British/Irish historical facts that will make you go, “Uuuhhhh?”

November 1, 2021

by Martin Odoni

01) King Edward IV of England was the father of King Edward II of England.

02) Mary Queen of Scots was French.

03) The winning General at the Battle of Waterloo was Irish.

04) Henry I won the Battle of Bosworth Field.

05) The Wars of the Roses ended in 1499.

06) The Hundred Years’ War was not a war and it did not last 100 years.

07) The Battle of Bannockburn was won by an English King, and lost by a Welsh King.

08) The first Norman King of England was Edward The Confessor.

09) King Henry VIII had four wives.

10) Mary I was the third woman to rule England.

11) Elizabeth I is alive today.

12) West Wales is in England.

13) England became an independent country in 1259.

14) The Duke of Devonshire owns a county that does not exist.

15) The Patron Saint of Ireland was British.

16) The eighth King of England after the completion of the Norman Conquest was called Louis I.

17) The last English Royal House to hold the crown of England fell in 1067.

18) After King Harold died at the Battle of Hastings, he was succeeded as King by a Hungarian.

19) Macduff (or “King Duff” to give his correct name) died over thirty years before King Macbeth was even born.

20) There were two “William the Conquerors” of England.

21) “Henry Tudor” was King Henry VIII.

22) There was no King of England called “Alfred.”

23) When William of Orange invaded England from the Dutch Republic in 1688, he arrived on the English coast before he set off from the Low Countries.

24) Approximately 75 times as many people die as a direct result of falling out of bed in the USA annually, than died as a direct result of the Great Fire of London of 1666.

25) There was no singular, united, independent Ireland.

26) Wales is not represented on the Union Flag.

27) England was the last of the four nations of the British/Irish archipelago to become Christian.

28) There is no such title as “King of Scotland” or “Queen of Scotland.”

29) The penultimate battle in the Wars of the Roses was fought between Ireland and England.

30) A British Prime Minister’s last words before death were, “This is not the end of me.”

31) The name of the ancient Welsh Kingdom of Dyfed is Irish.

32) King Henry V of England was the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales.

33) Bonnie Prince Charlie was a Polish-Italian.

34) Wales did not have a capital city until after two years after the death of Joseph Stalin.

35) The Channel Islands have no monarch.

36) The word Sais (short for Saxon) is a derogatory Welsh term for a Welshman.

37) England, Scotland and Wales do not have national anthems.

38) An independent Scotland was protected from France by England for about 150 years.

39) The traditional national colour of Ireland is blue.

40) The traditional Royal Arms of England is a shield emblazoned with Three Leopards.

41) Mary Queen of Scots formally claimed the throne of France while she was happily married to the French King.

42) After they saved her from the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I of England starved her sailors to death in their hundreds.

43) God Save The King was a Jacobite anthem.

44) The English Kings Edward II, Henry V, and Henry VII were all Welsh.

45) The Pope wanted the Protestant army to win the Battle of the Boyne.

46) The Welsh re-conquered England in the 15th Century.

47) The longest war in recorded human history lasted for 335 years due to what was effectively a clerical oversight.

48) The shortest war in history did not see out its first hour.

49) John Balliol was chosen to be King of Scots by the Scottish nobility and not by Edward I.

50) The USA and the British once mobilised whole armies and a fleet to settle a dispute over a dead pig.

To explain; –

01) King Edward IV of England was the father of King Edward II of England.

The Norman Conquest of the 11th Century is normally seen as the “reboot” point of the English monarchy, with all Kings prior to the Conquest – “The Anglo-Saxon Kings” and “The Danish Kings” – treated as a separate, severed succession, and the present line only starting with William the Conqueror. There were three Kings in the old Saxon line who went by the name of Edward; Edward The Elder (although he did not rule the whole of England), Edward The Martyr, and Edward The Confessor.

In the 13th Century, Edward ‘Longshanks,’ son of King Henry III, succeeded to the throne, as the first King of England to go by the very Saxon name of Edward since the Conquest. He idolised Edward The Confessor, and therefore wanted him acknowledged in the English succession. Knowing that meant acknowledging all the pre-Conquest Kings, Edward insisted at his coronation that he be crowned “King Edward IV.” Historians always treat him as Edward I to help avoid confusion with his descendant from the Wars of the Roses, but he always styled himself as Edward IV. Even so, on his death his son became Edward II.

02) Mary Queen of Scots was French.

Mary I was a minority monarch of Scotland; she was only six days old when her father, King James V, died of apparent extreme stress brought on by the threat of war with Henry VIII of England. The conflict was about Henry’s attempts to force a betrothal of his infant son Edward to Mary, creating a union of crowns between the two Kingdoms when the two children came of age and could be married. This war, which featured some truly savage atrocities by English forces across southern Scotland, became known with gallows humour as The War of the Rough Wooing, with England ‘courting’ Scotland with flames instead of flowers.

To protect Mary, her French mother, Mary of Guise, and the Earl of Arran, eventually arranged for the young Queen to be shipped to the French Court to keep her out of Henry’s grasp, when she was five years old. There, young Mary, daughter of a French aristocrat, was brought up entirely in the French tradition, marrying the French Dauphin, and becoming Queen-consort of France when the Dauphin became King.

By the time she returned to Scotland in 1561, after the death of her husband, Mary only had vague recall of the nation of her birth. She no longer even shared a religion with many of the Scottish nobles and Government; a year before her return, the Scottish Parliament had formally broken from Roman Catholicism and adopted a new Presbyterian Protestant system for the Church. To Mary, almost everything she found in her Kingdom was foreign to her, because she was French at heart.

03) The winning General at the Battle of Waterloo was Irish.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s last battle and most notorious defeat was inflicted in part by the army of the Duke of Wellington (albeit with critically important support from the Prussian army of Marshall Gerbhard von Blücher). Wellington, born Arthur Wellesley, is often portrayed in modern media as the epitome of aristocratic Englishness; stern, icy-calm, posh-voiced, intolerant, strict, but with a certain cool aplomb. However, while some of these traits were very definitely in his make-up, Wellington was a Dubliner, born and brought up in Ireland, all before the union of 1800. He was therefore not only not English, but arguably not even British.

04) Henry I won the Battle of Bosworth Field.

The Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 was the decisive battle of the Wars Of The Roses, the tug-of-war for the English Crown between the Houses of Lancaster and York that dominated the late-15th Century. One King, Richard III, died during the battle, and another, Henry Earl of Richmond, was crowned at its conclusion.

Richmond’s claim to the throne was extremely dubious. He was the last remaining member of the House of Lancaster (which had more or less been wiped out completely by 1472), but only loosely. He was descended by an illegitimate line from John of Gaunt, fourth son of King Edward III, and precursor of the Lancastrian line. Due to inter-marriage, Richmond was also a nephew of Henry VI, but only on his mother’s side of the family; Catherine of Valois, the widow of Henry V, had married Welsh aristocrat Owen Tudor. Their son was Edmund Tudor, who was therefore Henry VI’s half-brother, but with no descent from Henry V. Therefore, as Edmund’s son, Richmond’s ties to the Lancastrian line were somewhat flimsy, and so his claim to the throne was incredibly remote.

However, after winning at Bosworth, Richmond did not officially claim the throne by right of descent. Instead he claimed the throne by “right of conquest.” This technically severed the line established by William the Conqueror (see 01)) and should have ‘reset the counter’ on all English monarchs’ names. For reasons of discouraging rebellions against him, by trying to present his succession as something other than a conquest, Richmond styled himself as Henry VII. He reinforced his claim by marrying Elizabeth of York, older sister of the Yorkist child-King Edward V, also uniting the competing wings of the Royal Family.

But legally, Henry Tudur, Earl of Richmond, was a conqueror, and so should be referred to as Henry I.

05) The Wars of the Roses ended in 1499.

The Battle of Bosworth (see 04)) may have been the decisive battle in the Wars Of The Roses, but contrary to popular understanding, it was not the last. None of the battles that followed Bosworth caused a change of succession, or the installation of a new monarch by force. Instead, succession was restored to fairly peaceful transition by birthright. But there were still some battles ahead for the hybrid ‘Tudor’ Dynasty against rebels who wanted the old ‘Yorkist’ succession restored, untainted by the mixing with Lancastrian blood.

One issue never fully resolved was the so-called ‘Princes In The Tower,’ Edward V and his brother, Richard Duke of York, who both disappeared while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1483. Their uncle, Richard Duke of Gloucester, had claimed that the two boys were illegitmate and therefore could not succeed to the throne. Gloucester thus had himself installed as the new King, Richard III, causing the House of York to split, and the two boys vanished not long after. Their exact fate has never been conclusively established, but it seems likeliest that Richard III had them murdered so they could not return to challenge him. However, after Henry VII (or is it I? See 04)) overthrew Richard at Bosworth, some Yorkist rebel groups would unite against him in support of men claiming to be the missing Princes.

Firstly, an impostor called Lambert Simnel emerged in 1487 claiming initially to be the young Richard Duke of York, before later changing his story and claiming to be Edward V’s paternal cousin, Edward Earl of Warwick – even though Warwick was still alive. Simnel was even granted a ‘Coronation’ in Ireland as ‘Edward VI’. He landed with an army in England soon afterwards, but his forces were easily beaten by Henry’s men at the Battle of Stoke Field near Nottingham. Interestingly, Henry pardoned Simnel for his rebellion on the grounds of his youthful naivety.

Four years later, a man emerged at the Court of Burgundy claiming to be Richard Duke of York, and by rights King Richard IV of England. He landed in England in 1495, but was not even able to disembark from his ship before his small band of followers were beaten at the Battle of Deal. He made another attempt to invade, through Cornwall, in 1497. His army, this time 6,000 strong, marched quickly across the West Country, unsuccessfully besieging Exeter before advancing on Somerset. Near Taunton however, they were intercepted by Henry’s army and soon surrendered. The man claiming to be Richard was arrested, taken to the Tower of London, and revealed to be another impostor, called Perkin Warbeck.

