Saturday, 28 March 2015

Henry Every and his Amazing Pirate Theft from the Mughal Convoy, 1694

Henry Every is not a pirate as well known as Blackbeard, Mary Read, Captain Kidd, Francis Drake or Walter Raleigh which is a shame as his adventures are just as spectacular.

His upbringing is not what one might expect for a notorious pirate. Born in the west of England near Plymouth in the 1650s at a young age he begins work for the Royal Navy as a sailor. Little is known for sure about this period for him but according to some accounts in the early 1690s he enters the Atlantic slave trade, buying slaves on the West African coast and then seizing the slave traders themselves followed by chaining them to his ship's hold alongside their former captives.

1694 marks the year when he really makes a name for himself. By now he is a first mate aboard a privateer outfitted to harass French shipping in New Spain, at the request of the Spanish government. One night whilst the ship's captain, a horrendous drunk called Gibson, lies sleeping after a bout with a bottle of rum, Every and several confederates begin a mutiny that ends up with Captain Gibson forced ashore. He then slips out his privateer out of the Spanish port of La Coruna and sets sail for Madagascar with the new goal of seeking wealth by any means possible.

Henry knows if he is going to be a success then radical change is necessary. He renames his ship ‘The Fancy’ and sails for the Cape of Good Hope. As soon as he reaches it he plunder three British ships off the Cape Verde Islands. From there he moves on to the Cape of Good Hope and then the island of Johanna in the Comoro Islands. Whilst there he modifies the Fancy by cutting away some of her wooden structure to improve her speed and make her one of the fastest ships then sailing in the Indian Ocean.

He takes full advantage of this to capture a passing French pirate ship with loot taken from the Moors near the island of Johanna. He shows his canny instinct by recruiting some forty of the crew to join his own company. In the process his total strength grows possibly as high as 150 able men. With it his assurance and reputation rapidly swells.

At Johanna he writes a famous letter that seals his status as a much feared pirate. In an address to all English Commanders, he states that he has no intent of committing acts of piracy against English or Dutch vessels, but that if he can not convince his crew otherwise, it is possible.

Once the message reaches London all the newspapers have a field day and splash it all over their covers. From Henry’s point of view it also has the advantage that should he ever be captured he can now claim he had been forced to act against his will.

Soon after Every moves on to the Arabian coast to seek more treasure. Chance favours him and he joins up with five other pirate vessels including Thomas Tew's sloop Amity. They spot a 25-ship Mughal convoy bound for India but it escapes them. However their disappointment is brief as the very next day they encounter the greatest ship in Aurangzeb's fleet, the Ganj-I-Sawai, and its escort Fateh Muhammed, both passing the straits en route to Surat.

Every seizes the moment, rallies his men and attacks the Fateh Muhammed, which had earlier repulsed an attack by the Amity, killing Captain Tew. Remarkably and mysteriously the Fateh Muhammed's crew put up little resistance, and Every's pirates ransacks the ship for all of its £50,000 worth of treasure. Quite why this happened is not clear but maybe the imposing 46 guns of the Fancy ship are a factor.

An ordinary pirate might have been content with this success but not Every. He sets sail in pursuit of the Ganj-I-Sawai, overtaking her about eight days out of Surat. It is a bold risk. The Ganj-I-Sawai is a fearsome opponent, mounting 62 guns and a musket-armed guard of four to five hundred, as well as six hundred other passengers and yet Every is unphased.

He launches right into an attack. The opening volley between the two evens the odds. One of the Indian ship's cannons explodes, killing three or four gunners and causes great confusion and demoralization among the crew, while in contrast Every's broadside hits his enemy's mainmast by the board. The Fancy then draws alongside the Ganj-I-Sawai and the pirates clamber aboard.

A ferocious hand-to-hand battle ensues, in which Every's outnumbered crew lose 20 men. However, the superior Indian force is let down by its cowardly leader, Ibrahim Khan, who rushes below and hides among his concubines. After two hours of fierce but leaderless resistance, the Indians succumb.

