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Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth_I_when_a_PrincessBorn: 1533 Died: 1603

Daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was the third of Henry’s children to come to the throne. In the political and religious upheaval of the times she found herself a Protestant Queen taking the throne from a Catholic Queen. She also found herself having to maintain an uneasy peace with the most powerful nation on earth at the time, Spain. Political intrigue led to her having her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, executed after the latter had been found to be plotting with Philip of Spain. The discoveries in the New World had led to English Privateers attacking Spanish treasure ships and this was all the pretext the Catholic Philip required to invade. In 1588 Elizabeth, ‘Good Queen Bess’ or the ‘Virgin Queen’, had her finest hour. The Spanish Armada was defeated and England was safe. Her 45 year-long reign is perhaps one of the most romanticised of all the early reigns with such memorable names and events as Shakespeare’s plays, Drake’s circumnavigation of the world and Raleigh’s colonisation of Virginia and introduction of the potato and tobacco to England known to this day. Elizabeth died of natural causes, at the age of 69, unmarried yet mourned by a nation. She had survived several assassination attempts, countless plots and any number of diseases that were rife at that time.

Horatio Nelson

sfk_ccm_r_1983_143_6_largeBorn: 1758 Died: 1805

Of all the famed names of British Naval history Nelson stands prominent. His dash and courage could have been scripted by the best modern day screenwriter.

Nelson was born in Norfolk in the latter half of the eighteenth century and with the rest of his generation found himself at war with Napoleonic France and her allies. His memeory is also undeniably entangled with romance. His affair with Emma Hamilton was the talk of society for some time and has been a source of interest ever since. Nelson’s Naval exploits had already made him the talk of the nation. His victory at Aboukir Bay and his audacious destruction of the Danish fleet, possible allies to Napoleon, at Copenhagen had warranted him a reputation for being a man of his own kind.

With Trafalgar won the nation mourned the loss of one of it’s saviours. Nelson was to be remembered with the erection of Nelson’s Column in London. It stands as a tribute and a sign of eternal gratitude to a pioneer of naval tactics which led to the threat of foreign invasion being lifted.

Captain James Cook

captain-cook-220_786409fBorn: 1729 Died: 1779

A Yorkshireman who was to change the face of the known world in the eighteenth century. Captain James Cook was a Whitby lad. It should be no surprise then that he should feel his future lay with the sea. It was the eighteenth century and the western European powers had expanded their explorations far beyond the ‘New World’ and ‘the Indies’ into the mighty Pacific. The largest Ocean in the world held a fascination for Cook and he was commissioned to explore it in the ‘HMS Endeavour’. His discoveries around Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific region are legendary. His death, at the hands of Hawaiian natives in 1779, brought an all too prolific life of exploration to a bloody end. It is said that Cook was held in such esteem that even those who had murdered him gave him what they considered to be a funeral fit for one of their own chieftains.

Oliver Cromwell

downloadOliver Cromwell was a pious man from the county of Huntingdon. He achieved both fame and power through his increasing involvement in the defeat of King Charles the First by the forces of Parliament in the 1640’s.

Cromwell had become loathing of the King’s excesses in line with many of the ‘common’ people of the time. He served in the English Civil War under Sir Thomas Fairfax and his brilliant leadership and formation of the ‘New Model Army’ led to political power which some ten years earlier would have been deemed fanciful. With his dictatorship, for that is what it was, the Commonwealth was born. Cromwell was not slow in confronting his enemies and his military methods in dealing with his enemies, in Ireland especially, are notorious. He was also unforgiving to those who sought frivolity before god.

His ‘reign’ was from 1653-58 with the title of ‘Lord Protector’ being conferred upon him.

William Shakespeare

William_Shakespeare_1609Born: 1564 Died: 1616

There can be no more famous English writer than the man we all know as the ‘Bard of Avon’. William Shakespeare was born of quite humble stock in the turbulence of sixteenth century England. It is said that from little acorns mighty oaks grow and it is from such a modest beginning that Shakespeare became probably the world’s most famous writer of plays, essays and also over 150 sonnets (14 line verses).
His plays are formulated in rhyming couplets with the essence of each line equally as confusing as it is crystal clear.

The theatre of sixteenth century England is a million miles away in terms of fashion and respectability that the modern Thespian enjoys. It says a great deal of Shakespeare’s work, or at the very least his perseverance, that such jewels of English literature as ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Macbeth’, his longest and shortest works respectively incidentally, have survived to become standards of modern drama workshops.

His writing not only seems to enlighten the motivation, the soul if you will, of such esteemed characters as Lady Macbeth but to bring the very character to life for the reader or theatre-goer. Through his words we feel the loves, loathes, fears and desires of a wide range of characters from any number of works. So prolific was Shakespeare that there are those who claim that ‘he’ was more than one person, perhaps even another person entirely. As with any legend the rumours are as readily disproved as they are proved.

A native of Stratford-upon-Avon in the county of Warwickshire Shakespeare’s memory provides a major percentage of the towns income. Ann Hathaway’s Cottage, Anne being his wife and mother of his children, being the main focal point for visitors far and wide.