Again, Henry initially treated his challenger generously, allowing him to live at Court, a kind of rich man’s imprisonment. But after several attempts to escape, Henry lost patience and had him executed in 1499. With Warbeck’s death, the last serious attempt at restoring the House of York ended. Although the Plantagenets’ cousins, the de la Pole family, continued their claim to the House of York and the throne for several generations afterwards, they never made another serious attempt to seize power. And so the Wars of the Roses had finally come to an end.

06) The Hundred Years’ War was not a war and it did not last 100 years.

The Hundred Years’ War, in which a succession of English Kings tried to claim the throne of France, was really a series of three connected conflicts, spread across at least one hundred and sixteen years (and arguably lasting until England formally rescinded its claim to France in the early-19th Century). English failure in the later stages of the 116 years was what triggered the Wars of the Roses.

The English claim to the French throne may look absurd at first glance, but in fact was a lot more plausible than it appeared. It stemmed from the end of the Capetian line of French Kings, with the death of Charles IV in 1328.

The intertwined family trees of France and England in the 14th Century were the cause of enormous conflict. Pic c/o

Charles outlived his sons and his brothers – two of whom had ruled before him but died childless – and had only a solitary sister, Princess Isabella, who had a son who lived to adulthood; Isabella had married King Edward II of England, by whom she had a son who became Edward III. Edward III of England was therefore the nephew of three Kings of France. More, he was also the grandson of a previous King of France, Philip IV. Edward believed that, as Charles IV’s closest living male relative, and as a direct descendent through his mother of Philip IV, he had a right to become the next King of France.

This was reinforced by his marriage to Phillippa of Hainault, who was a granddaughter of Philip III of France.

Philippa of Hainault was the daughter of the Count of Valois, who was in turn the son of Philip III, so both sides of Edward III’s marriage were descended from recent French Kings. Image c/o

However, French law forbade a woman from becoming the reigning monarch, and it was assumed that as Isabella thus could never have claimed the throne, she had no claim to transmit onto her offspring. There was no explicit rule saying this, but instead, when Charles IV died, the succession went “backwards and sideways”. Going back to Philip IV, he had a brother, Charles Count of Valois, who had died in 1325, but who had a son, yet another fellow called Philip, and the throne was passed to him, to rule as Philip VI of France, the first King of the House of Valois.

Edward might have grudgingly accepted this, but in 1337, his distant cousin confiscated the few territories in France still held by the English crown, due to supposed intrigues between Edward and a criminal French ex-courtier who was in refuge in London. Edward responded by asserting his claim to the French throne, and declaring war. Every monarch of England/Great Britain between then and 1801 claimed to be the rightful ruler of France. It was customary at English Coronations for many generations ahead, for the new King to be acclaimed, “King of England, Ireland and France.”

07) The Battle of Bannockburn was won by an English King, and lost by a Welsh King.

The Battle of Bannockburn was the decisive battle of the First War of Scottish Independence. It was fought between the army of Scotland, led by Robert The Bruce, King of Scots, and King Edward II of England, near Stirling in 1314. However, the winner, King Robert was technically an English King, just not a King of England.

Bruce was a descendant of a Norman aristocratic family that first arrived in Britain with William the Conqueror in 1066 – a distant ancestor actually fought at William’s side at the Battle of Hastings. In the intervening centuries, the Bruces – real name De Brus but badly mispronounced in both England and Scotland and the mispronunciation ultimately stuck – remained a powerful and prominent House in both the Anglo-Norman, and then Angevin eras. They also spread peacefully north through inter-marriage into the aristocracy of Scotland, and by the start of the 14th Century, the Bruce line held wide territories on both sides of the border. Although we are not sure, Robert the Bruce himself was probably born in Huntingdon, of which he was Earl, and spent roughly as much of his time at the Court in England as he did at the Court in Scotland.

During the War of Independence, Bruce had changed sides more than once, and very early in the conflict, he and his family had even had to flee Scotland and go into hiding in England; the Ruling Council of Lords (see 49) were trying to have them arrested for supporting Edward I’s growing interference in Scottish politics. Bruce’s later switches between sides were numerous, and always about self-interest. They had little to do with principle, or a belief in Scottish freedom or identity. He knew he could never be a King in England, but he had a strong claim to Scotland, and that decided his ultimate position in the War.

Edward II, meanwhile, was known prior to succeeding to the throne as ‘Edward of Caernarfon’, as he was born in Pembroke Castle in Wales. He was even the first Prince of the English Royal succession to bear the title of ‘Prince Of Wales’, so he was, at least in part, a Welshman.

08) The first Norman King of England was Edward The Confessor.

When we talk of the first Norman King of England, we all think of William The Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, and when we think of Anglo-Saxon Kings, one of the first names we will think of is Edward The Confessor. But culturally speaking, Edward was almost as Norman as his cousin William, far more so than he was English, and had it not been for his Norman links and tendencies, the Conquest would never have happened.

Although he was born in England, Edward’s mother was Emma of Normandy, establishing a connection with the Duchy at birth. Edward and his brother Alfred were forced into exile from England when young due to conflict over the throne with the Danish King of England, Canute. After Canute’s death, they returned to England in 1036, when the Danish regent keeping an eye on the throne for them, Harold Harefoot, attempted to seize the crown himself. Harefoot had Alfred murdered, and Edward retreated to Normandy once more. He only returned to England again in 1041, after the death of Harefoot, to become heir to the throne of the new King Harthacnut – another Dane. Harthacnut died a year later, and Edward became King of England, restoring the House of Wessex.

Having been born c.1004, the Confessor had spent just 14 of his 38 years in England. The Norman-style architecture of Westminster Abbey, built at his command, bears testament to how much more Norman he was than English.

09) King Henry VIII had four wives.

No, Henry VIII did not have six wives. It might be as few as three, but I conclude that the correct number is four. Henry did have six weddings, but that is not quite the same thing.

Of the six candidates, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr, Anne of Cleves’ “marriage” is discounted straight away. Her marriage to Henry was annulled and ruled never to have happened, on grounds of non-consummation. Basically, she and Henry found each other so repulsive that they just could not bring themselves to have sex. As part of the compensation settlement Anne received, she was formally given the bizarre title ‘The King’s Sister,’ which of course makes it legally impossible for them ever to have married.

Prior to that, Henry’s first two “marriages” are essentially mutually exclusive. Either one of them was valid or the other was, but they cannot both be valid. Henry, after enormous, earth-shaking wrangles, including breaking from the authority of the Pope and establishing a Protestant Church of England, managed to annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon on grounds that she had married his older brother Arthur a couple of years before he died. Henry pointed to a passage in the Bible that said if a man marries his brother’s wife, they shall remain childless, and this would explain why their marriage had produced no sons.

(This is a nonsense interpretation, by the way. The passage from Leviticus 20:21 refers to relations with a brother’s wife while the brother is still alive; another passage in the Bible, Deuteronomy 25:5, actually commands a man to marry his brother’s widow, and Catherine was Arthur’s widow. And while the ‘marriage’ had produced no surviving sons, it had produced a healthy daughter.)

The ‘marriage’ was annulled and declared never to have happened, and Henry then married Anne Boleyn. The Boleyn ‘marriage’ was illegal under Catholic law, as the Catholic Church had never authorised the annulment of the Aragon marriage; as far as the Pope was concerned, Henry was still married to Catherine. Which of the first two marriages was valid depends to some extent on whether you think the Church of England had the right to adjudicate, or whether you think the Catholic Church had sole jurisdiction, but also on how sound the reasons for the respective judgements were. (My own position is that the Aragon marriage was valid, and the Boleyn marriage was not.)

Either way, at least one of the two marriages was invalid and must be discounted. Given the Boleyn marriage was also declared null and void shortly before her execution, it is possible that both of the first two marriages officially never happened. So as I say, Henry had either three or four wives, but definitely not six.

10) Mary I was the third woman to rule England.

As mentioned above, the Aragon marriage of Henry VIII did produce a healthy daughter, Mary. She would become the very first Queen to reign as monarch of England in 1553. This is usually taken to mean that she was the first woman to rule England, but that is not the case. No, her cousin once-removed, Lady Jane Grey, did not count, as she was never crowned, never issued any commands, and was firmly controlled by her family, who were using her as a puppet ruler for the nine days her ascendancy lasted. But there were two other women who ruled England before the Tudor Dynasty was ever heard of.

The first was the grand-daughter of William The Conqueror, and mother of Henry II. Her name was Matilda, sometimes called ‘Empress Matilda’ due to being a child-bride betrothed to the Holy Roman Emperor in what is now Germany. (The marriage never happened due to the Emperor’s premature death.) Matilda picked up a lot of, shall we say, ‘Prussian’ manners and ideas on leadership while there. Matilda’s younger brother, William Adelin, was heir to the throne, but he died in the Disaster Of The Sinking Of The White Ship in 1120, and their father, Henry I, had no other legitimate sons, so named Matilda his heir. Many in the English aristocracy could not bring themselves to take orders from a woman though, especially not one as autocratic as Matilda, and so sided with her cousin, Stephen of Blois.

When Henry I died, Stephen claimed the throne, and the two cousins spent the next seventeen years ravaging both England and Normandy as they struggled for the crown, in a civil war we know as ‘The Anarchy’. Matilda effectively ruled England for about seven of those years. She was never crowned or acclaimed Queen, which is why she is not counted as one of England’s monarchs. But she was definitely one of England’s rulers, and she was also mother to Stephen’s successor, Henry II, who would become England’s greatest Medieval ruler.

And during the Wars of the Roses, for long stretches of his life, the Lancastrian King Henry VI suffered bouts of depressive insanity. During these spells, the reigns of Government were taken up by his vastly more capable wife, Margaret of Anjou. She effectively ruled the country for almost all of the Lancastrian years of ascendancy during the power-struggle with the Yorkists, so she is rightly recognised by most historians as the second woman to rule England.

11) Elizabeth I is alive today.

Elizabeth I of England was the last monarch to rule England before the personal union of crowns with Scotland. This union was established under James VI of Scotland, who as a distant cousin of Elizabeth became James I of England upon her death. This means that Elizabeth was never Queen of Scotland. Therefore, the current Queen is the first reigning monarch called Elizabeth to ‘rule’ Scotland. Indeed, she is officially addressed in Scotland as, “Queen Elizabeth the First of Great Britain.”