The pirates are merciless in victory. Many of the Indian ships' crew are tortured and the female passengers raped. When the pirates finish their plundering of the ships, they set them adrift without the surviving women. What happened to these is unknown. One possibility is that they commit suicide as under Islamic law all rape victims are seen as unmarriageable. Another is that they are simply thrown overboard.

None of this bothers the pirates as they only care for the immense treasure they have seized. It includes silver, gold, jewels, and a jewel-encrusted saddle set meant as a gift for the Great Mogul. It has been estimated that the loot from the Ganj-I-Sawai totalled between £325,000 and £600,000, including 500,000 gold and silver pieces. This means that Every and the surviving pirate captains are able to share out £1,000 and some gemstones between every man in the crew once they set sail again.

The loss of the ship causes great embarrassment and anger. The attack on the Gang-i-Sawai is badly received by the Great Moghul and he cuts off all trade with the East India Company. The Moghul also seizes their trading posts and arrests East India Company officials. This causes so much distress and dismay amongst the British Government of the day that it offers a reward of £500 for every crewman, which the East India Company then doubles. This makes it very difficult for Every and Co. to go anywhere unnoticed in the West Indies or any of the British colonies.

Consequently Every splits up his fleet to make capture more challenging. His band head for St. Thomas to sell off some of the cargo they carry. In the Bahamas, the pirates shower the governor, Trott with gifts and bribes, even going so far as to give him their ship. His own crew then split up, some heading to North America, while the majority, including Every, return to Britain aboard the sloop Isaac, landing in Ireland. It is here he changes his name to Benjamin Bridgeman. His last words to his men are a series of contradictory stories over where he plans to go so as to ensure no one knew where he will go.

With those last parting words Henry Every disappears away into history. In so doing he matches his dramatic entrance into naval history with just as enigmatic and mysterious a departure.

If you liked that story then remember there are new stories on this site every week that can be found at my Secret History Stories homepage and another pirate story at Blackbeard's demise, 1718

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Brave Queen Boudicca and Her Stand against the Romans in AD61

Queen Boudica is now well known as a powerful leader who fought against the Romans. Less well known is how they saw her as a great warrior. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the benign neglect she suffered at the hands of historians following her death. Only with the onset of the Victorian era did this change as it was noted that her name was similar to the then reigning ruler, Queen Victoria.

Back in the AD60’s she is a powerful leader of an English tribe called the Icenians who are based in modern day East Anglia. Ancient sources describe her as being of royal descent and being "possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women", In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch”. We can see the regard she is held in as back then as her name Boudicea actually means ‘Victory’ and comes from the Celtic god her tribe worships.

The origins of her conflict with the Romans go back to the death of her father, Prasutagus, the late king of the Icenians. He leaves behind a considerable fortune. To appease the Romans he offers half of it to the Romans and the other half to his two daughters.

Unfortunately he has not appreciated either the greed of the Roman settlers or their perceived sense of dominance and entitlement. When Prasutagus dies his followers are attacked by the centurions; his house is ransacked and his property seized. Even worse his wife, Boudica, is permanently scarred, loses her regal title, her daughters are raped and the whole family reduced to slavery.

This is simply too much for the proud Queen and her defiant people. A  revolt results and clearly taps into widespread frustration as it spreads like wildfire. It quickly descends into war for the Icenian tribe and becomes known as the Queen Boudicca Rebellion. Their angry feelings are shared by others who suffer under the cruel treatment of the Romans and soon they are joined by the Trinobantians tribe. Together they promise to stand up for liberty.

In particular they are upset by the conduct of the Roman veterans who have recently settled at Camulodunum (modern day Colchester). These men openly treat the Britons with disdain. They drive the natives from their homes and taunt them by calling them slaves or taking them captive, adding insult to their tyranny. The ordinary Roman soldier joins in too seeing it as just reward for their dangerous livelihood.

When the Romans hear of this resistance the Roman Ninth Legion of Petilius is sent out to crush it. They find their enemy in the forests of Cambridge but full of bravado and arrogance they fail to act tentatively and march straight into a trap.

