Friday, April 3, 2020

The Rise of the Medical Profession

By Judith Leask

The medical profession – that is, the role of physician – was one of the few ‘gentlemanly’ professions of the 18th-19th centuries[1]. Was it the prospect of attaining this status in society that attracted so many young men into the profession during this era? Was there an enthusiasm to practise the emerging powers to heal the sick that drew them in, or was it a desire for a place of public prominence at a charitable hospital? For some it may have been a philanthropic ambition to address the shameful living conditions of the poor, in both urban and rural locations; for others, no doubt, it was a hankering to gain access to the drawing-rooms of the wealthy and titled.

Dr Lydgate, the beautifully crafted character in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, was motivated by the need to view himself as a success, and to leave a legacy – to leave his name to some key piece of advancement in medical science; Dr Harrison in Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Cranford Chronicles wished to spread modern medical principles to the sleepy country town.

Whatever their varying motivations, young men were increasingly drawn to the study of this field – prominent centres of learning were London hospitals[2], as well as Edinburgh[3] and Glasgow[4]. In the later part of the 19th century, it was not only the young men who aspired to this profession – women began to question why they should be shut out, and began to break down the door (more on this later).


An improved knowledge in this area was essential for advancing medical science, and a continuous supply of cadavers was required to educate students of medicine, but the public were naturally averse. From the times of Henry VIII, dissection had been associated with the executed corpses of convicted felons or murderers, which were not permitted to be buried, and therefore did not receive the proper religious rites[5]. To have one’s body dissected was therefore an added punishment, and was a mark of an utter lack of respect, even ignominy. It’s easy to imagine, therefore, that doctors who pursued this form of study were held in suspicion – why would any person of respectability wish to do such a thing? Who could tell what such a doctor, so lacking in a sense of moral rectitude, may do to gain a further supply of cadavers to study?

The increasing demand for cadavers that outstripped the supply of executed bodies had somewhat ghoulish, if perhaps predictable, results – the practice of grave-robbing began to flourish. The trade of the Resurrectionists paid quite well: a gang of 15 grave robbers operated in the vicinity of Lambeth, using 30 burial grounds, until they were rounded up in 1795[6]. Families who were wealthy enough would have their deceased relative entombed in a metal coffin or had a mortsafe of iron bars placed around the grave.

Illustration of resurrectionists at work - Credit

While disturbing a grave was a criminal offence, the taking of the corpse was not – a corpse was not considered property, therefore could not be stolen[7]. However, engaging in this act was very ill-advised, given the strength of public feeling against dissection, and many medical students were lucky to escape with their lives from the angry crowds when suspected of being involved.

Others found a more direct source of cadavers to sell – famously Burke and Hare killed 15 of the lodgers who stayed at Hare’s Edinburgh lodging house over the course of about a year, until they were discovered in 1828. Before embarking on this killing spree they had taken the body of a man who had died of natural causes to the university and sold it for £7 10s; it seemed they could not resist engaging in a further trade[8].

This grisly trade resulted in the Anatomy Act of 1832, which gave physicians, surgeons and medical students the legal right to corpses that were unclaimed after death, in particular those who had died in a hospital, prison or workhouse [9].

Burke and Hare circa 1850 - Credit


The setting up of charitable hospitals also flourished through this period.

To take London as an example, in the early 18th Century St Thomas’s and St Bartholemew’s hospitals were the only two hospitals, endowed by Henry VIII and Edward VI respectively, and were supported by estates confiscated from the church at the time of the reformation. Then came Guy’s Hospital, founded in 1721 and supported by the large estate of Thomas Guy – these three ‘endowed’ hospitals could survive independently without the need for public donations[10] .

Further hospitals were set up in the 18th century via charitable associations. Coinciding with advancements in medical knowledge, hospitals became places where one might seek a cure, rather than simply receiving refuge and comfort. Many were also institutions for medical training, with some being set up specifically to serve close-by medical colleges.

This sounds as though people who could not afford to pay for their chosen doctor to treat them at home were well catered for – that multiple hospitals that served the growing urban population would provide for their needs. The reality was unfortunately quite different; in most cases it took some time and effort to gain admission – and often time was not on the patient’s side. To receive charitable treatment a patient would have to seek a letter of recommendation from a governor, who would be limited to the number they could recommend, and could pick and choose who they agreed to support.

Admissions were also only possible on one or two days a week[11].  Imagine falling ill with a dangerous fever on a Tuesday, if admissions at your local hospital occurred on Mondays only. Fortunately from the 1820s, institutions began to appear that did not require such a recommendation, or any payment – they would treat in case of need. Prince Albert was the supporter of one such hospital.

In addition to general hospitals, a number of lying-in (or maternity) hospitals were established.

Initially these were for married women only; perhaps the controversy that arose from these hospitals related to taking this activity into a more public sphere rather than existing only in the domestic – certainly the attendants were women only at first. One can only imagine what was said by genteel folk of the General Lying-In Hospital’s policy of admitting single as well as married women, when it was established in London 1767[12] .

Women in Medicine

In the 18th and early part of the 19th century, women’s role in the medical world extended to midwifery only, an occupation for a skilled low-born female.

As far as education was concerned, schools that admitted girls equipped them to be considered ‘accomplished’ and to at least know a little history, and so on; after all, what genteel man would want a wife who could not hold a reasonably intelligent conversation with their dinner guests, or play the pianoforte in the drawing-room? The story of women educationalists is a fascinating one – of women who defied convention to set up schools that taught a full curriculum, such as the Cheltenham Ladies’ College, founded in 1858[13] .