There is some doubt as to whether she should really be referred to as “Elizabeth the Second” in England either, as the Kingdom Of England was absorbed into the United Kingdom in in 1707, and the term has been an anachronism ever since. The post-Norman succession-count really should have been reset to zero after the Union.

12) West Wales is in England.

The coast of Wales facing Ireland is western Wales. But “West Wales” is the Dark Age name for much of the south-west peninsular of what is now England – Cornwall, Devon and parts of Somerset and Dorset.

As Anglo-Saxon settlers took over post-Roman Britain, many of the native Romano-Britons fled west, eventually forming Wales north of the River Avon, and the Kingdom of Cornwall to its south. The Saxons, with breathtaking impertinence, often called the Britons, ‘Wealash’ (roughly pronounced “Vee-lash,” meaning ‘foreigners’ – even though the Saxons were the ones from overseas), from which the term ‘Welsh’ is derived. So in the era before they conquered the south-west, the Saxons called the territory north of the Avon, “Wales,” and the Kingdom of Cornwall, somewhat oddly, “West Wales.”

Why they did not call it “South Wales” has never been made completely clear, at least not to me.

13) England became an independent country in 1259.

After England was conquered by William I in the 1060s, it became united and subject to Normandy for the next couple of centuries. The standard assumption is that England effectively became independent of Normandy when the Angevin Empire collapsed during the reign of King John, in 1204; Normandy was captured and re-annexed by the French King in that year.

But in fact, one remnant of the Duchy of Normandy – what we now call the Channel Islands – was not reconquered by the French, remaining only a nominal French fiefdom instead. Technically the autonomous form of the Duchy still existed therefore, and England – believe it or not – remained officially subordinate to it. It was not until 1259, under the Treaty of Albeville between Henry III of England and Louis IX of France that French nominal overlordship of the Channel Islands was formally relinquished, and so they ceased to be part of France and, by extension, ceased to be part of the Duchy of Normandy. Therefore they ceased to be part of the polity that had conquered England, and although they remained a possession of the English crown, they were now separate legal entities from it.

England became independent at that point, even though it continued to be ruled by the descendants of its conquerors.

14) The Duke of Devonshire owns a county that does not exist.

There is on the formal list of peerages of the English Aristocracy a position known as “The Duke Of Devonshire,” a title held by the Cavendish family. But no one is completely sure why the title exists.

The first problem is that, although the name is used a lot in common parlance, there is no such place in England as “Devonshire.” The county of Devon has never been formally given the -shire suffix, and the term appears to originate from a mangling of the ancient Saxon name for the county, Defenascire.

The second problem is that Devon is an Earldom, not a Dukedom or Duchy – the Earl of Devon is a separate title, which has been held by the Courtenay family, with interruptions, since Plantagenet times.

To add to the confusion, for many decades, the title of “Duke of Devonshire” was preceded by the “Earl of Devonshire.” The Dukes of Devonshire historically have had few or no particular links to Devon, and have largely been closely-connected to Derbyshire in the north Midlands – their ancestral seat is Chatsworth House, which is near Chesterfield.

A quaint urban myth that has common traction in the south-west of England is therefore that the Dukedom was only established because some short-sighted civil servant during the reign of William III had misread “Duke of Derbyshire” during a ceremony of ennoblement. To avoid embarrassment, the mistake was simply allowed to stick, and so Devon has had to put up with two aristocratic overlords ever since.

Although a charming notion, it is clearly untrue, given the prior history of the “Earldom of Devonshire.” That title appears to have been established in 1603, early in the reign of William’s great-grandfather, James I, but to reiterate, we are not certain why it was created. There had been no Earl of Devon since the days of Mary I, due to the Earl of the 1550s getting caught up in the Thomas Wyatt rebellion. It would have made more sense simply for James to revive the old title, but instead he created a new one.

This might have been okay, except that the Earldom of Devon was brought out of limbo in the 19th Century, and retroactively bestowed upon intervening generations of the Courtenays. The Dukedom of “Devonshire” was not done away with at the same time, and so the paradox of both the Cavendish and Courtenay families claiming supremacy over the county has remained in place ever since.

15) The Patron Saint of Ireland was British.

The Patron Saint of Ireland, as everyone knows, is St. Patrick. His life is a legend, known in his own time as The Patricius, or father of the Irish people, and to later generations as the Apostle of Ireland, he was the man credited with being the first Christian Primate of Ireland, completing the task of turning the island into a Christian nation long before Scotland or England ever became so. His Saint’s Day on 17th March (putative anniversary of his death) is just about the most Irish day in the world, and is celebrated with every available surface being coloured Emerald Green and everyone with even the remotest drop of Irish blood in their veins partying their hearts out and parading the Irish tricolour with pride through the streets of major cities globally. It is even traditional for Irishmen to be nicknamed, somewhat condescendingly, ‘Paddies,’ in reference to St. Patrick.

It therefore can come as a somewhat sobering shock to realise that Patrick was about as Irish as about half the footballers who played for the Republic of Ireland when the late Jack Charlton was their manager. Patrick was born in Roman Britain, around the year 385AD, probably somewhere near Hadrian’s Wall, and until he was sixteen, he never even set foot in Ireland. Indeed, he only went there under duress initially, as he was captured by Irish raiders and sold into slavery, working farm-fields and taking care of animals at an unclear location. He even escaped and returned to Britain after about six years, and he only joined the clergy during his time back home.

Patrick only returned to Ireland many years after the Roman legions departed, and was a relatively old man, by the standards of the time, when he began his work to build up the Irish Church. He probably died when he was around 75 years old, roughly 30 years after returning to Ireland. He spent a large part of his life in Ireland, certainly, but it was still probably less than half of his time on Earth.

16) The eighth King of England after the completion of the Norman Conquest was called Louis I.

If any statement will cause Englishmen to offer you a blank look, it is any that contains the words, “King Louis I of England.” The vast majority of people will never have heard of him, and with such a French-sounding name, the notion will seem mildly bewildering. Nonetheless, there was a King of England called Louis, but formal English history has rather tried to skate over the whole episode.

During the collapse of the Angevin Empire under King John, the Norman/Angevin aristocracy had largely retreated to England, which was what the old dominion had more or less been reduced to. The French were clearly not satisfied with merely confiscating the Plantagenet Kings’ French possessions though, and for the rest of John’s reign, there was a constant threat of a French invasion of England itself.

John got into a long-running quarrel with Pope Innocent III, which eventually led to his excommunication, and his arbitrary taxation policy as he tried to fund his (entirely futile) attempts to recapture Normandy put a lot of Anglo-Norman lords out-of-pocket. John seized church lands, and clamped down mercilessly on vocal opponents, often imprisoning people whose loyalty he doubted without trial.

This mass of bad policy led to growing opposition amongst the English baronial class. A failed assault on Normandy in 1214 triggered a revolt by the Barons that lasted for several years. Some of the English Barons wanted a full change of monarch, and they invited the French Dauphin, Prince Louis, to invade and become the next King of England. Louis had a flimsy claim to the English throne due to being a great-grandson of Henry II, and the son of John’s niece, Blanche of Castile.

Louis’ invasion was initially quite successful. He seized control of much of the south and west, hemming in John’s army in the north. Also facing a Scottish invasion to the north, John found his forces were ‘meat-in-the-sandwich,’ and for much of 1215, he looked almost certain to be deposed.

Louis soon entered London, and at St. Paul’s Cathedral, he was proclaimed King of England by the local population, including many nobles such as the King of Scots, Alexander II, who held lands south of the border and therefore was an English courtier. (Louis was not crowned though, mainly because John still had the crown himself.)

However, from there, Louis’ conquest of England lost all impetus, and he increasingly startled and alienated a number of his English supporters with his poor strategic skills, and his attitude to Government, which seemed little different to John’s.

With the sudden death of John late in 1216, most of the English nobility decided to switch their allegiance to his infant son Henry III, and against Louis, who was soon chased out of the country and back to France. Nonetheless, he had been proclaimed King of England and had controlled wide stretches of the country for some months, facts that England’s political class tried very hard in subsequent times to pretend had never happened.

17) The last English Royal House to hold the crown of England fell in 1067.

All Royal Houses of England since the Norman Conquest have been non-English at root. The Norman Kings and the Angevin Kings (Plantagenets) were essentially French, and indeed regarded themselves quite firmly as Frenchmen up until the later years of Henry III. The Angevin line ended with Richard II, and control of the throne was divided between the Houses of York and Lancaster during the Wars Of Roses, but these were still sub-categories of the Plantagenet succession, and so were still French in origin. After the Wars ended, the Plantagenets were succeeded by the Tudor dynasty, who were Welsh. The Tudors in turn were succeeded by the Stuart (‘Stewart’) Kings of Scotland, who were in turn succeeded by the Houses of Hanover, and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (renamed ‘Windsor’ for political reasons during the World Wars), which were German. The House that was displaced during the Norman Conquest was the House of Godwin. But it was not the last Anglo-Saxon Royal House before the Normans took over. Go on to 18).

18) After King Harold died at the Battle of Hastings, he was succeeded as King by a Hungarian.

William the Conqueror was not the next King of England when Harold II died at the Battle of Hastings. In Anglo-Saxon times, the transition of power between the dying King and his successor was not a simple matter of father-to-first-born-son inheritance, although in practice it often turned out that way. Instead, the new King was elected by a Council of Elders called the Witan, or Witenagemot.

When news of Harold’s death reached London, William’s army was still some weeks away, recovering after the battle. Harold’s brothers had also died at Hastings, leaving no immediate successor from the House of Godwin.

However, the old House of Wessex did have a more remote claimant. His name was Edgar the Aethling. He was the grandson of King Edmond Ironside, who had a very brief reign until his defeat at the hands of the first Danish ruler of England, King Canute. Canute took the English crown in Edmond’s place in 1016, with Edmond dying later that year.

Edmond’s son, Edward Aethling, or Edward the Exile, retreated to Hungary, where Edgar was born and brought up. The Confessor had actually named Edgar’s father as his heir in 1056, although Edward the Exile died a year later, and whether Edgar should automatically inherit that nomination was not really made clear. Nonetheless, 50 years on from Canute’s victory, the Witan decided to elect Edgar to be the new King to succeed Harold II, restoring the House of Wessex.

