With Robert Kerr as the royal favourite there were all sorts of intrigues going on at court – and an outrageous love affair. All the while, James’ parliament of 1614 was every bit as Addled as the court
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Now, Just to warn you, we are heading into a mini storm of three episodes, where I forgot myself, I threw myself away as Samuel Johnson said and wrote 15,000 words rather than 5,000, focussing on a famous Jacobean scandal – the Overbury affair. This is not a good thing, and it will work us woe. Well maybe you woe I have to say more than me. Anyway, I have tried to split it up so it’s a bit more manageable This week then, James finally has it with parliament, and removes his toys from the perambulatory device. And we start a new age of favourites, and get a bit more stuck in than we normally do about court and factional politics there. Then next two episodes, which I won’t get to until next year, we’ll crack on with scandal, but also with literacy and the idea of public space and opinion.
Last time, we shuffled Salisbury off the mortal coil that is the History of England, and effectively left Robert Kerr, now Viscount Rochester in control, under the guidance of his beloved mentor, Thomas Overbury. Now I don’t know about you, but I always imagined that your successful courtier could be described in many ways, but that the first one that would come to mind would be oily. Or maybe smooth, urbane – urbane – I’ve always wanted to be called urbane. But you know practised in the arts of persuasion and making everything think they were your bosom pal until the knife appeared through the front of their doublet. Such does not seem to have been the case with Thomas Overbury; he seems to have been a rather arrogant man, and as we saw last week that had already brought him into the hatred of Queen Anne. The ever gossipy John Aubrey in his brief lives, remarked that
‘a great question who was the proudest, Sir Walter [Ralegh], or Sir Thomas Overbury, but the difference that was, was judged on Sir Thomas’ side’
The question was – what did others think of the man? Well one of the things about Overbury is that he does seem to have a political strategy. So, as we have heard last time, Overbury had persuaded Kerr to align himself with the protestant, interventionist party at Courtled by the earls of Southampton and Pembroke, with their courtier buddies Henry Neville and Ralph Winwood. A wit at the time called them the Patriots, and I think we’ll use that phrase, it’s distinctive. The other major faction was what might be described as the Howard faction, of course since it was headed the two surviving of the Trinity of Knaves, the Earls of Northampton Henry Howard, and Suffolk, Thomas Howard, a very powerful group it was. The same wit, on form that day obviously, described them as the Julians, which I think is a classical reference rather than an East London night club. But I think we’ll keep using the Howard faction because it says what it does on the tin.
Northampton was of course the suspected crypto Catholic who attracted the distrust of some of those outside court, who noted with some distress that their king appeared to preside over a court that was not the font of all value, but instead a hotbed of religious pluralism, to their eyes. This was a view reflected in a number of libels. The Howard faction took a different view to the Patriot faction of Pembroke and Southampton. Internally, they were anything but parliamentary mutineers; and in fact they agreed with Julius Caesar more than Salisbury, that the answer to James’ money problems lay, not with parliament, but with sweating the king’s prerogative – like customs impositions, for example. In foreign policy, rather than being Protestant, and determined to intervene on the Protestant side such as a flare up going on in Cleves, they favoured building a Spanish relationship – a suggestion that put the wind up all those good protestants in the counties outside Westminster, obviously.
And James indeed was himself was sympathetic towards a Spanish match, as it were – not to be confused with the Paris Match which we were supposed to read for A Level French of course, and never did, being too busy reading Coles notes in English – does the Paris Match still exist I wonder? Anyway, James believed firmly that religion had nothing to do with international relations, nor should the king be expected to pay any mind to the wishes of his subjects – foreign affairs were purely the consideration of the king, not the oiks. While we are on it, these struggles about the direction of foreign affairs and international religious loyalties were rather neatly reflected in royal marriage negotiations. The first of these was Anne and James’ eldest daughter, Elizabeth. To the joy of some, she was setting her cap at Frederick V, Count Palatine of the Rhine. Frederick came over to visit, and the gen pub were wildly enthusiastic about the match – he was a good protestant afterall. Rather remarkably he was not posh as far as the mother of the bride was concerned, but Frederick was most attentive to his squeeze, and Elizabeth was duly impressed. And of course Prince Henry was keen too. Henry meanwhile was trying to fight off his Dad as concerned his own marriage – which was planned to be to a Spanish Princess, an idea in which the Great BP was as appalled by as they were delighted by his sisters’ match. When Henry died of course, the public panic receded – but it’ll be back, you can be sure of that, and that my friend, is a plot spoiler.
