The Raid on the Medway: an eyewitness account

Dutch Attack on the Medway by Pieter Cornelisz van Soest, painted c. 1667.

While most of us are familiar with stories of the Plague (1665) and the Great Fire of London (1666), few are acquainted with the third catastrophe that hit England in 1667.

On 9 June, the Dutch fleet led by the renowned Admirable De Ruyter, launched audacious attacks on the Medway and the Thames that threatened to wipe out the royal fleet and bring London to its knees.

Having begun in 1665 with a number of English victories, the second Anglo-Dutch war between England and its trading rival Holland ended in a humiliating episode which the diarist John Evelyn described as “a dishonour never to be wiped off”.

Being both a courtier and a minor official, Evelyn was well-placed to observe the impact of the Dutch attack that summer. It is clear from his account, that the English were unprepared for the raids.

While Parliament had granted the Crown £2.5 million to prosecute the war in 1665, both the plague and the fire of London had had a devastating effect on resources. With much of the City’s financial sector destroyed by fire, it became impossible for the Crown to raise sufficient money to continue an effective campaign.

Due to this lack of funds, the fleet was laid up at Chatham providing a sitting target for the Dutch who fell upon it “by a most audacious enterprise … doing us not only disgrace but incredible mischief in burning several of our best Men of War, lying at anchor and moored there”.

Evelyn makes it clear that the British response was too little, too late. Despite the despatch of land forces, the fortification of Upnor castle, and the laying of chains and bombs across the Medway, the Dutch managed to break through “and set fire on our ships”.

He tells how he saw the smoking carcasses of the warships Royal Oake, James and London just outside Chatham and how “now when the mischief was done, we were making trifling forts on the brink of the river”.

But the raid on the Medway was only part of the Dutch attack. Evelyn describes how “triumphantly their [the Dutch] whole fleet, lay within the very mouth of the Thames, all from North-Foreland, Margate, even to the Buoy of the Noore”.

Evelyn describes it as: “A dreadful spectacle as ever an English men saw.” His intensity of emotion was probably sharpened by fear for his own possessions. Evelyn’s home, Sayes Court, was located near Deptford and a further incursion up the Thames could have proved disastrous. For this reason, Evelyn “sent away my best goods, plate etc from my house to another place”.

Both the county and the city were stricken with “a panic fear and consternation such as I hope I shall never see more: for everybody were flying, none [knew] why or whither”.

The Dutch blockade of the Thames also caused other problems. With this vital artery blocked, the city and surrounding area had begun to run out of fuel. The price of coal rose from 15s to 140s a ton. Evelyn, along with a number of other officials, was tasked by King Charles II to search for alternative sources of peat or turf.

As part of this project, Evelyn – a founder member of the Royal Society – was invited to explain his recipe for a new type of fuel made from charcoal dust and loam. Although Evelyn claimed that the fuel burned “without smoke or ill smell”, it does not appear to have been put to use on this occasion.

While the raid on the Medway was effectively over by 14 June, the blockade of London continued into July. Finally, at the end of the month, the war was brought to an end by the Treaty of Breda.

According to Evelyn: “Now did his Majesty again dine in the Presence, in ancient State, with music and all the court ceremonies, which had been interrupted since the late war.”

Evelyn was ordered to free the prisoners of war in his charge who had been held at Leeds castle. With obvious relief, he records “peace being now proclaimed according to usual form by the Heralds at Arms”.

However, the humiliation suffered by the English did not end there.

As if the burning of the ships in the Medway was not enough, the warship Royal Charles had been captured and taken back to Holland where it was exhibited in Amsterdam as a trophy of war. For the price of a few guilders, members of the public were able to climb aboard and explore. It was an insult that added to the injury already inflicted on the British fleet.

Stern section of The Royal Charles in the Rijksmuseum

Featuring the royal coat-of-arms supported by a lion and a unicorn, the stern section of the Royal Charles can still be seen in the Rijksmuseum.

Of the hat-trick of historical disasters that afflicted England in the mid-17th century, the Dutch raid on the Medway is – not surprisingly – the least well-known. While the first two were Acts of God, the last was man-made and largely self-inflicted.

According to Evelyn’s succinct summary: “All this through the unaccountable negligence of our delay in setting out our fleet in due time.”

Further reading:

The Diary of John Evelyn published by Everyman’s Library

A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603 – 1714 by Mark Kishlansky

Click here for The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Events:

Click here for 10 days of events celebrating the 350th anniversary of the raid

Posted in Charles II, History, John Evelyn, Kent, Medway, Raid on the Medway, Thames, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inspiration and Writers’ Block: Fact or Fallacy?