However, within weeks William besieged London, and demanded the throne by right of conquest. The Saxon Earls, including Edgar himself, soon submitted to him, and Edgar’s reign ended without him ever being crowned. And so it was that William, Duke of Normandy, was crowned King William I on Christmas Day 1066.

Despite his Hungarian upbringing and Saxon background, Edgar was to be a significant player at the court of the first three Norman Kings, and became a major figure in the struggles to secure the Scottish border. Edgar’s niece, Matilda of Scotland (christened Edith), married Henry I of England, son of William the Conqueror, thus reconnecting the House of Wessex to the new Norman Royal line, and adding an air of legitimacy to the Norman succession from a Saxon perspective.

19) Macduff (or “King Duff” to give his correct name) died over thirty years before King Macbeth was even born.

According to William Shakespeare’s popular tragedy, Macbeth, an ambitious Scottish thane of the 11th Century, Lord Macbeth, murdered his way to the throne of all Scotland by assassinating the incumbent King Duncan. The play then has it that Macbeth became paranoid to the point of madness that having set such a blood-soaked precedent, he would be overthrown in a similarly violent manner, and started bumping off the rest of the Scottish aristocracy. Then one brave, honourable lord, Macduff, emerged from exile to slay Macbeth and put the crown on the head of the rightful King, Malcolm III.

Now please do not get me wrong. I am not knocking the play as a work of literature or as a drama. Macbeth is a fine story and I enjoy a good performance of it. And yes, some of the background details above are loosely correct. But in the end, Macbeth is not history. It is no more an accurate look at early Scottish history than the 1995 movie Braveheart is an accurate look at the Wars of Scottish Independence.

For one thing, the historical Macbeth was King of Alba, not of Scotland, which could not be said to have united into a single entity yet (Strathclyde and Lothian in the south had not yet been annexed). It is true that Macbeth was responsible for the death of Duncan I, but he did not murder him with a knife in the towers of a castle in the dead of night. Instead, Duncan died on the battlefield at the hands of Macbeth’s troops at the Battle of Bothnagowan in Moray, in the year 1040.

And above all, Macbeth’s demise was certainly not the work of Macduff. The historical figure Macduff is based on was actually just called King Duff, or Duff MacMalcolm, and he was a previous King of Alba, who is understood to have reigned from 962 to his death in 967.

As Macbeth was not even born until 1005, and lived until 1057, it is perfectly impossible that Duff ever met him, let alone slew him.

20) There were two “William the Conquerors” of England.

When people talk about William The Conqueror of England, the correct response should really be, “Which one?” William I, Duke of Normandy and first of the Norman line of Kings, is the one we all know of, but the seventeenth century gave us another who should be more famous than he is. We make ourselves feel better about his successful invasion by calling his reign a “Glorious Revolution,” rather than the conquest it undoubtedly was.

During the reign of James VII of Scotland and II of England, it was becoming very clear by 1688 that the King was making moves to return both Kingdoms to Catholicism against their will. James’ daughter Mary was married to William of Orange, Chief Stathauder of the Dutch Republic, who was also her maternal cousin and James’ nephew. William and Mary were both Protestants, and the English nobility invited them to invade England, remove James, and succeed him.

William was in fact not all that interested in ruling Britain or Ireland in itself, but he knew a religious war was coming between the Protestant Dutch and the Catholic French in the near future. If James remained in charge of England and Scotland, he would involve British troops in the conflict in support of France. Whereas if William were in charge of England and Scotland, he could send British troops into the conflict in support of the Dutch.

Therefore, in November, William’s forces landed in Devon, and started a progress towards London. James’ army was actually larger than William’s, but desertions to the invasion force were rapid, and it was soon clear that the morale of James’ remaining troops was too low for battle. James lost his nerve and fled the country. William captured London, and on the 28th of December he took control of the Government.

There was still a chance that Scotland might have sided with James, had he handled the situation with cool diplomacy. Instead, he sent a letter of angrily-worded demands to the Scottish Church, threatening brutal repercussions if he did not receive their complete compliance. This inevitably turned the Scottish majority against him, and William and Mary were offered the Scottish crown in May. By this time, James had been formally ruled to have abdicated the joint-throne of England and Ireland by his absence, and so the English throne was offered to William and Mary jointly as well.

There was considerable Irish opposition to a Protestant ‘Minister’ overthrowing a Catholic King, and an early ‘Jacobite’ Uprising led to two years of bitter fighting for control of Ireland, with both James and William present in person, before the new regime riveted control there. But by the end of those two years, William had conquered England, Scotland and Ireland, with Wales absorbed by default. He was even more a conqueror than William I had ever been, and his story is what gives the joke to the long-running self-delusion among modern Englishmen that England has been unconquerable for a thousand years.

21) “Henry Tudor” was King Henry VIII.

“Henry Tudor” is an anglicism of the Welsh name Henry ap Maredudd ap Tudur (roughly pronounced, “Henry app Mah-rah-diff app Tidd-eer.”) While Henry VII, formerly the Earl of Richmond (see 04), is the man usually referred to as “Henry Tudor,” his birthname was in fact spelt and pronounced the Welsh way detailed above. He was therefore Henry Tudur (“Henry Tidd-eer”) and not “Henry Tudor.”


Henry’s son however, the notorious Henry VIII, did refer to his family as “Tudors” in the anglicised way, and so he, not his father, is the one whom we should refer to as Henry Tudor.


22) There was no King of England called “Alfred.”

The 9th Century legendary figure of the burned cakes, Alfred the Great, is sometimes thought of as a kind of ‘founder of England’ figure. However, this is an acceleration of history, as Alfred was never the King of England. Although his work did much to bring it closer, England did not exist as a single coherent entity until decades after his death.

Alfred was merely the ruler of the Kingdom of Wessex. This meant he was essentially King of one of the petty kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy of the Dark Ages, which would eventually unite into a single country to resist the increasing dominance of the Danish Vikings.

Alfred’s achievements, both military and non-military, were undoubtedly phenomenal, including rescuing Wessex from destruction just as it appeared to be in its death-throes. His victory at the Batlle of Edington stopped the Viking army in its tracks and forced them to retreat to the town of Chippenham, which they had recently captured. There, Alfred’s troops besieged the town and starved the Vikings into submission. He later forced the Vikings to accept a peace settlement in which ‘England’ was divided into two, roughly-equal lands; Anglo-Saxon England across the south and west, and ‘Danelaw’ England across the north and east.

Anglo-Saxon England v Danelaw England

Alfred ruled the Anglo-Saxon territory, and was given the title of King of all Englishmen not subject to the Danes. He established what later evolved into the Royal Navy, the Fyrdsman system of army recruitment, the burh system of land fortifications against attack, created the precedent of written codified law, and revived learning and literacy among his population after a century of fearful decline, in part caused by decades of Viking attacks.

But for all these phenomenal achievements in an era of Dark Age technology, Alfred only ever ruled about half of England. Of the Danelaw territory, he probably never set foot in most of it, let alone ruled it.

23) When William of Orange invaded England from the Dutch Republic in 1688, he arrived on the English coast before he set off from the Low Countries.

This had nothing to do with holes in the fabric of time, or of travelling so fast that the light-barrier was exceeded. But it is a bizarre fact of history that William’s voyage from the Dutch Republic to England started on the 11th of November 1688, and ended on the 5th of November 1688 (Guy Fawkes’ Night, appropriately enough, given he was in the business of forcing a change of Government).

The reason for this ‘temporal anomaly’ was nothing to do with Time Travel, and everything to do with Catholic/Protestant mutual distrust. In the late 16th Century, the Roman Catholic Church attempted to correct an error in the old ‘Julian Calendar,’ used since Roman times, that meant it misjudged the true length of the solar year. By their calculations, in the 1600-or-so years since the Julian Calendar’s introduction, it had fallen ten days behind solar time. Under Pope Gregory XIII’s new ‘Gregorian Calendar,’ the date was moved forward ten days, and the ‘leap year’ system was made more complex so that it compensated the correct amounts of time, from October 1582 onwards.

But this new calendar only applied in Catholic countries and their vassal states. This included the Netherlands, which at the time were under the control of Spain. Independent Protestant countries like England refused to co-operate however, seeing every action of Rome as a sinister plot to take over the world.

So when William set off from the Netherlands in 1688, he left the jurisdiction of one calendar, and when he arrived in England, he entered the auspices of another calendar that lagged about ten days behind.

England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland would only shift over to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752.

24) Approximately 75 times as many people die as a direct result of falling out of bed in the USA annually, than died as a direct result of the Great Fire of London of 1666.

Mighty disaster though the Fire Of London of 1666 undoubtedly was, it did not cause many deaths, at least not directly. The exact death-toll will never be known for certain, given the danger of some human remains being incinerated by the blaze, but most estimates steer between six and ten. Many more victims followed due to homelessness and disease caused by dispossessed people gathering in huge numbers together for mutual support. But the direct deaths were very few indeed.

By contrast, the number of Americans who die weekly just from falling out of bed is understood to be approximately four hundred and fifty souls.

The only conclusion we can draw from this is that fire is much, much safer than sleep.

25) There was no singular, united, independent Ireland.

An interesting refrain of Irish Nationalism, one for which I must stress I have every sympathy, is that Northern Ireland is effectively a territory of Ireland that is occupied by neighbouring Britain. For long stretches of the last 800 years indeed, Ireland has been occupied and controlled to a greater or lesser extent by England and then Britain. Ireland has been treated, somewhat intermittently, with shameful brutality by its neighbours (yes, by Scotland too), and in many ways was the ‘laboratory of colonialism’ for the eventual rise of the British Empire.

This is not only a fact, but also a matter that requires considerably more acknowledgement and sensitivity in the UK than it usually receives. But there is one bit of persistent rhetoric from Nationalists that is technically incorrect, one that former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has often been guilty of giving voice to, which is that the British, “occupy the north-east of my country.” (Emphasis added.)