Anyway, so all this was playing out at court, and exacerbated by Salisbury’s death; because it seemed obvious that the winning faction would land the position as Secretary of State, for which the Patriot faction were advancing the names of Winwood and Neville. But strangely, Kerr seemed to be frustratingly incapable of delivering the goods, which is after all what a royal favourite ought to be doing.
Now, the odd thing about Overbury’s mate Kerr, however, was that he appears to have been pretty slippery when it comes to discerning his own political colours, unlike his mentor; he appears to have been something of a runner with the hare and hunter with the hounds. And he appears to have been surprisingly and unexpectedly friendly with Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, while supposedly lobbying for Winwood and Neville. Plus, In the words of John Paul Young, love appeared to be in the air.
The love of which I speak was between Kerr and one Frances Howard. And the love had been brokered by Thomas Overbury’s pen as it happens – Thomas seems to have had written love letters for his mate Robert Kerr, your teeth are like stars, they come out at night, that sort of thing I guess. It sounds a bit like a 6th form TV drama, or a Knight’s Tale where Chaucer writes letters for the tongue tied William. Anyway, sometime in 1612 Kerr and Frances appear to have got it on which was quite naughty because Frances Howard was a married woman – married to the Earl of Essex as it happens, son of the disgraced and executed one. Not happily married though, obs. It also happens that Frances Howard was the daughter of the other of the Trinity of Knaves, Thomas Howard earl of Suffolk and Catherine Howard, Salisbury’s erstwhile confidente. So really, Kerr was falling in love literally with the apparently opposing court faction. Romeo and Juliet stuff, Capulets and the other lot. What a tangled web. Anyway, Overbury it seems got rather cheesed off by Kerr’s attachment to a member of the away team – and they had a quarrel, which led to hard words, including some distinctly unfriendly comments by Overbury about Frances’s honour it should be noted. Overbury thought they’d patched it up – but had they? Or was Kerr harbouring resentments and wounds?
Because things for Overbury were about to take a downward turn. Before they did, however, letters – well gilt-edged cards started dropping though letter boxes all over England. Well, not letter boxes – messengers started clattering into the courtyards of the mighty let’s say. “James & Anne, King and Queen of Britain n’all, cordially invite you to the marriage of their daughter, Elizabeth Stuart to Frederick of the Palatinate at the Chapel at the palace of Whitehall, on 14th Feb, and afterwards for frankly days of outrageously lavish ceremonies in London and Heidelberg that will cost over £50,000 which frankly, we can all ill afford. RSVP – and PBAB”. There was no doubt that this was a marriage and a match that was most popular with the GBP. A marriage between a fine Protestant Princess and a fine Protestant Prince. Cry Harry, and all.
Anyway, let us go back to Thomas Overbury. One of the things about being a courtier, was that everything came from the king, you were entirely dependant on his favour and good opinion. It really is a most unsatisfactory way of running things. If the king took agin you, you were toast. And it appears that James did indeed tek agin Thomas Overbury, and saw him as an irritating obstacle to his own relationship with his beloved Robert Kerr. James was not a vindictive man, but he did not want his favourite suffering from the Mary McGregor effect, torn between two lovers and possibly feeling like a fool, and so he thought of a way that should be mutually advantageous, a generous offer that would at the same time move Overbury aside so James could clear his way to Kerr. Duly, on 21st April 1613, Pembroke and others turned up at Overbury’s place with an offer for Thomas. An offer that really, he shouldn’t refuse; he was to become an ambassador – hurrah! And he could choose his posting – be it France, the Low Countries or Muscovy. How lovely.