This proves to be their undoing. All the advantages the Roman army possess and have used to such deadly effect against Caractacus are negated by the forest environment. Here they can not fight in tight formation or use their javelins. Caught by surprise and ambushed with little time to regroup the end result is slaughter. 2,500 troops are slaughtered.

News reaches Suetonius, the Roman governor and he quickly appreciates the Roman existence in Britain is now at stake. He returns after a successful battle in Mona (modern day Anglesey) against the feared Druids to London. He is a highly experienced, ruthless military leader who already has extensive experience of dealing revolts and is fortunate to have highly prized German soldiers within his army. However once he compares his army to the enemy even he has to accept that it will be best to retreat for the sake of preserving the rest of the province.

All who chose to follow his banners are taken under his protection. Only the old and weak are left behind and it is these people who suffer as the Icenians wreck their revenge. Perhaps as many as 15,000 die. We know the devastation was extensive to London as there now exists a deep layer of red soil formed from the burning of Londinium in AD60. In fact looking at the impact it has on surviving pottery it looks like temperatures reached around 1000 Celsius, similar to the firebombings of Dresden during World War Two.

The inhabitants of Verulamium, a municipal town, are next to suffer. The devastation they suffer is extensive. Roman sources claim as many as seventy thousand are put to the sword during the entire revolt although the accuracy of this figure is debatable given the obvious bias of their sources.

Much as this gives satisfaction to the Brits it is actually a tactical mistake as it allows Suetonius to regroup his fourteenth legion, with the veterans of the twentieth, and the auxiliaries from the adjacent stations, to create an army of just under 10,000 men. Set against him are Boudica and her army that perhaps numbers as high as 80,000.

In spite of this he now makes the brave decision to counter attack. His stance is not shared by some of his more timid compatriots. When Suetonius askes one of his colleagues for help he refuses citing the situation as a lost cause. Suetonius is not naïve. He recognises the threat but is undimmed as he is a clever tactician and feels he still has a chance. He choses to make a stand at a spot encircled with woods. It is narrow at the entrance and sheltered in the rear by a thick forest that prevents encirclement by Boudicca and her massive forces. This forces the British tribes to attack him from in front along an open plain that lays before him. In preparation for the battle he draws up his men so that the legions are bunched close in the centre, the light-armed troops are stationed in reserve and the cavalry take care of the wings.

The British tribe on the other hand are not in any order. Their chief advantage is their huge size. They form no regular line of battle. They are so sure of victory that they place their wives in wagons at the extremity of the plain so they can witness a great victory over the Romans and celebrate their brave husbands. This is yet another great tactical mistake as Roman military tactics are excellent at dealing with large-scale attacks by undisciplined groups. 

Queen Boudica rallies her troops in a chariot with her two daughters by delivering a powerful rallying speech. She remindes them that "This is not the first time that the Britons have been led to battle by a woman. …. Look round, and view your numbers. Behold the proud display of warlike spirits, and consider the motives for which we draw the avenging sword. On this spot we must either conquer, or die with glory. There is no alternative. Though a woman, my resolution is fixed: the men, if they please, may survive with infamy, and live in bondage."

Suetonius also addresses his army before the epic encounter. He demands bravery from all. "Despise the savage uproar, the yells and shouts of undisciplined Barbarians. In that mixed multitude, the women out-number the men. Void of spirit, unprovided with arms, they are not soldiers who come to offer battle; they are bastards, runaways, the refuse of your swords, who have often fled before you, and will again betake themselves to flight when they see the conqueror flaming in the ranks of war. In all engagements it is the valour of a few that turns the fortune of the day. It will be your immortal glory, that with a scanty number you can equal the exploits of a great and powerful army. Keep your ranks; discharge your javelins; rush forward to a close attack; bear down all with your bucklers, and hew a passage with your swords. Pursue the vanquished, and never think of spoil and plunder. Conquer, and victory gives you everything” he shouts.

