Category Archives: History

The Story of King Charles I’s Body

Apr 10, 2017

Okay, so here’s the other story from Windsor Castle that I promised I’d tell, but got way distracted from.

Charles I was a devoted family man, which is one of the reasons I love him.
(c) Astley Hall Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So other than Victoria and Albert, my favorite English monarch is Charles I. Now, this is highly controversial, because the reign of Charles I and the Civil War that resulted (you know, Cromwell and all) is a pivotal moment in British history. A lot of people utterly vilify Charles and adore Cromwell. They say Charles was a tyrant and Cromwell was for the people. Personally, I think Charles was a good man but a terrible king, and Cromwell was an ass who attempted to destroy his country without a plan. But I’ll get to that later. Anyhow, as I said to the tour guide at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, you’re pretty much either Team Charles or Team Cromwell, and I happen to be Team Charles.

For those who don’t know, Charles I believed in the divine right of kings. Which, for Team Charles, means he was just trying to do his job the way he believed God wanted him to. This led him to do a lot of not-so-great things—like dissolving Parliament and taxing people—because those pesky populists and their new, right-wing extreme Protestantism were getting in his way. Oliver Cromwell believed all men were and should be equal in the eyes of God and the law, and so whipped up a revolution in order to oust the old rule and usher in his ideal society. Ergo, the English Civil War. This all happened in the 1640s. (Note: America was barely a glimmer in the milkman’s eyes at this point in history. A few, experimental colonies, yes, but that’s about all)

Long (LONG) story short, Charles lost the war, was captured and imprisoned, and ended up having his head chopped off. Here’s where the fascinating story of Charles I’s remains begins!

Oliver Cromwell. I don’t like him much.

Because Cromwell was firmly in charge as soon as Charles’s head was separated from the rest of him, he forbid the ex-king from being buried with any sort of ceremony whatsoever. ANY ceremony. At all. But Charles had many loyal supporters who wanted to do right by him. So they sewed his head back on his body, and with a high degree of secrecy, they took his remains to St. George’s Chapel inside of Windsor Castle to be interred. And the entire ceremony happened in utter silence, since they were forbidden to even so much as read from the Book of Common Prayer.

So much silence, in fact, that in short order, everyone forgot where they’d buried him. Or rather, it was such a secret that when the people immediately involved were gone, no one knew where the remains were. They knew Charles had been buried in St. George’s Chapel, but not where. They also knew that he was probably buried in the same crypt as Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, but again, the exact location was a little fuzzy. Particularly as St. George’s Chapel was ransacked a couple of times by those pesky Cromwell supporters.

Incidentally, Cromwell was an absolutely terrible leader. He didn’t have a plan. Not one clue. He made a big stink about equality and new ways of doing things and abolishing the monarchy, but he didn’t go into leadership with a clear vision for what should replace monarchy. He tried several forms of government through his tenure as leader, and none of them worked. He pissed people off so much, that after he died, they invited Charles I’s son, Charles II, to come back and restore the monarchy. You can like Cromwell and make excuses for him all you want, but after a country spend years engaged in a bloody civil war, murdered their monarch, and set up a new form of government, you have to admit that you’d have to fail hardcore to say “Nevermind! We want that whole monarchy things back.” Not just any monarchy either. They asked for Charles’s heir, the same royal family as before the war, instead of creating a whole new king. Take that, Team Cromwell!

St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. The crypt with Charles I and Henry VIII is under that black slab of marble.

Incidentally again, Oliver Cromwell’s body was dug up again two years after he died, hung from the ramparts in the traditional place criminals who had been executed were displayed, and then destroyed.

Meanwhile, Charles slumbered on, lost and unknown. … Until 1813. At that point, after renovations to St. George’s Chapel, they discovered a crypt that, lo and behold, had three, old coffins in it. One was wrapped in a black velvet shroud with an iron band around it that read “King Charles, 1649.” Excited about finding the martyred king at last, but wanting to make sure they had really found him, they decided to open the coffin and take a look.