Well just as you don’t just walk into Mordor, you don’t refuse a royal appointment. This is not a contract, a job application process, where the candidate carefully considers whether the job is suited to them, every bit as much as the potential employer considers carefully whether the candidate’s skills fits the job. Oh dearie me no, if the king calls you to public service, you go. The last bloke that refused was Thomas Moore, and look how that ended. Overbury though, knew exactly what was going on here – he was being got out of the way. And Thomas Overbury did not want to be got out of the way, so Thomas Overbury claimed he couldn’t speak the languages. Which confused everybody since they asked “when has anybody English ever worried about such a thing? Just speak louder, wave your arms and shout my helicopter is full of eels when in doubt. It’ll be fine.” Nonplussed, Thomas then flat-out refused, with some choice language along the way I am told, and before he could say ‘so there with brass knobs on’, his arse had hit the far end of a cell wall in the Tower of London, followed by the howls of rage of his King.
Well now, presumably this would not be a problem; Overbury’s bessie Kerr would just show his king a leg, and spring his pal from the clink. Well, it didn’t seem to be working out like that, Overbury remained frustratingly stuck inside and out of the King’s favour. I mean fair do’s Overbury was not miserably incarcerated, he received a stream of pies and jellies and nice things from Frances Howard and Anne Taylor; although he was strangely ill, it has to be said, so much so that he ended up having an enema administered by an apothecary boy – sorry to mention that, it will become relevant. And Kerr did organise a rapprochement with his erstwhile enemies at court, the Howard faction, so maybe he was working around things to rehabilitate Overbury; so Thomas swallowed his pride, to the point of actually signing a letter to the Earl of Suffolk pledging his support in the future. So, it could well be that in the background Kerr was working away with James to get him to forgive Overbury, although no specific evidence of it survives – and yet still, Overbury continued to languish, and was not sprung from jail. And then, all of a sudden, in September 1613 the news arrived at court that Thomas Overbury had died of a mystery illness in the Tower! Despite his enema.
Before the end came, Overbury seems to have decided that actually his mate had in fact deserted him after all, whatever his protestations, and that, despite all the free pies, jellies, and enemas, Frances Howard hated him and wanted rid. And that she was the reason for his destruction. He wrote to Kerr in a right old paddy, and swore to expose his bad faith, of
‘Your sacrificing me to your woman, your holding a firm friendship with those that brought me hither and keep me here, and not making it your first act of any good terms with them to set me free and restore me to yourself again.’
While this tragedy was playing out, another drama was in train. Kerr’s squeeze Frances, as we have heard, was an unhappily married woman, married through James’ good offices in 1606 to Robert Devereux, the 15 year old Earl of Essex, and son of the failed Rebel from Elizabeth’s reign. The 15 and 14 year olds did not get on; added to which of course Frances had started playing away, with Robert Kerr. Then, in 1613 – another bombshell – Frances Howard filed for an annulment of the marriage on the basis that Essex had been unable to consummate the marriage. That’s awkward. And to Essex’s red face outrage, James was supportive of Frances, and a month after Overbury’s imprisonment he put together an ecclesiastical commission to look at the whole affair of Essex and France’s marriage.
Well I cannot tell you of the gossip, outrage, laughter and mockery these nullity proceedings as they were called, to investigate nullifying the marriage, produced – I mean throw a romantic lead into a pit of poisonous writhy snakes and you’ve got an idea of the fun. The ABC Abbot’s chin wobbled with outrage and would not countenance approving Frances’ claim. Essex was of course utterly humiliated; and he made a claim that he was perfectly capable of doinking with the best of them, it was just with Frances that he had proved incapable, because he claimed that Frances had been unkind, and unkeen, and
reviled him, and miscalled him, terming him a coward, and beast.
Which it’ss true doesn’t fall into the classic foreplay category, unless I am misinformed. In court a procession of servants were paraded in front of the court to attest to the failed efforts to achieve a result, for public spectacle and a ribald comment that would have made any emperor welease woger. All of which was horrid for Essex. But of course Frances had to be utterly determined and suffer all her own indignities; a panel of matrons inspected the countess and found her capable of intercourse but still a virgin. Which produced a response from both the GBP and the Court of hilarity, disbelief and fury, and the libellers went wild, some of which are absolutely unprintable; but for a safe flavour, one ballader created a ditty along the lines of ‘The Dame was inspected, but fraud interjected a Maid of greater perfection’. And that is the only one I could find that was reprintable. Basically everyone was perfectly ready to believe Frances capable of intercourse, less convinced about the still a virgin bit. And then to cap it all, a clever mole at court heard the reason why all this was happening; darn it all, Frances was fixing to marry Robert Kerr! Well, Houdi Elbow. One of the weaselly intelligencers at the court spread the gossip that
The world speaks liberally of their love for each other
Of course this put the wind firmly up the Patriot faction – that looked like the end of Kerr’s support for Neville and Winwood in their bids for Salisbury’s offices. Surely Kerr had comprehensively moved over to the Howard faction?
