Tag Archives: British history

Remembering Thomas Becket, Saint and Martyr (29 Dec 1170)

Earliest known portrayal of Thomas Becket’s murder in Canterbury Cathedral.
circa 1200
PD-US-expired, PD-UK and other countries where authors life and set years have expired.
Source: British Library via Wikimedia Commons

On December 29 1170, Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in front of the altar by four knights in Canterbury Cathedral.

Becket had been a successful chancellor for King Henry II and had helped him consolidate his power even if went against the church. Well liked and respected, Becket served the king well earning his complete trust. When the Archbishop of Canterbury died, King Henry decided to put Becket in that spot so he could have more control of the church. Appointing him in 1162, he expected Becket to faithfully continue what Henry wanted. Except that is not what happened at all,

Becket though underwent a transformation and switched his allegiance to the church. He adopted an ascetic lifestyle and lived humbly despite being in the most powerful bishopric in England. King Henry and Becket starting clashing over many issues. Finally when the king demanded Becket sign the Constitutions of Clarendon in 1164 to extend his control over the church, Becket refused and left England and went to France. He returned in 1170 after a reconciliation had been worked out. Two bishops who had sided with Henry had been excommunicated refused to rejoin unless they supported the church over Henry. The bishops complained to Henry, who was in France at the time, who uttered words that suggested he wanted him dead. Four knights took this as an order and sailed to England.

There they murdered Becket on the altar stairs just as evening mass was starting. This shocking event caused outrage and horror. King Henry went on a 40 day fast. Pope Alexander III proclaimed him a saint two years later. King Henry II walked barefoot to his tomb as penance and was forgiven by the church. His tomb became a popular spot for pilgrims to visit until King Henry VIII destroyed it. When he was reburied in the new tomb that was subsequently destroyed, many of his bones were sent to other churches as relics. They were returned in 2016 to the cathedral in which he died in.

His feast day of December 29 is celebrated on both Anglican and Catholic calendars. He is the saint of secular clergy.

 

Sources:

Michael David Knowles(25 Dec 2022)
St. Thomas Becket
Britannica.com, Retrieved 28 Dec 2022

St.Thomas Becket
Catholic Online, Retrieved 28 Dec 2022

Archbishop Thomas Becket is murdered
History.com, Retrieved 28 Dec 2022

 

Remembering History: Washington Crosses Delaware in Surprise Attack (Dec 25-26, 1776)

Washington Crossing The Delaware
Emanuel Leutze (1816–1868)
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
Public Domain

By the winter of 1776, things looked bleak for the patriots fighting the British. They had suffered a string of defeats (New York and other places) that sapped the morale of many patriots. General George Washington’s leadership was being questioned by some leaders, and there was a general feeling that British were going to win unless things changed. The British by this time were of the opinion they were succeeding, though they found the Americans could put up a good fight. With winter upon them, the war paused as normally European armies did not fight during this time. Hessian troops, paid mercenaries hired by the British, were skilled professional soldiers raised nearly from birth to fight. A Hessian force was quartering in Trenton, New Jersey for the winter. General Washington decided to go on the offensive to win a battle and raise the morale of the troops who were suffering through the cold winter.

On the night of December 25, 1776, his army began moving across the Delaware River. The group led by Washington, 2,400 strong, made it to the other side but the other two divisions that made of 3,000 men did not get across at the right time. The Hessians had spent Christmas Day relaxing, eating, and drinking and did not believe the Americans were a threat. They had in fact dismissed warnings the Americans might attack. So, they were unprepared for what happened on December 26.  At 8 am, Washington attacked with two columns. By 9:30 am, the German defenses had crumbled, and the town was surrounded. While many Hessians did escape, they did capture several hundred and only lost four lives in the process. Unfortunately, since most of his troops had failed to cross, Washington was without any additional men or artillery to hold Trenton. He was forced to withdraw.

It was a minor battle that had no real strategic impact. The news of the successful attack though raised American colonialists’ spirits.  The initiative shown by Washington showed the Continental Army was capable of victory.