This speech has the desired effect and makes his soldiers eager to fight. The soldiers burn with rage and yet maintain their famed discipline. Suetonius seeing the fighting spirit in his men is present decides to give the signal for the charge to begin against the forces of Boudica.        

The engagement begins. The armies approach each other and the barbarians shout their fierce battle cries. The Britons advance with ferocity, charge uphill and discharge their darts at random. The Romans in turn march silently and in order until they come within a javelin's throw of the enemy. At this point each legionary alters their stance so as to discharge ‘pila’. These pila are actually javelins with long heavy heads tapered to a sharp point. Each shaft is designed to become detached upon impact so that the enemy can not use it afterward. On a given command when Boudica’s forces are just 20-30 metres away, 7,000 Roman legionaries unleash both of their javelins in quick succession upon their enemy.

Lacking armoured protection the Britons suffer heavy casualties. The Romans take quick advantage of the wreckage to rush forward at full speed in the form of a wedge. When the clash comes they easily break through the opposing ranks as their numbers and resolve have been weakened by the javelin onslaught. Despite being surrounded by the enemy by fighting in tight formation the Romans are able to retain the initiative and take the fight straight to the Icenians and all the other tribes.

The auxiliaries also follow behind ready to help and at the same time the cavalry bare down upon the enemy and with their pikes overpower all who dare to make a stand. The Roman archers also serve a useful role in dealing with the chariots of the ‘barbarians’. This is particularly important as the barbarians are known for their deadly hit and run tactics with their chariots. However since they fight without breastplates they are easily hurt by the archers’ arrows. To counter this many bands of Britons rush the archers and slaughter them where possible but most are more wary and decide to keep outside the distance of their shafts. 

Finally, late in the day, the Romans prevail and take lethal vengeance on those remaining. The Britons end up running away in flight with the Roman legions in hot pursuit. However since the British tribes have parked their wagons near the battle their retreat is blocked and a dreadful slaughter ensues. With cattle falling everywhere escape becomes even more difficult. The battle turns into a slaughterhouse and ends up a complete Roman victory. According to some writers, no less than eighty thousand Britons are put to the sword. The Romans apparently only lose around four hundred men. 

Queen Boudica is left beyond consolation and so she uses a dose of poison to end her life and spare herself the ignominy of capture. The Britons mourned her deeply and gave her a magnificent burial. With this last act the British are finally resigned to their fate as the subjugated and no more major rebellions take place in the occupied territories of Briton.

If you liked that story then remember there are new stories on this site every week that can be found at my Secret History Stories homepage.

Also if you liked this story then you should also read

Caractacus and his Brave Stand against the Romans in Britain, 51AD

Caractacus and his Brave Stand against the Romans in Britain, 51AD

The British have always been a tough race eager to stand up for their rights. So when the Romans arrive with their legendary Roman army they find out the hard way that the British tribes are hard to conquer.

This was why the legendary dictator Julius Caesar was full of admiration for them. When Caesar came to England and tried to land on the shores he found the English warriors were fierce and came straight at his soldiers on the shores. Caesar wrote ‘The Romans were faced with serious problems. These dangers frightened our soldiers who were not used to battles of this kind, with the results that they do not show the same speed and enthusiasm as they usually did in battles on dry land’.

One hundred years later little has changed. Rome is still trying to subdue those living within the British Isles. Emperor Claudius decides to enhance his status by crushing these rebellious barbarians so he invades with an enormous 40,000 strong army. Once again fierce resistance is put up by the British tribes but eventually they succumb due to tactical and technical inferiority plus the intense tribal rivalry that exists between them.

One person however holds out and fights a long running campaign of resistance. No, not the famous Queen Boudicca (who comes later in history), for it is a man known as Caractacus, King of the Catuvellauni tribe in southern England. Using guerrilla warfare he is a constant thorn in the Roman’s side. For seven years he puts up brave resistance until the moment comes when he decides to make a brave stand at Caer Caradoc (probably in Wales) in AD51.

