Princess Margaret and my Granddad

 

This week my mum told me about a Radio 4 programme she happened to listen to featuring a recent breaking story about some of Princess Margaret’s letters that have just been released for public viewing at the National Archives in Kew. If you haven’t heard what has happened, like I hadn’t, you only have to type it into Google, to find that actually it was all over the papers a few days ago.

Basically, the media was raving about the Princess’ “simple tastes” alluded to in these letters – she liked simple meals, not caviar and oysters, suggesting her apparent “normality” (though all of her letters are written on her behalf by some Sir Martin bloke – still seem normal?). The correspondence in question occurred before her visit to East Africa and Mauritius in 1956 (click the link for a breakdown of her visit to the island).

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The reason I’m writing about this random popular story is because my mum told me that my granddad, Grand-pere, who was from Mauritius and worked closely with the Prime Minister Ramgoolam when he lived there.

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When Princess Margaret went to visit, he planned her itinerary, and travelled with her around the island. Though we apparently have pictures of her, we have no pictures of them together. I’ve tried to search online, and managed to find a short archive film from Pathe…which is really interesting. But alas – no footage of him.

I’ll continue to look. I might track down something…

International Women’s Day: Catherine of Aragon

For me, Catherine of Aragon was the strongest of Henry VIII’s wives. Probably even as strong as Elizabeth I – the daughter of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.

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Born on 16 December 1485, and daughter to Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, she was given an education almost as strong as her brother’s, and we all know that knowledge is power.

She was originally married to Henry the VIII’s older brother Arthur, having been betrothed at the age of three. But their marriage was short-lived as Arthur died soon after at the young age of 16. She was then married to Henry VIII to keep the allegiance between her home country and Henry’s.

Why does she deserve a blog post for International Women’s Day? Because she was quite an interesting and strong character.

When she first came to Britain she couldn’t speak English. Gradually, her Spanish maids-in-waiting were taken from her, and replaced with English women. In essence, she was expected to forget who she was, to become fully English as the future Queen of England. Despite her homesickness, she endeavoured to learn English – which she barely spoke a word of on her arrival – and to win the hearts of the English public.

Even on her wedding day to Arthur, she defied public expectation by showing her Spanish heritage through riding into London side-saddle on a mule. Despite this, she soon won the public’s heart. So much so that when Henry VIII demanded a divorce from her years later, it was to great public disapproval. And the public continued to support her, during Henry’s long drawn-out attempts to claim a divorce from the Pope, making it an international spectacle, and probably the most public divorce you could ask for. All the more humiliating for Catherine, who was now known as the Queen who couldn’t produce a male heir (and who was no longer attractive to the king).

Even though she fought hard against the divorce, in the end she could do little more than sit back and watch as her royal status was slowly taken from her – her home, her waiting staff, her title, and even her daughter Mary. All the while she knew that once upon a time, she had stood in for Henry when he went to war in France in 1513, when he appointed her Regent or Governor of England. In his absence, she had even rode North in full armour, to defend England against the Scots, and was even heavily pregnant at the time. Of course, her daughter Mary never forgot her mother’s integrity, especially that of her religious integrity, and eventually became known as Bloody Mary.

For more information, read David Starkey’s Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII.

Hampton Court Palace in Pictures

The other weekend I took a trip with my partner and housemate to Hampton Court Palace, which is just down the road from where I live. Here are my pictures and thoughts on the day. I’m not going to call it an online tour: that might put you off reading. Having read a number of books and seen programmes on the Tudors and the history of this period since the last time I visited a few years ago, I spent most of the time informing my companions about the history of the place. I’m sure they enjoyed listening as much as I enjoyed talking. I’m sure they did. In fact, sometimes they enjoyed what I said so much I had to say it again.

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The first thing you tend to notice about the Palace is its colossal number of chimneys. Chimneys were a sign of wealth in the old, old days. Chimneys = fires = wood for burning = a wealthy houseowner who could either afford a lot of wood or had a vast amount of land to grow and fell trees for firewood. The design of the chimneys derives from the original design back when the palace belonged to Thomas Wolsey, before it became Henry VIII’s. Thomas Wolsey is more widely known as Cardinal Wolsey – Henry VIII’s advisor whom he held close to him. That is until Wolsey failed to secure Henry’s divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon, and was arrested. He died before Henry had a chance to kill him.

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Anyway, the above picture shows the area outside the main entrance. I said to my housemates I reckoned there was once water here, like some sort of moat, as you can see the change in the brickwork colour. Sure enough, during last week, I saw an old news story from the 4th January, literally the day before I went to visit, reporting that this moat had been flooded for the first time in ten years – which would explain the green tinge of the brickwork.

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Felt like a right historian, I did.

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The Tudor kitchens. You can still have parties and weddings here. The Tudor diet consisted of 75% meat.

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Notice the “GR” meaning George Rex, denoting that the mailbox was cast during the time of George (VI?).

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The Great Hall – England’s last great medieval hall, decorated with tapestries featuring The Story of Abraham. Tapestries were a prominent wall decoration in medieval times. Wolsey had more than 600 tapestries himself, and would have the tapestries displayed in his rooms changed every week.

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Henry VIII was a great sportsman in his youth. He was great at jousting, games such as real tennis, and of course, hunting, which is why most of the London parks contain freely roaming deer.

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This, of course, is Henry VIII. Not the most famous of portraits, which involves him wearing a massive cloak and, er, codpiece to emphasize his manliness, yet near enough the same. His wide stance also suggests a tough guy, as well as his curved calves, which many of his contemporaries praised, as strong, muscular calves were beheld as an element of beauty on a man in those days. Why the massive codpiece? Despite having had six wives, many of their offspring died, and only one male heir survived him. Yet not for long – Edward VI died at 15 years old. The codpiece is more or less Henry saying, “I am capable of having a strong male heir – honest!”

It is widely suggested that the many babies Henry fathered died at such young ages, or were stillborn, because he had syphilis. He had other syphilitic symptoms – an ulcerated knee, and his extremely unpredictable behaviour as he aged. Yet, in no written documents does it say that he had syphilis, and medics in those days were very familiar with the illness and its symptoms. Instead, his behaviour and apparent tyranny may be attributed to a head injury following a jousting accident in 1536, that left him out cold for two hours. In the same accident, an old wound on his knee was reopened, leading him to suffer immense pain from it for the rest of his life, as ulcers repeatedly appeared on it. It is said that you could tell when Henry was coming towards the room you were in, as you could actually smell the wound. This knee, combined with possible gout and diabetes would also explain his obesity.

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Heading into the other part of Hampton Court Palace – the world of William III and Mary II.

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In William and Mary’s private bedroom, they had a remote locking system; using a pulley, they were able to lock the doors without leaving the comfort of their own bed – note the wire attached to the top of the lock. Almost like the modern day app system Wemo which allows you to do things like switch off your lamp remotely from your phone. Kind of reminds me of that awful old-school film about the computer called Electric Dreams

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It’s crazy how many beds and closets the king had – the closet having developed from a small room for the king to retreat to, to a much larger room or rooms. Interesting to note, when we were walking round, a visitor asked an attendant where Henry VIII’s bedroom was. He obviously hadn’t been paying attention. She said they didn’t exist anymore as William had effectively rebuilt over some of Henry’s old rooms including his bedroom, which is why some of the palace is completely red brick with floral carvings … and the other parts look like this:

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For William, I guess he liked the palace, yet wanted something more fashionable for the times. Which is why Hampton Court Palace, the home of two halves, is such a fascinating place to visit.