Some hints from the gurus

Some hints from the gurus

The tags ‘inspiration’ and ‘writers’ block’ strike terror into the hearts of writers. However, it is possible to debunk these myths with a little common sense.

It is a fallacy that you sit around waiting for inspiration. If we all did that, no-one would write anything.

The other toxic path to literary paralysis is ‘Writers’ block’.

But just ask yourself a couple of questions:

Do journalists skip deadlines because they have ‘writers’ block’ or lack inspiration?

Have you ever heard of ‘painters’ block’?

The answer to both is a resounding “No!”

In both cases, what we are really talking about is discipline – or a lack of it.

In order to write, you must make time to sit down in front of your PC and produce something. No matter what, no matter how foggy your brain feels (and mine is often filled with cold porridge). Just make the time and you will be surprised at the results.

If musicians or dancers do not practice regularly, their skills become rusty. The same is true of any artist, including writers. We are no different to anyone else.

You may have no idea of what you are going to write before you start but the very act of writing – whatever it is – will unlock ideas. Themes will develop and new characters will step out of the page. Just give them the chance.

Do not be afraid of the blank page. Fear of this is what many people wrongly describe as ‘writers’ block’. Artists sometimes have the same experience when confronted with a blank canvas. They deal with this by covering a fresh canvas with a wash of colour. Writers can do the same with a free-writing exercise. How does this work?

Here are some tips:

  1. Jot down some ideas. It doesn’t matter what. Just play around on the page. This is not meant to be the finished article. You may even reject it later, but writing something down on the page will rid you of that ‘blank canvas’ feeling.
  2. I find that it helps to use a different font and always write my drafts in italics. Because it looks less formal, it helps me to relax when I am writing. A voice in my head says: “Don’t worry. It’s just a draft. You can come back and edit it later.”
  3. Finish the first draft and leave it for several days or weeks before you begin to edit. It will be much easier to spot mistakes and discrepancies when it has gone cold.
  4. Develop your editing skills. Editing is a crucial and much underestimated part of the writer’s art. It is what makes sense of your ideas, however chaotic they may be in early drafts. Like artists who paint over a section of canvas that they don’t like, you can edit any text that does not work. As writers we have a unique privilege, we can edit as many times as we like. No book is complete at first draft stage. It can take many drafts – at least ten – before you have anything that resembles the finished article.
  5. Forget the big ideas. Start small. Keep a notebook and jot down events, places or conversations that strike you as interesting. You may not have the idea for a novel, but you may have a scene or short story.
  6. Stay fresh. Experiment with another genre. Write a short story, poem or article.
  7. Hone your powers of observation and keep your eyes, ears and mind switched on.

Edna O’Brien described writers as being constantly ‘open’ to what is going on around them. In one case, she used an observation made by her son as the starting point for one of her stories.

Your mission is to cultivate that quality of openness and the discipline that gets you to sit down in front of the PC even when you don’t feel like it.

And please, please forget the myths of ‘inspiration’ and ‘writers’ block’. They are just convenient excuses for avoiding the hard slog.

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Leeds Castle: the tragic romance of a medieval duchess

Leeds Castle where Duchess Eleanor was imprisoned

Leeds Castle where Duchess Eleanor was imprisoned

Leeds Castle has been linked with a number of royal love-affairs, most notably that of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. But there is another tale – less well-known, but equally poignant.

The marriage of Henry V’s brother, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester and his wife, Eleanor of Cobham was a love-match doomed to failure. Their story features as a secondary theme in the recent Hollow Crown series of Shakespeare’s historical plays and is worthy of a plot-line in Game of Thrones.

Eleanor of Cobham was born at Sterborough Castle, near Lingfield c. 1400. The daughter of a knight, she was of respectable, but lowly, birth. Described as beautiful, intelligent and ambitious, Eleanor caught the eye of Duke Humphrey when she joined the entourage of his wife. She became Humphrey’s mistress, then his wife, after his first marriage was annulled. From humble origins, Eleanor had ascended into the social stratosphere.

Duke Humphrey was the younger brother of warrior-king, Henry V, who died unexpectedly leaving an infant son (later Henry VI). Humphrey lost no time in assuming the mantle of regent with all its attendant powers. With Eleanor, he established his own, splendid court and was a patron of the arts. He also enriched himself and his followers with royal lands which, if he died first, would revert, not to the Crown, but to Eleanor. Moreover, if the child-king died, Humphrey would succeed to the throne and Eleanor would be his queen.