Caractacus is no fool and choses his position of defence carefully. He knows a great deal about Roman military thinking from seven years on the run and deliberately fights from a position that is very strong. This area of rocky terrain forces the Romans to cross a river, fight uphill and then overcome the walls of defence that have been constructed to halt their advance. Not only that but Caractacus manages to put his diplomatic skills to good use by combining the Siluren tribe with the Ordovican tribe to leave the Romans with a much tougher foe to deal with.  

On the day of the battle Caractacus urges his men on protesting that this very day and this battle will either be the beginning of the recovery of their freedom or of everlasting bondage. He then appeals by name to their distant ancestors who drove back the mighty Julius Caesar and urges them to follow their example. It is a rousing speech and strengthens the will of his men.  

From down below at the bottom of the valley the Roman general, Publius Ostorius Scapula is likewise concerned by such eagerness and fierce spirit.  However his soldiers insist on battle as their spirits are strong and confident. Ostorius complies. He studies the river he has to cross and finds an accessible point to cross. He then leads his brave men across the river without difficulty. When his men reach the defences his soldiers come under a hail of missiles and casualties rapidly mount. Ostorius is undetered and tells his force to huddle close together so as to protect one another with their sturdy shields in an army formation known as a testudo. It is a smart move as this highly effective Roman army tactic minimises casualties for his men. 

Meantime his disciplined soldiers tear into the fence of stones until they are able to finally engage in hand to hand combat. Using their superior group tactics the Roman soldiers then manage to sweep aside the British tribes who are forced to retreat into the hills where they mount one last final stand. Yet even here, both light and heavy-armed Roman soldiers rush to finish them off. The former harasses the foe with their long javelins, while the latter closes with them and in so doing breaks the remnants of the resistance. The simple fact is that the British tribesmen are much easier to defeat than the better-armed Romans due to their lack of defensive breast plates or helmets. They also have little ability to counter the Roman javelins or the spears of the auxiliaries.

The remaining tribal fighters flee with Caractacus among them. Any hope of escape is lost when he is betrayed by the leader of the Brigantes tribe, Queen Cartimandua who decides to hand him over to the Romans. As a consequence Caractacus, his wife, daughter and brothers all surrender and are sent to Rome where there is intense interest in the man who has so bravely stood up against the all conquering might of Rome for so many long years.

Once there their Roman conqueror, Emperor Claudius holds a major triumph in honour of this achievement to boost his prestige and reputation. Caractacus and all the other defeated men are made to walk past him. It is utter humiliation but no one dares say anything as the emperor is well known for being very fond of gladiatorial combat and public executions. Ancient historians note his insecurities in detail. Apparently ‘his knees were weak and gave way under him and his head shook. He stammered and his speech was confused. He slobbered and his nose ran when he was excited’. One record even went so far as to say that ‘Claudius' voice belonged to no land animal, and that his hands were weak as well’ Much of this was due to fear rather than deformity as it was said that when ‘calm and seated he was a tall, well-built figure of dignitas’.

Whilst the others filed past meekly, Caractacus had other ideas. When he came before the emperor rather than bow low and walk past as all have before him he stands still and speaks before him. ‘Had my moderation in prosperity been equal to my noble birth and fortune, I should have entered this city as your friend rather than as your captive; and you would not have disdained to receive, under a treaty of peace, a king descended from illustrious ancestors and ruling many nations. My present lot is as glorious to you as it is degrading to myself. I had men and horses, arms and wealth. What wonder if I parted with them reluctantly? If you Romans choose to lord it over the world, does it follow that the world is to accept slavery? Were I to have been at once delivered up as a prisoner, neither my fall nor your triumph would have become famous. My punishment would be followed by oblivion, whereas, if you save my life, I shall be an everlasting memorial of your clemency’ rejoins Caractacus.

This is an extremely brave thing to say before a mighty Emperor who holds his life in his palm. Many have been killed for much less embarrassment. It says much about Caractacus’ proud bearing and stubborn character that he would say this. Even more remarkably Emperor Claudius agrees and lets him live as a free man in Rome.

