Lord Byron, Henry VIII, William Pitt the Younger & Prime minister gladstone all appear this week

It’s Thursday 4th January 1821 and Lord Byron is in Italy at Ravenna and records in his diary:
‘A sudden thought strikes me. Let me begin a Journal once more. The last I kept was in Switzerland, in record of a tour made in the Bernese Alps, which I made to send to my sister in 1816, and I suppose that she has it still, for she wrote to me that she was pleased with it. Another, and longer, I kept in 1813-1814, which I gave to Thomas Moore in the same year.
This morning I gat [sic] me up late, as usual – weather bad – bad as England – worse. The snow of last week (is) melting in the sirocco of to-day, so that there were two d—-d things at once; could not even get to ride on horseback in the forest. Stayed at home all the morning – looked at the fire – wondered when the post would come. Post came at the Ave Maria, instead of half-past one o’clock, as it ought. Galignani’s Messengers; six in number – a letter from Faenza, but none from England. Very sulky in consequence (for there ought to have been letters), and ate in consequence a copious dinner; for when I am vexed, it makes me swallow quicker – but drank very little.
I was out of spirits – read the papers – thought what fame was, on reading, in a case of murder, that Mr Wych, grocer of Tunbridge, sold some bacon, flour, cheese, and, it is believed, some plums, to some gypsy woman accused. He had on his counter (I quote faithfully) ‘a book, the Life of Pamela, which he was tearing for waste paper, etc, etc. In the cheese was found, etc, and a leaf of Pamela wrapt round the bacon.’ What would Richardson, the vainest and luckiest of living authors (i.e. while alive) – he, who with Aaron Hill, used to prophesy and chuckle over the presumed fall of Fielding (the prose Homer of human nature) and of Pope (the most beautiful of poets) – what would he have said, could he have traced his pages from their place on the French prince’s toilets (see Boswell’s Johnson) to the grocer’s counter and the gypsy-murderess’s bacon!!!
What would he have said? what [sic] can anybody say, save what Solomon said long before us? After all, it is but passing from one counter to another, from the bookseller’s to the other tradesman’s – grocer or pastry-cook. For my part, I have met with most poetry upon trunks; so that I am apt to consider the trunk-maker as the sexton of authorship.
Wrote five letters in about half an hour, short and savage, to all my rascally correspondents.’
The above is from Thomas Moore’s edited: ‘Life, Letters, and Journals of Lord Byron.’ The curious story of the gypsy-murderess will be expanded on separately quite soon.


On Friday 5th January 1753 a crowd of people gathered around the ‘Holy Thorn’ at Glastonbury – the bush that was said to have grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea – to see if it would blossom on that day. The bush traditionally blossomed on Christmas day each year, but the changeover from the ‘old dates’ of the Julian calendar to the ‘new dates’ of the Gregorian calendar in September 1752 had caused the 25th December to fall 11 days earlier – and the branches of the ‘Holy Thorn’ had remained bare. It was generally decided that if the Thorn blossomed on 5th January instead, this would be a sign that the reformed calendar was not to be trusted in such matters (as old traditions and events). The blossom appeared!
As a result of this ‘late’ blossoming; many events that had, from time immemorial, linked to religious days were re-adjusted. Lammas Day remained on 1st August but the Lammas Fairs moved to 12th August – and ‘Old Lammas Day’. In the same manner the Oyster season had traditionally started on St James’s Day (25th July). That day remained but the season start moved to August 5th – ‘Old St James’s Day’.


Tuesday 6th January 1540 saw King Henry VIII marry Anne of Cleves.
Henry had remained single for over two years after Jane Seymour’s death, possibly giving some credence to the thought that he genuinely mourned for her. However, it does seem that someone, possibly Thomas Cromwell, began making inquiries shortly after Jane’s death about a possible foreign bride for Henry.
Henry’s first marriage – to Katherine of Aragon – had been a foreign alliance of sorts, although it is almost certain that the two were truly in love for some time. His next two brides were love matches and Henry could have had little or no monetary or political gain from them. However, the events of the split from Rome had left England isolated, and probably vulnerable. It was these circumstances that led Henry and his ministers to look at the possibility of a bride that would also secure an alliance. Henry also wanted to be sure he was getting a desirable bride, so he had agents in foreign courts report to him on the appearance and other qualities of various candidates. He also sent painters to bring him images of these women. Hans Holbein, probably the most famous of the Tudor court painters, was sent to the court of the Duke of Cleves, who had two sisters: Amelia and Anne. When Holbein went in 1539, Cleves was seen as an important potential ally in the event that France and the Holy Roman Empire decided to move against the countries who had thrown off the Papal authority. Holbein completed portraits of the sisters and Henry decided to have a contract drawn up for a marriage to Anne.
Henry proceeded with the marriage on this day though, by then, he was already looking for ways to get out of the marriage. Anne, herself, was ill-suited for the life at the English court. Her upbringing in Cleves had concentrated on domestic skills and not the music and literature so popular at Henry’s court. And, most famously, Henry did not find his new bride the least bit attractive. In his ‘History of England’ [1759 edition, V1.68] Smollett records that: ‘The King … found her so different from her picture … that … he swore they had brought him a ‘Flanders Mare’. In addition to his personal feelings for wanting to end the marriage, there were now political ones as well. Tension between the Duke of Cleves and Rome was increasing towards war and Henry had no desire to become involved. Last but not least, at some point, Henry had become attracted to young Kathryn Howard.
Anne was probably smart enough to know that she would only be making trouble for herself if she raised any obstacles to Henry’s attempts to annul the marriage. She testified that the match had not been consummated and that her previous engagement to the son of the Duke of Lorraine had not been properly broken. After the marriage had been dissolved, Anne accepted the honorary title of the ‘King’s Beloved Sister’ and was given property which included Hever Castle, formerly the home of Anne Boleyn. She lived to see the coronation of Queen Mary I, outliving the rest of Henry’s wives.


