Tag Archives: eye roll

Baby Brothers

Two loving brothers

A little while ago I wrote an article about how badly middle children were treated in the Middle Ages. I got to musing on this point again this week, mainly because my baby sister was being her usual grandparent-cum-babysitter-hogging self.

I was, of course, being unfair to my baby sister; I know this because my mum-cum-grandparent-cum-can’t-babysit-because-your-sister-might-need-me told me so.

This got me running for the history books – my own form of escapism – and I decided to look into younger siblings throughout history. I was amazed at how loyal, loving and unspoilt baby brothers were in Medieval times (does the sarcasm come across ok? IT SHOULD!).

Helpful Henry I

Baby brothers were always very helpful, loyal and supportive. Look at Henry I. On his death  William the Conqueror left Normandy to his eldest son Robert Curthose, and he left England to his second son, William II Rufus.

Henry, who was son no. 3, was supportive of this and in no way resentful. Staying in England, he followed his older brother, William, everywhere. It must have been some sort of hero-worship, as Henry was always close by. In fact, he was so close to William that he was with him when William was ‘accidentally’ struck by an arrow in the New Forest.

Henry was so distraught by his brother’s death that he forgot his duty to look after his brother’s body. Not knowing what he was doing, he rode wildly away and somehow managed to find himself in Winchester.

Luckily this was where the Royal Treasury was held.

Henry came to his senses in Winchester and decided the sensible thing was to take control of the Treasury and get himself crowned at Westminster Abbey as soon as possible. He knew this what was William would have wanted. After all he’d spent most of his reign arguing with their older brother, Robert, so he wouldn’t have wanted him to be king.

Robert Curthose, Henry I’s ‘guest’

And then there was Robert…..

Having taken on the onerous duties of kingship, Henry realised what a hard and difficult life it was. He didn’t want any one else to have to go through the hardships he was enduring, not even his brother the Duke of Normandy. After an hour-long battle – oops, I meant ‘discussion’ – at Tinchebray Henry very kindly took over the running of Normandy and sent Robert to Devizes Castle – and Spa – for the next 20 years, and then onto a hotel called the Cardiff Castle.

Of course, one of the better younger brothers was John, brother of Richard I. When Richard went on crusade to the holy Land, John did his best to look after Richard’s kingdom, even though he hadn’t been asked. He kept Richard’s enemies quiet by plotting with them – although he was never going to go through with the plots. He looked after some castles – such as Nottingham – so that Richard’s civil servants had their hands free to do other tasks.

Durnstein Castle, Richard I’s holiday home in Germany

Even more helpfully John, knowing how onerous it was to run a country, tried his best to use his own money – and that of the king of France – in order to extend Richard’s holiday in Germany. Richard was having such a good time that John felt it a shame his holiday would ever have to finish.

There were, of course, younger brothers who took advantage of their older sibling’s generosity. Edward Bruce, for example, liked the idea of having a crown of his own and asked his older brother, Robert, to help him claim one by giving him an army to invade Ireland. Unfortunately, Edward got carried away and lost his head.

Distracted Duke Humphrey

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, also asked older brothers, Henry V and John Duke of Bedford, to help him carve out a little country for himself after he married Jacqueline de Hainault. Jacqueline had been chased out of her own country by her husband (her other husband, not Duke Humphrey) and her uncle.

Humphrey tried his best to win the country back for Jacqueline, until he got distracted by Jacqueline’s lady-in-waiting, Eleanor de Cobham.  Humphrey lost interest in his wife’s Dutch lands and legged it back to Ol’ Blighty and, on finding out he wasn’t actually married to Jacqueline as she already had a husband, married Eleanor.

And now we come to the best little brother of all……

Edward IV making the most of his leisure-time

He was loyal and faithful throughout his brother’s two kingships. Richard of Gloucester did everything for his bog brother Edward. He hero-worshipped him; followed him into exiled; ran the North of England for Edward so that Edward had more leisure-time.

He was a model baby brother and that didn’t end with Edward’s premature death at the age of 40 (probably because he didn’t have enough leisure-time).