To repeat, I sympathise with the sentiment, and do agree that Britain really should never have forced control over or partitioned the island almost a century ago, when the Irish Free State was born. But historically, the claim is not accurate, for the simple reason that there was never an independent, singular, united Ireland. Yes, Britain does occupy part of Ireland, and it should not, but that part of Ireland was never part of an actual country going by that name.

For most of its history independent of England/Britain, Ireland was very similar to the Dark Age era of England, Scotland and Wales; it was divided up into smaller Kingdoms that as often as not fought against each other. These smaller kingdoms, Munster, Connacht, Laigin (“Leinster”), Ui Neill “North”, Ui Neill “South”, Ulaid and Airgialla, often jostled with each other for supremacy, some of them sometimes breaking down into smaller territories with their own separate ruler.

At certain points in history, the ruler of the most successful Kingdom would claim to be “High King” of Ireland (a little like the Princes of Wales prior to Edward I), which was about as close as the island ever got to being a singular country, but even then, the “High King” was really just the man who had the final word when the smaller Kingdoms quarrelled, and did not rule the whole island in a meaningful sense.

Unlike England or Scotland, but still like Wales, Ireland never officially became a united, singular entity on its own. Officially, this happened when Henry II of England sent his son John there to become Lord of Ireland in the late-12th Century. Even then, John in practice only really governed the ‘Old English Pail’ around Dublin (the land where the original Anglo-Norman invaders had settled a few years earlier), not so much any other part of the island. It could therefore be argued for the next few centuries Ireland was still divided into two – the Old English Pail v Everywhere Else.

After the Nine-Years War at the end of Elizabeth I’s reign, and even more so after the re-conquest of Ireland in the 17th Century by the Parliamentary armies of Oliver Cromwell, the control over Ireland as a whole from England became a lot stronger, and from this point it was a singular country. But for better or worse, that singular country to part of which Adams and others refer as, “occupied by the British” was in fact a creation of the British!

26) Wales is not represented on the Union Flag.

This is a very shameful reality, especially given that Union flags have been around in varying forms since the early-17th Century, and yet still no one has ever gotten around to the simple gesture of putting the image of a dragon on it. The red cross foregrounded on the flag of course represents St. George, patron saint of England. The blue background with diagonal white stripes represents St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, and the red diagonal stripes emblazoned on the white represent St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.

The reason these three all appear on the flag is that they were all officially Kingdoms prior to the Unions of 1707 and 1800. Even Northern Ireland is still classed as the same Kingdom that joined the United Kingdom in 1801, even though most of that former Kingdom broke away and became an independent Republic during the 20th Century. But Wales is not a Kingdom. Instead, it is classed, justifiably or otherwise, as a Principality of England. This is treated as a reason not to include it in the flag; the St. George’s Cross is considered ‘representative’ of it, even though legend has it that St. George killed the dragon, and the Welsh flag features a red dragon.

As I say, I think this lack of acknowledgement is disgraceful and the reasoning behind the omission is completely arbitrary. There should be a red dragon included in the flag, probably right at the centre but reduced in size. But it is not up to me.

27) England was the last of the four nations of the British/Irish archipelago to become Christian.

A strange assumption that sometimes rears its head is that England was the first of the four nations of the north-west Europe archipelago (sounds less possessive than “British Isles”) to become a Christian country. Why this would be assumed, or why this would have to be seen as a virtue particularly, is something of a mystery. It may just seem natural to assume that the biggest of the four countries must have led the way.

Whatever the case, it is not true at all. If anything, England was probably the last of the four nations to become Christian. You can perhaps get round this by pointing out that the land that became England was Christian for two or three centuries when it was Roman Britain. But that was before England could be honestly said to exist even in principle, let alone in physical fact.

Ireland was already heading towards Christianity in the time of St. Patrick (see 15) at the end of the fourth century. The Scottish peoples still had some hangover of Christianity from the Roman Empire, and it seems to have re-flowered in the sixth century, partly from the influence of Irish missionaries. Wales never really let go of Christianity after the departure of the legions, even if the form of Christianity that developed in the fifth and sixth centuries was of a peculiarly Celtic flavour.

But throughout all this, the Anglo-Saxon forefathers of the English were for the most part Pagan, believing in Gods similar to those worshipped by Vikings of later centuries. It was not until as late as the seventh century that the Anglo-Saxons began to convert.

28) There is no such title as “King of Scotland” or “Queen of Scotland.”

The term applied was not ‘King of Scotland’ or ‘Queen of Scotland,’ but King of Scots or Queen of Scots. But even these terms are now anachronisms.

When James VI of Scotland succeeded to the English throne, he wanted unity between his Kingdoms, and on reflection of this, he wished to be known as King of Great Britain. Legally he was unable to enforce this in England, especially as members of the English Parliament were not keen on the idea of a fuller union. But he was able to force the Scottish Parliament to change its protocols and to address the monarch as “King of Great Britain” or “Queen of Great Britain.” This meant that for as long as the crowns of England and Scotland were in personal union, the reigning monarch’s legal title north of the border is Queen of Great Britain and not Queen of Scotland or Queen of Scots.

Only should the two countries go their separate ways will the terms King of Scots and Queen of Scots be restored – should an independent Scotland wish to remain a monarchy, that is.

29) The penultimate battle in the Wars of the Roses was fought between Ireland and England.

A very odd detail of the Simnel Rebellion against Henry VII (see 05) was that it was a rare example of the tables being turned across the Irish Sea; it was an invasion of England by the Irish.

The Irish people had really rallied to Simnel’s claim to the throne, even giving him a Coronation as ‘King Edward VI of Ireland.’ Then, when Simnel invaded England to push his nonexistent Yorkist claim to the throne, his eight thousand-strong army was largely made up of Irish troops, backed by Flemish mercenaries. The Irish-Yorkist army met Henry VII’s much larger army at Stoke Field, and were overwhelmingly beaten, with roughly half their force losing their lives.

It is worth noting that The Battle of Stoke Field was actually much larger and far, far bloodier than the much more famous Battle of Bosworth, and it saw the deaths of almost the entire remnant of the old Yorkist aristocracy that had not joined the Tudors, including the Earl of Lincoln, John de la Pole, who was a maternal nephew of Edward IV and Richard III, and had a stronger blood-claim to the throne than Henry.

Stoke Field should be seen therefore as at least as important as Bosworth, and definitely still part of the Wars of the Roses.

30) A British Prime Minister’s last words before death were, “This is not the end of me.”

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was one of the United Kingdom’s more under-celebrated Prime Ministers. A Liberal from an era when “liberal” meant something much more left-wing than even “social democracy” means today, Campbell-Bannerman won the 1906 General Election, and introduced free school meals (are you watching, Boris Johnson?), compensation for workers by their employers if injured in work, and reforms to weaken the unaccountable House of Lords, in the space of little more than two years.

Campbell-Bannerman suffered a series of heart attacks while in office though, and it was soon clear he would not live to see out his full term. He stepped down as Prime Minister on the 3rd of April 1908, and died just nineteen days later, before he had even completed the task of moving out of Downing Street. Tragi-comically, he uttered the fateful words, “This is not the end of me…” and then suddenly died.

‘CB,’ as he was nicknamed, was the first Prime Minister officially recognised as such by the British state (prior to Campbell-Bannerman, the title ‘Prime Minister’ was completely unofficial, and the term had originally been coined as a pejorative, implying a glorified servant), and he remains to date the only Prime Minister actually to die within the confines of 10 Downing Street.

31) The name of the ancient Welsh Kingdom of Dyfed is Irish.

The south-western region of Wales was for centuries the Kingdom of Dyfed, and is widely assumed to be named for the Patron Saint of Wales, St. David. However, there is no particular evidence that Dyfed is a ‘Chinese Whisper’ of ‘David,’ whereas there is some evidence that it is instead derived from an Old Irish word Deisi. This was the name of an Irish tribe mainly found in Munster. There was a large migration of Deisi from Ireland to western Britain during the decline of the Roman Imperial occupation in the late-fourth and early-fifth centuries AD, and they settled mainly in what is now south-west Wales.

The name “Dyfed” is therefore distorted Irish rather than Welsh.

32) King Henry V of England was the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales.

When Edward I crushed the Welsh rebellion in the late thirteenth century, he felt he needed to end the tradition of the most powerful ruler of the Welsh petty kingdoms taking up the title of Prince Of Wales. To this end, he started an unofficial convention that the Prince Of Wales should always be an integral part of the English Governmental system.

Therefore, Edward ruled that the first-born son of the King of England would not only become the heir to the English throne, he would also be given the title of ‘Prince Of Wales’ until his time of succession, whereafter the title would pass to the new King’s first son.

As it happened, the first ‘Prince of Wales’ under this new arrangement, the future Edward II, was actually born in Wales – Pembroke Castle to be precise. But there have been few of them since the title became an English Royal possession, and the last of them was way back in the age of the Lancastrian Kings, before The Wars Of The Roses.

In 1399, Henry Bolingbroke, a grandson of Edward III, had overthrown the last Angevin King, Richard II – his own cousin – to begin the Lancastrian line as Henry IV. Henry’s first-born son, the future mighty Henry V, who would come within a whisker of conquering all of France and be lionised by William Shakespeare as the most English of heroes, had been born in Monmouth Castle in 1386. So like Edward II, he was at least partly Welsh. He was even known in his early years as ‘Henry of Monmouth’. Henry was given the title of Prince of Wales shortly after his father seized the throne, and retained the title until he himself succeeded in 1413. No subsequent Prince Of Wales has been born in the Principality.

33) Bonnie Prince Charlie was a Polish-Italian.

The romantic Scottish legend of the last leader of the Stewart-Jacobite cause, Charles Stuart, always remembers his eighteenth century rebellion against the House of Hanover as being a very Scottish business. Hence the very affectionate and very Scottish-sounding nickname, “Bonnie Prince Charlie.”