No university in this country awarded degrees to women until the University of London in 1878[14]  – and the London School of Medicine for Women, established in 1874, formed an association with this university in the late 1800s[15]  to enable women to train as doctors. To put this into context – Oxford did not award degrees to women until 1920[16], and Cambridge in 1921 began to acknowledge the studies of women but only with a ‘diploma’[17] . The first woman doctor in this country (registered in 1859) did not gain her degree here – Elizabeth Blackwell studied in Geneva, New York, gaining her medical degree in 1849, the first woman in America to do so[18].

Elizabeth Blackwell Postage Stamp - Credit

Can you imagine what it must have been like, as a young woman with aspirations, to attempt to break through the beliefs so firmly rooted throughout society at the time? To persuade the world to break with the centuries-old convention that prohibited their having an education and a professional role?


While this post is about medicine, I couldn’t possibly neglect to mention Florence Nightingale in a discussion on healthcare and women’s roles in the 19th Century. She is described as the founder of modern nursing, and after her famous role as ‘the lady with the lamp’ in the Crimean War, she set up the nursing school at St Thomas’s hospital in 1860[19]. At a time before germ theory was accepted as the cause of disease, Florence instilled more sanitary conditions in hospitals and transformed nursing care.

Florence Nightingale - Illustrated London News, 1855 - Credit

But it is her determination to pursue her passion despite her family’s opposition that fascinates me – her refusal to have her life shaped by the conventional roles dictated by society. It was my admiration for her approach that led me to preface my book with this quote:

‘The world is put back by the death of every one who has to sacrifice the development of his or her peculiar gifts to conventionality.’ – Florence Nightingale.


 [11] ibid



Judith Leask is a long-term reader of historical and classical novels, and began writing fiction when dared to do so by a fellow wordsmith in her project management office. Six years, many writing group sessions and several re-writes later, her first novel Her Peculiar Gifts has now been released – a contemplative tale of James, a shy doctor, and his daughter Laura, who possesses unused talents. A further historical novel, set in Jamaica, is underway, and for her dragon-loving children she wrote The Silver Shell, to be released soon. Her story about the ghost of Charles Dickens can be found in the anthology Haunted. She has discovered a passion and a talent for developmental editing, and is now a freelance book editor with Just Right Editing. This gives her the chance to read and help to refine all manner of books – which is heaven for a bookworm.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Miss Willmott’s Ghost

By Judith M. Taylor

“Miss Willmott’s Ghost” is the vernacular name of Eryngium giganteum, a large prickly ornamental thistle but by now I am afraid Miss Willmott herself has become something of a ghost too. Born the eldest of three sisters into a wealthy family she managed to spend her entire fortune on her gardens and ended up in grave financial difficulties. Not only did she inherit the family estate but her godmother left her a lot of money at her death.  Ellen Willmott, 1858- 1934, had no internal governor or compass, otherwise known as “common sense”, nor did she employ an external one such as a financial adviser. If she did she ignored whatever advice she received.

Portrait of Ellen Ann Willmott
(Rosina Mantovani)

Already the possessor of two estates with stellar gardens, one in England and one in France, in 1905 she insisted on buying a third in Italy, making the total number of gardeners she employed more than one hundred. Even Rockefeller might have thought twice about that. All her gardeners were men. She had nothing but contempt for women gardeners. The men were frightened of her as she was both autocratic and arbitrary. In old age this behavior hardened into eccentricity. For the last few years of her life she carried a revolver everywhere with her.

While still young she learned a great deal about plants and began to import new and exotic ones from all over the world. She herself never went on such expeditions but contributed to syndicates which did. Horticulture was her life and her world. This single-minded focus earned her a lot of respect in the garden community. She was the first woman to receive the Victoria Medal of Honour at the Royal Horticultural Society in the same year as Gertrude Jekyll, 1897. That was the first year the medal was awarded, an even greater honour. More than sixty plants are named for her personally or for Warley, her estate.

Warley Place

Ellen Willmott was particularly expert in roses, writing a well received monograph, “The Genus Rosa”, which is still useful today. The book was published in two volumes between 1910 and 1914 and dedicated to Queen Alexandra. Miss Willmott commissioned Alfred Parsons, a well known watercolorist, to illustrate her book and she later got him to paint many of her plants. The book came at a later phase of her life.

When she was younger narcissus fascinated her. Warley Place had thirty three acres, an expanse which allowed her to experiment with dozens of species of narcissus on a very grand scale. Ancient drifts of Narcissus pseudonarcissus had covered the hillsides. At first Miss Willmott added more and more species narcissus to the land offering varying hues of gold, yellow and white to occupy the eye at different times: N.incomparabilis, N. pallidoflorus and N. campernelii among many others. The gardeners loaded the bulbs on to wheel barrows and let their gleeful children toss handfuls of them all over the grounds. It was licensed pandemonium. The bulbs grew where they fell and then multiplied every year. She followed a similar course with crocus.

Ellen Willmott kept very careful notes, following each bed and site to see how the bulbs grew in different months. She crossed some species and once she found a hybrid she thought worthy she handed it off to commercial nurserymen to test further. Eventually they bulked it up and offered it for sale. This skill and expertise was the reason the royal Horticultural Society elected her a fellow in 1894. She served on their bulb committee for many years. Her complete mastery of the subject impressed the members of the society.

A Plan of Miss Willmott's House & Garden at Great Warley, 1904

In 1903 Miss Willmott played a big role in persuading Sir Thomas Hanbury to donate sixty acres of his property in Wisley, Surrey to the society to found an experimental site outside London.  The grounds at Chiswick had become too small. RHS Wisley now flourishes in its own right and recently built new science and visitors’ centres and other essential structures. All the trials of new flowers and vegetables are carried out in their grounds. Every year they make a very brave show.

