High Down Rocket Test Site on the Needles Headland,
the Isle of Wight, during the late 1950s. The facility was built and run by Saunders Roe, at the time developing the
Black Knight rocket - a technology tester for Blue Streak. Britain was, for a brief period in the late 1950s, a very real contestant in the Cold War’s space race. Black Knight flew 22 times from
the Woomera Test Facility in South Australia, every rocket first test run here, on the Isle of Wight, and every launch a success.
On this day, February 28th, in 1637, in the kirkyard of Greyfriars in Edinburgh, the National Covenant, one of the most important documents in Scottish history, received its first signatures. It marked the start of the Scottish Revolution, and one of the most tumultuous times in the history of the British Isles.
Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 King James of Scotland also became king of England, thus creating the United Kingdom. Whilst James was always careful to balance his two realms, his son and inheritor, Charles I, payed far less attention to his Scottish subjects. In an attempt to increase the unity between the two kingdoms, Charles embarked on a campaign to force the Scots, who were overwhelmingly Presbyterian Protestants, to adopt the Episcopalian Protestant Church of England.
Charles believed he had a divine right to change the Scottish religion and this sparked outrage, since the country had been fiercely Presbyterian since the Reformation in 1560. The situation culminated in the signing of the National Covenant in Edinburgh in 1637. It asserted the independence of Scottish religion and laws. Those who signed it became known as “Covenanters” and copies were distributed across the kingdom. Importantly, and unlike the famed Declaration of Arbroath, it was not only signed by the nobility but received the support of ten of thousands of the common people of Scotland too.
The final spark for revolution came that summer, when a peasant girl named Jenny Geddes flung her stool at one of Charles’s bishops in the cathedral in Edinburgh. A riot began, and soon the whole country was up in arms against Charles. A single blow by a low-born woman had started the most tumultuous century in British history.
Two brief wars, named the Bishop’s Wars, followed, as Charles tired to tame his northern subjects. Both ended miserably for the king, partly because the Scots were so determined, partly because the English, plenty of whom were also Presbyterians, didn’t want to fight their northern coreligionists.
The loss of the Bishop’s Wars showed the rest of Britain that Charles could be overcome. There was a Catholic rising in Ireland in 1641 (which the Scots and English united to suppress), and a year later the English Parliament finally went to war with the king, beginning the first of three English Civil Wars. The Scots were natural allies of the English Parliament, and Scottish Covenanter armies were soon marching south to join the war against the Charles in England.
After the Restoration in 1660 Charles’s son, Charles II, began a program of revenge against the Covenanters. Whilst the rest of Britain basked in the splendour of the “Merry Monarch” thousands of Covenanters were executed or deported in what became known north of the border as the “Killing Times.” One Covenanter martyr was a seventeen year old named Margaret Wilson. She refused to renounce her beliefs, and was tied to a stake in the Solway Firth, where she was left to die, singing the Psalms as she drowned.
Two Covenanter risings were crushed by Charles II. It wasn’t until after his death that the tide would once again, finally, turn in the Covenanters favour.
In 1688 Charles’s brother, James II, had a son. This incensed the rest of Britain became James was a Catholic, and his son’s godfather was the Pope himself. United by their determination to avid another Catholic succession, Presbyterians and Episcopalians put aside their differences and invited the husband of James’s daughter, the Protestant William Prince of Orange, to take the throne from James. This he duly did in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. William III ended the persecution of the Covenanters, and finally accepted Presbyterianism as the state religion of Scotland. To this day the official church of the nation, the Church of Scotland, is Presbyterian whilst the Church of England remains Episcopalian.
The influence of the Scottish Covenanters runs like a blue thread through the events in Britain between 1637 and the final defeat of the Stuarts at Culloden in 1746, binding together events like the English Civil Wars, the Restoration, the Glorious Revolution and the Acts of Union. Given that, it’s surprising how few Scots are aware of the massive importance of this period, not only in Scottish history but in British and, indeed, glorbal terms.
On this day in 1986, the alleged three hundred and thirty five year war between the Netherlands and the British Scilly Isles officially ended. During the English Civil War, the Dutch sided with Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians over the Royalist supporters of King Charles. The Royalists felt betrayed by their former allies, and responded by raiding Dutch shipping lanes. The tide of war gradually turned against the Royalists, and by 1651 their army had been pushed back to Cornwall on Britain’s south-western coast. The Royalist navy was forced to the tiny Isles of Scilly off the Cornish coast, the largest of which is only four square miles. The Dutch sent warships to Scilly to demand compensation for their mercantile losses, and when the Royalists refused, Dutch admiral Maarten Tromp declared war on the islands and set up a naval blockade. Tromp’s authority to make such a declaration is unclear, but what is known is that no blood was shed, as the Parliamentarians took the Isles of Scilly in June 1651 and the Dutch promptly sailed home. The incident was forgotten until a Scillonian historian enquired at the Dutch Embassy for evidence of a war which by then had been raging for three centuries. The embassy subsequently found evidence to suggest that the war between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly had indeed never formally ended. Despite questions about Tromp’s authority and the technical impossiblity of declaring war on a specific region of a nation, thus throwing the legitimacy of the alleged war into confusion, the Dutch ambassador was invited to the isles to negotiate peace. On April 17th 1986, an official peace treaty was signed between the two unlikely adversaries, ending a bloodless 335 year conflict.
“It must have been awful to know we could have attacked at any moment.” - The Dutch ambassador in 1986
Pre-order Now: Lara Croft and the Blade of Gwynnever
Eager for more Lara Croft lore? Lara Croft and the Blade of Gwynnever is now available for pre-order. This stand-alone novel set in the Lara Croft universe features enough dual-pistol wielding action and sharp wit to please nostalgic fans of the franchise.
After a ruthless competitor beats her in a race to recover a priceless antiquity in Sri Lanka, Lara Croft returns home to London. Nursing her bruises, she gets a call from an old friend in desperate need of help and learns that something truly strange has been discovered during a excavation beneath the City of London. Investigating, Lara witnesses something so spectacular it could rewrite the history of the British Isles—and perhaps even the world—but is drawn into a dangerous shadow world of espionage, conspiracy and black market trafficking. There’s too much at stake. Lara sets off on a globe-trotting mission to recover a precious antiquity that links the modern world to ancient myths and legends, as old foes and new threats gather to stop her finding the truth. What is the true secret of the blade, who can she really trust, and is this the one mission even she can’t survive?
Written in conjunction with Crystal Dynamics and penned by Dan Abnett, a bestselling British novelist and comic book writer, Blade of Gwynnever hits bookshelves November 3.
A lot of people seem to be under the common misconception that ‘Blessed Be’ is a Wiccan only term.
Many other groups of pagans use it too, very notably druids and Celtic Reconstructionalists.
Maybe it’s a U.k thing, but please realise that it’s not just Wiccans that use the phrase, and there are some pieces of historical evidence (I want to say in Prof. Huttons works, I can’t quite remember) that date it back to before Wicca.
(As in before the 1950s, when Wicca was founded, possibly only to the Bricketwood coven)
But the phrase does not come from a Wiccan blessing, Wicca incorporated it into fertility and creativity rites long after the phrase had been around.
Once again, I point to the handy history book by Professor Hutton on the neo-pagan religions of the British isles! :)