy

By the time Foxe wrote his Acts and Monuments of the Christian Religion (commonly known as the Book of Martyrs – first Latin edition 1559) specific perpetrators were in the frame.
But before we come onto those, we should consider the background to the murder. The year 1536 was an annus horribilis, the most tense and turbulent of Henry VIII’s reign.
The first ominous event was the death, in January, of Catharine of Aragon, the former queen, still much loved by many of Henry’s subjects. Scarcely had the memory of her passing begun to fade when news came that the king’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, had been arrested and was going to be executed.

A copy of the New Testament translated into English by William Tyndale. Was Robert Packington targeted because he smuggled this banned text into England? © Bridgeman
Few mourned the death of the ‘French whore’ but many were troubled by the manner of her demise. The king had done so many terrible things, including making himself pope in England. What might he do next?
The answer was: begin dismantling the fabric of the nation’s religion by closing the smaller monasteries. Government preachers were put up in the pulpits to denounce Catholic practices. In response, bold spirits stood up in other churches to attack the ‘heretics’ now exercising power over the king – particularly Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s closest adviser, and archbishop Thomas Cranmer.
A rabid pamphlet war broke out between traditionalist and reformist parties. Neighbour accused neighbour of being a ‘papist’ or a ‘heretic’. There was widespread fear that insults would give way to violence. Cromwell even ordered that all priests must surrender any weapons they possessed.
Then, in October, the looming storm broke. News reached London that men in the Midlands and the north had risen in revolt against religious change and would soon be marching south. Henry and his court shut themselves up in Windsor Castle. Citizens feared that blood would soon be running in their streets. And so it was.
But why was it Robert Packington’s? A clue surely lies in the fact that he was a senior member of the Mercers’ Company, had studied at the Inns of Court and regularly sat at the House of Commons.
Now, if any Londoners resented the power of the clergy, it was the city’s merchants, lawyers and parliamentarians. Packington was an outspoken critic. But, in all probability, he was more – an evangelical activist engaged in smuggling William Tyndale’s banned translation of the New Testament and other heretical books into England. He was also, it seems, an associate of Cromwell, and carried messages between the minister and evangelical activists in Antwerp.
So, when Packington was brutally murdered few people were in any doubt that he was a victim of Catholic reactionaries, and that his death was a shot across Protestant bows fired by the senior clergy or even the bishop of London himself, John Stokesley.
John Foxe went a stage further in his Acts and Monuments of the Christian Religion. Stokesley, he averred, had paid someone 60 gold coins to undertake the murder. However, in his 1570 edition of the book, Foxe changed the name of the instigator. Now, he identified John Incent, canon of St Paul’s (and later dean), as the paymaster – a crime to which Incent had allegedly confessed on his deathbed in 1545. The actual hitman was now identified as an Italian.
To confuse the issue yet further, Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577) attributed the crime to an unnamed felon subsequently hanged at Banbury for an unrelated offence. Can we, 478 years later, make any sense of the conflicting evidence?
The attack has all the hallmarks of a professional ‘hit’. The weapon, the location, the timing all indicate a carefully planned assassination.
Hitmen do not come cheap. The early reports of a considerable fee having been paid certainly make sense. If the villain who actually pulled the trigger was the one who later paid for his crime at Banbury, we are left with two suspects as possible instigators of the atrocity. Foxe was – eventually – convinced about Incent’s deathbed confession. It was, he declared, attested “by men both of great credit and worshipful estimation”.

Dean John Incent allegedly confessed to the murder on his deathbed. © Getty Images
But was this middle-ranking priest capable of thinking up and putting into operation a cold-blooded murder?
Time, perhaps, for a little psychological profiling. Incent was a conservative and given to ecclesiastical in-fighting with more evangelically minded colleagues. But he had no reputation as a persecutor and he did not allow mere theology to stand in the way of his promotion: later he was one of the commissioners sent by Cromwell to dissolve monasteries. Moreover, if Incent believed that Packington was a dangerous heretic, why would his conscience be troubled about ridding the world of him?
Bishop Stokesley was a horse of a very different colour. He already had blood on his hands and actually boasted of having consigned over 30 heretics to the flames. He openly quarrelled with Cromwell and was particularly opposed to the minister’s pet project of promoting an English Bible. He was active in hunting down William Tyndale and having him arrested in Antwerp. The translator was burned as a heretic just five weeks before Packington’s death.
Here, I think, we may be at the crux of the matter. Stokesley believed passionately that the vernacular Bible should not be available in England. For years he had been fighting a losing battle against the illegal import of Tyndale’s New Testament. Anger and frustration could well have driven him to extreme measures. The bishop was clever enough, rich enough, powerful enough and ruthless enough to organise an attack on a Bible smuggler who was a confidant of that loathsome creature, Thomas Cromwell. Perhaps Foxe’s first impression was correct.
But then, what are we to make of Incent’s confession? Well, we are not obliged to believe that Stokesley acted alone. On the contrary, he would have needed trusted accomplices to help fine-tune the crime. If Incent was a mere sidekick who had supported his bishop’s plan to murder a prominent London citizen, he might well have felt the need to cleanse his soul before it followed that of Robert Packington into the presence of the Great Judge.

