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British Heritage: JUNE/JULY 1999 Letters

Originally published by British Heritage magazine. Published Online: September 23, 2000 
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ALL IN THE WASHINGTON FAMILY

On behalf of the Washington family I want to thank you for printing the article on Washington Old Hall (December/ January 1998/1999, page 26). It was interesting to read, but I had to write to inform you that my ancestor, William de Hertburn, or Hartburn, was not of Norman lineage. When he changed his surname he added the Norman "de." He was the son of Sir Patrick and Cicely. His father was the Earl of Lothian, keeper and justicar of Lothian and Berwick.

His ancestry sprang from the ancient house of Dunbar, a great and illustrious family, from whose records the blood lines of descent from kings of Ireland, Scotland, England, and France have all been proven.

Sir William married twice. His first wife's name is unknown to the family, but he had children by her. His second wife was a kinswoman. Her name was Margaret. She was the Countess of Richmond, a descendant of Malcolm III, and sister of William the Lion, King of Scotland.

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After Sir William purchased the estates from the Bishop of Durham he changed his name again and was known as Sir William de Wessyngton. He owned vast lands. He inherited the border estate of Hirsel from his grandmother (today the seat of the Douglas-Home family) and the estate of Greenlaw.

The main line used the coat of arms seen today and still display it during family reunions held each year. The coat of arms was granted to Sir John de Wessyngton, third son of Sir Robert II and Agnes, by Edward II. Sir John chose the ancient colours that had been chosen by Malred, son of Crinen, red and silver (not white).

My ancester, Sir Robert Washington, was the first to use the surname as it is spelled today. He was the son of Sir John de Wessyngton. During colonial times those in the family that moved to Kentucky from Virginia changed their name for a time back to Wessyngton.

O. Hilda Washington Robinson
Suffolk, Virginia

 

CONFUSING PILGRIMS

In the February/March 1999 issue the article "The View from Camelot" (page 3) was very interesting, but on one point was misleading. You mention the Mayflower steps in Plymouth, "from which the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America." I don't care how many steps they have, the Mayflower set sail first of all from Southampton, then had to put into Plymouth for repairs. If they hadn't needed repairs done, they wouldn't have stopped at Plymouth at all.

I don't know why their final stopping place was called Plymouth Rock; maybe they thought it sounded better than Southampton Rock. Incidentally, there is a memorial at the spot in Southampton where the Mayflower sailed from. The water has receded and it is now on dry land.

Also in the same issue Mary R. Miley writes that Henry VIII took Hampton Court Palace from Cardinal Wolsey when he failed to "obtain from the Pope what the King wanted most: a divorce from his first wife." Correction: The Pope gave the King a divorce from Katherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife. However, he failed to give him a divorce from Anne Boleyn, his second wife, which led to Henry's framing Anne for adultery and having her head cut off.

Mrs. Patricia Kelly
Lynwood, Illinois

 

Editor's note: It is true enough that the Mayflower sailed from Southampton to Plymouth before crossing the Atlantic, but that does not alter that fact that the Pilgrim Fathers "departed for America from Plymouth." However, if the honour of being the Pilgrims' ultimate starting point is the issue, then the credit would most properly go to Leiden in Holland. No less than 53 of the 102 passengers to America began the journey from Leiden. It was their vessel, Speedwell, which required the stopover in Plymouth, not the Mayflower. Eventually, Speedwell was deemed unseaworthy, and Mayflower departed Plymouth alone, carrying the smaller ship's passengers as well as her own. Of course, there's no reason to regard any of these facts as being disrespectful of Southampton's role in history.

In regard to Hampton Court and Cardinal Wolsey, it was indeed the question of his divorce from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, that prompted Wolsey's downfall–as well as the Supremacy Act of 1534, which made Henry the head of the Church of England. Wolsey died on 24th November, 1530. Henry did not marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn, until 25th January, 1533.

PIPER FINDLATER

In the article about the Victoria Cross in the December/January issue (page 13), mention is made of Piper Findlater, who, in spite of being wounded in both ankles, continued to play his pipes, which encouraged his comrades to storm the hill at the battle of Dargai and defeat the Afchaus.