Charles was the grandson of James II of England and VII of Scotland, overthrown by William of Orange in 1688 (see 23), and when he invaded Scotland in 1745, he made much of his Scottish heritage as he tried to win back the throne for his father, who would have been James III & VIII. The Stewarts after all had ruled Scotland since 1371, well over two hundred years longer than they had ruled England. One of Charles’ slogans as he recruited from the Highland clans, who were largely opposed to the Union of Scotland and England of 1707, was “King James and NO UNION!” Charles was making himself appear the embodiment of an independent Scotland and of defiance against England.

There was just one drawback. Charles had never set foot in Scotland until the day he landed at Eriskay to start this very campaign. Indeed he was not even British particularly. His father might have been born in England, but through his mother, Maria Clementina Sobieska, Charles was a great grandson of a former King of Poland, and also had various German aristocrats close by in his family tree, due to her extensive links to the Holy Roman Empire.

What was more, Charles himself was born in Italy, where James and Maria had been invited to reside while exiled from Britain. His early years saw much influence on him from France and Spain due to their close involvement in the War of Polish Succession.

Charles’ full birth-name gives a hint at how, culturally, he was hardly Scottish at all; Charles Edward Louis Philip John Casimir Stuart.

34) Wales did not have a capital city until after two years after the death of Joseph Stalin.

When discussing the capital city of Wales, most people would say Cardiff without hesitation. But in fact, Cardiff’s rise to become the Welsh capital happened within living memory for some people still around today. It was only declared the Principality’s capital in 1955 – with no definitive predecessor. Other towns, such as St. Davids and Ludlow, had been seats of Welsh Government at various points in history, but no capital city had been officially appointed until after the Second World War.

Even more remarkably, Cardiff had only officially become a city in 1905.

35) The Channel Islands have no Monarch.

This will sound bizarre, seeing the official status of the Channel Islands is as ‘Crown Dependendencies,’ but officially, Jersey, Guernsey, Sark etc do not have a Monarch. They are considered territories of the English crown, but not of England, due to them having been a last remnant of the old Duchy of Normandy that conquered England in the eleventh century, and the French relinquished any claim to them in 1259 (see 13).

The Islands were allowed to remain the territory of the English King, but were not made part of the Kingdom of England. Contrary to popular belief, they have never been made part of the United Kingdom either. The Islands were part of a French Duchy that became fully defunct when the French relinquished claim to them, and they have never since been officially made into formal ‘Kingdoms.’

No formal title exists for the reigning Monarch on any of the islands. The Queen is sometimes, rather quaintly, addressed as “The Duke of Normandy” (note that is “Duke” and not “Duchess”) during official functions in the islands, but this is an anachronism and not based on any constitutional laws. The nearest there is to a title is sometimes used in official correspondence or legislation, in which the Queen is referred to as the “Sovereign of the Bailiwick of Jersey” or “Sovereign of the Bailiwick of Guernsey” (the islands are semi-independent of each other as well as semi-independent of Westminster). This acknowledges that the Queen of Great Britain is the sovereign i.e. the highest authority, but that is more a noun than a title.

Interestingly, another Crown Dependency, the Isle of Man, also has no Monarch, although the Queen does hold a definite title there of Lord Of Mann. That title has been held by rulers of various nationalities, but the island has been an uninterrupted holding of the British crown since 1765. Again though, it has never joined the United Kingdom.

36) The word Sais (short for Saxon) is a derogatory Welsh term for a Welshman.

‘Sais’ is the rough Welsh equivalent of the Scots term ‘Sassenach’. They are both derived from the word ‘Saxon,’ and tend to be used as pejoratives about Englishmen, or sometimes lowlanders when Highlanders employ the Scots term.

However, somewhat bizarrely, the Welsh term was not originally used to demean Englishmen at all. Instead, for centuries, it was assigned as a mark of ‘betrayal’ for Welshmen who learned to speak in English, which was widely seen across Wales as ‘selling out’ to the invader. So when Welshmen today call an Englishman a ‘Sais,’ they are unknowingly claiming that the Englishman is Welsh.

37) England, Scotland and Wales do not have national anthems.

England fans bellowing God Save The Queen before football and rugby matches may raise eyebrows at this, but in fact, the convention of national anthems is not universal and has only really been dominant around the world in the last three centuries or so. By the time God Save The Queen had been composed and selected as a national anthem, England was already part of the United Kingdom, and it was the UK on which it was conferred. It was not thought necessary for England to have its own anthem, so on occasions when England is being represented instead of Britain or the UK, the UK anthem is usually used.

But this is not set-in-stone, and not invariably applied. At international cricket matches, England’s pre-match anthem is Jerusalem, while in the Commonwealth Games, Land Of Hope And Glory is the anthem played when England wins a gold medal.

Equally, Scotland officially has no national anthem either. It was customary for decades, especially before sporting events once again, to sing Scotland The Brave, while since the early-1970s, the Corries’ popular song, Flower Of Scotland, has been the preferred option. But again, neither is official, and neither need be seen as a permanent option.

And yes, believe it or not, even Land Of Our Fathers, always sung with such love and passion before every Welsh international rugby match, is not a national anthem either. It is just a song, and has never been adopted by Wales as a formal anthem either.

38) An independent Scotland was protected from France by England for about 150 years.

Many a Scot reading this will think I have things back-to-front, due to several hundred years of France supporting Scotland against England. The Auld Alliance between France and Scotland was probably the single biggest reason why England was never quite able to conquer Scotland during the medieval period up until the Reformation. (The other major reason being that most English Kings did not particularly wish to conquer Scotland, but that is by-the-by.) Somewhat oddly, the alliance is still looked back upon with a wistful, even nostalgic, fondness by some nationalists in Scotland today. Seeing France as a protector against English incursions, they carry the logic that such an alliance must be a part of any movement towards Scottish Independence today.

However, not only is this thinking a projection of the past onto the very different present, it also misses a huge chunk of Scotland’s independent history, in which things were working in the opposite direction. Scotland’s alliance with France was essentially finished from the second half of the sixteenth century. This was because the Scottish Church converted to Calvinist Presbyterianism, a quite radical form of the Protestant religion. France, by contrast, remained firmly a Catholic country. England had also converted to Protestantism by this time, albeit in a less extreme form than in Scotland. The French, the Spanish, and of course Rome, all wanted both England and Scotland brought back under Papal authority.

As England was geographically directly between Scotland and any overseas invaders, this created an ironic situation. After centuries of being protected from English interference by the French, the Scots now found themselves protected from French, Spanish and Papal interference by the English. This was not a matter of English generosity of course. It was compelled to protect Scotland, whether it liked it or not, by freak of geography. In particular, the English had to recognise that Scotland, should it be captured by France or Spain and become Catholic again, was a potential launching-pad for an invasion of England. But it meant that Scotland was often heavily-insulated from much of European religious politics for about a century and a half.

This situation carried on, albeit with numerous profound hiccups along the way, from the reign of Elizabeth I of England until the Union of 1707.

39) The traditional national colour of Ireland is blue.

When we talk of Ireland, we often think of the colour green, the emerald isle, their national sports teams all clad in shining shirts so green that they can hardly be distinguished from the grass they are playing on. England is white, Scotland is blue, Wales is red, Ireland is green. Right?

Well… no. After becoming a singular Kingdom during the reign of Henry II, Ireland’s traditional standard was an image of a harp (clairseach) on a blue background. That flag is still the official standard of the Irish President today. Green is instead the traditional colour of Irish Catholicism. As Catholicism has become so closely tied to Irish identity, the lines have become somewhat blurred, but Ireland’s national colour is really dark blue.

The Clairseach of Ireland

Oh, and on the subject of traditional banners of a country, you may notice a distinct shortage of white on the image in the next entry….

40) The traditional Royal Arms of England is a shield emblazoned with Three Leopards.

After twenty-five years of singing “Three lions on a shirt,” with Baddiel & Skinner, I have bad news for England football fans; the lyric, and indeed the song-title, are wrong.

Now, the ‘Three Lions’ badge used by England’s football and cricket teams is adapted from a coat-of-arms of the old Plantagenet line of Kings of England.

Richard the Lionheart made this his personal coat-of-arms, and Richard largely detested England

The symbol originally signified the French duchies of Anjou and Normandy, when they ‘owned’ England, rather than England itself, so in truth, it is a French standard rather than an English one. But more than that, the three Big Cats in gold on the coat-of-arms are not meant to be lions. They are intended to be leopards, as was the French custom of heraldry from the time the standard was designed; as I say, it was designed in France so the French intention applies. During the Hundred Years’ War, the French even nicknamed English armies, “The leopards,” precisely because that was the image that would appear on the English banners.

So while it does not flow off the tongue quite as smoothly, the song from Euro 96 should really go, “Three leopards on a shirt…”

And referring back to 39), England’s traditional colour, as we can see from this, is red and not white.

41) Mary Queen of Scots formally claimed the throne of France while she was happily married to the French King.

Mary Queen of Scots married the French dauphin, Francis, when she was only 16, and he was only 14. Francis succeeded to the French throne just a year later to become King Francis II. Despite both being very young, Francis and Mary were both very well aware that she had a strong claim to the English throne, through being a great-granddaughter of Henry VII, and because the then-Queen of England, Elizabeth I, was illegitimate under Catholic law (see 09).

At the time, the English monarchy still maintained its increasingly tenuous claim over the French throne, dating back to Edward III (see 06). As an extension of her claim to the English throne, Mary also had to go through the formality of saying that, through her descent from Edward III, she was also the rightful monarch of France. It must be emphasised that she never pursued this in any way, beyond the initial gesture.

Interestingly, Mary’s great-grandsons, the future Charles II and James II, were both exiled at the French court during the Interregnum of Oliver Cromwell. They were given protection by the King of France while officially laying claim to his throne, although again, their claims were only a diplomatic nicety and were never pursued in any real way.

42) After they saved her from the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I of England starved her sailors to death in their hundreds.

While she was undoubtedly one of England’s best monarchs and most able politicians of her time, it has to be said that Elizabeth I still had an awful lot of failings, and her high ranking in English Royal history is more a reflection of how abysmal most other English monarchs were than of her own ‘greatness.’ Elizabeth was autocratic, vain, shockingly spiteful, painfully indecisive, and left the north of England almost completely ungoverned. She became racked by arrogant paranoia, loved playing manipulative dirty tricks, was ruthless to a fault, shallow, miserly, and largely spent her long reign ruling in unjust ways.

