The Story of England in Verse
Normandy by right; England by Conquest.
William, I'm sure, did his level best
To juggle both roles, and met with some success.
His family, though, was in a dreadful mess.
Elder son Robert led him a merry dance,
Plotting, openly, with King Philip of France
Against his own father; while the second son,
William 'Rufus', was just out to have fun.
Family squabbles, border disputes, civil war:
Normandy occupied William more and more.
In 1087 he was wounded, badly,
Sacking (in a fit of pique) some French town. Sadly,
Neither son was at his side. Robert was away,
Sucking up to the French King, though I have to say
Rufus did turn up (just in time) at the deathbed:
A smart move and politic, it has to be said.
Elizabeth the First was made of steel,
Yet still commanded popular appeal.
Striking of countenance, with flame-red hair,
She proved herself her father's one true heir.
Milksop Edward and the frightful Mary
Both left the populace rightly wary
Of the Tudors. Their new Queen, however,
Like old Henry, was not only clever -
Fluent in six languages (Spanish, Greek,
Flemish and French were four that she could speak) -
But she loved life. Pageantry she adored,
Hunting and dancing. Warfare she abhorred.
Here she differed from her father. The waste,
In money and men, was not to her taste.
This was closer to her grandfather's stance.
He, you may remember, withdrew from France -
A long-drawn-out war - as soon as he could,
Devoting himself, as a monarch should
To peace at home and to the common good.
I'd like to draw a line, say "that was that",
But there's a footnote. William was fat
(Obese, let's be honest) towards the end:
Too big for his coffin. They had to send
For six heavy men to sit on the lid.
Another French farce. You know what they did?
They squashed him down, King William the First,
So hard, that his big balloon-belly burst.
I do apologise if I'm giving offence,
But the stench from the explosion was quite intense.
Henry the Seventh (you know I'm a fan)
Was by nature a conservative man.
Elizabeth inherited this trait -
In spades. As Queen she embodied the state.
She could be haughty, wilful, wayward, vain,
Yet she exhibited, throughout her reign,
The gift of caution. On her accession
She claimed she was "mere English". Possession
Of her crown, her life, her liberty, her throne,
She owed to the people, and to them alone.
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The axe fell. The crowd let out a groan.
The deed was done. England stood alone.
EXECUTION OF CHARLES THE FIRST
Text Copyright © 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 Colin Wakefield
Illustrations Copyright © 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 John Partridge
Here are some short excerpts from Volumes One to Eight of the History, with a selection of illustrations, which we hope you will enjoy. These are designed to give a taste of the style and content of the books.
The Protector was appointed for life.
'His Highness', Cromwell became; his good wife,
Elizabeth, the 'Lady Protectress'.
They moved to a wildly fancy address,
Whitehall Palace. Cromwell couldn't care less
For pomp and show, though I have to confess
He did look forward to his weekend haunt,
Hampton Court, whence he would savour a jaunt
To Bushy Park for his recreation -
Hunting and hawking. His reputation
As a spoilsport was quite unjustified.
For Noll had a warm, convivial side.
He loved music. This must be qualified.
Music in a religious context:
Definitely 'out'. But any pretext
To enjoy it as a secular art -
Proof, if need be, that he did have a heart -
Singing, for instance, was most surely 'in',
As was chamber music. It was no sin
To relish melody. The violin
(I've read this) grew in popularity
During the Protectorate. So you see,
He was no Philistine. A committee
Was even constituted (since you ask)
For the advancement of music. The masque -
The rage, you'll recall, in the old King's day -
Crept back in to fashion, though the stage play
Was outlawed during this period. Dance,
Tending to vice and popular in France,
Was tolerated up to a degree
Within the bounds of strict morality.
Nelly's wit and sense of humour were priceless.
Not necessarily renowned for 'niceness',
She was famous for her ready repartee.
The mob occasioned her some anxiety
At Oxford, mistaking Miss Gwynn for Louise.
They jostled her coach, attacking, if you please,
The bitch they declared to be Charles' Catholic
Harlot. Such naked prejudice makes me sick,
But, ever in high spirits, Nell saved the day.
Sticking her head out of the coach window, "Pray!"
She cried, "Good people, be civil!" (this I adore -
So witty, so sharp) "I am the Protestant whore!"
Though never destined for the giddy heights
Of Lou or Babs, Nell asserted her 'rights'.
Poor she was not! Mistresses, on the whole,
Relished their place on the royal payroll.