Ellen’s father, Frederick Willmott, came from a very respectable family of pharmacists but he decided to become a solicitor. Although always very genteel in his behaviour he knew exactly where he was going and what he wanted. He married a woman slightly above him in the social scale, Ellen Fell. Both families were English Catholics. His three daughters were  brought up in the church, going to convent schools and spending much time in the company of religious women. The girls’ godmother Helen Tasker was very wealthy and each year presented the children with a thousand pounds each for their birthdays. At her death they inherited most of her money. The youngest daughter, Ada, died of diphtheria as a child leaving only Ellen and her younger sister Rose. It took the family a long time to recover from the shock of her death.

When Frederick began to make serious money he bought a fine estate in Essex, Warley Place. At the time it was quite far into the country side, though on the train line but now it is subsumed into Brentwood and the property is a public nature reserve. Mrs Willmott took the neglected garden in hand and made it handsome. She did not care for carpet bedding and used a more naturalistic style.

The family had a very active social life. Ellen played tennis very well and was also an accomplished violinist. Because she had complete access to her own money she began to buy expensive objects very early. She started by purchasing four very valuable string instruments, two violins, a viola and a violoncello, made by old Italian masters. She allowed an eleven year old prodigy, Lionel Tertis, to play the viola. Tertis was the first musician to be a virtuoso on the viola, an instrument so often neglected for the other strings.

Women were discouraged from playing the violin at that time because it brought the bosom into great prominence and was thus unladylike! It says a lot for the wisdom of her parents that they did not intervene but allowed her to study the instrument.

The Willmotts travelled together on the Continent every year and enjoyed all the delights that these journeys offered.  They had favourite haunts and particularly liked the countryside around Aix – en – Provence. Tresserve was a sleepy hamlet which had caught Queen Victoria’s eye. The monarch wanted to buy property there but the negotiations failed leaving Miss Willmott to snap it up in 1899.

Ellen Willmott was too intelligent and uncompromising to attract the sort of man likely to marry her and remained single all her life. Her sister married into the Berkeley family, also Catholic but actual gentry. There were some awkward moments due to snobbery. Rose Willmott Berkeley was also a good gardener and the grounds at Spetchley Park were made  to resemble those at Warley Place.

When Ellen was twenty-one she told her father she was going to build a rock garden in a corner of the Warley Place garden. He was very complacent and paid very little attention to what she was spending. All he asked her to do was to build it nowhere near his study so he was not bothered by the work.

The well known Yorkshire nursery of Backhouse laid down the rocks and planted the new grotto. The excavations led down to a small stream which supplied the necessary water. The plants have died and the stream now runs dry but the rocks remain showing how handsome the garden must have been. Ellen had learned how to do this by careful study in her growing library. She also sought advice from many known experts. It was the opening salvo in her future career. In view of Willmott’s interest in narcissus it is worth noting that Sarah Backhouse, sister in law of the owner, bred one of the signature new narcissi of the epoch, N. ‘Mrs R. O. Backhouse’ . It was an early pink type.

Many of the Warley hybrids were bred to championship levels. Ellen Willmott won a series of awards of merit and first class certificates at the Royal Horticultural Society shows for her narcissus. Perhaps her favourites were the ‘Triandus’ type, with three stamens. She named some of them for her sister and brother in law and one for her dead baby sister, Ada.

In 1923 her sister Rose died of cancer. Although the Willmotts were not demonstrative people Ellen and her sister were always close and it was assumed that she as the elder sister would die first. The loss was very grievous and may have contributed to her psychological unravelling as time went by. Poor management and profligate behaviour led to the dwindling and eventual loss of her fortune. Very reluctantly she was forced to sell first Tresserve and then Boccanegra.

Painting Ellen and Rose Willmott (Spetchley House)

Her almost encyclopaedic knowledge of horticulture won her many more awards even from the French and Italian organizations but her personality was to be her downfall. In spite of many individual acts of charity she was prickly, intolerant and always had to be right, no matter how misguided her point of view was. When she absent-mindedly left a shop in London without the receipt for her purchase the store detective called a policeman.

By then she was no longer smartly dressed and was assumed to be a poor thief. Within a very short time some of her highly placed friends rallied around and pointed out the mistake. The shop was ready to apologize and close the incident. Something in her nature made her reject that face saving measure. She insisted on going to jail for the night and being heard in court the next morning to be vindicated. This was to be a Pyrrhic victory. Foolish financial decisions had begun as early as 1907 when she bought more than even she could afford and began to borrow money.

By the mid 1920s she did not have enough money left with which to pay taxes and tried to sell some of her valuable things to scrape by. There was nowhere nearly enough of value for the sums involved. In spite of all her reverses Miss Willmott still attended meetings at the Royal Horticultural Society regularly though she no longer competed in the shows.

She died very abruptly in the night on September 26, 1934, at the age of seventy six. The loyal butler who had stuck with her throughout found her in the morning.

Eryngium giganteum 'Miss Willmott's Ghost'


Le Lievre, Audrey  1980      Miss Willmott of Warley Place
London and Boston         Faber and Faber


Judith M. Taylor MD is a graduate of Somerville College and the Oxford University Medical School and is a board certified neurologist. She practiced neurology in New York and since retiring has written six books on horticultural history as well as numerous articles and book reviews on the same subject.