The assassin's weapon of choice
The pistol that killed Robert Packington made Europe's rulers decidely jumpy
The one fact mentioned in every early account of Robert Packington’s murder is that it was perpetrated “with a gun”. It was this that made the act shocking, cowardly and diabolical. The weapon referred to, and the only one that can have been used to kill Packington, was a wheellock pistol. Such a firearm was much shorter than an arquebus. It needed no lighted match because the powder was ignited by a spark struck from a flint. The weapon could be hidden beneath a cloak, brought out, fired one-handedly at close range, then as quickly concealed.
The wheellock introduced a new era of political assassination. Invented in the early 16th century, its potential was quickly recognised by European rulers. In 1518 the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I banned the manufacture and carrying of “self-igniting handguns that set themselves to firing”. Other heads of state were not slow to follow suit. By the 1530s wheellocks were still rare. They were complex and expensive pieces of kit carried by well-to-do, macho braggarts. Few people in London would ever have seen one. Small wonder that it was commonly believed that the murderer was a foreigner.

Did the clergy have form?
Those who held churchmen responsible for Packington's death were quick to call attention to a similar killing in 1514

An illustration shows the hanging of merchant Richard Hunne at St Paul’s Cathedral. © Robin Mcmorran
Shortly after Robert Packington was slain on the streets of Cheapside, stories began circulating of another killing in England’s capital 22 years earlier.
In early 1537 an anonymous pamphlet, printed in Antwerp, was being avidly read on the streets of London, telling how one Richard Hunne had been locked up in the Lollards’ Tower of St Paul’s Cathedral and brutally murdered.
The pamphlet was no mere Protestant diatribe. It made public for the first time the complete coroner’s report and named three henchmen of Richard Fitzjames, then bishop of London, who had “feloniously strangled and smothered, and also the neck they did break of the said Richard Hunne… afterward… with the same girdle of the same Richard Hunne… after his death, upon a hook driven into… the wall of the prison… and so hanged him”.
Why was the story of this sensational crime revived more than two decades later? Why did it arouse fresh interest at this particular time? Because Hunne, like Packington, was a prominent merchant (a member of the Merchant Taylors’ Company) and an outspoken critic of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. He too, so it was alleged, had been violently silenced at the behest of the clergy.
The timing of the publication was no coincidence, and readers could not help remarking upon the parallels between the two killings.

Derek Wilson is the author of The First Horseman, a novel based upon the Packington affair, written under the name DK Wilson.
 els between the two killings.

written under the name DK Wilson. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Paid Sick Days and Physicians at Work: Ancient Egyptians had State-Supported Health Care

Ancient Origins

We might think of state supported health care as an innovation of the 20th century, but it’s a much older tradition than that. In fact, texts from a village dating back to Egypt’s New Kingdom period, about 3,100-3,600 years ago, suggest that in ancient Egypt there was a state-supported health care network designed to ensure that workers making the king’s tomb were productive.

Health care boosted productivity on the royal tombs

The village of Deir el-Medina was built for the workmen who made the royal tombs during the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BCE). During this period, kings were buried in the Valley of the Kings in a series of rock-cut tombs, not the enormous pyramids of the past. The village was purposely built close enough to the royal tomb to ensure that workers could hike there on a weekly basis.
Stone sarcophagus of Merneptah in KV8.
Stone sarcophagus of Merneptah in KV8. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
These workmen were not what we normally picture when we think about the men who built and decorated ancient Egyptian royal tombs – they were highly skilled craftsmen. The workmen at Deir el-Medina were given a variety of amenities afforded only to those with the craftsmanship and knowledge necessary to work on something as important as the royal tomb.
The village was allotted extra support: The Egyptian state paid them monthly wages in the form of grain and provided them with housing and servants to assist with tasks like washing laundry, grinding grain and porting water. Their families lived with them in the village, and their wives and children could also benefit from these provisions from the state.