Later when Caractacus travels across the city he is supposed to have been so impressed by the sheer wealth and splendour of the city of Rome that he says how could they "who have got such possessions and so many of them, covet our poor tents?"
If you liked that story then remember there are new stories on this site every week that can be found at my Secret History Stories homepage and also you will find it worth reading about
Brave Queen Boudicca and Her Stand against the Romans in AD61

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Jack Cade and the 1450 English Rebellion in London

Wat Tyler and Robin Hood are not the only Englishman to lead a major rebellion. Jack Cade also carries this accolade. Few know of him although literary people might recall one of William Shakespeare’s plays where his character utters the following immortal call to arms after his rebellious group seize London "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

Jack Cade’s wrath is first incurred by the high taxes being imposed on him just like his Peasants Revolt predecessors. His views are widely shared and soon he gathers together 20,000 men from Kent to march onto Blackheath and forward two papers to the king, entitled "The Complaint of the Commons of Kent," and "The Requests of the Captain of the Great Assembly in Kent." These papers set forth his ideas for a fairer society based on redistributing wealth more equitably just like the ‘Robin Hood’ character he likens himself to. A key component of this is the abolition of the Statute of Labourers that tries to freeze wages.

King Henry VI is utterly appalled anyone questions him and replies with armed force. He despatches a small force against the rioters. Rather surprisingly Cade gives fight to the royal troops at Sevenoaks and even more amazingly his army manage to defeat the royal army and kill their leader, Sir Humphrey Stafford.

Jack Cade and Co. then decide to move on to London to force the issue by confronting the heart of government. Cade maintains his calm and offers to court a plausible list of grievances, asserting that when these were redressed plus Lord Say, the treasurer, and Cromer, the Sheriff of Kent, have been punished, he and his men will lay down their arms.

So taken are the king's very own troops that they refuse to fight against the insurgents. King Henry, sensing his position is rapidly worsening retreats to Kenilworth and leaves Lord Scales with a thousand men remaining to defend the Tower of London. Jack Cade then enters London, fights with the London Mayor, carries out a fixed trial and summarily executes him.

At this point Jack Cade’s rag tag army is in a strong position both militarily and also from the point of view of having widespread goodwill. His chances of securing what he wants look good and yet this is torn apart when his army start looting the streets of London. At once they lose popular support and the London citizens turn on this mob.

A massive battle breaks out on London Bridge lasting all night from about ten in the evening until eight the next morning by which time the rebels have to retreat in disarray with heavy casualties. Cade flees towards Lewis, but is overtaken by Iden, the sheriff of Kent, who kills him in a garden he has taken shelter in. For this Iden is granted £1000 and so ends a lesser known popular rebellion against a King during the Medieval Ages.

If you liked that story then you will also enjoy reading about 'Lambert Simnel's Rebellion against King Henry VII, 1487.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Kind Edward II of England and vile gruesome execution

Grizzly regal deaths conjure up images of the fate of Charles I but even he did not suffer as bad as King Edward II way back in 1327. His spectacular fall from grace has never been surpassed by any monarch.

The origins of his demise owe to his personality clash with the leading barons of the day. He is sneered at for rowing, cutting hedges and digging ditches as these are considered jobs only for the low born and not fitting for a King. Most who despise him though do so because of his vain nature and close friendship with a select band of court favourites.

These issue fester and eventually become too much for his barons so much so they work together and depose him. On the 16th November 1326 King Edward II is captured in south Wales by Henry of Lancaster and taken to his stronghold at Kenilworth Castle.

His detractors quickly get to work in trying to legitimise their overthrow. On 15 January 1327, the Archbishop of Canterbury preaches that power comes through popular consent. ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God’ he says and follows up by saying that King Edward II is ‘never more to govern the people of England’.

Edward is then formally removed from his throne on the 20th January 1327 and deposed on the 25th. His son Edward III is then allowed to take over but only under the aegis of his mother, Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer.

