Christmas is Cancelled

Oliver Cromwell, “who was part of the joint republican, military and parliamentarian effort that overthrew the Stuart monarchy as a result of the English Civil War, and was subsequently invited by his fellow leaders to assume a head of state role,” [Source] banned Christmas in the ‘anti-fun charter’ of 1651. Public notices were nailed to trees around Britain warning that:

The observation of Christmas having been deemed a sacrilege, the exchange of gifts and greetings, dressing in fine clothings, feasting and similar satanical practices, are hereby FORBIDDEN, with the offender liable to a fine of five shillings.

In 1657 he also banned mince pies because they symbolised Catholicism.

Advent Calendar of Oddments 2012: December 3rd


Hanger Sword

  • Dated: circa 1651
  • Place of Origin: Solingen, Germany (blade) and England, Britain (hilt)
  • Artist/Maker: Peter Henckels
  • Medium: hilt, with grip of morse ivory (walrus horn) and steel blade
  • Measurements: [Sword] Height: 69.9 cm, Width: 12 cm, Depth: 8 cm. [Sheath] Height: 55.2 cm, Width: 4.4 cm

This type of sword was known as a ‘hanger’ since it was hung from the belt. It was widely used for hunting and when travelling as it was more convenient than the longer rapier. The 'hanger’ was very popular in England in the middle of the 17th century.

Sword blades made by the cutlers of Solingen in Germany were exported all over Europe. During the Civil War, many were mounted in English hilts by London retailers. The inscription and date refer to Cromwell’s final victory over the Royalists at the Battle of Worcester and are rare survivals. Many references to Cromwell were erased after the Restoration of 1660. 

Peter Henckels was a member of a long established family of blade-makers from Solingen in Germany. This was then a famous centre for the manufacture of sword blades and Solingen cutlers had contracts with London retailers to mount their blades in English hilts.

Source: Copyright © 2014 V&A Images

Remains of Scottish soldiers who died 400 years ago to be reburied

The remains of Scottish soldiers who died of starvation and disease almost 400 years ago, after a brutal forced march when they were taken prisoner by Oliver Cromwell, will be reburied with honour near the site where where their bodies were tipped into a mass grave in the shadow of Durham cathedral.

The discovery, after three years of research on bones found during building work within the Unesco world heritage site of Durham palace and cathedral, resolves a centuries old puzzle about what happened to 6,000 prisoners taken by the English parliamentarian army under Cromwell after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650.

Some of the men were so ill they were freed immediately, some were shot for trying to escape and others succeeded in getting away, while many died on the 100-mile march south to Durham. Read more.


January 30th 1649: Charles I executed

On this day in 1649, King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland was executed in London aged 48. He was born in 1600 the son of James VI of Scotland, who in 1603 became King James I of England and Ireland, in addition to Scotland, when Queen Elizabeth I died. Charles succeeded to the throne in 1625 when his father died, becoming the second Stuart monarch. Charles inherited from his father a firm belief in the divine right of kings to absolute rule, which led to conflict between the King and Parliament. These tensions lay in part due to debates over money and religion, with Charles’s Anglicanism alienating Puritans in England. Charles dissolved Parliament three times, and in 1629 resolved to rule the nation alone, without Parliament. During this period his actions appeared increasingly tyrannical, raising taxes and cracking down on Puritans and Catholics, leading to an exodus of the former to the American colonies. Personal rule ended when the King attempted to interfere with the Scottish Church, and had to restore Parliament to raise the funds to fight the Scottish. The English Civil War broke out in the last years of his reign, which pitted the crown against Parliament and occurred after he attempted to arrest members of Parliament. Charles’s Royalist supporters were defeated in 1646, and the King himself was eventually captured. The Parliamentarians, including general Oliver Cromwell, put the King on trial for treason, which resulted in his execution in 1649 outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall. The monarchy was then abolished, leading to the short-lived Commonwealth of England. A leading figure of this republic was Oliver Cromwell, though his rule as Lord Protector became increasingly authoritarian. Cromwell died of natural causes in September 1658, but on January 30th 1661, on the anniversary of Charles’s death, Cromwell’s remains were ritually executed. The monarchy was restored in 1660 with Charles’s son in power ruling as King Charles II.


Why the British Wore Red — Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army.

In Georgian and Victorian Era Britain red was always the color of the British Army.  Over time British soldiers earned the nickname “redcoats” or “lobsters” because of their bright red attire.  During colonial wars such as the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, these bright red coats were often a liability as they stood out in the frontier wilderness, making them an attractive target for French, Native Americans, and Colonial Militia’s.  So how did red become the color of choice for the British Army?  The redcoat can trace his origins to the mid 1600’s, before the formation of the United Kingdom and in the midst of the bloody English Civil War.

In 1642 England was split between the Royalists who supported King Charles I and the Parliamentarians who were staunch Puritans.  The Royalists believed that the king held absolute power granted by God, and as such the king had the right to dictate how people worshiped within his realm.  The Parliamentarians believed that power should be wielded by the English Parliament.  Furthermore the Parliamentarians were on a religious mission to end the highly stylized religion of the Church of England and replace with it a simpler Puritan religion.   Both armies were of equal size and equal quality.  As a result neither side could gain a decisive advantage.  After two years of bloody warfare one Parliamentarian general decided that something had to be done.