Dr Taylor’s books include The Olive in California: history of an immigrant tree (2000), Tangible Memories: Californians and their gardens 1800 – 1950 (2003), The Global Migrations of Ornamental Plants: how the world got into your garden (Missouri Botanical Garden Press 2009), Visions of Loveliness: the work of forgotten flower breeders (Ohio University Press 2014) and An Abundance of Flowers: more great flower breeders of the past (Ohio University Press  2018).  In 2019 she published A Five Year Plan for Geraniums: growing flowers commercially in East Germany 1946 – 1989.
Dr Taylor’s web site is:

Monday, March 30, 2020

Duties and Obligations in Tenth-Century England

By Annie Whitehead

Placing oneself under the protection of a lord was a solemn and ceremonious affair. In England it took the form of a hold-oath, or fealty oath. The physical act of bowing was accompanied by the oath:

“By the lord before whom this relic is holy, I will be to N [name of lord] faithful and true, and love all that he loves, and shun all that he shuns, according to God’s law, and according to secular custom; and never, willingly or intentionally, by word or by work, do aught of what is loathful to him, on condition that he keep me as I am willing to deserve, and all that fulfil that our agreement was, when I to him submitted and chose his will.” [1]

Essentially this is a negative commitment, a promise not to act against the lord’s interests. Nevertheless, a personal bond of this nature carried with it certain positive obligations.

For the king’s thegn, lord and king were the same person. A thegn whose lord was not the king still had a duty to the monarch. (It should be remembered that the king’s title was “Cynehlaford” or lord-king.) Thegns in turn would have men who called them lord. The role of lordship entailed a dual responsibility, that of serving one’s lord, and that of protecting one’s men.

The king with his witan
The king was ever mindful of the need to control his ealdormen. Their attendance at the royal council was one way of ensuring their co-operation, and failure to attend a summons to the witan was punished severely. The witan had the right, rather than the privilege, to advise the king, and at times it acted on its own; following the death of a king the election process for his successor was carried through in the witan. It was in the royal council that the laws were promulgated. Its members met indoors, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells how, in 978, “the leading councillors of England fell down from an upper storey at Calne, all except the holy Archbishop Dunstan, who alone remained standing on a beam.” [2] Business transacted in the witan included general, financial and judicial matters. Essentially though, its function was of a deliberative and consultative nature.

Saint Dunstan

The test of royal authority is how effectively it is felt in the localities. The law codes abound with directions to individual ealdormen to ensure that laws are enforced. King Edgar commands that:

“Earl Oslac and all the host that dwell in his aldermanry are to give their support that this may be enforced” and that “Many documents are to be written concerning this, and sent both to ealdorman Aelfhere and ealdorman Aethelwine, and that they are to send them in all directions, that this measure may be known to both the poor and the rich.” [3]

King Edgar

There is some evidence to suggest that the ealdormen disliked the king’s reeves (administrative officials.) A breach of the law by a reeve could only be dealt with by the king [4] and when Aethelred II adopted the policy of appointing reeves instead of ealdormen, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that in 1002 Ealdorman Leofsige slew Aelfric, the king’s high-reeve. The grant of Aethelred’s explains why these men were disliked. The reeve broke the law by giving Christian burial to those who had forfeited the right. Instead of punishing him, Aethelred granted the reeve their land. To the ealdormen it must have seemed that the reeves were above the law.

Naturally the king’s officials were instrumental in the enforcement of law and order, and their duties included presiding over the shire and hundred courts. The hundred ordinance [5] directs that the hundred court is to meet every four weeks. II&III Edgar acknowledges this and states that the borough court is to be held three times a year and the shire court twice a year. It also succinctly sets out the duty of those presiding over the courts:

“And the bishop of the diocese and the ealdormen are to be present, and there to expound both the ecclesiastical and the secular law.” [6]

The shire court was unspecialised in the tenth-century, and did not develop into a full royal court until after the Norman conquest. It had a variety of functions, including procedures in outlawry. [7] It was here that arrangements were made for the collection of taxes. It was in the interests of landowners to be represented, and the shire-reeve gradually became recognised at the chief executive royal officer.

The hundred court met on an appointed day, and anyone who failed to appear had to pay thirty shillings compensation. Each man was to do justice to another. Great concern was shown over theft. Compensation had to be paid to the victim; half of the offender’s remaining property went to the hundred, and half to the lord. Aethelred II’s reign saw an emphasis placed on the importance of oath-taking, and the origins of the jury of presentment.

“The twelve leading thegns are to come forward and swear on the relics … that they will accuse no innocent man nor conceal any guilty one.” He who pronounced a wrong judgement could forfeit his thegnly status, and “A sentence where the thegns are unanimous is to be valid.”

The importance of all courts was to provide a place where good witness could be obtained. King Edgar ordered thirty-six witnesses in each borough, and twelve in each hundred. [9]

Aethelred II

By the middle of the tenth-century it was becoming customary for lords, ecclesiastical or lay, to receive grants of jurisdiction from the king. Many hundreds fell into private hands; a lord often had considerable rights here and in his own lands. The grants were usually laid down in the charters as rights of “sake and soke”, these being rights of jurisdiction and to the profits of justice.

A charter of Aethelred II
This usually meant the control of a court. These rights were not granted lightly, and were really intended to emphasise royal authority rather than to weaken it. Grants of rights over a hundred court involved financial advantages, and the right to appoint hundredmen. HR Loyn suggests that the sheriffs (shire-reeves) played an important part in preventing the disintegration of royal power as private jurisdiction grew. [10] Landowners exercised other specific rights on their estates. They had a right to impose a toll on goods sold within the estate, the right (known as Team) to supervise the presentation of convincing evidence that goods for sale belonged to the vendor, and the right (infangenetheof) to hang a thief caught on the estate.

The nobility served the king, and were granted lands and privileges as a reward for that service. As lords they could expect service from their own men, and in turn they had a duty to protect those who called them ‘lord’.

To read more in this series, see Military Service in Tenth-Century England.

[1] Origins of English Feudalism 59 p145 - Of Oaths (c.1920)
[2] Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (E) 978
[3] IV Edgar 15. & 15.1
[4] EHD (English historical Documents) 117 p525
[5] This document is often called I Edgar, but was possibly written before Edgar’s reign. It was definitely in existence during Edgar’s reign.
[6] II&III Edgar 5.2
[7] HR Loyn - The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England p138
[8] III Aethelred 3.1 & 13.2
[9] IV Edgar 4. & 5.
[10] HR Loyn Op Cit p163. By 1086 approx. 130 hundreds were in private hands.