Out sick? You’ll need a note

Deir el-Medina, the place the workers called home.
Deir el-Medina, the place the workers called home.  (CC BY 3.0)
Among these texts are numerous daily records detailing when and why individual workmen were absent from work. Nearly one-third of these absences occur when a workman was too sick to work. Yet, monthly ration distributions from Deir el-Medina are consistent enough to indicate that these workmen were paid even if they were out sick for several days.
These texts also identify a workman on the crew designated as the swnw, physician. The physician was given an assistant and both were allotted days off to prepare medicine and take care of colleagues. The Egyptian state even gave the physician extra rations as payment for his services to the community of Deir el-Medina.
This physician would have most likely treated the workmen with remedies and incantations found in his medical papyrus. About a dozen extensive medical papyri have been identified from ancient Egypt, including one set from Deir el-Medina.
These texts were a kind of reference book for the ancient Egyptian medical practitioner, listing individual treatments for a variety of ailments. The longest of these, Papyrus Ebers, contains over 800 treatments covering anything from eye problems to digestive disorders. As an example, one treatment for intestinal worms requires the physician to cook the cores of dates and colocynth, a desert plant, together in sweet beer. He then sieved the warm liquid and gave it to the patient to drink for four days.
A sample of the Papyrus Ebers.
A sample of the Papyrus Ebers. (Public Domain)
Just like today, some of these ancient Egyptian medical treatments required expensive and rare ingredients that limited who could actually afford to be treated, but the most frequent ingredients found in these texts tended to be common household items like honey and grease. One text from Deir el-Medina indicates that the state rationed out common ingredients to a few men in the workforce so that they could be shared among the workers.
Despite paid sick leave, medical rations and a state-supported physician, it is clear that in some cases the workmen were actually working through their illnesses.
For example, in one text, the workman Merysekhmet attempted to go to work after being sick. The text tells us that he descended to the King’s Tomb on two consecutive days, but was unable to work. He then hiked back to the village of Deir el-Medina where he stayed for the next ten days until he was able to work again. Though short, these hikes were steep: the trip from Deir el-Medina to the royal tomb involved an ascent greater than climbing to the top of the Great Pyramid. Merysekhmet’s movements across the Theban valleys were likely at the expense of his own health.
This suggests that sick days and medical care were not magnanimous gestures of the Egyptian state, but were rather calculated health care provisions designed to ensure that men like Merysekhmet were healthy enough to work.

Family was a social safety net

In cases where these provisions from the state were not enough, the residents of Deir el-Medina turned to each other. Personal letters from the site indicate that family members were expected to take care of each other by providing clothing and food, especially when a relative was sick. These documents show us that caretaking was a reciprocal relationship between direct family members, regardless of gender or age. Children were expected to take care of both parents just as parents were expected to take care of all of their children.
Ancient Egyptian workmans village "deir el-medina
Ancient Egyptian workmans village "deir el-medina (CC BY-SA 3.0)
 When family members neglected these responsibilities, there were fiscal and social consequences. In her will, the villager Naunakhte indicates that even though she was a dedicated mother to all of her children, four of them abandoned her in her old age. She admonishes them and disinherits them from her will, punishing them financially, but also shaming them in a public document made in front of the most senior members of the Deir el-Medina community.
This shows us that health care at Deir el-Medina was a system with overlying networks of care provided through the state and the community. While workmen counted on the state for paid sick leave, a physician, and even medical ingredients, they were equally dependent on their loved ones for the care necessary to thrive in ancient Egypt.
Top image: The village of Deir el-Medina in the West Bank of Luxor, Egypt. Anne Austin, Author provided
The article ‘Paid sick days and physicians at work: ancient Egyptians had state-supported health care by Anne Austin was originally published on The Conversation and has been republished under a Creative Commons license

Friday, August 19, 2016

Putting the Horse Before the Chariot: Gorgeous Ancient Roman Mosaics Unearthed in Cyprus

Ancient Origins

A mosaic floor dating back to the 4th century AD has been unearthed in Cyprus. It illustrates scenes from chariot races in the hippodrome. Previously, another team working on the island found a mosaic showing scenes from the labors of Hercules. That mosaic is two centuries older than the one that was just excavated. Together, these mosaics provide a fascinating glimpse into the interests of ancient Romans that once lived on the Mediterranean island.