The coffin was opened by Sir Henry Halford, president of the Royal College of Physicians. He left a complete record of the proceedings. Inside the coffin, they found a well-preserved body, wrapped in linen and embalming fluids. They peeled back the linens, revealing Charles’s face. Not only was it in good shape (although the skin was dark, as happens, you know), everyone remarked that he looked exactly like all of the famous portraits that had been painted of him. But more than that, his left eye was open, and the eyeball was still intact. It stared right up at them for a few seconds before oxidation disintegrated it!

To complete the visual ID, they checked around the back of the head to make sure it had been severed and sewn back on. The leather stitches were long gone, but the head had clearly been chopped off at some point. Also, Charles had luxuriant, thick, brown hair, which was still in very good condition. To prove the head was Charles’s, Halford picked up the head and showed it around to people. Bleh! After that, he put it back. BUT before sealing up the coffin again, Halford nabbed one of Charles’s teeth, a clipping of his beard, and one of his cervical vertebrae.

An artist’s rendering of what’s inside the crypt. Charles is on the left. Notice Henry VIII’s squashed coffin in the center.

That wasn’t the end of things. Halford took his souvenirs home. He had the vertebrae covered in silver, and he used it as a salt cellar. It was a popular conversation piece at his dinner table. Ahem* That is, until his grandson inherited the relics. In 1888, Halford’s grandson approached the crown, explaining the relics, and returning them to the royal family. At that point, the future King Edward VII, secured permission from his mother, Queen Victoria, to reopen the crypt so that the pieces of Charles could be reunited with the rest of him. Victoria agreed. The crypt was opened by workers, but Edward went in by himself to replace the relics, now housed in a small, ebony casket. That done, the crypt was resealed, and it hasn’t been disturbed since.

One other interesting side note for you Henry VIII fans. When the crypt was opened in 1813, it was noted that Henry VIII’s coffin had been smashed. Bones were visible inside, but it was clear the body had disintegrated. It is speculated that the destruction happened when Charles was interred. The theory is that the burial happened in such haste that the men placing Charles in the crypt crunched into Henry VIII’s coffin, cracking the top. Jane Seymour’s coffin is completely intact and has never been disturbed, though. And there is also another coffin in that crypt, an infant child of Queen Anne. Although I don’t know the story of how and when that ended up there.

Status Update – Windsor Castle

Apr 05, 2017

The castle itself is so huge that there really isn’t a way to get a single pic of the whole thing.

So for those who don’t know, I’m adventuring in London for a week, looking for story ideas, researching a few things I already know I’m going to write about, and generally enjoying being in my happy place. I would absolutely live in London—or anywhere in the UK, for that matter—if I could. But seeing as they don’t have a visa category that fits me, I’ll have to make due with visit.

And yesterday I visited Windsor Castle! For those who don’t know, Windsor Castle has been a continuous residence of the Royal Family for the past 900 years! It was actually started by William the Conqueror shortly after he took over. And when I say “started,” I mean that various parts of the complex have been built, destroyed, rebuilt, added to, refurbished, and expanded over hundreds of years. In fact, the latest edition to the castle was done in the 1990s. But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

These are the old (old, old, old) Norman towers.

Or maybe not. Because I could talk about the magnificence of the design and decoration of the State Apartments or the incredibly art collection (I always get excited when I see very famous paintings in person, and there were very famous paintings that I knew on practically every wall of the place). I could talk about the Royal Family or the fact that Victoria and Albert lived there most of the time in their lives. But what I found most fascinating and what I really want to talk about is the fire of 1992.

I remember vividly when the castle burnt down. November 20, 1992. I have vivid images of aerial shots of one whole section of the castle in flames. But walking around inside of it, I was both curious about where the fire had been and what potentially was destroyed and how it could be that I wouldn’t obviously see all the damage.

Her Majesty’s personal entrance to the castle.

And that’s the cool story.