Nelly, I've read, had a pad in the Mall,
A coach, six horses, and servants withal.
An income of several thousand pounds,
Per annum, was hers. The figure astounds.
For a poor illiterate (Welsh to boot),
That wasn't half bad. But Nelly was cute,
Outspoken, ambitious, tough and astute.
"I have learnt a lot - in a highly palatable way!"
"Thanks for hours of reading enjoyment."
King James the Second. What can I say?
The fool who threw his kingdom away.
He started well but, alackaday,
After four short years, in disarray,
He fled to France and called it a day.
A complex soul, it wasn't James' way
To compromise. To widespread dismay,
He sought to impose his will. Well, hey -
What use are subjects if not to obey?
Where Charles the Second learned to duck and dive
(Unlike his father) - thus staying alive -
His brother James inherited, in spades,
Their father's intransigence. As young blades
They displayed similarities, of course.
Both were handsome, both looked good on a horse,
And both had an eye for the fairer sex
(That's an understatement). Both risked their necks
In battle, though too young by far to fight
In the Civil War; and neither was that bright.
King William was little mourned, sadly.
The fickle English had taken badly
To their modest, hard-working sovereign:
Pious and strong - too bad he was foreign!
His subjects were disgruntled, over-taxed
And xenophobic. Will never relaxed.
Our chum John Evelyn, far from tearful,
Declares himself not a little fearful
For England's prospects following the King's
Untimely demise. The diarist wrings
His gnarled hands: "disturbance of the City"
He fears; "matters... abroad" (more's the pity)
"And at home" all in "too loose a posture"
To "resist the deluge" (the imposture)
"Of the French"; Europe's "most dangerous war",
Ready to break. Old John, he knew the score.
One might have expected England, therefore,
To be wracked with regret, gloom and despair.
Nothing was further from the truth. Nowhere
Was the late King lamented. Far from fair.
Poor Will was dead. No one seemed to care.
Few there were who knelt to say a prayer.
The King was interred in Westminster Abbey,
In private, at night - decidedly shabby.
This finest of men was quickly forgotten.
No statue. No monument. Sickening. Rotten.
So it was, on the 12th of September,
'59, truly a night to remember,
Wolfe prepared his men in an enterprise
Of rare strategic genius - the prize:
Quebec. Up the St. Lawrence in small boats,
With muffled oars, he led his brave redcoats
(Some 5,000) under cover of dark.
No owl was heard to hoot, no dog to bark,
No gull to cry. The silence of the night
Bore but one sound. Wolfe was moved to recite
Gray's Elegy. Madness? One of the signs?
Hardly. He'd rather have written these lines,
He told his fellows, than take Quebec. Well,
You can see why men fell under his spell.
Part of the British fleet, some miles away,
Began a bogus bombardment, to essay
A diversion, as Wolfe led the way
Up the heights of Abraham - yes, a cliff.
There was no going back. Retreat? As if.
The French were taken wholly by surprise.
They woke on the 13th, rubbing their eyes,
To behold the Brits, complete with supplies,
(And guns), apparently dropped from the skies.
The French put up some semblance of a fight,
But were shot to pieces. And so, good night
To the French in Canada. Quebec fell.
James Wolfe's fine triumph sounded their death knell.
Our hero was thrice wounded that day.
He died with honour and was heard to say,
"Now, God be praised," (he knew the day was won)
"I will die in peace". Wolfe's place in the sun
Was ever assured. His duty was done.
On the 30th of January
Charles met his Maker. A bitter, cold day,
He dressed that morning with the utmost care.
He asked for two shirts, all too well aware
That the crowd might think that he quaked for dread.
Yet the King feared nothing. To lose one's head?
A trifle! Standing upon the scaffold,
Charles looked about him (he wasn't blindfold)
And addressed his subjects for one last time.
He'd caused no offence, committed no crime.
He was dying for justice and for liberty,
In defiance of arbitrary tyranny.
Few of the people, alas, heard his speech.
They were blocked by the guards and out of reach.
But Charles lost his stammer (there's a strange thing) -
A patient, relaxed and submissive King.
He observed that the block was just too low.
He couldn't kneel. Did this upset him? No.
He resolved, as he must, to lie quite flat,
His arms out sideways, as simple as that.
His hair he tucked tightly into his cap -
Charles, to the end, was a finicky chap.
He desired no obstruction. One swift blow,
One strike, was the way he wanted to go.