The chariot race mosaic was discovered in Akaki village, 19 miles (30.58 km) from the capital city of Cyprus – Nicosia. The mosaic’s existence had been known since 1938 when farmers discovered a small piece of the floor. However, it took 80 years until researchers decided to unearth the whole thing. This magnificent find made the village world famous. The mosaic is the only one of its kind in Cyprus and one of just seven in the world.
According to the Daily Mail, the floor is 11 meters (36 ft.) long and 4 meters (13 ft.) wide. It probably belonged to a nobleman who lived there during the Roman domination on Cyprus. The mosaic is stunningly detailed, decorated with complete race scenes of four charioteers, each being drawn by a team of four horses.
Officials examining part of the mosaic found in Akaki village.
Officials examining part of the mosaic found in Akaki village. (Cyprus Mail)
The researchers believe that the mosaic shows different factions that competed in ancient Rome. They say that the hippodrome was a very meaningful place in ancient Roman times and it was a center for many events. It was not only a place for sports competitions, but also where the emperor appeared in front of the people and projected his power.

The name “hippodrome” comes from the Greek words hippos ('horse') and dromos ('course'). It was sort of an open-air stadium, used in ancient Greece, Rome, and Byzantine civilizations. The hippodrome was used for many different purposes, but the most spectacular ones were the chariot and horse races.
Ruins of a Roman hippodrome in Tyre, Lebanon.
Ruins of a Roman hippodrome in Tyre, Lebanon. (Peripitus/CC BY SA 3.0)
Inscriptions are seen near the four charioteers depicted in the mosaic which are believed to be their names and the name of one of the horses as well.
Three cones can also be seen along the circular arena. According to Daily Mail, each one of them is “topped with egg-shaped objects, and three columns seen in the distance hold up dolphin figures with what appears like water flowing from them.”
As Marina Ieronymidou, the director of the Department of Antiquities told journalists during a press conference: “It is an extremely important finding, because of the technique and because of the theme. It is unique in Cyprus since the presence of this mosaic floor in a remote inland area provides important new information on that period in Cyprus and adds to our knowledge of the use of mosaic floors on the island.''
The floor reveals some information about the interests of the upper classes during the 4th century AD. It sheds light on the ancient past of the island's interior and shows that the Roman nobles still cultivated Roman cultural traditions in the 4th century.
Choregos and actors, Roman mosaic. From the House of the Tragic Poet (VI, 8, 3), Pompeii.
Choregos and actors, Roman mosaic. From the House of the Tragic Poet (VI, 8, 3), Pompeii. (Public Domain)
In July 2016, a team of researchers working in the coastal city of Larnaca in Cyprus discovered a 2nd century floor showing the labors of Hercules. It is 20 meters (65 ft.) long and seems to be a part of some ancient baths. It depicts Hercules performing his feats of strength as penance for killing his wife and children in a rage. Larnaca was an ancient city state of Kition, and it was destroyed by earthquakes in the 4th century AD.
A 2nd century mosaic showing the labors of Hercules that was discovered in Larnaca.
A 2nd century mosaic showing the labors of Hercules that was discovered in Larnaca. (Cyprus Department of Antiquities)
Cyprus was a very attractive place for the nobles during the Roman Empire’s domination of the Mediterranean. Arguably, the most fascinating site on Cyprus is the ancient city of Salamis, which was settled circa 11th century BC. The motif of the chariot also appeared in tombs that were discovered there, showing a continued interest in chariot-related traditions. As April Holloway from Ancient Origins explained in her article from April 6, 2015:
“Salamis was a large city in ancient times. It served many dominant groups over the course of its history, including Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, and Romans. According to Homeric legend, Salamis was founded by archer Teucer from the Trojan War […] The city contains large, arched tombs, dating back to the 7th and 8th century, BC.
As with any culture, the tombs give a glimpse into the social hierarchy of the ancient residents of the city. Royalty was not buried within the tombs, as they were reserved for nobles. The tombs were constructed from large ashlars (fine cut masonry) and mud brick. When one was buried, the horse and chariot from the procession would be sacrificed in front of the tomb. The sacrifice of a horse in this method was a common ritual for funerals. Tombs also included grave good such as weapons and jewelry.”
Example of mosaic found at the Roman ruins of Salamis.
Example of mosaic found at the Roman ruins of Salamis. (John Higgins/Flickr)
These discoveries help show how the Roman nobility’s interests transformed over the ages. While some motifs remained popular over the years, others were introduced or altered to reflect current practices.
Top Image: Detail of the chariot race mosaic. Source: Pavlos Vrionides
By Natalia Klimczak