7th January every year is St Distaff’s Day – the first ‘free’ day after the twelve by which Christmas was formerly celebrated. It’s originally called St. Distaff’s Dag, or Rock Dag, because it was on this day – ‘the Morrow after Twelfth-day’ – that women would pick up their ‘distaff’ [a stick or spindle on to which wool or flax is wound for spinning] and resume their work. The duty seems to have been considered a dubious one because when it was complied with, the ploughmen who scarcely felt called upon to resume work on this day, made it their sport to set the flax a-burning; in response of which, the maids soused the men from the water-pails. The poet Robert Herrick put the whole thing to verse:

Partly work and partly play you must on St. Distaffs Day:
From the plough soon free your team; then cane home and fother them:
If the maids a-spinning go, burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then, let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff’ all the right: then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one, to his own vocation.’

[Above spelling as Herrick]

This reflects a time when spinning was the occupation of almost all women who had nothing else to do, or during the intervals of their other and more serious work. It was, though, a cheering resource to the solitary female in all ranks of life and an enlivenment to every fireside scene. To spin was the idea at one time associated with the female sex to the extent that, in England, spinster became a recognized legal term for an unmarried woman. The ‘spear side’ and the ‘distaff side’ also became legal terms to distinguish the inheritance of male from that of female children—and the distaff became a synonym for woman herself. Reflecting this is the French proverb: ‘The crown of France never falls to the distaff.’


Sunday 8th January 1815 was the day that we came second in the Battle of New Orleans. Andrew Jackson with his American soldiers won; General Sir Edward Packenham, the commander of the British forces, came second. This was the last battle between the two nations.

Tuesday 8th January 1935; Chips’ Channon (one of my favourite diary people) records: ‘I drove to Southend to address the Primrose League, of which I am the Ruling Councillor. There was fog on my return, and I arrived back at Elveden (between Newmarket & Norwich) late, cold and hungry. Our guests were still up but the 50 servants had gone to bed, and I could get nothing to eat. In spite of that, of all the Iveagh houses [belonging to the Anglo-Irish Guinness family, the Earls of Iveagh] I like Elveden best. I love its calm, its luxurious Edwardian atmosphere. For a fortnight now I have slept in the Kings’ bed, which both Edward VII and George V have used. And this morning, in the wee sma’ hours, I had a humiliating accident – I somehow smashed the royal Chamber pot. It seems to be a habit of mine, and one much to be discouraged. At Mentmore once, staying with the Roseberys, I broke Napoleon’s pot in similar circumstances; a very grand affair covered with N’s and Bees.’


Wednesday 9th January 1799 saw the ‘arrival’ in Britain of income tax. William Pitt the Younger is the man responsible for this idea – remember the story of his rise to power back in the mid-December blog? At this time he assured Parliament – and by inference ‘the nation’ – that this tax was a temporary measure to fund the war with Napoleon. Approved in the budget of December 1798, it was to pay for weapons and equipment and was graduated. It began to apply at 2 (old) pence in the pound if you had an annual income of £60 or more. It increased in stages to 2 shillings (10%) in the pound for annual incomes exceeding £200.
This tax was levied from 1799 to 1802; it was abolished during the Peace of Amiens; reintroduced in 1803 when hostilities recommenced, and abolished again in 1816, one year after the Battle of Waterloo.
It was re-introduced in 1842 and has been with us ever since.


Saturday 10th January 1863 was the day when the first section of the London underground – the 4 mile line of track between Paddington and Farringdon Street – was opened to the public by Prime Minister Gladstone.
The Yorkshire Gazette of this Saturday had a very brief reference that implies that they had had a trial run: THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY. The inauguration of the Metropolitan Railway took place today. The travelling is smooth and easy, but the tunnels are cold, and render warm clothing necessary.’
Reynold’s Newspaper of Sunday 11th gives us a fuller story:
‘The long talked of Metropolitan Underground Railway has at last been opened. Some six hundred invited guests assembled on Friday by one o’clock at the west end of the line to assist in inaugurating the great undertaking. At that hour the first train, drawn by two engines, and driven by Mr Nuxamore, the locomotive superintendent, left the Bishop’s-Road Station and, by slow degrees, stopping at all the stations to enable visitors to inspect the appointments of the railway, approached the Farrington-Street terminus. Here a sumptuous luncheon was prepared in a saloon extemporized over a portion of the line, and the visitors drank the health of the new line with great good-will.’
It was claimed that the journey would take 33 minutes. That’s roughly 8 miles per hour – an age by modern standards but probably a darn sight quicker than over ground travel at the time.



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