The long regency proved fatal to the stability of England. Court and country were torn apart by aristocratic in-fighting as noble families jostled for power. Humphrey headed a group that wished to pursue war with France; but he was opposed by an equally powerful faction which favoured peace. As the young king approached adulthood, Humphrey’s hold on power became more tenuous. Eleanor – the woman he had married for love – was his Achilles heel.

Possibly driven by her husband’s growing insecurity, Eleanor consulted two astrologers, requiring them to draw up a horoscope for the youthful king with a view to predicting her own fortunes. Unfortunately, the astrologers predicted that the king would soon fall seriously ill. Rumours began to spread until finally, they reached the court. The astrologers were arrested and charged with necromancy and heresy. The instruments of their trade were “openly showed to all men at the Cross” in St Paul’s churchyard upon a purpose-built scaffold along with one of the accused, Roger Bolingbroke.

Terrified, Eleanor sought sanctuary at Westminster before fleeing to the castle at Lesnes, near Erith. When questioned, Bolingbroke named Eleanor as the instigator of a treasonous plot. Her innocent pursuit of a horoscope was swiftly translated into a conspiracy to poison the king and she was incarcerated at Leeds Castle.

Her terror can only be imagined as, friendless and alone, stripped of power and deprived of the companionship of her husband, she awaited trial. Potentially, necromancy, heresy or treason meant execution – and some methods were even more terrible than others. Just 40 years previously, a new statute had introduced death at the stake for heretics.

At trial, Eleanor protested her innocence. While admitting that she had procured various potions from Margery Jourdemayne (the witch of Eye), she insisted that these were only to help her conceive a child. Yet she was unable to save her associates. Margery was burned at Smithfield; Bolingbroke was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn and Eleanor’s chaplain, one of the two astrologers, “died in the Tower for sorrow”.

While Eleanor escaped with her life, her enemies were bent on revenge. She was forcibly divorced from Humphrey and made to do public penance, walking bare-footed and carrying a lighted taper through London to pray at various churches. She was then condemned to life-long imprisonment, being moved around the country from one remote gaol to another until she died, lonely and forgotten, eleven years later.

As for Humphrey, although a loyal servant of the Crown, he was charged with treason. He died while awaiting trial, probably from a stroke although many, including Shakespeare, believed his death to have been due to more sinister forces; a murder arranged by his political enemies.

Click here for my previous blog ‘The Devil’s Advocate? Witches vs The Law’ for more on Eleanor and Queen Joan of  Navarre who was also accused of witchcraft.

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Posted in Castles, Eleanor of Cobham, Henry V, Henry VI, History, Kent, Leeds Castle, Plantagenets, Shakespeare, Wars of the Roses, Witches | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Self-Publishing: what I learned from the gurus

Some hints from the gurus

Some hints from the gurus

Self-publishing has come of age. According to one respected academic, it is now just another arm of the publishing industry.

This is one of the inspiring messages that I brought away from the recent Matador self-publishing conference.

In this third blog on the subject, I thought it would be of interest to list some of the comments and tips from two experts whose lectures I attended.

Professor Alison Baverstock of Kingston University, the academic referred to above, has a background in the traditional publishing industry and has taught and written about the subject for many years. Her research reveals some fascinating facts which challenge many of the old preconceptions about self-publishing.

One such is that self-publishing is for sub-standard, uneducated writers.

However, Professor Baverstock’s research debunks this supposition. She revealed that 32% of self-publishers interviewed by her had a degree while 44% had a higher degree. (See her blog for the Guardian for more on this subject)

The results of her survey also show that 65% of self-publishers are female.

While this is encouraging, I suspect that the high preponderance of female self-publishers may also highlight a darker side to the publishing industry: that is, a distinct gender-bias. This continuing inequality in the traditional literary and publishing industry is the topic of frequent research by the American-based organisation, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts

My suspicion is, that finding themselves largely excluded from a traditional publishing industry which seems to focus heavily on crime-writing and romantic fiction (traditional genres for female writers), many women with original ideas are turning to self-publishing.

The advantage of this is that female authors such as Kit Berry have begun to invent their own genres. Once successful, they have a route into traditional publishing houses and, because of their strong commercial position, are more likely to be able to dictate the terms of their contracts.