Sources:

History.com
MountVernon.org

,,

Boston Tea Party (16 Dec 1773)

Destruction of tea at Boston Harbor
Published: N. Currier, 1846.
U.S. Library of Congress, Control Number 91795889
Public Domain

In 1773, the British Parliament enacted the Tea Act to protect the East India Company, a company that though private had become important in Britain’s imperial designs in India. Not only did the act impose a monopoly for the company, but it could only be sold in the American colonies by those commissioned by the company. And that cut out the colonial merchants who had made money previously selling the tea. Since their ships no longer had to dock in England and be taxed, they came straight to America to be sold by the authorized agents at higher prices than before. The British had assumed the colonists, who liked tea, would pay the price. They were wrong.

Considerable resentment had built up in the colonies owing to the Sugar Tax (1764) followed by the Stamp Act (1765). The Sugar Act put duties on various items including tea while the Stamp Act required payment of fee for a stamp on official documents. Both laws were unpopular and seen as an attempt by the British Parliament to recoup the losses in the recent war between France and England. The colonists protested strongly about how bad these acts were and how, being distant from London, they seemed to have little representation. Demonstrations took place, some peaceful and some not, against the British. The Stamp Act was repealed but replaced with a new Townshend Acts (1767) that put import duties on essential goods. This caused even more resentment and anger in the American colonies as well.

When the Tea Act was passed on May 10, 1773, it angered people in England and America. British citizens now had to pay more for the East India Company tea. This led to the growth of smuggled tea (mostly Dutch) in both countries. Many made a small fortune with smuggled tea (like John Hancock). Protests and smuggling led the British to send troops to Boston. Rather than calming things down, the presence of the British troops made things worse. The Boston Massacre of 1770 was still in the minds of many. Adding to it was the feeling that the British were trying to undermine the col0nies. Many stopped drinking tea (although many drank the smuggled Dutch) which meant sales of the East India Company tea went down in the colonies. Attempts at curtailing the smuggling had not been wholly successful either by the British. The Townshend Acts, which imposed duties on many imported items, was rescinded in 1772 but not the duties on tea. The British dropped the price of the tea so that the smuggled tea was more expensive. Smuggling continued but as a protest for the citizen’s right not the be taxed without representation. Ships bearing tea to New York and Philadelphia were turned away by the colonists. Tensions had really reached a boiling point.

When a shipment of tea reached Boston on 29 November 1773, they were unable to unload the tea as the dock workers refused to unload. Thomas Hutchinson, the royal governor, refused to send the ships back and demanded the workers unload the tea and duties paid. After a meeting with the governor failed to take place on 16 December, many decided to take it into their own hands. Although the numbers vary, it is believed 100 men (mostly of the Sons of Liberty group but there were others) dressed in Indian garb (not as Indians as some suggest but rather garb worn during the French and Indian War that soldiers wore that were ponchos and soot streaks) boarded the three ships. They were armed with hatchets, axes, and pistols. And their outfits helped conceal their identities. They had formed into three groups, boarded the ships, and demanded the key to the hatch. Tea chests were then torn open and most of their contents dumped into Boston harbor. In total about 100,000 pounds of tea was dumped, worth about 9,000 pounds sterling making it one of the most expensive tea dumps in history.

Aftermath

The British government was enraged and responded with the Coercive Acts of 1774. They would become known by the colonists as the Intolerable Acts. It created a series of measures that resulted in the closing of Boston harbor until the cost of the destroyed tea was made. Other things such as repealing the colonial charter of Massachusetts occurred. General Thomas Gage was sent in to command the British forces in North America. Up until the imposition of the Coercive Acts, many had stayed neutral or on the sidelines waiting to see what would happen next. This action made many moderates realize that something was very wrong and looked like Britain was usurping their rights as British subjects. It became about sovereignty, that they had a right to have a voice on whether to tax themselves or not. It became clear to many the British were becoming a tyranny they had to oppose. Colonial resistance was made stronger leading to the American Revolution.