Well sadly for James, Frances, and Kerr, Archbishop Abbot on the commission wasn’t having it. So the commission was stymied, unable to make a ruling over Abbot’s objections. So in late July, James carried out a well-worn tactic, well-worn and much to be used in the future too in English history as it happens, and appointed a bunch of new commissioners to, ahem, cast new light on the case and hey Presto, abracadabra and all that, the commission approved Frances’ case as James wished. How spooky is that?! The GBP was scandalised, the court buzzing with gossip and rumour, Kerr, Frances and James cock-o-hoop, Overbury horrified – and then dead, of course. Still Frances had left a little bomb for herself. She and her legal team and the commissioners had approved the legal fiction that Essex was perfectly competent in the rumpy pumpy department, but just not with Frances. This was a difficult argument, but important to protect Essex’s blushes, and to make it explicable it was mooted by Frances’ legal team that maybe they could suggest that it must have been witchcraft that got in the way of Essex’s crown jewels – Maleficium. That was a very complicated idea – afterall, maybe the witch could be Frances herself. Huh. So the idea was dropped, but there was a speck of mud on the Countess’ magnificent dress, and it would spread, go forth and multiply among the public.
But it appeared to be a complete victory for Robert Kerr. After Overbury died, he had two elaborate ceremonies that magnified and glorified his glorious name; on 4th November 1613, Robert Kerr was formally created Earl of Somerset, in a ceremony James fully intended to create a vision of unity, involving courtiers from across the factions in the investiture. I imagine that as Southampton approached the new Earl of Somerset with the cap of an earl, smiling as much as he could at his erstwhile faction partner who appears to have deserted the Patriots, a strange grinding noise could be heard issuing from his molars.
Then a few weeks later an even more extravagant and expensive ceremony spread its light over court, on Boxing Day. Robert Carr, married Frances Howard and made her the happiest Countess of Somerset ever. Should you happen to be planning a wedding, you might consider making sure they stretch out several days, with masques, a series of tilts from the courtiers, and precious gifts showered on them from the King and the City of London. Somerset was at the height of his power and influence, became Lord Chamberlain and sat on Council; the Howards rose yet further with him; the earl of Suffolk became Lord Treasurer, their faction acquired more goodies that the crown could ill-afford. They appeared unchallengeable.
None of this though, glorious though it was for Somerset and the new Countess, stopped all the politicking, and none of it removed James’ basic need for money. Now everyone, especially the King, was of course worried about the forthcoming parliament session and how it would go; and worried about the Mutineers and what they might do. But there was good news – Edwin Sandys, ‘the uncrowned king of the commons’ as a later historian would dub him, had apparently become a client of Somerset, and Somerset had duly used his influence to get grants of land and Sandys’ election to parliament. Phew! Well, that must mean that particular gun had been spiked and that Sandys would move from the Parliamentary mutineers, to the parliamentary pussy cats, and all would go well for James search for money from parliament.
So James was finally prevailed upon to call parliament despite his reluctance, persuaded that this was the best way to get the money he needed to throw away on hunting and hoolies. Francis Bacon, now finally achieving his ambition to be Attorney General, suggested that James play the religion card, and raise the threat of the growth of popery to loosen the parliamentary pockets; and, crucially, get supply voted on before anyone started talking grievances. The Earls of Suffolk and Pembroke egged him on to call parliament, claiming his people loved him really, James recorded later, saying they encouraged him to think
That my subjects did not hate me, which I know I did not deserve
Which is really very sad, the poor poppet! Rabbit. However, it does rather reveal James’ alienation from parliament, does it not?