Richard obviously thought that Edward had died from over-work. He blamed all those around Edward who had not told the king to ‘take a rest’ regularly. When he came to London to commiserate with his beloved sister-in-law, Richard punished those he blamed for his brother’s early death.

Edward’s mistress, Jane Shore, who obviously had failed to make sure Edward was in bed nice and early, was made to do penance and walk through the city barefoot. Richard was so mad at Edward’s best friend – for not making sure the king took his ease after a hard day’s work – that he relieved the man of his head.

Edward V being saved from working himself to death

The grieving Duke then turned to his little nephews.

Richard couldn’t bear the thought of little Edward V having to go through the life his father had endured.

One afternoon, when taking tea with Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Richard came up with a plan for helping Edward. Elizabeth was reminiscing on her wedding day, and how the sun was shining, how no one knew about it – she even mused on how much fun it was, keeping the secret. Richard jokingly said ‘it’s a wonder Edward hadn’t done that before’ and giggled.

Then he turned pensive and ….. well, you know the rest.


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Jeff R Sun still has no babysitter


Sources: Cairo in Spring by JAH; Cairo in Summer by A Carson; The Best Spa Resorts in Germany by Richard T Lionheart; The best Spa Resorts in the UK by Robert C Hose; How to Invade a Country Without Success by Edward Bruce and Humphrey Gloucester

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia








Elizabeth’s Secret Marriage (Part 2)

Elizabeth in her wedding dress?

Behind the bike sheds: Well, after over 5 minutes of tedious waiting – and getting some very strange looks from the resident cyclists  – I was about to give up my quest when Bishop Stillington FINALLY appeared.

He seemed nervous, scared even. He kept looking behind him as he walked towards me. Did he think he was being followed? Was he being followed? I blinked, looked around and thought about it. No, he was definitely weird and not a little paranoid, but there was no one following him.

He walked straight up to me, slammed something into my hand – and left. Just like that. He was gone, swallowed up by the crowds of cyclists.

A 16th century love letter?

I looked at my hand nervously (the paranoia was obviously contagious). What had I got myself into?

The paper looked old, frail. It was brown at the edges, and curled up a bit?

But then I remembered one of my old art lessons. Wasn’t it possible to make paper look old and frail, by wiping a teabag over it? It was a pretty good effect, I recall. So how could I know? The handwriting looked old – all squirly and fancy, not like kids learn to write these days. There were no obvious signs of forgery in the text: no OMGs, LOLs or xoxo’s. But I still couldn’t be certain.

I called in at the nearest Costa Coffee, grabbed a cappuccino and settled down to read the text:

“My dearest, darling Elizabeth,

It was lovely to see you the other day, and spend those wonderful few hours together.

My heart yearns for you still.

I often hark back to our wedding day, thinking of you in that wonderfully coloured dress. I am reminded of it every time I see a rainbow overhead. How adorable you looked – and you had eyes only for me.

I love you so much, you are queen of my heart and my world (and the country, of course). How are we ever going to be together forever, have we only stolen moments in dark corners to look forward to?

I know all has changed. You said that I must forget about us, that I must move on, but do you mean it? How can you? How can I? No woman is as wonderful and majestic as you – I am yours to command, always.

Sweet Elizabeth, you are my wife, you swore we would be together forever. Elizabeth, is the crown worth our parting?

Come home

Your ever-loving husband


Bob? Bob? Who on earth was BOB?

It was a nice, sweet, sad letter, but undated. Was it real?

I resolved to find out and took a trip to my old alma mater. Leicester Uni has recently had some success in dating 500-year-old ‘things’, so I thought I’d see if they would check out the letter for me.

Unfortunately, all the really clever professors were busy or out to lunch, but one of the lab rats took a look at it. He had a sniff and a nibble and declared it could be carbon dated to the 1550/60s, give or take a hundred years – or so. That was good enough for me. The letter must be genuine, as it was written at the right time.

I now turned my attention to the writer. Who could this ‘Bob’ be? I turned to Wikipedia – such a fabulous, accurate and complete research tool. It has been my saviour many times, during arguments on Facebook. No one can argue with Wikipedia and win.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

To the candidates:

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was a favourite of Elizabeth’s later in her life. But did she marry him? It is possible. Given the example of her father – and she like to think she was a king of England, like him, it is entirely possible. Her father liked to chop the heads of his spouses when he tired of them. And Elizabeth did chop Devereux’s head off when she tired of him. Maybe it was cheaper than a divorce, certainly it was quicker.