First of all, I learned how the fire started. It started in what was formerly a private chapel built for Queen Victoria. But the chapel was in an awkward location, and it got in the way of anyone trying to cross from the private apartments to the state apartments. What actually happened is that an ancient velvet curtain was standing too close to an old fashioned spotlight. It got too hot and WHOOMP! The whole thing went up. But not just that, because of the former structure of the roof, not only did the chapel ignite like kindling, it quickly spread all the way through the parts of the castle that were connected by the roof structure.

I think I remember stories of Prince Charles himself rushing to the scene and helping to rescue art and artifacts from the walls and rooms, but I can’t remember if that’s true. Anyhow, several of the larger rooms were massively damaged, including two large halls that adjoin what was the chapel. It’s a shame that I couldn’t take pictures of these rooms myself due to photography restrictions, because they would be really useful to illustrate the following stories…

So one of the rooms that sustained serious damage was the Grand Reception Hall. I took a picture of the picture of it in the Windsor Castle guide book that I bought. (Actually, all of these interior pics are from that guidebook). What you’re seeing is the restored room. The cool stories from this room are, first, the floor. That’s still the original floor, but with a twist. The floorboards were badly charred in the fire. So what did they do? Like a stain on a sofa, they flipped each board individually and put it back down in place. I thought that was awesome. The other story is that giant urn at the far end. It’s two tons and over six feet tall, so they couldn’t exactly haul it out of the room in the middle of the fire. The thing is, it’s made of malachite. And if you know anything about rocks (which I didn’t until the tour explained it), malachite doesn’t come in enormous slabs. So really, the urn is marble covered with a fine layer of malachite fit together like jigsaw pieces. Well, during the fire, the urn filled and doused with boiling water. So the adhesive holding the malachite to its base melted. All of the pieces flaked off in the days following the fire. They had to be reassembled piece by piece in the years of restoration that followed.

The other cool fire story is about St. George’s Hall, which is massive and beautiful. But for a historian, the story behind it is such an exciting insight into history that I was almost jumping up and down. See all that marvelous ceiling beamwork? Looks medieval, right? Nope. The entire ceiling was destroyed in the fire. There was a scary-sad picture of it looking like a burned out skeleton on the tour. So they reconstructed it. BUT, they did all the work in the medieval style with historical tools and erected it completely the way the original ceiling would have been made. And you may or may not be able to tell from this picture, but the texture and color of the wood is very, very different from the hundreds of years old ceilings you see in medieval buildings now. So for me, it totally informed on what these magnificent structures would have felt like when they were new…which is not the same as they feel now. I think places like Westminster Abbey (which I visited yesterday) and Winchester Cathedral (which I visited in 2010) would have felt much warmer and more vibrant than they do now.

But the coolest of the cool parts of the reconstructed castle is the brand new Lantern Lobby. This is where the fire started. Like I said, it was formerly Queen Victoria’s private chapel. But when it came time to rebuilt, they brought in architects to take a look and totally rethink what the space should be. This room is what they came up with. And the ceiling is incredible. But unlike St. George’s Hall, which was reconstructed in the medieval fashion, this ceiling and it’s vaulting was designed by computer! All of the angles and placement and calculations were designed specifically to draw the eye upward and to bring it together into an amazing, aesthetic harmony. And really, this pic doesn’t do justice to how perfectly that mission was accomplished. It’s so cool.

So those are just some of my observations about the castle. I have another really awesome story about St. George’s Chapel (which is bigger than the Cathedral in my hometown), where my man, Charles I, is buried. But I’ll tell that story in another blog post.

Western Wednesday – War, War on the Range

Jan 13, 2016

640px-Bloomfield_IIThe range wars that took place in Wyoming and other places in the Old West where the cattle industry formed the heart of the economy make for great stories. They’ve been depicted in every format, from books to television to movies. In all of these cases, the drama is high, the stakes are personal, and the action is furious. This is really the stuff of legend. But what really happened back then, and was it as dramatic as the media has made it out to be?