Sources:

The Boston Tea Party: Why Did It Occur and Who Was Involved?
Revolutionary-war.net, Retrieved 14 Dec 2022

The Boston Tea Party
History.com, Retrieved 14 Dec 2022

Tea Act
History.com, Retrieved 14 Dec 2022


Great Fire of London (2-6 Sept 1666)

The Great Fire of London in 1666 would decimate London, result in its rebuilding, and changes in how buildings and streets were laid out in the city. Let’s find out more about it.

The Great Fire of London by anonymous 1675
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

In 1666, London was a huge city and the capital of Britain. While many of the important homes and buildings were often made of stone, most homes and buildings were made of oak and often used tar to weatherproof them. Streets were also narrow with buildings close together making it hard for people and carts to move about on narrow streets. Sanitation was also poor since many people tossed their garbage-and chamber pots-into the street. The modern toilet had not been invented so most bodily waste went into these pots. Add to it horse manure on the streets, and most cities like London had some unpleasant odors especially in summertime.

Firefighting was also different back then. It comprised mainly of local bucket brigades and primitive water pumps on trucks. Since fire was considered a serious threat, people were told to be vigilant and make sure their homes were safe. However, as it turns out, people were not always so careful. On the evening of 1 September 1666 Thomas Farrinor, a baker employed by King Charles II on Pudding Lane, went to bed not making sure that the fire is his oven was properly extinguished. Sometime during the night sparks from the dying embers in the oven ignited firewood lying nearby. Not long after the house would soon become engulfed in flames. Farrinor and his family would flee and survive the fire. Sadly, a maid in the home did not survive as she did not want to jump out of the window.

Sparks from the fire would spread across the street to the Star Inn. It ignited the straw in the stables along with other combustibles and soon the inn was ablaze. The fire would spread from there to Thames Street. Warehouses on the riverfront would soon ignite as well. Full of candles, lamp oil, tallow and coal, the fire would grow larger and begin to spread. The local fire brigade was quickly overwhelmed and had to retreat. The primitive water fighting trucks of the time could barely navigate the streets. Panic ensued as people raced to the Thames with everything they owned. Attempts at using firebreaks by tearing down homes and buildings was tried but the fire overwhelmed them. The fire got so bright it could be seen 30 miles away. Finally on 5 September it started dying out and on the next day it was put out. There was one flare up in the Temple district but when a building containing gunpowder blew up with a powerful bang, the last remnants of the fire was over.

Four-fifths of London was destroyed and remarkably only 16 died. But 100,000 were homeless. The fire burned down the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral along with scores of other churches, buildings, and historic landmarks. King Charles II had a massive task to rebuild the city. He commissioned noted architect Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild St. Paul’s which still stands to this day. New homes and buildings had to be built with bricks and stones; wood was not allowed. And walls had to be thicker and buildings not so close together. Also, streets were widened and the old narrow streets and alleys banned. Access to the river was made easier as well by restricting housing that would block access. The homeless were suggested to go to other cities, towns, and villages outside of London to resettle. Economically it would take many years for London to recover. Most businesses had lost their premises and whatever goods were stored. The commercial district lost a lot of its businesses as they relocated elsewhere. London’s access to shipping routes and that it was the capital kept the city from completely losing its place in the world.

One of the more disturbing aftereffects was the strong anti-Catholic and anti-foreign sentiment that emerged. While most reasoned after studying how the fire began it was an accident, there were many who believed Catholics, Dutch, and French were involved. Opponents of pro- Catholic King Charles II made it an issue. That is why in the Monument that was put up in 1670’s had an inscription on it blaming the disaster on the “treachery and malice of the Popish faction.” This was removed in 1830 but at one time practicing Catholicism in England was forbidden and those who refused to recognize the sovereignty of the monarch over the Pope would be executed usually by the horrific method of being hung, drawn, and quartered.