There’s another little wrinkle here, since I have let myself off the leash on the court intrigue front. Against all the odds, Ralph Winwood had been made Secretary of State! Well, everyone was so surprised there was multiple grape squashing and feathers knocking people down. Gosh thought various courtiers in various corners behind various hands – we thought Somerset had changed side, and so the parliamentary mutineer & Patriot faction was knackered – but here’s one of their leading members getting the big prize, the big Yellow Banana or Cuddly toy? Que passa?
Well, one of the problems about the Parliament to follow – which, by way of plot spoiler, I can reveal to you on an advance and confidential basis will be known to history as the Addled Parliament, jus’ sayin’, was that the preparation by the government on managing the session should have been put in the council rubbish bins designated for Landfill. And the clever money suggests that actually this was the intention of one devious Somerset, who took little part in the sessions. Here’s the idea; that he’d allowed Winwood to get the job of secretary of state, despite being from a rival faction – because he knew he had little experience of the difficult task of managing a parliament, fully expected him to fail, which would give the Southampton/Pembroke Patriot faction another kick in the guts. I ask you, gentle listeners, are people really that devious?
Anyway, James listened to Bacon’s advice about playing the religious card, and he tried, he really did, bigging it up in his opening speech, spread of popery and all that, blah blah blah as Greta would have said, and for a while it seemed to work; initial discussions focussed on getting a quick vote through of supply and subsidies for the king, dribbling started in the corridors of Whitehall.
They reckoned without Edwin. As per normal, Sandys focussed first on establishing and getting himself at the heart of the great committees, so he could manage business going through parliament – in particular, chair of the Committee of Petitions which marshalled the grievances brought by members of the Commons. And it seems that Somerset had misjudged his man, and misjudged his influence over Sandys – because once more, royal impositions proved a major issue in those grievances, and it was Sandys, supposedly now the royal favourite’s tool, who instead persuaded the commons not to allow supply to be agreed before their grievances had been addressed. So guess what? It all kicked off again, and the impositions and Bates and those darned currants came up again
If the king may impose by his absolute power, no man can be certain what he has for it shall be subject to the king’s pleasure
Declaimed one of the MPs, Christopher Brooke. The Commons wanted the Lords to come to the table – a joint conference to discuss these impositions and agree a common line (arf, arf) but Somerset, the Howards sitting in the Lords – they weren’t having it they wanted the king to get his wedge; but at the same time the leadership that they, Somerset and the council offered parliament was not strong, clear or indeed coercive enough to break the determination of the parliamentary mutineers. James’ supporters did fight back in parliament; Henry Wootten claimed that hereditary princes such as James were entitled to impose, whereas elective kings were not. On 21st May Sandys stood on his back legs and put his view; that there was no such distinction, that all kings were bound by a contractual relationship with their subjects. He played the French card again – that while in France the king did indeed arbitrarily lay an imposition on salt and also made the purchase of salt compulsory, following French practice would quickly
‘bring all to a tyrannical course’
Rather daringly he noted that for a king the consequences could be disastrous, as was demonstrated by the death ‘of the last great imposing prince’ – a reference to the assassination of Henri IV four years earlier. James’ impositions brought England as close ‘as it is come to be almost a tyrannical government’. This is far closer to describing James as a tyrant than was sensible for Sandys’ life chances.
Well James had probably heard enough anyway, but just to give you a flavour of political shenanigan, Northampton, rather on his last legs physically by the way, was very much of the opinion that this parliament should never have been called anyway, and that the king should just use his prerogative to raise money on his hapless subjects and squeeze them until the pips squeaked. Anyway, rather than relying on the ‘just tax the buggers, king’ approach, Northampton decided to manipulate his king instead – to make James so angry with parliament that he’d cancel parliament in a mardi. So he set up a friendly MP and noted literary wit, John Hoskyns, to do his dirty work for him. Hoskyns duly made a ranty speech about how much the Scots were filling their pockets and aren’t they awful. Hoskyns mixed his invective with wit, always a good idea, and said that a wise prince would send strangers home, as Canute had done; the reference to the Scots was as subtle as a Greggs Sausage, Cheese and Beans melt. He also told a risqué story about the murder of the French king’s entourage at the Sicilian Vespers, suggesting that might be a good approach for the Scots to follow. That was it – James dissolved Parliament. Its failure to achieve anything earned it the name in the textbooks of the Addled Parliament, and the fact that it passed no acts probably means it was not legally a parliament anyway. James ordered the notes of the conference about impositions delivered to him and tore them up, publicly, in the Banquetting hall in Whitehall in a rage – I do hope that didn’t get embarrassing and he tore them up in easy chunks. Could have gone so badly wrong. Sandys was called in, carpeted and imprisoned for a month, along with three other MPs.