In the meantime King Edward II is moved around to stop support gathering for him and eventually ends up at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire on the 3rd April under the custody of Thomas de Berkeley, owner of Berkeley Castle and son in law of Roger Mortimer.

In spite of all these efforts at least two attempts are made to rescue Edward. The first is by a Dominican friar, Thomas Dunheved (the king's former confessor) acting together with his brother Stephen and a group of fellow conspirators from the Warwickshire area. The Dunheved gang spring a raid on Berkeley Castle and free Edward in around July 1327.

Thomas de Berkeley is at once angry and beside himself with embarrassment for losing such an important prisoner and so he hunts after him strenuously. His efforts pay off and on the 20th of August he  arrests a member of the gang, William Aylmer at Oxford. He tells all and using his new leads they recapture the former king and takes him back to  Berkeley Castle. As for Aylmer, he is acquitted and released whilst the  rest of his gang, bar Stephen Dunheved are soon captured. For this reason some historians speculate that William betrayed them in exchange for his own life.

Not long after a second attempt is organised by Rhys ap Gruffudd, but fails as William Shalford betrays the plans to Roger Mortimer. Anxious not to have more trouble Mortimer sends out William Ockle to Berkeley Castle to deal with Edward II once and for all. When he arrives he takes over from Thomas de Berkeley, who is called away. Ockle along with Thomas Gourney and Simon Bereford then take charge of the former king. Edward remains in good health so what happens next is shocking to all when they first hear it. 

On the 28th of September a public announcement states that Edward of Carnarvon, the former king of England has died of natural causes on the 21st September 1327 due to ‘internal trouble’ during the night. Given his previous fitness this is at once highly suspicious and incredible. The conclusion many reach is that a cover up is going on to conceal his murder. 

Edward's body remains at Berkeley until the 21st October when he is handed over to the abbot of St Peters Abbey in Gloucester and buried there in December. Naturally many inquisitive wonder aloud how Edward has died so to allay any fears that something untoward has happened several high ranking people are allowed to see his dead body afterward. They see nothing but the suspicions are not allayed.

Many local residents near the Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire swear they heard screams from the castle shortly before the day his death was announced. Many years later a boy from the area, John Trevisa, who grows up to be a chaplain confirms these fears of foul play when he hears from the King’s jailer, Thomas Berkeley, what really happened following a confession.

He confesses that during September 1327 Edward II was subjected to increasing levels of torture to break his spirit. First his tormentors put him in a secure chamber full of the stench from rotting corpses. When this fails several men grasp him suddenly by surprise on 22 September and suffocate Edward. The final indignity is for a roast spit to be inserted up his rectum. As once chronicler memorably wrote the ex-King had to suffer a ‘hot spit put though the secret place posterial’. In so doing it leaves no visible external injury. This explains why the high ranking men saw nothing suspicious. It also acts as a final insult to someone considered abhorrent for being a homosexual. The attack also explains the screams that local people swore they heard outside the castle and left Edward II to suffer the worst indignity of any English ruler in history. 

His son King Edward III is also placed in a dreadful situation well Roger Mortimer plots to kill him so he can be King of England. If you want to find out how he escapes read my new History Book and if you liked that story then remember there are new stories on this site every week that can be found at my Secret History Stories homepage.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Amazing Real Life English Robin Hood - Roger Godberd

There are many contenders for who the inspiration behind the English Robin Hood. One little known but credible possibility is Roger Godberd. His life is every bit as dramatic and the parallels are too many to easily discount.

Roger Godberd grows up every bit a part of the English establishment. Born in Nottingham, during the 1260’s he becomes a loyal member of the Nottingham castle garrison under Lord Robert de Ferrers, the Earl of Derby, in Swannington, Leicestershire. Even better for him he is also a close colleague of Simon De Montfort, the 6th Earl of Leicester and one of the most powerful men in all of England.

Godberd’s life is on a continual upward ascent. He is right beside De Montfort when he uses his influence to set up a Houses of Parliament as a forum for political discussion and later still when he organises a rebellion against the King in 1265. The high point is reached at the battle of Lewes when they take the King as a prisoner.