All images used above are copyright free in the Public Domain

This Editor's Choice article was originally published July 16, 2016.

Annie Whitehead studied History under the eminent Medievalist Ann Williams. She is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an editor for EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors.) She has written three award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon England, one of which was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society (HNS) Indie Book of the year 2016, and a full-length nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom. She has contributed to fiction and nonfiction anthologies and written for various magazines, including winning the New Writer Magazine Prose Competition. She was the winner of the inaugural Historical Writers’ Association/Dorothy Dunnett Prize 2017. She has recently been a judge for that same competition, and for the HNS Short Story Competition. Annie’s new book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, will be published on May 30 by Pen & Sword Books. 

For more information, visit Annie's Website or her Author Page. Also connect with Annie through her Blog and Twitter (@AnnieWHistory).

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Battle of Cheriton, 29th March, 1644

By Mark Turnbull

On 29th March 2020, the English Civil War Society was to have marched to the commemorative stone at the site of the 1644 Battle of Cheriton. In light of recent events this has unfortunately had to be cancelled. Being the day of the battle’s anniversary, a short memorial service would have marked this turning-point encounter between the forces of King Charles I and those of Parliament. Symbolising the national divide, the commanders of each side had been the best of peacetime friends; the parliamentarian Sir William Waller had not long written a famous letter to his royalist counterpart, Sir Ralph Hopton in which he referred to ‘this war without an enemy’. Cheriton was one of many front lines that criss-crossed the kingdom, splitting families, friends and neighbours, all of whom became entrenched in their allegiance to one side or the other. It also highlighted a stark need for change in the high command of both sides.

English Civil War Society Infantry

376 years ago, near fifteen thousand soldiers converged upon sleepy Cheriton. That morning it dawned on Hopton that the parliamentarians had crept closer during the night and were seeping towards Cheriton Wood. Anxious not to be outflanked, Hopton pulled back his lines and occupied a ridge overlooking a valley which was divided by four narrow lanes. When the old pals chose a battle cry, their minds must have been in tune, for both commanders landed on the same one; ‘God with us!’, though the parliamentarians quickly changed theirs to, ‘Jesus with us!’. As a result, the Battle of Cheriton opened with confusion, but prior to this, there had been confusion of a very different nature in Parliament’s ranks.

The parliamentarian Captain Robert Harley recorded the reaction of a London regiment who had ran, “to see what manner of things cows were. Some of them would say they had all of them horns and would do great mischief with them. Then comes the wisest of them crying, ‘speak softly!’” Although the cows initially distracted his troops, Waller’s focus had never wavered from Cheriton Wood, recognising it as a key defensive position. He poured one thousand musketeers, comprised mainly of the White Regiment of the London Trained Bands, into the task of securing it, only for Hopton to send an equal number to dislodge them. Divided into four battalions, the counter-attacking royalists prevailed after a vicious firefight.

Although Hopton oversaw royalist operations with his experienced military eye, he was subject to the direction of a backseat driver. Patrick Ruthven, Earl of Forth and Brentford, was the King’s Captain-General. A hard-drinking Scotsman approaching seventy years of age, with selective hearing loss in councils, applied the brakes to the royalist onslaught and instructed Hopton to adopt a defensive stance. For reasons unknown, Colonel Henry Bard disregarded orders and spearheaded a lone attack with his regiment right to the hedges of Cheriton Lane. Exposed, and well ahead of the royalist lines, he had become a focal point for the parliamentarians who piled in for the kill.

English Civil War Society Swordsman and Horse

In Hopton’s own words, “the engagement was, by forwardness of some particular officers, without order.”

The parliamentarians agreed. One of their officers, Sir Walter Slingsby reported that Bard had led, “his regiment further than he had orders for.” A large understatement!

Sir Arthur Haselrig’s parliamentarian cavalry swept down on Bard’s men. By that point Lord Forth had realised Bard’s destruction would leave a gaping hole in the royalist right wing which could be infiltrated. Therefore, he sent in the cavalry.

English Civil War Society Cavalry

The parliamentarian Sir Walter Slingsby picked up the thread of what occurred next. “The [royalist] horse was repulsed with loss. They immediately tried the second charge … and were again repulsed, and so again a third time, the [parliamentarian] foot keeping their ground in a close body, not firing til within two pikes’ length, and then three ranks at a time after turning up the butt end of their muskets, charging their pikes and standing close…”

The royalist cavalry found the terrain rough going for a gruelling four hours. The hedges and lanes prevented them attacking en-masse, and the parliamentarians were able to pick off each piecemeal detachment before they could establish themselves. Royalist officers went down like nine-pins; Major-General Sir John Smith (a hero of the Battle of Edgehill) and Lieutenant-General Lord John Stuart (a distant cousin of King Charles) were both killed in action. Although the royalist infantry seemed to be holding their own, it was clear that the cavalry was foundering. Lord Forth decided to withdraw the artillery to safety, followed shortly after by the infantry, who were pulled back to Titchborne Down. Hopton held the lanes with three hundred horsemen to cover the retreat to Alresford, and the stronghold of Basing House.

The desperate royalists set fire to Alresford in a bid to hamper their pursuers, though the wind turned and the parliamentarians used the smoke cover to their advantage, reporting that, “very many Irish men were slain here.” Cheriton was a victory for Parliament, yet it offered opportunities to both sides and also demonstrated the stark need for change in their high commands.