James vented his spleen to the Spanish Ambassador, Gondamar. That this English parliament thing was rubbish, competely out of control, its members voted without rule or order amid cries, shouts and confusion – we do love tradition here. He said he’d found this thing when he arrived and had been able to do anything about it. Gondomar smoothly reminded him that parliament only got to meet when he said it did. A large bell rang in James’ mind. James and his loyal favourite and Howard faction would now search for alternative sources of revenue and rather like his son many years in the future, James resolved to rule without parliament if he possibly could – and for 7 years, he would. The first wheeze was the thing you might remember from medieval days – the delightfully named ‘benevolence’ – basically give me a loan or I’ll send my big brother round sort of thing, last done in 1546. The thing raised a lot of protests; but it also raised £65,000 which is a goodly amount. So despite the carping of the Commons, it seems that there was in fact plenty of support for James among the wealthier members of his kingdom. There would be other schemes we’ll come to, the Council was now on the look out for clever money raising to keep their king out of parliament and their parliament out of the things face. Meanwhile, by May 1614 the debt had risen to £680,000.
Talking of Northampton, we have come to the point where we must say good bye to another of the Knaval Trinity. For Henry Howard, earl of Northampton finally got round to having an operation to remove a tumour on his thigh; and of course it got infected, he died of gangrene. His will strongly suggested that yes, he was indeed the Kwisatz Haderach, or rather that he was in fact a Catholic. He was childless, so his estate went to the titular head of the Howard clan, the Earl of Arundel. That’s the thing about the Howards, let me tell you, they get everywhere, like a carpet of daises, or alternatively like mould.
Somerset then, in his pomp, worked with his master on raising money and in promoting the idea of a Spanish marriage for Charles, now that Henry was gone, because a Spanish Marriage carried with it not just diplomatic advantage, but also the prospect of a whopping dowry from Europe’s richest empire. But had Somerset looked down, he might have noticed that the seemingly solid rock on which he was standing on his highest mount was crumbling under his delicate toes. For a couple of reasons.
The first was in the form of a gilded youth – one George Villiers, a member of the minor gentry whom James’ gaydar had identified on the summer progress of 1614. Those courtiers less than adequately gruntled with Somerset thought that injecting a new beautiful favourite into the court blood stream might well undo Somerset and by Spring 1615 court was in a full factional bust up. Somerset did not take this rival to his golden goose well; he started berating his king and Bessie. James was set back, nose put out of joint – king’s weren’t used to this sort of thing. He called Somerset’s behaviour a ‘strange frenzy’:
So powdered and mixed with strange streams of unqietness, passion, fury and insolent pride and…with a settled kind of induced obstinancy
James warned his old favourite that he needed to behave, and that James’ grace and favour was not to be taken for granted
If I ever think ye to retain me by one sparkle of fear, all the violence of my love will in that instant be changed into as violent a hatred
However, dangerous as this was, there was actually worse to follow. Which we will come to next year.
Now before we go I’ve started the weekly word habit – only as an occasional thing I promise but I do seem to have come across a few, and as I listened to the aged M apologise for not eating her crusts at breakfast the other day – a crime of which I was frequently berated 50 years ago or so – I came across an article on Twitter in response to one of Allan Allport’s history tweets. Allan is a member of this parish, and also the author of Britain at Bay, the story of Britain in 1938-1941 which has received rave reviews from all over actually, and which Allan refers to as award winning. I think the award may have been from his mum, but don’t quote me.