Helen Lewis, Director, Literally PR discussed the secrets of running a successful book launch. This is a tiger-trap for many debut authors (including me!) who are so keen to get their first book published that they forget to plan any form of advance PR. It’s simple, really. If you don’t tell anyone your book is out there, how will they find it?

Firstly, consider whether you really need a book launch. Launches cost money and this could be spent more usefully on a publicity campaign

Calculate the total cost. Factor in items such as: the cost of a venue, building your guest list, food and drink, goody bags, décor and entertainment.

If you decide on a book launch, set a date and allow at least 5 months to organise it. Work on your mailing lists and social media to create a buzz. Give journalist invitees 3 – 6 months advance notice of the launch.

Consider filming your launch (and the preparations for it) and posting clips on YouTube.

And for all those authors (most of us, I think) who get hung up about the subject of bookshop signings, here’s a pearl of wisdom. Don’t bother. Bookshops are not expert at creating publicity and the press are unlikely to attend.

Phew! That’s one less thing to worry about.

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Posted in Books, conferences, publishing, self-publishing, women self-publishers, women writers, writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Self-Publishing: 7 ways to get the most from a conference

Write up conference notes asap!

Write up conference notes asap!

Having recently attended Matador’s conference on self-publishing, I thought it would be useful to jot down a list of essentials to help you to get the most from a conference whatever the topic.

Prep your questions in advance. Why are you going? What do you want to learn? Which lectures would help you most? Try to identify the gaps in your knowledge.

Take lots of writing materials. You always need more. Write up notes asap. It will be fresh in your mind so you should still be able to decipher illegible text.

Remember your business cards. You will get through a stack of these at an event. If you haven’t got them, then get some quick. You will regret it if you don’t. Always remember to get other people’s cards. They can provide a valuable follow-up.

Make friends. You can learn a lot from speaking to other people. At the self-publishing conference, I met a couple who had started their own self-publishing business, a lady who was ghost-writing the story of a disabled celebrity and a fisherman who was planning to crowd-fund his book. Most pertinent to my interests was a former Reuter’s correspondent who had worked in Ceylon in 1956, the year that provided a turbulent setting for my historical novel The Devil Dancers.

Share concepts without giving away unique information. A lady behind me in the lunch queue was describing the intricacies of her novel’s plot to a complete stranger (and anyone else within earshot). A very bad idea. Most people are honest but, as a young and inexperienced freelance journalist, I had a raft of ideas stolen by a national magazine. It was extremely galling to see my story ideas being written by staff writers without a penny paid to me. There is no copyright in ideas so your only recourse is to rant to thin air.

Keep an open mind. Even if you think you know a subject inside out, there is always something new to learn. Try to let go of prejudices. Things are done very differently in this media-savvy age. While it may be galling for a vlogger who can hardly string a sentence together to be offered a book deal, it’s because he/she has a large following. Don’t get sniffy. Get down with the kids and follow their example. Traditional publishers are no longer able to give long-term nurturing to the next generation of great writers. They can’t afford to. Margins are too tight. What counts now is the bottom line. If you can show commercial nous – and a healthy media following – you have a better chance of both getting your work accepted and selling it once it is published.

Ask for advice. Don’t be shy. No question is silly. You’re here to learn. Speak up and you will find that there are lots of other people wrestling with similar problems.

Next: Self-publishing: What I learned from the gurus

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Posted in book festivals, Books, Ceylon, conferences, Copyright, Fiction, History, publishing, self-publishing, The Devil Dancers, writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Self-publishing? Take a tip from Leicester

Be a self-publishing warrior!

Be a self-publishing warrior!

On the same day that Leicester celebrated its Premier League win, the city also hosted Matador’s annual self-publishing conference.

A tenuous connection? Perhaps. But there are similarities between the trials of the football team and the tribulations of the self-publisher.

Both stories have a David-and-Goliath quality. A few years ago, success in either case both would have been unthinkable.

Just six years ago, when I attended the London Book Fair, self-publishing was still synonymous with ‘vanity’ publishing. The disdain shown by agents, booksellers and traditional publishers was tangible.

The fact that Matador’s annual conference is only in its 4th year is testament both to the growing importance of self-publishing and the willingness of the industry to take it seriously.

Self-publishers are now giving the industry a serious run for its money, challenging preconceptions and business models. Unlike their counterparts in the behemoths of the publishing industry, they are all-rounders; IT literate, technically-skilled and both business and media savvy.

So what does a self-publishing conference offer?