After the battle Parliament jubilantly called for a co-ordinated attack upon the royalist HQ of Oxford. By praising Waller they sparked the jealousy of their Lord General, the Earl of Essex, who subsequently refused to co-operate. Lord Manchester stated that his army was pre-occupied with the war in eastern England and Waller was soon weakened when his Londoners returned to the confines of their city. This lack of cohesion and rivalry gave the King a chance to take stock.

But all was not rosy for the royalists. A detachment had been blocking parliamentarian supplies from getting to Gloucester and following Cheriton they were recalled. Lord Forth’s grip on the military tiller was also loosening, and by the end of the year he was replaced by the fiery Prince Rupert. Sir Edward Walker, King Charles’s Secretary at War, observed that the aftermath of Cheriton, “necessitated His Majesty to alter the scheme of his affairs and in the place of an offensive, to make a defensive war.” Cheriton had played a part in the tactics of the civil war’s end game, as well as shaping the new order which would oversee it.

English Civil War Society Pikemen

Recently Richard Vobes created a documentary video for his website, The Bald Explorer, in which he walks the terrain of Cheriton and interviews historian Julian Humphrys. The link to the video is:

[All photos copyright of the author, taken at an English Civil War Society event in 2019]

Mark Turnbull is the author of civil war novel, Allegiance of Blood. Since the age of ten he’s been fascinated with the war and has written other articles which can be found on his website

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Pearl of York, Treason and Plot – Political Intrigue in Tudor York

By Tony Morgan

Margaret Clitherow was the wife of John Clitherow, a successful businessman and butcher. Her arrest and subsequent trial for harbouring Jesuit priests in March 1586, was chronicled by Father John Mush.

As Father Mush was a Catholic priest himself, he couldn’t risk attending the court in person. Someone else had to be his eyes and ears on the streets of York and at the Lent Assizes. Could this really have been Margaret’s near neighbour, a youthful Guy Fawkes?

Margaret Clitherow was born around 1553 into a prosperous family. Her father, Thomas Middleton, was a wax-chandler, at a time when everyone needed candles, and an alderman of the city. His wife Jane busied herself looking after the family, supporting the business and running the household.

With the family firmly part of York’s merchant class, Margaret was raised a Protestant. Their conformity and position in society was confirmed in 1564, when Thomas Middleton was elected for a one-year tenure as Sheriff of York. When he died three years later, he left behind a legacy for his family, and a small amount of money for the city’s poor, with a request they’d pray for his soul.

His widow Jane quickly remarried. Her new husband, Henry Maye, was a younger man and from a lower social class, which would have been a surprise to many. He quickly transformed their home, however, into a successful inn and pursued various business interests. Over time, Henry, and his new family, prospered. His place at the heart of York’s governing class was eventually accepted, and he became an alderman, himself.

Margaret is said to have had a good relationship with her stepfather. The family would have been pleased in 1571, when she married the well-to-do widower John Clitherow, and moved to his household in The Shambles, a narrow street dominated by the city’s meat traders.

The Shambles, York

In the years which followed, Margaret raised a family and controversially converted to Catholicism. Most Catholics stayed true to their faith unobtrusively. They attended Protestant church services every Sunday, as the law demanded, before sneaking off to secretly attend an illegal Catholic Mass.

But Margaret Clitherow was no ordinary Catholic. She refused to hide her new religion. Instead, she joined York’s recusants - dissenters who shunned the official church services and objected to swearing allegiance to the queen. Over the next ten years, she was imprisoned and fined multiple times for her crimes. Once, she was even released on licence for a few weeks to have a baby.
John Clitherow remained a Protestant. For a time, he was even a church warden, responsible for naming people who didn’t attend church. But he paid Margaret’s fines, and welcomed her home whenever she returned from prison.

At the time, there was a major power struggle underway behind the scenes in York. In one corner was the Council of the North. the Queen’s official representatives in this part of England. Based in the King’s Manor in York, near the city walls, the Council was responsible for preventing and putting down religious or other uprisings in this unruly place, two hundred miles north of the Queen’s power base in London.

In another corner was York Corporation. This was effectively York city council, run by the merchant classes, rather than councillors from political parties or independents. The Corporation set local taxes and laws in the city, controlled the powerful guilds, ran correction facilities and at times gave alms to the poor. Based in the building known as the Common Hall, above the banks of the River Ouse, the Corporation was led each year by the Lord Mayor and a senior Sheriff.

There was also a third powerful body to consider, the Church of England. Headed locally by the Archbishop of York, the Church operated the city’s churches, had its own prison and an Ecclesiastical Court, which had employed Guy Fawkes’s father and grandfather in days gone by. The major locations of the Church in York included York Minster and the Bishop’s Palace, located just outside the city.

York Minster

In some ways, all three vied for the Queen’s favour, and what better way of getting this than by persecuting Catholics? Methods includes fining and imprisoning recusants and capturing and executing any Catholic priests found in the city. In addition, a new law had been introduced. Anyone found guilty of allowing Catholic Mass to be said in their house or aiding a Catholic priest in any way could be executed, as local layman Marmaduke Bowes discovered to his cost in the year 1585.
In the same year, Margaret’s mother Jane died. Following the family tradition, her stepfather Henry remarried quickly to a much younger spouse. Margaret’s stepfather’s star was on the rise. In February 1586, he was elected, with great fanfare, as the new Lord Mayor of York.

There was only one problem, Margaret’s recusancy. What sort of example did this set to the city? The representatives of the Council of the North must have been rubbing their hands together. This was something they could exploit to their own benefit. Equally, Henry Maye would have been cursing Margaret and wondering how he could wash his hands of this blot on his reputation.

Both parties then, as well as the Church, had motive enough to investigate Margaret further. When whispers went around that she might be hiding priests and allowing Mass to be said in her house, which body would have acted first? Or for once, did they act in co-ordination?

