Wednesday 28 August 2013

Southsea Castle, King Henry VIII and the Mary Rose

Did King Henry VIII stand on this spot to
watch the Mary Rose sink...
‘Your Highness’s new fortress here…may be called a castle, both for the compass, strength and beauty…and marvellously praised of all men that have seen it.’
Sir Anthony Knyvet, 22 Oct 1544

Southsea Castle (centre, in the distance to the left of the lighthouse)
Seen form Southsea Common.
            On a perfect summer’s day, I fed my history addiction by visiting Southsea Castle and then the Mary Rose museum, Portsmouth.
Indeed, Southsea Castle is perhaps most well-known for being the place from which, on 19th July, 1545, King Henry VIII witnessed the sinking of the Mary Rose. My aim was to revisit the spot where Henry stood…

The Mary Rose - flying green and white Tudor pennants.
Southsea Castle was built to Henry VIII’s own design, in 1544. He was concerned about a French invasion of Portsmouth and positioned his new castle, or fortress, at a strategic site overlooking the Solent (the stretch of water between the mainland and the Isle of Wight). It commanded a stretch of deep water where ships passed closest to shore on their way into the important naval base of Portsmouth.
The entrance to Southsea Castle.

Henry appointed Sir Anthony Knyvet, Governor of Portsmouth, to oversee the construction. Knyvet took care to report regularly to his majesty. In one letter, some idea of the pressure to complete the build is hinted at when he bemoans a 10 day period in June 1544 when the weather was too poor to ship building supplies over from the Isle of Wight. Just a week later he reports construction will be far enough advanced, 12 days hence, to support weaponry.  However, on 8th July he wrote again, anxious to correct the king who had been told the castle was fully defensible, “the which [sic] is not.” Again, supplies seem to have been the problem:
“Only a small quantity of gunpowder and the two sacres [small brass canon firing 6 pound shot]had been delivered, along with a good store of bows, arrows, bills and pikes.”
The keep - an original part of Henry's Castle.
Keen as he was to have the new fortification finished, Henry was slow to send money for wages and materials, and Knyvet was forced to apply for more funds on several occasions. Over the six months it took to build Southsea Castle  3,000GBP was spent, of which 1,300 GBP came from the dissolution of the monasteries.
‘I dare say your Majesty had never so great a piece of work done and so substantial, in so little time, as all skilful men that have seen it do report.’
Sir Anthony Knyvet.

When completed Knyvet wrote to Lord Wriothesely, the High Chancellor, that never had such a fortress been built at so little cost. He also hoped the king would be pleased “which was of his Majesty’s own device” – that is to say, Henry himself had been responsible for the design.
Standing on the ramparts, looking west across the entrance
to Portsmouth harbour.
Over the centuries the castle has been adapted and expanded, to meet changing defence needs. Indeed, Charles II visited in 1683 to inspect improvements made by his chief engineer, Sir Bernard de Gomme. Charles’ coat of arms can be seen carved in stone above the castle’s entrance.

It is hard to imagine how Southsea Castle looked in Tudor times but part of Henry’s original castle can still be seen at the keep, as well as East and West gun platforms. The keep, its walls up to 3 metres thick, was blissfully cool inside on the hot summer’s day of my visit. Whilst I’m not convinced I found the exact spot where King Henry VIII stood on that fateful day in 1545 – I hope the photos give some flavour of the view. Most of the photographs were taken from the ramparts – which were built in the early 1800’s as canon placements during the Napoleonic wars.
View from the keep over-looking the Solent.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

The Language of Dogs: Cur and Tyke

18th century Cheezburger?
Satirical etching that portrays Sir Roger Curtis as Lord Howe's dog
The association between man and dog is an ancient one, perhaps even extending back beyond the birth of language as we know it. But the words used to describe our canine companions, have changed and evolved, every bit as much as the dogs themselves. My next couple of blog posts consider some of the terms used to refer to dogs over the centuries.

The earliest way of referring to canines was either as a  dog or hound.‘Dog’ is one of a group of old English words ending in ‘-g’ that refer to animals – such as pig, hog, stag and even earwig! ‘Hound’ has common roots in a number of European countries – such as German ‘hund’ and the Dutch ‘hond’. In the Middle Ages especially, there were a number of disparaging terms for dog. According to the Oxford English Dictionary a ‘cur’ is defined as:
A dog: a worthless, low-bred, or snappish dog. Formerly (and still sometimes dialectally) applied without depreciation, esp. to a watch-dog or shepherd's dog.

The first recorded usage of ‘cur’ is in by Chaucer in 1385, and mentions crop up in literature from pretty much every century.
‘The most Staunch and best Hunting Hounds; (all babling and flying Curs being left at home).’
1684   R. Howlett
‘I am hunted every barking Curr about the House.’
1712   J. Arbuthnot
From around the 17th century, the word ‘cur’ became used as a term of contempt for certain people:
Cur: Surly, ill-bred, low, or cowardly fellow OED,
As cited is this quote from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
‘Out dog, out curre: thou driu'st me past the bounds Of maidens patience’
Shakespeare, 1600

And also ‘Coriolanus’
‘What would you have, you Curres, That like nor Peace, nor Warre?’

Somewhat confusingly, the OED definition states that a ‘cur’ could also mean a guard dog.
Cur, a good, sharp watchdog. The word does not refer, in the least to low breeding.
1884   R. Holland – Words from the County of Chester.