  • It can provide novices with a clear plan of action. The problem today is not that there is too little information on this subject, but too much. It can be daunting for the beginner.
  • It can help those with more experience to identify gaps in their skills and keep them up to date with changes in the market. For example, choosing the right book-cover is a tricky exercise. A few years ago, a glossy cover was acceptable. Today, it is not.
  • Writers also benefit from attending self-publishing conferences. They will get an idea of what services are available, who can provide them and how much they can do themselves within a restricted budget. Crucially, they will also get advice on PR – either doing it all themselves or buying in help from an expert.

While writers tend to be a retiring by nature, there has never been a greater need for them to promote their own work. This is true, not just of self-published authors, but also of those who are traditionally-published. Unless you are one of the big names (e.g. a celebrity or blogger with a huge following), it is unlikely that publishers will provide any money for your marketing – if at all.

This was borne out a few years ago when I attended a joint book promotion with a number of other authors. One was a debut author with a traditional publisher who had not been instructed to arrange her own publicity or organise her campaign in advance. She sat forlornly at her stall without completing a single signing while her desperate parents canvassed us for advice. What should she do?

I did not have the heart to tell them that it was too late, that her book would probably be remaindered within a matter of weeks because, without pre-publicity, it could never achieve the sales required by a traditional bookseller during its limited shelf-life (about 12 weeks).

These days, no writer is an island. Whether famous or not, they must all take an active part in publicity and the planning of their pre-launch campaign.

In this respect, self-published authors have an advantage over those who are traditionally-published. They are free to continue promoting their books and selling them through whichever media best suits them. Slow-burning, long-tail sales may be frustrating but they eventually bring rewards and extend the life of a book.

As a self-published author, you have more control over your work. If you are traditionally-published and the book does not sell, you are spared tedious negotiations with the publisher to re-acquire the rights to your material.

And what will you do with your manuscript once it has been reclaimed?

Why, self-publish, of course!

Next: 7 ways to get the most from a conference

To find out more about my books and interests, click here for my website

Posted in Books, publishing, self-publishing, writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Canterbury Tale: sudden death and a hint of poison

At the east end of Canterbury Cathedral is a mysterious tomb. Placed awkwardly between two pillars, it lies in one of the Cathedral’s most prestigious burial sites, the Trinity Chapel, formerly the location of Becket’s shrine. This unadorned tomb is so plain that visitors pass by unaware of its fascinating history: one that involves murder, betrayal and attempted grave robbery. Who is the occupant of that humble tomb resting near to the Black Prince?

DSCN8838-Odet-for-web-and-blog

The Huguenot Cardinal

Attached to one of the pillars above the tomb, a scrolled memorial tablet declares: ODET DE COLIGNY CARDINAL DE CHATILLON Bishop of Beauvais 1517 – 1571.

Odet was born into one of the most influential families in France. Brought up at the Renaissance court of King Francis I, Odet’s early life was one of privilege. Although never ordained, he became a Cardinal at 16, attended papal elections in Rome and added the wealthy Bishopric of Beauvais to his clutch of spiritual titles.

Yet despite this cynical acquisition of power – largely engineered by his uncle, the Constable of France – Odet was a man of conscience. When his friend Rabelais was accused of heresy, Odet protected him. To express his gratitude, Rabelais dedicated a book to “The most illustrious prince and most revered Odet Cardinal of Chastillon”.

Odet’s conscience also inspired him to champion the Huguenot reformers and become a Protestant. Despite being excommunicated by the Pope – and having married – Odet was initially protected by the French court, remaining close to the Dauphin and the Queen Mother Catherine de Medici. However, Catherine subsequently turned against Odet and his powerful brothers, issuing an order for their arrest. While his brother Gaspard, the Admiral of France, fled with his followers to La Rochelle, Odet sought refuge in England.

When he landed at Dover “somewhat sickly of sea”, his arrival with some 30 retainers caused consternation. The Governor of Dover, not knowing what to do, wrote a frantic message to Lord Cecil, the Queen’s chief adviser, marked “haste, haste, haste … for the Queen’s Majesty’s Affairs.”

In an attempt to find temporary lodgings for Odet, Cecil wrote to Edmund Grindal, Bishop of London. However, Grindal proved reluctant, possibly due to the size of Odet’s retinue. Replying to Cecil’s enquiry, he wrote: “I pray you to spare me, for surely I lack convenient furniture”.