For only one month after Henry Maye’s inauguration, John Clitherow was summoned to the King’s Manor to speak to the Council of the North. As soon as he was away from his house, the Corporation acted. The Sheriff of York raided the premises. Margaret was arrested, and although no priests were found, she was sent to trial at York Lent Assizes.

What happened next had even more political intrigue, as the Council and Corporation attempted to influence events in favour of their own agenda. Father Mush watched on from the side-lines. What role did he and the Catholic Church have to play in Margaret’s downfall?


Tony Morgan is an author and university academic. He lives in North Yorkshire, near to the birthplace of Guy Fawkes and Margaret Clitherow. In addition to writing historical novels, Tony gives history talks covering the events of the Gunpowder Plot and the life and death of Margaret Clitherow.
To date, all profits from his novels and talks have been donated to good causes. In 2020, Tony is supporting St Leonard’s Hospice in York.
For more details, visit Tony’s website - or follow Tony on Twitter @MorgantheBook

If you want to find out more about Margaret, and Father Mush's role in proceedings, The Pearl of York, Treason and Plot is available from March 2020 on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats. It can also be purchased locally in Yorkshire, for example at one of Tony’s history talks.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Wealth, Land, and Titles – Little Guarantee for a Happily Ever After

by Charlene Newcomb

Ranulf de Blundeville (or Blondeville), sixth earl of Chester, was born in 1170 during the reign of Henry II. Ranulf was the oldest son of Hugh, earl of Chester, and Bertrada de Montfort, a cousin of the king. When Ranulf’s father died in 1181, the young heir became a royal ward of Henry II. With his mother and four sisters, he was sent to the king’s court in Normandy. Little is known of Ranulf’s early life, but he became one of England’s most powerful and wealthy magnates who served four kings: Henry II, his sons Richard I and John, and John’s son, Henry III. The Chester family’s extensive holdings stretched from England and across the channel. Ranulf later became Earl of Lincoln and of Leicester. He was hereditary Viscount of the Bessin in central and western Normandy, encompassing the Viscounties of Bayeux and of Avranches; he was also Viscount of St Sauveur-le-Vicomte, Viscount of the Val de Vire and Baron of St Sever. At the time of his death, he had 138 manors. He had it all, or so one would think.

Ranulf was four years younger than King Henry’s son John. They may have been companions at court, but Ranulf avoided entanglement in the bitter battles between the king and his sons in the 1180s likely due to his age. Interestingly, his own father Hugh had sided with the young Angevins in the rebellion a decade earlier. Hugh had been imprisoned and eventually was restored his lands when he gave his allegiance to Henry. But Ranulf is not mentioned in the contemporary chronicles during his teenage years, until he reached his majority and was knighted by King Henry II in 1188 (some records say 1189) and assumed control of his estates.

The nineteen year old was thrust into the limelight when, in that same year, Henry arranged for his marriage to Constance, duchess of Brittany. She and her Breton lords had been fond of Geoffrey, her first husband - son of Henry II — but they disliked the Plantagenets and their interference in Brittany and often leaned toward supporting the French king as Geoffrey had. Henry and Richard saw the union between Ranulf and Constance as a way to keep Brittany aligned with the Angevins, which was critical to maintaining the open sea lanes between England and the continent. And in negotiations in 1190 with King Tancred of Sicily, Richard had acknowledged Constance’s three-year-old son Arthur as his heir in a marriage arrangement with Tancred’s daughter.

Constance of Brittany
Through Constance, who was nine years his senior, Ranulf added Earl of Richmond and Duke of Brittany to his titles. For a young man with wealth, titles, and extensive lands on both sides of the Channel he certainly was in a position to take a leadership role not only in Brittany, but also in England. Based on the scant information of Ranulf’s life in the years 1189-1194 he did not. Unlike many nobles, he did not accompany King Richard on crusade. He wasn’t involved in running the realm like William Marshal, Hubert Walter, and others. He appears to have issued a few charters but nothing his contemporary, the chronicler Roger de Hoveden, felt worthy of national note. In The Annals, De Hoveden does record the marriage of Ranulf’s sister Matilda in 1190 to David, the brother of William, King of Scots. Ranulf finally reappears in those chronicles in 1194 when, with his brother-in-law David “and the earl of Ferrers, with a great army, [they] laid siege to Nottingham castle.” Recently released from captivity in Germany, King Richard arrived with more men to deal with the traitors there on 25 March. It is likely Ranulf fought at the king’s side when the outer bailey of the castle was taken by Richard and his men that day.

Nottingham Castle, 2010
Following the castellans’ surrender on the 28th day of March, Ranulf was present as Richard convened the four-day Council of Nottingham. To affirm his control of the realm, the king had been counseled to hold a formal crown-wearing ceremony. Ranulf may have accompanied the king as he made his way to Winchester. On the 17th day of April, the young Earl carried one of three swords from the treasury, standing with the King of Scots and the Earl of Warenne before the king. It must have been quite an honor and privilege.

King Richard turned his attention to the French incursion against his continental lands and left for Normandy in May 1194. Ranulf followed, but unlike the king, he would set foot in England again.

Ranulf should have had a joyful reunion with his wife after months apart. Surely they should be getting about the whole purpose of marriage – siring an heir or two. And Ranulf’s position as a strong supporter of King Richard implied that as Duke of Brittany he would influence Breton solidarity against King Philip of France. But Ranulf’s role as Duke was in name only. Ranulf hardly appears in Breton records and his wife Constance continued to rule, as she had since Geoffrey’s death. Was this due to Ranulf’s young age and inexperience? Apparently, this marriage was not a match made in heaven. Ranulf’s biographer Soden claims the couple loathed each other. He spent virtually no time in Brittany and supposedly was run out of the duchy by Constance’s supporters.