An alternative word dating from the Middle Ages with similar meaning to cur is ‘tyke’ – this was especially associated with the Yorkshire dialect, where a ‘tyke’ could be used interchangeably with ‘dog’. Other counties were not so forgiving and the term was largely disparaging.
Tyke: A dog; usually in depreciation or contempt, a low-bred or coarse dog, a cur, a mongrel.

References can be found in writings from the 15th century onwards.
‘He barkis lyk an midding tyk’
1513   W. DUNBAR
and my favourite;
‘The mad randy gipsy, that had..been hounded like a stray tike from parish to parish.’
1829   SCOTT
And finally, it is interesting to reflect that more modern expressions such as dog-sitter, dog-napper and doggy-day-care imply a similar importance to a child. So next week, I look at some of the affectionate language used through the centuries to refer to our lap-dog companions.

Sunday 11 August 2013

English Customs: The Devil's Nutting Day

Did you know that September 14th is ‘the Devil’s Nutting Day’?

An English folk tradition dating back over 450 years connects Holy Cross Day on September 14th with another custom called ‘nutting’.  Originally, the feast day took place to commemorate a piece of the True Cross that was recovered and stored safely in Constantinople, in 629 BC. But as is the nature of events, in 1560 some Eton schoolboys were granted a half-day holiday on Holy Cross Day and decided to amuse themselves by gathering nuts.

“All the youths are now a-nutting gone.”
Grim the Collier of Croydon- a popular 17th century play.

The nuts in question are hazelnuts with the nuts ripening in hedgerows from September onwards. Hazelnuts have many links to folk lore and have associations with wisdom and power (it is a hazel rod that should be used for water divining) The phrase ‘going a nutting’ crops up regularly in 17th century songs and plays, and was a by word for sex and seduction –  young people being alone in the woods ...! Such was the link between collecting nuts and more risque activities that a popular expression in 1660 was:
“A good year for nuts, a good year for babies.”

Eton College in 1690
Over the years the Devil became associated with the collecting of nuts, although exactly how these two things became linked is not clear, (perhaps parents invoked the devil to discourage their offspring from getting pregnant!) Country folk were warned not to go nutting on Sundays as the Devil would be disguised as a gentleman and trick them by offering to pull down the top branches.

Another time the Devil was likely to be abroad was Holy Cross Day, as poet John Clare, writes in 1825:
“On Holy Rood [Cross] Day it is faithfully…believed both by old and young that the Devil goes a –nutting…I have heard many people affirm that they thought it a tale until they ventured into the woods on that day when they smelt such a strong smell of brimstone as nearly stifled them before they could escape…”

Victorians collecting nuts.
And finally, in Warwickshire there is a legend that a particular hill, The Devil’s Nightcap near Alcester, was formed when the Devil met the Virgin Mary on the road and dropped his nutting bag in fright!
This blog post is part of an Absolute Write blog hop. To read the other posts in this hop follow the links below:
Devil Child - a short story
Lurking Musings
Morning Glory
D R Slaten
Do Not Tamper With...
Lizzy's Dark Fiction
Tara Quan

Wednesday 7 August 2013

In Praise of Dogs - Words from History

"The best thing about man is the dog." Voltaire

Man’s best friend – the dog.
 U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class John F. Looney
The War Dog Cemetery, near Naval Base Guam

Our canine companions have had a long journey from guard and working animal to lap dog and friend. It is quite a transition from Shakespeare using the noun ‘dog’ interchangeably with ‘cur’ to denote an untrustworthy person, on to Benjamin Franklin writing in 1738 who said:

"There are three faithful friends—an old wife, an old dog, and ready money."

John Bull and his dog, Faithful.
A play on the politicians of the day.
The theme of dogs as faithful is frequently repeated such as in this quote from Sir Walter Scott in 1825:
"Recollect that the Almighty, who gave the dog to be companion of our pleasures and our toils, hath invested him with a nature noble and incapable of deceit."

And in 1720, John Gay writes in “An Elegy on a Lap-dog”
He's dead. Oh lay him gently in the ground!
And may his tomb be by this verse renown'd.
Here Shock, the pride of all his kind, is laid;
Who fawned like man, but ne'er like man betray'd.
Lord Byron
In this quote from Lord Byron, 1808, the death of a faithful canine companion elicited words of praise:
The poor dog, in life the firmest friend
The first to welcome, foremost to defend

King Charles II
However, this devotion was not welcomed by everyone, especially when the dog was a distraction. King Charles II’s love of dogs is well documents, but when he paid them too much attention during a meeting, a courtier was heard to remark:
"God save your Majesty, but God damn your dogs."

Samuel Pepys records another encounter with Charles II and “A dog the King loved” whilst travelling on a barge. The dog seemingly fouled the boat, “which made us laugh, and me think that a King and all that belongs to him are but just as others are.”  However, Pepys sense of humour did not extend to his wife’s dog, whom he threatened to “Fling out of the window” if he soiled in the house again.

Samuel Pepys
And finally, in praise of dogs:
"Histories are more full of examples of fidelity of dogs than of friends." Alexander Pope

"The dog puts the Christian to shame." Robert Burns

As a cat lover, I concede that dogs can be (perhaps) more faithful, but as to which species makes the better companion – my vote goes to cats because they can chose not to befriend you. So, what is your choice: cat or dog?