Sadly, the rebuilding scheme did not reshape London as it was originally hoped. They kept pretty much the old layout. Had some of the plans suggested, such as Wren’s, London would have rivaled Paris. Insurance companies were born out of this disaster to help aid those who lost homes or buildings to fire. They began to hire private firemen and to promote safety measures with their clients. This did lead to conflicts with local fire brigades and the private firemen hired by these insurance companies. Ultimately it led a combined fire unit called the London Fire Brigade in 1832, which began the process of permanent fire departments being established to put out fires.

As for the man who started the fire, Thomas Farriner, he would rebuild his shop on Pudding Lane and continue baking until he passed away in 1670. Members of the Worshipful Company of Bakers in 1986 apologized for the fire and put up a plaque on Pudding Lane that one of their own had caused the Great Fire of 1666.

Sources:

Remembering History: Repeal of the Stamp Act (18 March 1766)

On 18 March 1766 the British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act to end a major uproar with the colonists in America.

Benjamin Franklin, 1783 attributed to Joseph-Siffred Duplessis (1725-1802)
National Portrait Gallery, London
Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

The controversial act was passed on 22 March 1765 and required that every official document produced in the colonies have a British stamp on it. Official documents included legal documents but was expanded to include newspapers and even playing cards. The purpose of the act was to use the money to raise revenues for a standing army. In reaction to it, the Stamp Act Congress was created in the colonies to oppose it in October 1765. Opposition to the impending Stamp Act caused not only outrage but violence as well.  Calls to boycott British goods were made and attacks on customhouses and even homes of tax collectors occurred. Benjamin Franklin made a personal appeal to the House of Commons to repeal the act.

Faced with opposition to the Stamp Act, it was repealed but on the same day Parliament passed the Declaratory Act which stated the government had free and total legislative power over the colonies. This set in motion conflict with the colonists who began to assert they ought to have a voice in laws passed by Parliament. The famous phrase “No Taxation Without Representation” would become an important part of the revolt that was coming.

Sources:

Remembering History: Washington Crosses Delaware in Surprise Attack (Dec 25-26, 1776)

Washington Crossing The Delaware
Emanuel Leutze (1816–1868)
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
Public Domain

By the winter of 1776, things looked bleak for the patriots fighting the British. They had suffered a string of defeats (New York and other places) that sapped the morale of many patriots. General George Washington’s leadership was being questioned by some leaders, and there was a general feeling that British were going to win unless things changed. The British by this time were of the opinion they were succeeding, though they found the Americans could put up a good fight. With winter upon them, the war paused as normally European armies did not fight during this time. Hessian troops, paid mercenaries hired by the British, were skilled professional soldiers raised nearly from birth to fight. A Hessian force was quartering in Trenton, New Jersey for the winter. General Washington decided to go on the offensive to win a battle and raise the morale of the troops who were suffering through the cold winter.

On the night of December 25, 1776, his army began moving across the Delaware River. The group led by Washington, 2,400 strong, made it to the other side but the other two divisions that made of 3,000 men did not get across at the right time. The Hessians had spent Christmas Day relaxing, eating, and drinking and did not believe the Americans were a threat. They had in fact dismissed warnings the Americans might attack. So, they were unprepared for what happened on December 26.  At 8 am, Washington attacked with two columns. By 9:30 am, the German defenses had crumbled, and the town was surrounded. While many Hessians did escape, they did capture several hundred and only lost four lives in the process. Unfortunately, since most of his troops had failed to cross, Washington was without any additional men or artillery to hold Trenton. He was forced to withdraw.

It was a minor battle that had no real strategic impact. The news of the successful attack though raised American colonialists’ spirits.  The initiative shown by Washington showed the Continental Army was capable of victory.