Anyway someone mentioned the story of the Jolly boat of the WWII Merchant ship SS Anglo Saxon, which is on display at the Imperial war Museum. The Anglo Saxon was carrying coals to Argentina, and was caught by the German ship the Widder on the open seas and sunk. 3 lifeboats escaped, two of which were seen by the Widder and sunk – not sure if that’s cricket or not, but it’s ancient history I guess. Anyway, 7 folks managed to get onto the SS ANGLO Saxon’sJolly Boat. What follows is an amazing story – of these people with minimal supplies of food and water. Although the Atlantic was full of traffic and therefore there was a good chance of picking the lifeboat up, the Jolly boat was not in fact seen, and with each passing day the chances of survival fell for the 7 seamen. As the days dragged by, days turned into weeks and weeks, ladies and gentlemen, turned into months, 5 of the 7 men died, including Francis Penny recorded as having ‘slipped overboard’, a euphemism for having decided to commit suicide and give the others a greater chance of survival.
The remaining 2 men, survived 70 days on the open sea until landfall in the Bahamas. The Jolly boat did the rounds until finally in 1997 it returned to the UK.
So, I mentioned weekly word. Well – I give you Jolly boat. Jolly boat, what a fantastic word, you would surely feel just a little bit better about life when you stepped onto a jolly boat would you not? Although almost impossible not to do the Dr Spooner thing on it and call it a Bolly Joat. Go on, you just try to avoid that now I’ve put it in your brain. Well, unless your ship had just been torpedoed from underneath you and you’d seen your ship mates killed, obs. But in the normal run of things, you know being on a jolly Boat must be Jolly. But where does the word come from I wondered?
Well one of the problems of covering naval history I can reveal, which I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoy, is that the answers are almost as impenetrable as the questions. So here is the answer for what a jolly boat is from the OED
A clincher-built ship’s boat, smaller than a cutter, with a bluff bow and very wide transom, usually hoisted at the stern of the vessel, and used chiefly as a hack-boat for small work.
Well good golly miss molly, that’s cleared that up then. Let me unpick that like a history exam gobbet. Clincher built as you’ll probably know is where you have overlapping planks forming the hull of the boat. Except it’s spelled wrongly, clincher, so it should clearly be pronounced clincher – have I been saying it wrong all my life? Answers on a postcard. A cutter has nothing to do with a cookie, but again as you’ll know is a small vessel attached to a ship of war, though it’s also a name for a bigger ship built for speed…why can’t these people use different names for different things? Come on Keep it clean everyone. Bluff bow I assume is a flat bow like the Mirror dinghy my dad used to try and force me, unsuccessfully, to sail. I always wondered why you’d have a flat front. A wide Transom? Is a cross piece, so presumably making the boat sort of wide and flattish, …and then hack boat? Well a hack boat is a boat used for odd jobs, and the word apparently comes from the word for a horse for hire, a worn out old nag. Interestingly, the work hack comes from the north London village of Hackney, presumably because horses were reared and farmed in the meadows around the village before it got covered in concrete and tarmac.
So finally, with angels and arkangels and all the company of heaven, having translated the explanation for Jolly boat, I can get to the point – why is it called a jolly boat? Is it, I wonder, because it’s a jolly little thing, hopping merrily over the waves while it’s jolly jack tar swig grog and sing shanties on their way to a good old sing song down at the harbour pub? Well not, apparently, there are two alternatives; one is that it is a corruption and shortening of gellewatte, which means the same kind of boat centuries before, which could be a corruption of galeota, a small galley in Spanish or Portuguese. Or it could relate to small boats in many Germanic languages – such as the Danish jolle, a small boat in the 17th century. However, people doubt that because although they are spelled with a J, they are pronounced with a y. I’m sorry as with all these things, sometimes the journey is better than the arrival, though I was interested to see that a Jolly was also a name for a Royal Marine, hhmmm, and a tame jolly for a milita man, which sounds like a sort of regular army put down for the part timers.
Anyway, Bolly Joat, there you are. This is then IT, the last Podcast of the year, I shall return on 2nd January. Can I just make a quick pitch – if at any stage you are looking for a later Christmas present, why not give you best friend as a reward a membership of the history if England? It’s very simple, very quick, so shipping time – just go to the history of England .co.uk and you will see a nice banner to click on.