The recently resurrected Globe Theatre in Greenwich, South London, where Shakespeare’s plays were performed in his lifetime, stands as testament to the affection and esteem in which his work is held to the present

Geoffrey Chaucer

chaucerBorn: c.1340 Died: 1400

Acknowledged by many as the ‘Father of English Poetry’ Geoffrey Chaucer came to fame through the much vaunted ‘Canterbury Tales’. Chaucer was a prolific writer and is to many on a par with the greats that have succeeded him in putting pen to paper. The ‘Canterbury Tales’ is a worthy indication of his ability the depict the emotions and ‘reality’ of a group of pilgrims made up from all sides of fourteenth century society. Though Chaucer is found to be difficult to read, the language being so different from modern day English, the beauty and precision of his works are not lost to the more experienced reader.

Chaucer was a member of the Royal court of the time. He was an ambassador to Flanders, France and Italy. His marriage is thought to have been not among the happiest and perhaps his writings are a gift from his contempt for his own private circumstance? To his eternal glory he became the first of England’s poets to find his last resting place in Westminster Abbey.

Winston Spencer Churchill

Churchill_portrait_NYP_45063The British ‘Bulldog spirit’ was never best suited by one character at exactly the right time than by Winston (later Sir Winston) Churchill. His steadfast leadership during the perilous days of the Second World War became a great source of comfort and a great boost to the moral of an embattled nation.

Churchill had an ignominious start to his career. Having attended Harrow school he found that he and examinations were not suited. His father, Randolph Churchill, a high ranking Cabinet Minister in the late nineteenth century, was thought to have been disappointed with his son. It was his mother, Lady Jennie Churchill, an American by birth who supplied the young Winston with both encouragement and a much needed affection.

Churchill began his public career as a reporter during the British campaign against the Mahdi in the Sudan. His trade took him to South Africa when the Boer War began. He was captured and famously escaped from his Afrikaans captors. His fame became a springboard for him to follow his father into the world of politics as the MP for Oldham.

Churchill’s political career was not without question, his involvement in such disasters as the Allied landings at Gallipoli in the First World War led to him receiving notice for the wrong kind of reasons. It was the Second World War which gave Churchill the chance to shine. His inspirational speeches which celebrated the nations resilience and eventual victory have immortalised him.

In 1945 when the first post-war General Election was held Churchill was, astonishing as it may seem, voted out of office. He returned to Number Ten in 1951 and was Prime Minister until 1955. Ten years after he left office this icon of the twentieth century died. Up until that of Diana, Princess of Wales, Sir Winston’s was the last British State funeral of the twentieth century.

Sir Laurence Olivier

122441_largeBorn: 1907 Died: 1989

Acknowledged as perhaps the greatest stage actor, and admired screen actor, of his generation. Sir Laurence Olivier will forever be remembered as thequintessential English thespian.

His performances in such dramas as ‘Hamlet’ on stage and his film roles as Archie Rice in ‘The Entertainer’ and or as the eponymous hero in ‘Henry V’ were deemed as good as any performance the critics had witnessed. His work towards supporting the British theatre was ceaseless with one tangible monument to his endeavours being the National Theatre building along the Thames in London. Olivier was the epitome of the complete British actor and with his death a great loss was felt throughout the acting world.

Sir Arthur Wellesley

Sir_Arthur_Wellesley,_1st_Duke_of_WellingtonBorn: 1770 Died: 1852

Sir Arthur Wellesley, as so many of his generation, rose to notoriety through war. The Napoleonic Wars to be exact. He led the British army in the Peninsular War of 1806 when the British and their Spanish and Portuguese Allies pushed the French northwards out of the Iberian Peninsula. Though it is perhaps for the battle of Waterloo that the ‘Iron Duke’ is best remembered. That June day in 1815 saw the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at his hands, with no shortage of assistance from the Prussians under General Blucher or his own army ‘the scum of the earth’ of British, Irish, Belgian, German and Dutch troops.

In keeping with his military popularity he became embroiled in the world of politics. In 1828 he became Prime Minister. It was during his tenure as PM that the Catholic emancipation was enforced allowing Catholics to take seats in the Houses of Parliament. It was soon after the bill was passed that he rejoined the army as Commander-in-chief for life. In 1852 Wellington died and the nation mourned the man whom Queen Victoria named: ‘greatest man the country ever produced’.

Sir Edward William Elgar

EdwardElgarBorn: 1857 Died: 1934

Born in the West Country of England, Broadheath near the lovely city of Worcester to be precise, Edward Elgar is best remembered for the stirring tune which has proven inspirational for generations of English people, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. This has become a standard hymn through the years and is preferred by many to ‘God Save The Queen’ as the national anthem.

It was not until after the age of 30 that Elgar became a force majeur in musical circles. The inspirations for his new found ardour being accredited as a visit by the Czeh composer Dvorak to England and Elgar’s marriage to his dearly beloved Caroline Alice. His wife remained his inspiration throughout his life.

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