There were several conflicts that could be classified as range wars throughout the 1870s, 80s, and 90s—from the Mason County War in Texas in 1875 to the Colfax County War in New Mexico in the 70s and 80s. Most of these conflicts were simply the result of new, entrepreneurial settlers trying to cut in on the business of ranchers and landowners who were already established in any given area. They turned violent due to lack of law enforcement to stop intimidation and retaliation before it got out of hand. But the big war, the one that gets the most press and that the movies, shows, and books are all based on, is the Johnson County War in Wyoming from around 1889 to 1893.

Although a lot of the media out there likes to paint the Johnson County War as a class war where the little guy was just standing up for his rights against the big, bad cattle barons, it’s so not that simple. The origins of the conflict were the same as any other range war—newbies trying to carve out a piece of the pie for themselves against the long-standing, well-organized ranchers who had come before them.

One theory about the instigating factor of the war is the weather. Yup. The cattle industry in Wyoming was booming in the 1870s and early 80s, and there was enough business to go around. But in the winter of 1886-87, Wyoming saw several blizzards and temperatures that dropped to 40-50 below zero. That was then followed by an unusually hot and dry summer. It decimated the herds. And while you might think that this would be great for ranchers because there would be a higher demand for fewer heads of cattle, the fact was that with cattle still grazing out on the open range—and fewer of them at that—rustling became a major problem.

Ella Averell, early victim of the Johnson County War

Ella Averell, early victim of the Johnson County War

A lot of the rustling (taking cattle off the open range and claiming they’re yours when clearly, according to the brand, they’re not) was blamed on the smaller, newer ranchers. Some of that was justified. Some of the rustling was done by independent gangs of criminals. The larger ranchers weren’t going to take this lying down, though, and it just so happened that they were organized.

I’ve had fun mentioning in my Brides of Paradise Ranch series that both of the cattle barons in Haskell, Wyoming—Howard Haskell and Rex Bonneville—belong to the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. No single organization was as important or powerful in Wyoming in the late 19th century as the WSGA…and that includes the government. When the problems started, the WSGA took action. Not only were there powerful cattlemen in their ranks, there were also politicians, independent enforcers, and detectives.

When the rustling got bad, the WSGA sent out teams of detectives and hired guns to find out what was going on. Their conclusion in many cases was that the smaller ranchers were to blame for the rustling. To make a long story short, they took action.

Perhaps one reason why the Johnson County War spun out of control so fast was because of the first people who were killed. A range detective out investigating rustling came to the conclusion that a man named Jim Averell was guilty. So he and his team lynched him in July of 1889. They also lynched his wife, Ella. It’s one of the few times that a woman was lynched in the Old West, and it caused an outrage. Not only an outrage, it prompted revenge. A few months later, some of the men who had been involved in the lynching were murdered in retaliation.

That spark ignited a firestorm. The WSGA responded by hiring guns from Texas—who were reported to be ruthless killers—and sent more detectives out to “investigate.” One of the reasons the war earned its place in history is because they also sent out journalists to record what was going on and to send word—or rather, copy that would sell papers—back East. The smaller ranchers refused to be put down. They attempted to organize and fight back. Like, literally fight back.

640px-Indian_sheep_loose_herding_on_open_range._-_NARA_-_295220Over the next few years, there were a series of sieges and armed conflicts. More often than not, they involved smaller ranchers and their allies attacking the cattle barons, and then the WSGA retaliating by sieging ranches and killing the participants. The small ranchers saw themselves as fighters for the cause of the little guy. The cattle barons saw them as vigilantes disrupting the economy. They saw themselves as protectors of the economic interests of the state and of their own businesses by whatever means necessary. Both sides thought they were right, and both were willing to fight to the death to win.

So what ended up ending the Johnson County War? How could a conflict with two sides who were so convinced they were right and who were willing to do whatever it took to protect their interests stop?

Well, the answer is that President Benjamin Harrison himself had had enough of it. In 1892, he charged the Secretary of War with ending the conflict. The U.S. Army moved in to Wyoming and slapped some serious down. The men from the WSGA who were responsible for the killings of the smaller ranchers and vigilantes were charged with crimes…but never actually prosecuted or convicted of anything.

