house of the centenary

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December 30th 1916: Rasputin killed

On this day in 1916, by the new style calendar, Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin was killed in St. Petersburg, aged 47. Born to a peasant family around 1869, Rasputin received little formal education, and joined a monastery before leaving to travel around Europe and the Middle East. He eventually arrived in St. Petersburg, where he cultivated a reputation as a mystic and a faith healer, and found a place in the Russian court of Tsar Nicholas II. Rasputin acted as an adviser to the tsar’s wife Alexandra, who sought help for her son Alexei’s hemophilia, which the mystic appeared to help alleviate; he thus secured a place as Alexandra’s personal adviser. As the credibility and popularity of the tsar’s rule began to wane, his critics used the position of the peasant ‘mad monk’ in the court to call for reform. While Rasputin’s influence over the Romanovs was limited, Alexandra’s defiant defence of him gave rise to rumours of impropriety and even an alleged affair between the tsarina and the mystic. On the evening of December 29th 1916, a group of conspirators invited Rasputin to the palace of Prince Felix Yusupov, who had cultivated a friendship with Rasputin, intending to kill him to save the monarchy. They fed him poison, which had no effect, then shot him, which he initially survived, and finally shot him in the head and threw his body into a river in the early hours of the morning. Rasputin’s body was found a few days later, with his hands frozen in a raised position, giving rise to rumours that he was still alive while underwater and had tried to untie the rope on his hands, only to finally die by drowning. A few months later, in March 1917, the tsar’s government was toppled by Bolshevik revolutionaries, and, the next year, Nicholas, Alexandra, and all their children were executed. The remarkable story of Rasputin’s murder is the final chapter in a peasant monk’s rise to becoming one of the most influential and notorious figures of Russian history.

100 years ago

June 20, 1917 - British Royal Family Dispenses with German Titles, Changing Family Surname from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor

Pictured - King George V, Queen Mary, and the rest of the re-invented Windsor family.

The dog which Americans call the German Shephard was renamed the Alsation in Britain during World War One, when all mentions of Germany became a faux pas. Thus it was awkward that the royal family itself was of a German house - Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The German duchy had furnished its fair share of relatives to the European thrones, not only in Britain, but also in Bulgaria, Belgium, Portugal. George V was Queen Victoria’s grandson; the Kaiser was his cousin.

This, of course, was an unwelcome relation after 1914, and in June 1917 George decided to be rid of the cumbersome surname and the unwanted family ties. In a measure of solidarity and as an anti-German display, he and the royal family renounced their German titles and changed the name of their house to Windsor.

April 30, 1917 - Mesopotamia: Battle of the Boot, British Capture Samarra, End of 1917 Mesopotamian Campaign

Pictured - Wounded Turkish soldiers are treated at an Anglo-Indian first aid station.

The end of a campaign came on April 30, 1917, when British forces drove off the Ottomans at the Battle of the Boot, ending an offensive that captured the railroad-head of Samarra, 130 km north of Baghdad. In several months, the British had totally reversed the defeats in Mesopotamia of the previous year. Marching up the Tigris, General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude’s Anglo-Indian army had recaptured Kut, conquered Baghdad, then Fallujah, and finished far to the north at Samarra.

The desert had been unforgiving to both Briton and Turk, however. Maude lost 18,000 men of his force in battle or to sickness. General Khalil Pasha’s Turkish army had been almost completely destroyed, with some 15,000 men surrendering alone at Baghdad. With the inhospitable summer fast approaching and in dire need of reinforcements, Maude decided to end the campaign til winter. He would not be around to resume it, though, as he died abruptly of cholera in November 1917, apparently after drinking unboiled milk. Coincidentally, the German General von der Goltz had died in the same Baghdad house 19 months earlier.

From: The Telegraph, April 30, 2014 Downton Abbey star Jim Carter and his wife Imelda Staunton have teamed up with respected folk music friends Show Of Hands to record an album of war poetry to mark the centenary of the First World War.

Carter, known to millions for his role as Mr Carson in the ITV period drama, has worked with Show Of Hands whom he has known for many years having once shared a house with the acoustic band’s Steve Knightley.

The album, Centenary: Words & Music Of The Great War, is being released in the summer.

Carter and Staunton read their words to new arrangements of music from the era. The selection of poems includes Wilfred Owen’s Anthem For Doomed Youth and Dulce Et Decorum Est, along with works by Siegfried Sassoon and I Have A Rendezvous With Death, written by Alan Seeger, the uncle of the late folk star Peter Seeger.

There are also works by female poets as well as AE Housman’s The Lads In Their Hundreds, which dates back to the end of the 19th century.