Further problems arose when Thomas Sackville was ordered to house Odet and his followers at the Palace of Sheen. Unable to provide sufficient furniture, plate and linen for the needs of Odet and his companions and stung by the criticisms of the Queen’s agents, Sackville retorted that not only had he had to give up his own basin and ewer but that his wife’s waiting women had had to give up their bed and sleep on the floor!

Hoping to move to London, Odet was to experience problems similar to those experienced by many modern flat-hunters. He refused one house because “he found the walls and windows in so great decay that it would be hard for my lord Cardinal to repair it in so short a time.”

Although England provided a refuge from immediate danger, Odet’s movements were closely watched by both the French and Spanish ambassadors. Having invited Odet to stay with him, Sir Thomas Gresham noted that “the Cardinal had not been a quarter of an hour in my house, but the French ambassador came to visit him” and that the two had “long communications”.

When Odet visited the French Huguenot church in Threadneedle Street, he abandoned his Cardinal’s robes for “a short cloak with a rapier” and – as the Spanish ambassador noted – a jewel in his cap.

A dashing figure, Odet was described by one observer as “a handsome old man with a good figure, a long white beard, dressed always in black with a great ‘saye’ of velvet or satin and a long cloak.”

A man of great personal charm, he won the favour of Queen Elizabeth causing her favourite, the Earl of Leicester, to note: “Her Majesty had a marvellous liking of him: and one thing more than I looked for, which is, her liking to hear of his wife, and is very desirous to see her, and hath sent one expressly to visit her.”

Odet-image-for-web-&-blog

Leicester’s surprise at this gesture was due to the fact that Elizabeth disapproved of clergy wives.

While in England, Odet tried to enlist the Queen’s help for his co-religionists – especially those at La Rochelle. Disguised as Odet’s retainers, Huguenots obtained access to Elizabeth’s court and were given loans from her Treasury. However, they never received the military help in terms of men and materiel that they desired. As the leader of a small Protestant nation, Elizabeth was treading a tight-rope between the great Catholic powers of Spain and France. She could not afford to attract their combined hostility.

In 1570, Odet’s brother Gaspard marched on Paris and forced Queen Catherine to agree a treaty. Odet was eager to return home but bad weather and his wife’s illness caused him to postpone his plans.

Finally, he set out for Dover, breaking his journey at Canterbury where he lodged with prebendary John Bungay whose house at ‘the Homors’ was located near the east end of the Cathedral. During this visit, Odet was presented with a gift of “ducks, mallards, teeles, wood-koks and partridges” by the Corporation of Canterbury.

Sadly, Odet never returned home. He fell ill with a fever and, after languishing for several weeks, died on 23 March 1571.

 A murder mystery?

Odet’s brother, Francis, had died two years earlier amid rumours of foul play by Queen Catherine. Although she denied the accusations, Catherine wrote of her “great pleasure” at his demise and her “hope that God will give to the others [i.e. Huguenots] the treatment they deserve…”

When Odet died, his widow claimed that he had been murdered. At the post-mortem, Odet’s physician said that spots on Odet’s stomach indicated poisoning. In a subsequent report, Queen Elizabeth’s Commissioners said: “There appears to be no ground for suspicion that he had been poisoned.” Nonetheless, they failed to reach a final verdict.

Two years later, the stories of poisoning re-surfaced. According to one theory, the murderer was Odet’s valet-de-chambre, a Basque called Vuillin working for Queen Catherine.

Truth or rumour? Who knows.

What is clear is that a year after Odet’s death, Queen Catherine ordered the assassination of his brother Gaspard and the massacre of Huguenots on St Bartholomew’s Day.

Meantime, Odet had been given a temporary tomb in Canterbury Cathedral. (It was not even recorded in The Chapter Burial Register). Quickly bricked over and covered with a layer of plaster, his coffin awaited collection by his family. But, overtaken by war and death, they never came.

DSCN8836-Odet-for-web&-blog-2

 

A tale of tomb robbers

In August 1990, two ex-Foreign Legionnaires were arrested in the Cathedral precincts. They were equipped with an impressive burglar’s toolkit and a map of the Cathedral. The explanation for their escapade bemused Canterbury magistrates. The two men claimed that they were hoping to open Odet de Coligny’s tomb and prove that it held, not the bones of the Huguenot exile, but those of Thomas Becket whose tomb was dismantled during the Dissolution of 1538.

*For further information on Becket – especially some of the less well-known facts – see my previous article: Murder, Martyrdom and the Quest for Bones.

Posted in Canterbury, Cathedrals, Exiles, History, Huguenots, Odet de Coligny | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment