Hey! Shut your priest hole!

Here is a round-up of my current non-fiction books.

I have just finished Antonia Fraser’s The Gunpowder Plot, and can highly recommend it. She’s nothing if not thorough, without being dry or too wordy. I think many of us have felt sorry for the plotters over the years, even though as the book points out, many innocent people would have died, and Robert Catesby, the instigator and leader of it all, wasn’t the most balanced of chaps. But still, lots of innocent people, such as the plotters’ spouses, servants, acquaintances also found themselves punished, and it was an attempted assassination. As Sideshow Bob once said in the Simpsons regarding his attempted murder conviction, I am presently incarcerated, imprisoned for a crime I did not even commit. “Attempted murder,” now honestly, did they ever give anyone a Nobel prize for “attempted chemistry?”

The book is a lot about the Catholic/Protestant division, and features a nice amount about priest holes, one of my favourite things. Nicholas Owen (later canonised) also known as ‘Little John’ due to his small stature, was a genius at tucking people away, and his holes featured feeding tubes, and even fold-out altars. Personally, I’d choose a fold-out toilets over an altar, but there we are. He did manage waste pipes in some, but when Father Garnet, a friend of the plotters eventually gave himself up, it was because him and the priest he was hiding with could no longer sit in their own filth. They had liquids and solids coming in, and not going out. I’m surprised the searchers didn’t smell them out. Before Father Garnet was discovered, Nicholas Own, hiding nearby came out of his hole to try and take the heat off of Father Garnet. The hole he had fled into had no food, so all he and a companion had was half an apple and some marmalade they grabbed on the way in, so their bellies also probably helped drive them out, but at least it would have smelled better in there. Nicholas Owen died under torture. He had been hung from manacles, and a metal plate strapped to his abdomen to hold his hernia in. Later he was racked, and his hernia burst out and was cut open by the plate. He had been tortured on a previous occasion,too, leaving him with a permanently crippled leg, but he never gave up the locations of his secret hiding places, hence the saint thing.

I have just started Benedict Gummer’s The scourging Angel, as I think the plague is awesome (to read about, not have). And I mean awesome in the more old-fashioned sense, we can’t imagine what it would be like to watch so many people around us die, what it would be to feel our glands swollen, our tongues turn black, and know we were most likely going to be dead within a few days. In Jarrow, eight out of ten people died. Imagine that, as many cats whose owners expressed a preference that they prefer Whiskers, died. And speaking of cats, most of them were killed, suspected of carrying the disease. It must have been an utterly bleak to be alive.

And next up will be Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets. I’m fond of the name (if I ever change my name by deed poll to something fun, Plantagenet is up there) and the royal family. Ahh, royals were proper royals in those days! All of the old royal houses are more interesting than this one. They won the crown on the battle field, had cool nicknames like pro wrestlers, such as Longshanks, the Bastard, the Confessor, the Conquerer. And there was a King in Hungary known as Coloman the Bookish (yay!) and in Bulgaria King Ivailo the Cabbage (ha!)

And to close, I like to think if those legendary (but often unattractive) royals of yore can see us now, they’d be chuffed at who plays them on film.

Richard II


Henry V

Richard III