Oliver Cromwell was a brilliant and ambitious military commander and a fanatical believer in the Parliamentarian cause.  While perhaps the most talented general in England, he often found that his abilities were limited by the army he commanded.  In the 1600’s there were no professional armies in Europe, rather the military was a hodgepodge force of local militia’s, each with varying degrees of training, different weapons, and different uniforms.  Some of the militia’s had very poor training and inferior equipment, carrying old and out of date weaponry and wearing regular clothing rather than uniforms.  The biggest fault of the Parliamentarian army was the lack of a professional officer corps.   Officers were chosen by their social rank and wealth, not because of their expertise.  As a result the army was led by a corps of over-priviledged nitwits who had no military experience and were clueless when it came to running an army.  The weaknesses of the Parliamentarian Army was made apparent in 1644 at the Second Battle of Newbury.  There Cromwell devised an ingenious plan to ambush, trap, and destroy the Royalist forces, decisively ending the war.  His plan almost succeeded if not for the incompetence of one of his commanders, the Earl of Manchester, who failed to carry out Cromwell’s orders.  The ambush collapsed and the Royalist forces escaped.

Cromwell realized that if he was to end the civil war he would need a better army and he went to Parliament to institute new reforms.  The first was a new law called the Self Denying Ordinance, which forced all government officials who held military command to resign.  Instead of status, officers were chosen based on their skills, ability, and proven merit.  This shook Europe to the core, as officership of nobility was considered a right at the time.  Now it was not uncommon for officers to be former cobblers, tailors, blacksmiths, and others sorts of commoners.  A second act by Parliament established a full time standing army manned by professional soldiers rather than part time militiamen.
Cromwell also had other demands when it came to his “New Model Army”.  The first was personal; his soldiers were chosen from the ranks of the most fanatical Puritans; they were required to attend daily worship services and were forbidden from drinking, having sex outside of marriage, and swearing. The army was even taught a special creed, used as a war cry,

Officers: No mercy!
Men: No mercy!
Officers: No Popery!
Men: No Popery!
Officers: No bishops!
Men: No bishops!
Officers: Who is our king?
Men: King Jesus!

Secondly Cromwell instituted an intense regimen of drill and training, transforming his army from a ragtag band into a disciplined and deadly fighting machine.  Finally Cromwell standardized the equipment of the army. Rather than having a plethora of different weapons and equipment, everything the army used would be standardized to ease the logistical demands of the army.  Soldiers carried the same types of pikes, muskets, and swords, and wore the same type of armor. 

A part of Cromwell’s reforms was the creation of a common uniform for his army.  Cromwell chose red because it was the cheapest dye available at the time.  Not only was Cromwell trying to save a shilling, but the use of a cheap dye helped strengthen the Puritan ethic of his army; to avoid anything that may seem to be vain, proud, or ostentatious.  Cromwell’s New Model Army were history’s first redcoats.

The end result was a highly organized force of religious zealots who were well armed, well trained, disciplined, and fearless.  Imagine today the Taliban, armed with the best weapons and equipment and trained like Army Rangers.  In 1645 Cromwell led the New Model Army in a crushing defeat of Royalist forces with only two decisive battles: the Battle of Naseby and the Battle of Langport.  King Charles himself would be captured, and after instigating a failed counter-revolution was beheaded.  Cromwell would be named Lord Protector of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland and became a virtual military dictator.  His army would go on to crush rebellions in Ireland and Scotland.  After Cromwell’s death in 1658 the Parliamentarian government collapsed, and Charles II became King of England.  The New Model Army was disbanded but its legacy continued.  The ideal of a well trained and professional army was maintained thenceforth, although the tradition of appointing officers based on wealth and privilege returned.  The red uniforms of the army continued with the English, and later British Army until it was replaced with green and khaki uniforms in the early 20th century.

Mysterious Mass Graves Hold Prisoners of Bloody 17th-Century Battle

Three years ago, archaeologists at Durham University began excavating a site on campus for a proposed addition to the school’s library, but work was unexpectedly halted when the researchers uncovered remnants of two mass graves. The discovery ignited a centuries-old mystery, but now, scientists say clues point back to one of the shortest but bloodiest battles of the English Civil Wars.

The estimated 1,700 skeletons, found underground at the southern tip of Durham University’s Palace Green Library, were likely Scottish soldiers who had been taken prisoner after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, the archaeologists said.

The prisoners were captured by Oliver Cromwell, the controversial English leader who waged a successful military campaign against the Royalists in a 17th-century civil war, toppling the monarchy and culminating in the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Read more.


April 23rd 1661: Charles II crowned

On this day in 1661, Charles II was crowned King of England, thus restoring the English monarchy. The son of Charles I, the future king watched as his father’s personal rule and usurpation of Parliament led England into civil war. Charles’s Royalist supporters were defeated in 1646, and the King himself was eventually captured. The Parliamentarians, including general Oliver Cromwell, put the King on trial for treason, which resulted in his execution in 1649 outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall. At the time of his father’s execution, the younger Charles was in exile in the Netherlands, and learned of the abolition of the monarchy and establishment of the short-lived Commonwealth of England. A leading figure of this republic was Oliver Cromwell, though his rule as Lord Protector became increasingly authoritarian. In 1650, Charles allied with the Scottish and battled Cromwell’s forces, though was defeated and forced to return to exile. The monarchy was eventually restored after a political crisis upon the death of Cromwell in 1658, and in 1660 Charles was invited to reclaim the throne. Having learned from the mistakes of his father, King Charles II pursued a more tolerant and co-operative relationship with Parliament. However, the King clashed with Parliament over his policy of religious tolerance of Catholics, and eventually dissolved the body in 1681. His court was also known for its hedonistic frivolity, frequently holding lavish parties; though this was generally welcomed by those weary of Cromwell’s Puritan rule. One of the events that defined Charles’s reign was the Great Fire of London in 1666, destroying a vast portion of the nation’s capital. Charles II died in February 1685, aged 54, and was succeeded by his brother who became King James II, as he left no legitimate heir.