The end result was that the cattle barons kept their power and the smaller ranchers lost theirs. Unfair? Eh, maybe. We like to hear about the little guys winning, but in a way, the little guys just lost in their attempt to move in on territory that was already claimed by men who had been in business longer than them. Before long, there were other problems taking up the cattle baron’s time and attention—changes in the market, shifting demand for beef, and new laws that changed the way ranches were organized. The war might be the thing that captures our imagination, but as is the case so often in life, it was ultimately the slow-moving glacier of economic change and development that shaped the new Old West.

(all images are public domain, courtesy of WikiCommons)

Western Wednesday – Closing the Open Range

Jan 06, 2016
The Open Range

The Open Range

Last week we talked a bit about how cattle got to the West, and how they were maintained and then driven to railheads and eventually on to market (the part we don’t like to think about when we’re enjoying a juicy burger). Obviously, letting cattle graze freely over vast tracts of public land couldn’t last forever. So what changed things and how?

The quick and dirty answer to what changed things is “barbed wire.” But of course, it’s not as simple as that. It is, however, pretty amazing that one little invention could change the course of history and cause a lot of trouble, adding to the reasons it was called the Wild West.

Let’s start with those cattle. The West began to be settled in the 1840s and 50s. During that time, you had an incredibly large amount of land inhabited by an incredibly small amount of people. Neighbors were not something you had to worry about. As the cattle industry began in places like Wyoming, where my Brides of Paradise Ranch series is set, there was more than enough forage and water sources for everyone to let their cattle roam free across the land.

(Of course, this is all from the perspective of white settlers. It was an entirely different story for the Native American tribes who were systematically having their homeland taken from them, but that’s a post for another day.)

All that began to change as more and more people moved West to settle. The most serious problems and resulting conflicts developed when small ranches and individual settlers attempted to put down roots next to the huge ranches run by men of wealth and influence. Simply put, once the West reached the tipping point of number of settlers, all that vast open land and all those easy water sources couldn’t supply everyone who wanted to use them.

The result was that, by the mid-1880s, large ranchers were doing everything they could to drive the smaller ranchers out of business. That included hiring thugs to attack, and in some cases, lynch competing outfits. The Range Wars of the Old West have gone down in legend—sometimes exaggerated, but sometimes not. They were competition taken to the extreme.

Early advertisement for barbed wire

Early advertisement for barbed wire

And one quiet player in the conflict that led to these wars had to do with the invention and implementation of barbed wire fences. Because as soon as barbed wire was invented in the 1870s, it became less expensive to fence in vast tracts of grazing land and accompanying water sources so that a rancher could keep their herd separate from their neighbors’. Only, the problem was that a great deal of the land that was being fenced in was public land.

Back in the earlier days of the West (up to around the 1870s), various Homesteader Acts meant that if you went West and claimed property and made improvements, it was yours. As that land disappeared, however, ownership of the land wasn’t so cut and dry. So when ranchers began building barbed wire fences to enclose their herds, as often as not, they’d fence in land that they didn’t technically own, regardless of whether other livestock needed to use it, the post office needed to get through, or other official institutions had claim to it. And especially regardless of whether a smaller rancher or independent farmer happened to have built their homestead on that land.

Add to that already volatile mix the fact that, in Wyoming at least, an organization of the wealthiest and most powerful ranchers, the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Association (which I mention in His Perfect Bride that Howard Haskell and Rex Bonneville both belong to, although Rex is more involved with them) had so much power that they basically controlled the government of Wyoming. A lot of nasty things went down while officials turned a blind eye. None of it was exactly fair. 

Next week, we’ll take a look at some of the range wars that gave the West it’s adjective of Wild.

(images are public domain, courtesy of Wikicommons)

Western Wednesday – Home, Home on the Range

Dec 30, 2015
Vaqueros, or Mexican cowboys

Vaqueros, or Mexican cowboys

One of the most iconic aspects of life in the Old West, something that plays a prominent role in my new series, The Brides of Paradise Ranch, is the whole idea of the ranch itself. When settlers first poured out West as the various trails, and later the railroad, opened things up, many of them thought about farming the rich land or mining for gold or silver. It wasn’t until slightly later that someone looked around and said, “You know what? We could raise  livestock here.” 