As a result of this exploit, children back in England and Scotland began singing a little rhyme which went as follows:

 

Piper Findlater, Piper Findlater,
Piped "The Cock o' the North."
He piped it so loud,
That he gathered a crowd,
And he won the Victoria Cross.

This rhyme is found in a short story by George MacDonald Fraser called "The Whisky and the Music," which is in a book called The General Danced at Dawn. This delightful story hinges on whether Piper Findlater did or did not play "The Cock o' the North" and ends with a wry twist which made me think of someone's definition of history as "Lies agreed upon."

I would urge everyone to read not only this story, but everything that George MacDonald Fraser has written because they are all most interesting works, especially the "Flashman" stories, the first of which caught many reviewers off guard, believing it to be actual history. Those who had read Thomas Hughes' classic boys' tale, "TGM Brown's School Days," were not fooled. They knew that Harry Flashman was a character in that book–a cad who was dismissed from Rugby School for various nefarious acts.

Wallace L. Mason
Seekonk, Massachusetts

RICHARD III, PART IV

I must take issue with your Editor's Note in the December/January 1998/99 Letter-Box" (page 4) concerning Richard III and Sir Thomas More. You write "it seems rather premature to label Peter Kilby's article 'inaccurate' because of its inclusion of anti-Richardian quotes such as those by Sir Thomas More." In fact, the article could be labelled inaccurate, if for nothing else, by the inclusion of the More quotes, sounding as they do as though they were an eyewitness account from what should be an unassailable source. Sir Thomas More is so highly respected–indeed, was canonized–for his great courage and integrity in adult life that most people believe anything he wrote must be above reproach; the inclusion of his "testimony" against Richard thus seems damning indeed. But it is testimony that would be inadmissable in any court of law today, except a kangaroo court.

What most people don't realize is that Thomas More was little more than a toddler during Richard's reign–he was five years old at the time of Richard's coronation and seven when Richard died–and that he wrote his History of King Richard III (from which Mr. Kilby's quotes were taken) some 30 years later, during the reign of Henry VIII, based entirely on hearsay and second-hand information. In the interest of accuracy, Mr. Kilby should have mentioned this fact. Sir Thomas himself acknowledges it several times throughout the History; he prefaces the section from which Mr. Kilby quoted as follows: "I shall rehearse you the dolorous end of those babes, not after every way that I have heard, but after that way that I have so heard by such men and by such means as methinks it were hard but it should be true." (Note, too, that Sir Thomas admits having heard differing versions.)

There can also be little doubt that one of the men from whom Sir Thomas got his information was, as he calls him, "my lord Morton"– John Morton, Bishop of Ely during Richard's reign, in whose household More grew up. Morton was an avowed enemy of Richard's and ardently served the Lancastrian and Tudor causes and was even involved in a plot on Richard's life. Henry VII later made him Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of England. Morton (largely remembered for "Morton's Fork," an unscrupulous method of tax collection he devised for Henry VII) is depicted in More's History in the most favourable light: "The Bishop was a man of great natural wit, very well learned, and honourable in behaviour, lacking no wise ways to win favour…wise, insightful, godly." Henry VII is referred to as "the noble Prince." King Richard, on the other hand, was "malicious, wrathful, a deep dissembler, lowly of countenance, envious, arrogant, pitiless, cruel, wicked, unnatural, and a traitorous tyrant," to cite but some of More's epithets (not to mention labelling him a murderer several times over).

More's History can hardly be called a work of objective scholarship; it is known to be full of factual errors, contradictions and distortions; and its own author repeatedly admits it is pure hearsay. If an article cites such spurious evidence without proper clarification, what else can one call it but inaccurate?

Andrea de Castano
Kew Gardens, New York

CORRECTION

Several readers have pointed out a typographical error in the Crossword Puzzle in the April/May issue (page 72). The clue for 18 Across mentions an event connected with the Queen that took place in 1952. The year should have been 1953, and the event, naturally, was her coronation. We apologize for the error.



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