These last faults came horrifyingly to the fore during the weeks after her greatest triumph in 1588, when the Spanish Armada was defeated as it tried to invade England. Despite having a much smaller fleet of ships, the Royal Navy outmanoeuvred the far larger force, fighting with great courage and superior maritime skills, aided by some huge strokes of luck with the weather. Elizabeth’s reward for her loyal sailors after the ruined Armada was sent packing was to play one of the lousiest dirty tricks on them imaginable, just to save money.

Elizabeth knew that she would have to pay the sailors their full wage as soon as they came ashore, but had already paid an army she had mustered at Tilbury to fight the Spaniards should they successfully land on the English coast. Her treasury was therefore running low on funds. So she simply did not give the sailors permission to come ashore, insisting they stay at sea to guard against any possible follow-up attack from Spain. There was no chance of such an attack following for at least a couple of years now the Armada was broken. Food supplies aboard the English ships had run out by this point, and so many hundreds of sailors who had risked life and limb to protect Elizabeth and her Kingdom, were now simply left to starve to death.

Elizabeth really was not the paragon of Royal mercy English history remembers her to be at all. By the declining years of her reign, she had declined into a paranoid, penny-pinching monster.

43) God Save The King was a Jacobite anthem.

God Save The King/Queen has a bizarre history. For one thing, no one is sure who composed it or when. For another, it supported both sides in Britain’s last internal military conflict.

The song was first published in 1744, in the reign of the Hanoverian King George II, in the Thesaurus Musicus. It was initially sung in Scotland the following year, in support of the claim to the throne of the would-be James III of England and VIII of Scotland, when his son, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ landed at Eriskay (see 33).

After Charles’ Jacobite army had successfully seized control north of the border, with God Save The King still ringing in their ears, they marched south into England, hoping to swell their numbers through the support of English Jacobites. However, very few Englishmen rallied to the cause, and instead, more of the country geared up against the Jacobites, and in support of the Hanoverians.

When the invaders got as far south as the Midlands without facing any serious opposition, London was in a panic, but started making preparations to fight. As part of the capital city’s ‘rallying cry’ to boost the fighting morale of its occupants, a concert was performed at the Drury Lane Theatre, at which a recently-discovered new song was performed to drum up loyalty to King George. That song was… God Save The King! The song was actually being sung by both the Hanoverians and the Jacobites, although the King each side referred to was a different man.

44) The English Kings Edward II, Henry V, and Henry VII were all Welsh.

As hinted at in earlier questions, Edward II, Henry V, and Henry VII are seen as important English Kings, but they were technically – in Henry VII’s case quite emphatically – Welshmen. They were all born in Wales, and also all spent significant stretches of their lives there. Edward and Henry VII were both born in Pembroke, Henry V in Monmouth. Edward and Henry V were both given the title of Prince of Wales before succeeding to the English Crown. Henry V spent some eight years in Wales trying to quell a rebellion led by Owain Glyndwr, who claimed the title of Prince of Wales himself.

Henry VII’s paternal family were a prominent line of Welsh aristocrats, the Tudurs – they were descended from Rhys ap Grufydd, a 12th century petty ruler of the Welsh Kingdom of Deheubarth. Henry himself, Earl of Richmond, spent the first fourteen years of his life in Wales, and indeed England was an alien country to him when he became its King.

45) The Pope wanted the Protestant army to win the Battle of the Boyne.

The closing years of the seventeenth century saw a powder keg of intrigue across western Europe. The two main antagonists were the French, ruled by the militant Imperialist King, Louis XIV, and the Dutch, governed by Louis’ archenemy, William of Orange (see 20)). Louis and William were both closely related to the Stuart Kings of England, Scotland and Ireland – Louis was their first cousin on the paternal side of the family while William was their nephew on the maternal side.

The power struggle between the two men was in many ways a continuation of the long wars of religion that had dominated the European mainland throughout the century. Louis in particular was eager to see the reassertion of Catholic dominance against the growth of Protestant/Reformist ideas of Christian worship, whereas William and many aristocrats in the German states wanted to see the Reformation survive and spread further.

With this setup in mind, one would expect that Popes of the era, Innocent XI and Alexander VIII, as the Supreme authority in Catholicism, would root for Louis without a pause for thought. However, it was nowhere near as simple as that. For one thing, Louis’ policies at home were usually Gallicanist i.e. he believed that the King’s power over the Catholic Church within the borders of his own realm should be equal to the power of the Pope. This meant that, especially after 1681, he was in fact hampering the power and reach of Rome within France, rather than reinforcing it.

For another, Louis’ expansionist policies were starting to threaten the neighbouring Papal States themselves. Alarmingly, one particularly bitter argument between Pope and King in 1687, over the Pope’s reform of asylum laws in Rome, led to an armed force of eight hundred Frenchmen occupying the Papal Palace itself! By this point, Church authorities in Rome had clearly realised that, Catholic or no Catholic, Louis had become much too big for his boots.

In 1689, William of Orange, having seized the thrones of England and Scotland, landed in Ireland with a Protestant army mainly of Dutch and German troops. By the River Boyne near Drogheda, William confronted his overthrown uncle, the Catholic James II of England and VII of Scotland, and a large army of mainly-Catholic Irishmen, reinforced with French soldiers provided by Louis. It was the epitome of the Protestant v Catholic battles that had scarred Europe for decades. And yet, back in Rome, the Pope and his colleagues were all desperately hoping that William would win!

Indeed, despite the arm-wrestle between Louis and William originally being a continuation of the Protestant-Catholic schism of earlier in the century, by 1695 almost all countries in Europe, be they Protestant or Catholic, were allied in opposition to France.

46) The Welsh re-conquered England in the 15th Century.

When the Earl of Richmond, Henry Tudur, attempted to take the throne from Richard III in 1485, his fleet initially landed near Haverfordwest in his native Wales, with a small force of French mercenaries and English exiles. With his Royal Welsh ancestry (see 44), Henry was able to swell the ranks substantially by appealing to the locals to rally to his banner.

The force that met Richard’s army at Bosworth Field (see 04) was therefore to quite a large extent a Welsh army. After they won the battle, Henry claimed the English throne by right of conquest. Therefore, in a manner of speaking, Wales had conquered England, and thus the descendants of the Britons had recovered the lands lost to the Anglo-Saxon ancestors of the English.

47) The longest war in recorded human history lasted for 335 years due to what was effectively a clerical oversight.

The longest war in human history, perhaps predictably, had a British combatant, but it was not the UK, England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland. Instead, it was a tiny island chain some way off the west coast of Cornwall – the Scilly Islands. It started during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms of 1639-53, and was not brought to a formal conclusion until 1986.

Whether this conflict really counts as a ‘war’ is in dispute for several reasons, but it did have a formal ending with a peace treaty being signed between the two ‘enemy combatants.’ The Scillys’ opponents were the Dutch, who had joined the Third English Civil War in support of Parliament.

By 1651, the Royalist faction of the English Navy had retreated to the Scillys, hoping their remoteness would make them a fairly safe harbour. Dutch merchant ships trading with the occupants of the islands were attacked by the Royalist fleet, and so the Dutch military Navy decided to send a flotilla of twelve warships to the Scillys to extract ‘reparations.’

When the Dutch flotilla arrived, their Admiral, Maarten Tromp, sent a demand to the Royalists either for total surrender or for ‘tribute’ i.e. a payment in exchange for not attacking. On receiving no satisfactory answer by the 30th of March, the exasperated Tromp did something that probably exceeded his mandate; he formally declared war on the Scilly Islands, on behalf of the Dutch Republic. Whether he really had the authority to make such a declaration on behalf of the country is one aspect of the war that is disputed. The other is that the Scilly Islands, politically, were and still are officially part of England and not a separate polity, as with the Crown Dependencies (see 35). Therefore, neither combatant, be it the Dutch flotilla or the island chain, was sovereign, and so whether either had the authority to declare war was in grave doubt. And as the Scillys were part of England, surely that meant the Admiral was declaring war on England? As most of England was under control of his Parliamentary allies at this point, surely that was the last thing he wanted to do?

Whatever the case, the Dutch flotilla spent the next three months more or less bloodlessly blockading the islands, until Admiral Robert Black’s Parliamentarian navy arrived to force the Royalist ships to surrender. At this point, the Dutch flotilla withdrew and set sail for home without ever firing a shot. However, no one took into account the fact that the fleet had declared war on the islands, and so no declaration of a formal ‘cessation-of-hostilities’ had followed.

Therefore, at least in the minds of some, the Scilly Islands and the Dutch were still officially at war. And nothing was done about it for well over three hundred years afterwards. With the realisation in the twentieth century that the Dutch Admiral had declared war, and that there had been no formal cessation, the idea that the war was still going on became very popular among residents of the islands.

In 1986, the local historian and councillor Roy Duncan contacted the Dutch Embassy in London to address the matter. The staff at the Embassy, probably all struggling to keep straight faces, investigated and concluded that, no, Mr Duncan was quite correct, no peace treaty had been signed between the two ‘factions’ in the intervening three hundred and thirty-five years. Perhaps alarmed at the realisation that a Dutch invasion of the island chain might have been imminent, Duncan therefore – I swear to you I am not making this up – invited the Dutch Ambassador, Rein Huydecoper, to attend a “peace ceremony” on one of the islands.

So it was that on the 17th of April 1986, Huydecoper and members of the local council signed an actual peace treaty agreeing an unconditional end to the ‘war.’ Let us give Huydecoper credit for having a sense of humour; he was quoted as saying, “It is my pleasure to know that I have ended the Scillonians’ three centuries of fears that an invasion might have happened at any moment.”

48) The shortest war in history did not see out its first hour.

The Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 may not be one that many people have heard of, but on reflection, it probably should be, for being the only war in history that lasted about one-tenth of the time it takes to get a good night’s sleep.