Next there’s Robert Cecil, son of Elizabeth’s greatest adviser William Cecil, Lord Burleigh. Raised from childhood to serve the queen loyally. But to marry her? If he did, he got over the grief of her death very quickly – he was arranging for James VI of Scotland to take the throne before the poor woman was cold in her grave – actually, I don’t think she was even dead. So, no, not him. Surely?


The penultimate candidate is Bob, page to the Lord Edmund Blackadder. A lively, adventurous, thigh-slapping chap, as I remember. He must have been great fun to be with – and Queenie did like Bob, as I recall. But….and it’s a pretty big but…. didn’t he turn out to be a girl? And run off with Lord Flashheart?

Bob Dudley, Earl of Leicester

The most likely candidate, of course, is Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He was Elizabeth’s own age and a close confidant until his death. But he was married – for some of the time anyway. He married Amy Robsart in 1550. According to Wikipedia, this was a love-match. But something went wrong. Amy took a nasty fall down some conveniently well-placed stairs and managed to break her neck. There were constant rumours about the two of them – stories abounded that they wanted to marry. But Elizabeth called him Robin, not Bob, didn’t she?

Of course, that may have been in public, to throw people off the scent, maybe. There’s nothing to say Elizabeth didn’t call him ‘Bob’ in private.

Is there?


Jeff R Sun, alumni of the University of Leicester, fan of lab rats and growing quite fond of cyclists, too


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Photos taken from Wikipedia, except Bob which is thanks to Google Images


Sources: Wikipedia; Tony Robinson’s Kings and Queens, by Tony Robinson; Wikipedia; Cows in Action 1, the Ter-moo-nators, by Steve Cole; A Rough Guide to Egypt, by Dan Richardson; Blackadder II episode 1 ‘Bells’ (1st broadcast on BBC One 9th January 1986)

The Curse of Tristan: A look at Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.

Following the 17 3/4 years of hype and media coverage of the exhumation and eventual re interment of Richard III, many of you will be heaving sighs of relief but others may be having some withdrawal symptoms so I want to wean you off gradually by talking about another Richard, Richard Wagner.

Looking at the life and works of Richard Wagner, I was struck by the amount of death and malfeasance that surrounds the opera Tristan and Isolde. At that point I had not heard of the ‘curse of Tristan’ but I was not surprised to find much authentic documentation on a supposed malediction and eagerly set out to find the details.

Wilhelm Richard Wagner (22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883) was a German composer, theatre director and conductor who is best remembered for his dramatic and lengthy operas. Throughout his seventy years of life, Wagner had a controversial lifestyle characterized by exile for his political beliefs and actions, frequent turbulent love affairs, poverty and repeated flights from his creditors. He was an unconventional man who did not hesitate to use subtle emotional blackmail on his main sponsor to get his own way and many more gulden!

Wagner began work on Tristan and Isolde in 1857 and almost immediately the curse began to have effect. In the entire history of the world until that point, the only disaster of any significance was the treacherous betrayal and slaying of the revered and saint like Richard III at Bosworth in 1485, yet as soon as Wagner had written the first notes in early March, France and the United Kingdom declared war on China, a war that would be known as the second opium war. On 21st March an Earthquake hit Tokyo, killing over 107,000 people and then on 21st May the Indian Mutiny began with the Sepoy’s revolt leading to the terrible Cawnpore massacre.

Wagner began to get worried and put the work on hold for a month or so whilst the world sorted it’s self out and the effects of the curse wore off. During this hiatus his eye strayed to Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of his patron, and began affair that eventually led to the estrangement of the Wagners and another ‘notch in the belt of the curse’.

The lovely Mathilde. It is understandable why Wagner's eye should stray to her!
The lovely Mathilde. It is understandable why Wagner’s eye should stray to her!

Wagner had no sooner resumed work than on September 23rd the Russian warship Leffort disappeared with a loss of 826 in a storm in the Gulf of Finland.