Okay, so right about now I bet you’re wondering… How did cows get to the Old West? The short, stupid answer is “Just like everybody else.” Livestock was originally brought over by settlers from Europe. Not just English settlers in the original colonies, though. Quite a few cattle were brought over to Mexico by Spanish settlers. In fact, the whole cowboy, cattle drive industry that we think of today when we think of the Old West really started in Texas around the time of the Civil War. And if you remember, “around the time of the Civil War” is not all that long after the Mexican-American War ended in 1848. Mexican rancheros had been raising longhorn cattle in the area for quite some time. 

The interesting thing to me is that by 1861, with Texas now part of the United States, there was actually a huge surplus of longhorn cattle. Beef was incredibly popular back East, but the problem was getting it there from the remote, railroadless ranches of Texas. A clever, forward-thinking man by the name of James McCoy realized that shipping cattle by rail back east would send profits through the roof. McCoy began buying up land around the village of Abilene, Kansas where the railroad already ran. He built up the area and made it more than just a sleepy frontier town, he made it a destination. All, of course, designed so cattle could be driven from the ranches in Texas to the railhead in Abilene, enabling McCoy and other enterprising ranchers to make money hand over fist. 

This great diagram of how to drive cattle proved very useful in writing His Dangerous Bride!

This great diagram of how to drive cattle proved very useful in writing His Dangerous Bride!

And so, the iconic cattle drive was born. I once had someone tell me that the term “cowboy” wasn’t actually in use in the 19th century, but as far as I have been able to tell from my research, it actually was. But so were the words “cow-poke” and “cow-hand.” Whatever the term, cowboys were, in a way, like glorified shepherds. They were hired to mind the vast herds of cattle that lived out on the Open Range and were owned by specific ranchers. The advantage of the Open Range was that cattle were mostly allowed to just roam free, with little maintenance or interference by ranchers. Cowboys would keep the cattle from getting entirely lost, and once a year, usually in the fall, they would bring the herd together and drive them up to the railhead. 

So who were these cowboys that we’ve all heard so much about? A lot of them were men who were displaced at the end of the Civil War. The war had vast and far-reaching effects, particularly on the economy of the South. Too many of the men coming back from war had no jobs once they returned, especially if they were undereducated or unskilled. The West was just beginning to open at that time, and the advantage of ranches and the boom in the beef industry was that strong men were needed, whether they had education or connections or not. Being a cowboy was a tough life, but it beat a life of poverty and struggle in the decimated economies of the South and East. 

Texas wasn’t the only area where ranching sprouted. In my new series, The Brides of Paradise Ranch, much of the action takes place in the town of Haskell, Wyoming, which was founded by enterprising rancher, Howard Haskell (this is fiction, btw, but based off of a few very interesting actual people). The Wyoming ranching industry began to grow and boom by luck. Yes, the land was ideal for raising cattle (as my character Howard saw from the first), but the luck came about in the decision to bring the Union Pacific Railroad through Wyoming instead of Colorado. That decision made all the difference. 

Cattle drive, 1876

Cattle drive, 1876

The Open Range and the cattle industry were one of the things that gave the Old West a huge boost. Ranching is almost if not more important to the settlement of the West than the discovery of gold and silver. It brought men and money to an unfolding land, gave hopeful young men jobs at a time when they were scarce back East, and helped to settle the frontier. (All, sadly, at the expense of the Native Americans, but that’s a whole other blog post) 

Of course, nothing lasts forever, and neither did the Open Range and the era of the cowboy. Believe it or not, one tiny invention changed everything…barbed wire. But we’ll talk about that next time.

If you’re curious, the first book in The Brides of Paradise Ranch series, His Perfect Bride is available now!

 

(Photos are public domain, courtesy of Wikicommons)