Zanzibar had become a ‘Protectorate’ (READ: ‘Colony with puppet ruler’) of the British Empire in 1890, and the British had installed Hamad bin Thuwaini as the powerless ‘Sultan’ of the territory in 1893. Hamad suddenly died just three years later in mysterious circumstances, to be replaced by his cousin, Khalid bin Bhargash, who started militarising the palace with local fighting men armed with British weapons. The British colonial administrators demanded that Khalid should stand down and surrender. Khalid ignored the implicit threat and continued mustering troops, and soon had about three thousand men defending the palace, along with some heavy artillery weapons.

This may have looked impressive at first, but the British had two fully-armed warships in the harbour, soon joined by three more. The British issued several more ultimatums to Khalid, making clear that if he did not surrender by 9am on the 27th of August, a state of war would exist between the United Kingdom and Zanzibar. Khalid replied firmly, and perhaps naively, “We have no intention of hauling down our flag and we do not believe you would open fire on us.” Khalid thought that the British would not fire on a conquered people in revolt? Really? Alas, it seems he really did.

At 9am precisely, the British declared war, and the ships began bombarding the palace with shells from their heavy guns. The palace was largely a wooden structure, and it started to give way within two minutes, by which time Khalid’s artillery had already been destroyed. As Khalid saved his own skin by sneaking out the back way, the shelling soon brought the entire building down on the heads of his soldiers. Over five hundred were killed.

Someone among Khalid’s troops pulled down the flag at some point between then and 9:38am, signifying the complete surrender of the Zanzibar Army. 9:38am was when the shelling stopped and the British accepted the surrender of the survivors and the restoration of ‘peace.’

In all, the war had lasted less than three quarters of an hour. The whole conflict really had been a preposterous mismatch, and it is a sad reflection on the British Empire that its forces used such obviously excessive firepower to win it. It was a classic exercise in bludgeoning British colonialism.

49) John Balliol was chosen to be King of Scots by the Scottish nobility and not by Edward I.

John Balliol, or King John of Scotland, has been much maligned by chroniclers and historians down the centuries since the First War of Scottish Independence. John has gone down in Scottish lore as Toom Tabard (’empty coat’), a sort of ‘Vidkun Quisling’-type figure – the man who feebly collaborated with the Scots’ would-be conqueror.

This reputation stems from John’s tendency to cave in rather weakly to demands – especially military demands – from Edward I of England. John’s failure to stand up to Edward’s intermittent fits of rage led to him eventually being deposed by a Council of Scottish Lords. The Council formed the ‘Auld Alliance’ with the French (see 38)).

But John’s weakness in the face of Plantagenet fury has created a conspiracy theory surrounding his succession to the Scottish throne. He had become King after a brief interregnum period following the death of Margaret the Maid of Norway in 1290. Margaret was the final link in a rather long ‘dead-end’ line from The House of Dunkeld. She had been a minority monarch from 1286 and died while still a child. She had no close surviving relatives, and so there was grave doubt over who should be the next Scottish monarch. This led to a succession crisis that might have turned violent.

Although there were thirteen claimants who put themselves forward, in the final analysis, there were only two realistic candidates – John Balliol himself, and the Lord of Annandale, Robert Bruce (grandfather of Robert The Bruce – see 07)). John’s claim was based on being a great-great-great-grandson of King David I on his maternal side. Robert was the great-great grandson of David I, one generation nearer. The primogeniture tradition suggested that descendants of David’s oldest grand-daughter, Margaret, should take priority over descendants of his younger grand-daughter, Isobel of Huntingdon. Balliol was Margaret’s great-grandson. Isobel was Robert’s grandmother. The crisis stemmed from the question, “Should seniority of generation, or primogeniture, have the say?” The Bruces had mustered an army, and were prepared to go to war to advance Robert’s claim to the throne.

To prevent a civil war, Edward I, as a man of Royal authority in a neighbouring Kingdom, was asked to be arbiter of the dispute. In return for agreeing to help, Edward extracted an oath of ‘fealty’ from the Scottish aristocracy, recognising him as the ‘Paramount’ of all Britain, but rejecting English direct rule over Scotland.

This oath is often presented as evidence by the conspiracy theorists that Edward was using the whole process to turn Scotland into a vassal state of England, and that the eventual selection of John Balliol as King of Scotland was a deliberate imposition of a puppet ruler. However, this ignores a number of details.

First, if that was really what Edward had in mind, he would have been wiser selecting Bruce, who had long been a close and loyal servant at the English court due to his family’s ownership of Huntingdonshire. Bruce had even served Edward in earlier wars against an English rebellion led by Simon de Montfort, and to end Welsh independence. Moreover, in the First War of Scottish Independence that ensued after this, the Bruce family were very inconsistent in their opposition to English rule, and it was clear they were as sympathetic to the English as anyone when it suited them.

Second, Edward had a vague claim to the Scottish throne himself, being a descendant of Malcolm III. He therefore hardly needed to put anyone else on the throne if he wanted full control of Scotland. And if he wished to manipulate the selection process in his own favour, he could have enriched himself from it more directly.

Thirdly, while the council he set up to help deliberate the succession included twenty-four auditors Edward had appointed, the council had a further eighty auditors, whose appointment he had no control over at all. Indeed, Balliol and Bruce themselves were allowed to select forty each, meaning they each had a bigger influence on recruiting the council than Edward had. All members of the council, furthermore, apart from Edward himself who sat as its President, were members of the Scottish aristocracy.

It was the auditors’ assessment of the legal cases of each claimant, and not any imagined legal manipulation by Edward, that brought about the verdict that John Balliol had the strongest claim to the throne. Indeed, Bruce rather harmed the credibility of his own case during the deliberations, by arguing both for and against the notion of splitting the Scottish Kingdom up among a handful of the claimants. This split-personality stance from Bruce made him look, at best, foolish, and at worst, cynically two-faced.

No matter how inexcusably Edward I behaved towards Scotland subsequently, he absolutely did not force Balliol on anyone. The Scottish aristocracy and their own laws of succession had chosen him, and on sober reflection, they were correct to do so; Balliol’s claim was simply the strongest. Edward merely put a Royal ‘seal-of-approval’ on the decision of a Royal matter.

50) The USA and the British once mobilised whole armies and a fleet to settle a dispute over a dead pig.

‘The Pig War’ of 1859, as it is known, is misnamed, as it did not actually get as far as a war declaration or full-on fighting. But it did get insanely close to it, with the mobilisation of nearly 3,000 soldiers and a flotilla of warships. And it was all due to what was basically a private dispute between two neighbouring farmers over grazing rights. Again, I am not making this up.

On the boundary between the United States of America and what is now Canada – back in the mid-nineteenth century it was called ‘British North America’ – is a channel of water called ‘The Strait of Georgia.’ There are a number of islands immediately to the south of this channel, and it was not yet very clear where the border ran among them. Some of the islands were on one side of the border, some were on the other side, and some of them might have been on either.

The largest of the ‘grey area’ islands was called ‘San Juan Island.’ It was largely occupied by British settlers, but a small community of Americans had also been established there in the late-1850s, resulting in both the USA and the UK claiming sovereignty. It was not a major issue and certainly caused very little tension between the two countries at first – few members of either Government would have cared or even noticed – and indeed the two communities on the island co-existed quite happily for the first couple of years.

But matters suddenly spiralled dizzyingly out of control in June 1859, when a pig, owned by Charles Griffin, an Irish settler in the British territory, wandered onto farmland held by an American. It started eating from a pile of recently-dug-up potatoes. The American farmer, called Lyman Cutlar, lost his temper completely and shot the pig stone dead. When Griffin heard what had happened to his pig, he also lost his temper and confronted Cutlar with a demand for compensation. After some lengthy bickering, in which Griffin bizarrely insisted it was Cutlar’s duty to “keep his potatoes out of the pig,” Cutlar eventually offered ten dollars. Griffin insisted that was nowhere near enough and demanded one hundred dollars. Cutlar refused to increase his offer though, on the grounds that the pig had been ‘trespassing’. Griffin walked away in disgust, and reported Cutlar to the island’s British authorities.

The authorities threatened to call in troops to arrest Cutlar if he did not pay the one hundred dollars. This frightened and angered the American community, who did not recognise British jurisdiction over ‘their’ part of the island. They immediately appealed to nearby US States for military protection. The request soon reached General William Harney, military commander of Oregon, who had a very anti-British attitude, and he let his heart rule his head. Without apparently considering the likely consequences, Harney dispatched over sixty infantrymen to San Juan, with express orders to stop any British soldiers from landing on the island.

Over the next few weeks, more American troops arrived, and soon there were over four hundred and fifty camped on the south of the island.

Upon hearing of what appeared to be a US ‘invasion’ of San Juan, the Governor of nearby British Columbia, James Douglas, retaliated with what can only be described as overkill. To start, he sent no fewer than three of Britain’s most powerful warships to patrol the waters around the island. He then ordered Admiral Robert Baynes, commander of the Royal Navy’s Pacific fleet, to land a force of over two thousand men on San Juan itself, and for them to engage the American troops at the earliest opportunity. A full-blown war appeared imminent.

Fortunately, Baynes was possibly the only person involved so far who had managed to retain any sense of perspective. He flatly refused the Governor’s order, insisting that he could not bring himself to start a war between two entire countries over a private squabble about a dead pig.

Word of the ludicrous escalation at San Juan finally reached Washington DC and London. Officials on both sides of the Atlantic, as one might expect, were shocked, appalled and bewildered that a row about a grazing farmyard animal had led to a full-blown military stand-off. British and American envoys hurriedly met and quickly agreed a massive de-escalation, with no more than one hundred soldiers from each side allowed on the island, at least until a permanent deal could be reached over who had jurisdiction over the territory and the right to police it.

It is perhaps a sign of how unimportant San Juan was to both countries in the grand scheme of things that negotiations over the island’s future did not properly begin for over ten years, and even then only as one part of a wider discussion about border issues between the USA and the British Dominion.

The two countries eventually agreed under the Treaty of Washington 1871 to refer San Juan to an international committee of arbitration, and simply to follow whatever conclusions the committee reached. These discussions were overseen by the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm I in Geneva, and on 21st October 1872 – for what it was worth – the committee ruled in favour of the USA having jurisdiction over the whole of San Juan. A little over a month later, the British had withdrawn all their troops from the island, and that, as they say, was that.

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