1266 marks a reversal of fortune following defeat at the Battle of Evesham when facing the King. Ferrers and his followers are crushed by his Majesty’s superior numbers. King Henry III is in no mood for forgiveness and seeks brutal, remorseless revenge for his embarrassing defeat at Lewes. In a break with custom he decides to murder the opposing barons rather than ransom them for a high price. Simon De Montfort is spared this fate but only because he dies fighting on the battlefield along with two other barons. None the less his memory is still sullied by having his head, hands, feet and testicles cut off. 

It is clear for Roger the danger he faces if he is captured. The other barons similarly worry and decide the only option is to combine together into a group that comes to be known as the ‘Disinherited’. Each is bound by their previous support for Simon De Montfort and loss of land to the King and his son, Edmund. With little to lose they set upon revenge for their treatment against him.

The key turning point for Roger Godberd comes in 1269 when his Lord, Robert de Ferrers loses his land to Edmund as punishment for his opposition. From here on in Roger becomes a prominent outlaw.

The story does not unfold quite like the popular tales about Robin Hood. According to Walter Bower writing in around 1440, following the Battle of Evesham ‘arose the famous cut throat Robin Hood, as well as Little John, together with their accomplices from among the disinherited, whom the foolish populace are so inordinately fond of celebrating both in trajedies and comedies, and whom they are delighted to hear the jesters and minstrels sing above all other ballads’. Initially he is also a good friend of Reginald de Grey, better known as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Records indicate that they are on good terms and contrary to the folk tales the locals respect the sheriff. In fact Grey is one of the youngest ever sheriffs and is known as a talented military leader in his country for having helped Edward I conquer Wales in addition to being well known as a committed parliamentarian.

Roger quickly became a target for the King’s forces who are keen to stop all further rebellion. To evade capture he settles in Sherwood forest. From there he rallies his growing band of men to carry out various raids on Nottinghamshire and the neighbouring counties of Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Unlike the popular hero, Robin Hood who robs from the rich to give to the poor, Robert is happy to carry out regular guerrilla raids on who ever he pleases. In fact in one infamous episode on the 29 September 1270 Roger and his men carry out a raid on Stanley Abbey, take some money, steal horses and kill a monk!

The king is concerned enough to send a message to the Nottingham authorities expressing his concern about the number of robberies taking place and the general lack of safety in the region as a consequence. An indication of his infamy is the warrant that is issued against Roger. It urges that he is seized and states with perhaps some exaggeration that ‘he had carried out 'so many great homicides and robberies that no one could pass through… without being taken or spoiled of his goods'.

When it became clear this will not be enough the king supplies extra men and wooden barricades to ensure Nottingham castle will not be overrun by Roger and his men who number over one hundred. Alas for the King it is not decisive. Richard Foliot, a powerful sympathiser of Roger commits treachery by protecting the bandit and his gang in Fenwick castle until early 1272.

Later that year though Roger’s luck runs out and he is captured by Reginald de Grey, the Sheriff of Nottingham in the grounds of Rufford Abbey. He is held prisoner at Nottingham Castle and yet still upsets the authorities when he manages to escape.

The King is so disturbed that he hands the Sheriff enough money to assemble a large army to track him down. Following his recapture he is forced to stay at Bridgnorth jail and then by Chester jail where Reginald de Grey is Justiciar and finally the Tower of London.

Contemporary records dispute what happens next but it appears that after a long period awaiting trial Godberd is amazingly granted a royal pardon, blaming his bad behaviour on the civil war that was ravaging the country at the time. He returns to his home in Swannington but his troubles are not over as in 1287 some Justiciars bring a case against him for poaching deer from royal forests back in 1264! Inevitably the case falls apart and for the last time Roger escapes the claws of the authorities.

If you liked that story then you will enjoy reading about The First Robin Hood, Hereward the Wake.

A Brief History of Robin Hood By Nigel Cawthorne also offers excellent further detail about Roger Godberd