Wagner was so busy with his new lady love that he only worked intermittently on Tristan for the next nine months and the curse did not have a chance to take too much effect and only caused local damage: a cook with a cut finger, a cat getting trodden on by a donkey, a pantile falling off a roof and squashing a crow – everyday things that happen every day – but suddenly on June 29th 1858, the curse struck again with the great fire of London Docks, followed in July by a far, far worse happening.

On July 21st spectators were charged for the very first time to see a baseball game!

It seemed the end of the world as people knew it.

Eighteen fifty nine may have seemed like the end of the world for Wagner too as a small pension he received from one of his previous lady loves ceased when he began an affair with another lady. Wagner never learned! but he did manage to complete the ill fated ‘Tristan’ during that year, with it only causing the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii to erupt for 300 days and the “Pomona” to sink in the North Atlantic drowning all 400 aboard.

Wagner himself was not ‘Tristan’s’ biggest fan, writing half-satirically of it ‘… This Tristan is turning into something terrible. This final act!!!—I fear the opera will be banned … only mediocre performances can save me! Perfectly good ones will be bound to drive people mad.’ Little did he know how true his words would be.

It may well have been just coincidental that Wagner was writing Tristan and Isolde at the time his personal life was falling apart, but what followed makes it seem as if the opera was trying to prevent itself from ever being performed. Even after its completion it was still another six years before it could be performed with difficulties plaguing the composer with funding and finding musicians who were able to sustain the pace during this long and difficult work. Ludwig and Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld, two of the greatest dramatic voices of the time, were eventually given leave from their court positions to sing the lead roles; Wagner had also secured the services of the genius conductor Hans von Bülow (it is unknown whether this is because or despite Wagner having an affair with Bülow’s wife Cosima at the time!)

Cosima, H. W. Ernst, Franz Liszt and Hans von Bülow (1865) in Pest. The real marriage wrecking 'pest', Wagner, was absent from the picture.
Cosima, H. W. Ernst, Franz Liszt and Hans von Bülow (1865) in Pest. The real marriage wrecking ‘pest’, Wagner, was absent from the picture.

The premiere scheduled for May 15, 1865 was cancelled at the last minute when Malvina suddenly lost her voice. It took almost an entire month for her to recover and for everything to be ready for the premiere on June 10, 1865 at the Bavarian State Opera. The reception of the work was disastrous, but Wagner was determined to carry on. His refusal to withdraw the work led to horrifying “coincidence” that Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, the original Tristan, suddenly died on July 21, 1865. He was only 29 and the true cause of his death has never been established.

The curse kept quiet for most of the rest of the year, except for causing a forest fire in Oregon destroying about one million acres of timber and two events personal to Wagner. He was exiled from Bavaria and his estranged wife died. He probably would not have minded too much about his wife dying except that meant there was no reason why his mistress, Cosimo Bülow could not move in with him, a move that rather cramped his style with the ladies.

Nothing too great was attributed to the curse for quite a number of years after that except for a huge fire in Quebec destroying 2,500 houses, but suddenly two things happened in 1883. Cosimo broke three finger nails and Wagner died.

The curse was not over yet though. Remember Wagner’s words about good performances driving people mad? Wagner’s erstwhile champion, devoted acolyte and sponsor, Ludwig II, King of Bavaria,

The mad king Ludwig II of Bavaria, getting ready to do a spectacular eye-roll.
The mad king Ludwig II of Bavaria, getting ready to do a spectacular eye-roll.

who had been exhibiting signs of insanity for years, went completely mad and allegedly committed suicide by not drowning and beating up his doctor (long story – I will investigate this further in a future blog).

The next king, Otto, was totally mad and never properly reigned – another victim of the curse.

Not content, still the curse worked its evil causing the Boer war, the death of Queen Victoria after only reigning for 63 years, 217 days and in 1911, causing Felix Mottl to suffer a heart attack, from which he later died, while conducting the second act of Tristan and Isolde.

The next events that the curse of Tristan influenced were both the first and second world wars, the Suez crisis, the Cold War and the assassination of JFK and then in 1968, in a strange mirroring of an earlier event, 60 year old conductor Joseph Keilberth also suffered a heart attack during Tristan and Isolde’s second act.