Sources:

History.com
MountVernon.org

,,

Remembering History: Boston Tea Party (16 Dec 1773)

Destruction of tea at Boston Harbor
Published: N. Currier, 1846.
U.S. Library of Congress, Control Number 91795889
Public Domain

In 1773, the British Parliament enacted the Tea Act to protect the East India Company, a company that though private had become important in Britain’s imperial designs in India. Not only did the act impose a monopoly for the company, but it could only be sold in the American colonies by those commissioned by the company. And that cut out the colonial merchants who had made money previously selling the tea. Since their ships no longer had to dock in England and be taxed, they came straight to America to be sold by the authorized agents at higher prices than before. The British had assumed the colonists, who liked tea, would pay the price. They were wrong.

Considerable resentment had built up in the colonies owing to the Sugar Tax (1764) followed by the Stamp Act (1765). The Sugar Act put duties on various items including tea while the Stamp Act required payment of fee for a stamp on official documents. Both laws were unpopular and seen as an attempt by the British Parliament to recoup the losses in the recent war between France and England. The colonists protested strongly about how bad these acts were and how, being distant from London, they seemed to have little representation. Demonstrations took place, some peaceful and some not, against the British. The Stamp Act was repealed but replaced with a new Townshend Acts (1767) that put import duties on essential goods. This caused even more resentment and anger in the American colonies as well.

When the Tea Act was passed on May 10, 1773, it angered people in England and America. British citizens now had to pay more for the East India Company tea. This led to the growth of smuggled tea (mostly Dutch) in both countries. Many made a small fortune with smuggled tea (like John Hancock). Protests and smuggling led the British to send troops to Boston. Rather than calming things down, the presence of the British troops made things worse. The Boston Massacre of 1770 was still in the minds of many. Adding to it was the feeling that the British were trying to undermine the col0nies. Many stopped drinking tea (although many drank the smuggled Dutch) which meant sales of the East India Company tea went down in the colonies. Attempts at curtailing the smuggling had not been wholly successful either by the British. The Townshend Acts, which imposed duties on many imported items, was rescinded in 1772 but not the duties on tea. The British dropped the price of the tea so that the smuggled tea was more expensive. Smuggling continued but as a protest for the citizen’s right not the be taxed without representation. Ships bearing tea to New York and Philadelphia were turned away by the colonists. Tensions had really reached a boiling point.

When a shipment of tea reached Boston on 29 November 1773, they were unable to unload the tea as the dock workers refused to unload. Thomas Hutchinson, the royal governor, refused to send the ships back and demanded the workers unload the tea and duties paid. After a meeting with the governor failed to take place on 16 December, many decided to take it into their own hands. Although the numbers vary, it is believed 100 men (mostly of the Sons of Liberty group but there were others) dressed in Indian garb (not as Indians as some suggest but rather garb worn during the French and Indian War that soldiers wore that were ponchos and soot streaks) boarded the three ships. They were armed with hatchets, axes, and pistols. And their outfits helped conceal their identities. They had formed into three groups, boarded the ships, and demanded the key to the hatch. Tea chests were then torn open and most of their contents dumped into Boston harbor. In total about 100,000 pounds of tea was dumped, worth about 9,000 pounds sterling making it one of the most expensive tea dumps in history.

Aftermath

The British government was enraged and responded with the Coercive Acts of 1774. They would become known by the colonists as the Intolerable Acts. It created a series of measures that resulted in the closing of Boston harbor until the cost of the destroyed tea was made. Other things such as repealing the colonial charter of Massachusetts occurred. General Thomas Gage was sent in to command the British forces in North America. Up until the imposition of the Coercive Acts, many had stayed neutral or on the sidelines waiting to see what would happen next. This action made many moderates realize that something was very wrong and looked like Britain was usurping their rights as British subjects. It became about sovereignty, that they had a right to have a voice on whether to tax themselves or not. It became clear to many the British were becoming a tyranny they had to oppose. Colonial resistance was made stronger leading to the American Revolution.

Sources

The Boston Tea Party: Why Did It Occur and Who Was Involved? (Revolutionary-war.net)
The Boston Tea Party (History.com)
Tea Act (History.com)