In ten years of marriage the couple had no children together, but by virtue of the marriage Ranulf was stepfather to Constance’s children by Geoffrey. There is no evidence that he was ever close to Eleanor (born 1184) or Arthur (born 1186) not that he was given much opportunity to be a father to them. Constance might have missed an opportunity to have her husband influence King Richard in her favor. Her arranged marriage was not the only chain* tying Brittany to the Angevins: Richard also held Constance’s daughter as a royal hostage to ensure Breton loyalty while he was on crusade. Constance saw very little of her daughter during this time and nine-year-old Eleanor became a political pawn. Richard’s ransom included terms stipulating that Eleanor marry the son of his enemy, Leopold, Duke of Austria. She was on route to Austria in 1194 when word arrived that the duke had died. Eleanor returned to Richard’s custody. Known as the ‘pearl of Brittany’, Eleanor holds a royal record: when her brother was captured by King John, she was held in captivity for 39 years until her death in 1241.

As Richard began his campaign to restore lands King Philip had conquered, Ranulf may have been directly involved in sieges, assaults, and skirmishes. He obviously had other things on his mind: an awful marriage, being thrown out of Brittany, no power to rule as duke. Ranulf’s ego must have been badly bruised. So what’s a young man to do? Kidnap and imprison your wife of course!

Constance had been commanded to meet with King Richard in Normandy. As she crossed the River Couësnon from Brittany into Normandy, Ranulf and his knights waylaid her ducal train. She was ‘escorted’ to St. James de Beuvron, one of Ranulf’s castles east of the Breton border town Pontorson.

Some of the histories claim the scheme to kidnap Constance in March 1196 was hatched between King Richard and Ranulf. Even the Bretons believed this, and we can be assured French propaganda exploited the idea.

Arthur of Brittany
What is fact is that Richard wanted Constance’s son Arthur to be raised at his court and away from French influence. Given the bitter fighting with France, this is understandable. After all, Arthur was a legitimate heir to Richard’s throne.

Was King Richard the instigator? If the Bretons had been so inclined to exchange Arthur for Constance's release, the scheme might have worked. The Bretons responded by swearing fealty to Arthur and allying themselves with France. They hid Arthur until he could be stealthily whisked to King Philip’s court in Paris. In April 1196, Richard attacked Brittany, “not even pausing for Good Friday” per chronicler William the Breton. According to De Hoveden, Richard, “collecting a large army, entered Brittany in a hostile manner, and laid it waste.” In negotiations, Richard agreed to Constance’s release in August 1196, but Ranulf would not comply. The Bretons attacked Richard’s forces in Normandy, and counterattacks in Brittany furthered devastated their forces.

Constance’s two year imprisonment did nothing to endear her to Ranulf. If he had concocted the plot on his own, surely it was the impetuous act of a young, spurned man who wanted to assert his control as her husband and as Duke of Brittany. Was that his intention? Did he want to raise his stature by securing Arthur for King Richard?

Richard recognized the critical importance of having Brittany in his camp in the war against France. He received concessions and allegiance from Brittany in a negotiated peace, but he did not get Arthur.

And Ranulf? Was he merely an agent of King Richard? There appeared to be no repercussions against the young duke. The records for 1196-1198 place him at Château Gaillard, Richard’s massive castle building project on the River Seine. Soden notes that Ranulf provided protection for men and materials being moved upstream for the project.

Château-Gaillard, 2005

Constance eventually was released by Ranulf, but the circumstances are vague. She returned to Brittany and ruled as Arthur’s regent. When King Richard died as a result of a crossbow wound at Chalus in April 1199, Constance turned to France to support her son’s claim to the English crown. King Philip turned the tables on Brittany and recognized John as king. Ranulf joined a council of nobles that August and swore fealty to John.

Constance apparently had sought a divorce from Ranulf on the grounds of consanguinity. At least once source claims that though the Pope had not ruled, she remarried in October 1199 without the king’s permission. (There are some who argue Ranulf had sought the annulment.) Ranulf also remarried in the Fall of 1200. His career and life took serious twists and turns during John’s reign as he fell in and out of favor with the king, but that is a story for another day.


*Arthur’s betrothal to King Tancred’s daughter was a moot point after Sicily was conquered by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI (Richard’s gaoler) in 1194.


De Hoveden, R. (1853). The Annals of Roger de Hoveden, comprising the history of England and of other countries of Europe from A. D. 732 to A. D. 1201. (Henry T. Riley, Trans.). London: H. G. Bohn. (Original work published 1201?)

Eales, R. "Ranulf (III) , sixth earl of Chester and first earl of Lincoln (1170–1232)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008 []

Everhard, J.A. (2000). Brittany and the Angevins: Province and Empire, 1158-1203. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gillingham, J. (2002). Richard I. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Soden, I. (2013). Ranulf de Blondeville: the First English Hero. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing.

Image Credits

Images are in the public domain unless otherwise noted.

Nottingham Castle gatehouse, which dates back to 1250, not Ranulf's time. Photo taken by the Author in 2010, CC BY-SA.

Château-Gaillard by Urban 2005 CC BY-SA 3.0.

This article was selected as an Editor's Choice and was originally published October 10, 2016.


Charlene Newcomb
is the author of the Battle Scars series, 12th century historical fiction filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. She is currently working on a new medieval tale set during King John’s reign; and in summer 2020 will publish Echoes of the Storm, a sci fi/space opera filled with rebels and traitors and battles and romance in a galaxy far, far away (no, not Star Wars). Sign up for Char’s Newsletter for exclusives, including a free short story, and other special offers. Find her books on Amazon & connect with Char on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Friday, March 20, 2020

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 over it 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 '30s, 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.


[2] BBC Obituary of Prince Bernard, December 2004

An Editor's Choice from the #EHFA Archives, originally published April 23, 2017.

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.