All of this could safely be dismissed as superstitious nonsense except for my own personal experience.  In November last year Mrs JJ listened to part of Tristan and Isolde on the radio and  flounced out of my life shortly afterwards, never to return and even worse, the very radio she was listening to, fell onto the floor and shattered two days later.

I miss that radio.

People may roll their eyes at this and begin to think that Jefferty has lost the plot, but I seriously  consider that as proof of the curse of Tristan so be afraid everyone, be very afraid.  2015 is the 150th anniversary of the first performance and countries all over the world are planning to stage the opera.

Stay in bed. Hide under the stair well. Emigrate to Antarctica. Wear garlic and carry a stake. Anything (as long as you can still get the internet to read Double History!) Just stay safe and avoid this evil curse.

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Dr Don Ashtray Pill: How to master head shaking.

Dr Don Ashtray Pill: Eye roll tutorial for beginners.

Dr Don Ashtray Pill: Sartorial dressing for funerals and other fashion tips.

Dr D Snarkey: The Common Loon.

Jolly N Fellow: How to describe medical conditions in a way designed to upset everyone.

Philippa Langley: How to hide under an  elegant hat to avoid eye contact with neighbour.

Radio Repair Workshop for beginners.

Jeff ‘Jefferty’ Jeff is currently staring sadly at the broken radio whilst accidently inhaling glue fumes and wondering why he is feeling floaty and spaced out.

Jeff has spent the past week searching for fifty quid that he was sure that he had until that day he helped Jeff Fuel.

If you would like to be the first to see the Jeffs’ latest blog posts, please like the Double History Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Double-History/370098793163839?fref=ts

© Jeff ‘Jefferty’ Jeff 29.03.2015

Tall Man Found Sulking In Leicester Park

Latest draft

King Richard III, the last king of England to die in battle, was found under a car park, apparently buried there by Henry VII. Since Monday the 22nd of March, Leicester’s streets have been flooded by Ricardians, tourists, town folk, the curious and even the occasional Tydderite.

While on my lunch break, I found a man looking sad and depressed in Town Hall park, looking as if he’s been through the ringer. I wondered if he needed some help (and I needed a story). When asked if he was having a problem, the man looked up at me and said:

“I’m a descendent of Richard III and no one gives a shit. You see, a couple years ago, I ran across a genealogy chart that connected me to kings! I always thought I was special. I mean look at me, I don’t even need the cables to put the cars up on my tow truck, I just push them up there myself! I’m tall and good looking and have offspring all over the place, just don’t tell my girlfriend that. I joined a couple of Facebook groups hoping to find some cousins but nobody cared. They told me to read some books or something, I don’t know, I don’t read books! Books are boring. They said they were something like history groups!  What’s a history group? I’ll tell you what it is! It’s a place where geeks go to play and are all jealous of people like me. They are asking me all sorts of stuff like where I got my info from! Uptight book types think they’re better than me. I don’t want to talk about history I want to talk about my uncle who was a king but no wants to hear it. I came down here this week hoping I can meet some cousins or something and still nobody gives a shit! I mean I am special right? It’s rare that you find someone who’s related to a king. I thought they would ask me my opinion on this whole reburial thing, I mean, I think I should have a say in this. Some lady handed me a paper and told me to join these FB groups about moving Uncle Dick to York because that’s what he wanted. After a sulk and a pint or two, I think I’m going to look into that. Do you know where the Blue Boar in is? Maybe I’ll find someone there?”

I gave him directions, grabbed a Richard III shake and went on my way.


Jeff Fuel is recovering in a very dark hotel room somewhere in Leicester after overdoing it at The Friary Pub celebrating the reburial of Richard III. He’s occasionally waking to eat ice cream and giggle over John Ashdown Hill’s heroic eye roll. He swears people were cheering all over the place but no one believes him.

Jeff Jefferty Jeff had to step in and put all the bells and whistles on this article because Jeff Fuel wasn’t functioning correctly when found behind the Friary. Just don’t tell him about my fee of 50 pounds I took from his wallet.