“Unite, persevere, and be free.”

The consequences of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) and the effects of the Corn Laws (tariffs and trade restrictions designed to keep grain prices high) were keenly felt in the north of England: there was famine and chronic unemployment. Furthermore, despite its large and dense populations, the north had poor political representation. There were substantial numbers of industrial workers that did not have a vote and, at that time, some sizable towns had no MP whilst ‘rotten boroughs’ (boroughs that no longer existed) did. Dissatisfaction manifested itself in the form of riots in towns including Newcastle.

One working class man, Henry Hunt, distinguished himself as an orator (a skilled public speaker). Hunt believed in equal rights, universal suffrage, parliamentary reform and an end to child labour. Hunt was to address a demonstration organised by the Manchester Patriotic Union at St. Peter’s Field, Manchester on 16th August 1819. That demonstration came to be known as the ‘Peterloo Massacre’ and is considered to be one of the most seminal events in radical British history. Magistrates summoned the Yeomanry who charged into the crowd, knocking down a woman and killing a child. The 15th Hussars were then summoned. They also charged, with sabres drawn, killing 15 people and injuring an estimated 400-700 more.

Page from Image: ‘These are the Manchester Sparrows, Who kill’d Poor Robins, with Bows and Arrows’. From: Who Killed Cock Robin? A Satirical Tragedy, or Hieroglyphic Prophecy on the Manchester Blot!!! (London: John Cahuac, 1819) Cowen Tracts v.136, n.1

‘These are the Manchester Sparrows, Who kill’d Poor Robins, with Bows and Arrows’. From: Who Killed Cock Robin? A Satirical Tragedy, or Hieroglyphic Prophecy on the Manchester Blot!!! (London: John Cahuac, 1819) Cowen Tracts v.136, n.1

Henry Hunt was arrested and jailed, in Ilchester, for two years. (In March 1822, reformers in Newcastle petitioned the House of Commons to liberate Hunt. The petition was presented by J. G. Lambton but was rejected.) Journalist, James Wroe, coined the name ‘Peterloo Massacre’ – a pun on the Battle of Waterloo. His newspaper, the Manchester Observer, was shut down and Wroe was imprisoned for seditious libel. John Tyas, a reporter with the Times, was on the hustings and was also arrested.

‘The North West View of his Majesty’s Jail at Ilchester’. From: Memoirs of Henry Hunt, Esq. Written by Himself, in His Majesty’s Jail at Ilchester, in the County of Somerset (London: T. Dolby, 1820) 19th Century Collection 942.073 HUN

‘The North West View of his Majesty’s Jail at Ilchester’. From: Memoirs of Henry Hunt, Esq. Written by Himself, in His Majesty’s Jail at Ilchester, in the County of Somerset (London: T. Dolby, 1820) 19th Century Collection 942.073 HUN

Peterloo precipitated a movement of protest that swept across the country. Indeed, a demonstration held in Newcastle, 11th October 1819, was possibly the largest such event. At the same time, the government cracked down on reform. People could already be arrested without a trial (the suspension of Habeas Corpus) and new legislation, the Six Acts, legitimised house searches and the punishment of any writer that criticised the Government. First and foremost, the Government went after the press: cheap periodicals were suppressed under the Six Acts, which forced publishers to pay a bond to the Government of £300 in London (worth approximately £17,229 today) and £200 in the provinces (worth approximately £11,486 today). A 4d duty (approximately 96p in today’s worth) applied to periodicals that were published more frequently than every 26 days, sold for less than 6d and contained public news.

‘These are the Magistrate Ravens, Who saw Cock Robin die’. From: Who Killed Cock Robin? A Satirical Tragedy, or Hieroglyphic Prophecy on the Manchester Blot!!! (London: John Cahuac, 1819) Cowen Tracts v.136, n.1.

‘These are the Magistrate Ravens, Who saw Cock Robin die’. From: Who Killed Cock Robin? A Satirical Tragedy, or Hieroglyphic Prophecy on the Manchester Blot!!! (London: John Cahuac, 1819) Cowen Tracts v.136, n.1.

That didn’t stop Newcastle printer and bookseller, John Marshall, from publishing The Northern Reformer’s Monthly Magazine and Political Register, for Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Westmoreland and Cumberland (1823-1824). It comprised a series of articles on working class radical political reform in the Northern Counties, principally calling for greater democratic representation and focusing on Newcastle in particular. The first issue contains an account by Eneas Mackenzie of John Marshall himself speaking at a meeting in Newcastle to celebrate the release from prison of Henry Hunt. Marshall supported several radical causes including the victims of the Peterloo Massacre, and had earlier published Radical Monday. A letter from Bob in Gotham to his Cousin Bob in the Country, containing an account of that glorious day!! which describes that open air meeting held in Newcastle on 11th October 1819.

The Northern Reformer’s Monthly Magazine, and Political Register, for Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Westmoreland and Cumberland (Newcastle upon Tyne: J. Marshall, 1823) Rare Books 941.074 NOR

The Northern Reformer’s Monthly Magazine, and Political Register, for Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Westmoreland and Cumberland (Newcastle upon Tyne: J. Marshall, 1823) Rare Books 941.074 NOR

13 years would pass before the 1832 Reform Act abolished rotten boroughs, created new boroughs in towns and gave 200,000 more men the vote. It was not until the Representation of the People Act (1918) that all men aged 21 and above were enfranchised. Women waited until 1928 to be given the right to vote on the same terms as men.

50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

Two pages from Peter Bennet's notebook showing two different drafts of the poem 'Moons at Cleethorpes'.

Pages from Peter Bennet’s notebook containing draft poems of ‘Moons at Cleethorpes’ (Bennet (Peter) Archive, PB/1/5/2)

On the 20th July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first people to walk on the moon after the successful landing of spacecraft ‘Eagle’ on the surface of the moon a few hours earlier. The landing ended the ‘Space Race’ between the USSR and the USA, and was a breakthrough moment in space exploration.

To celebrate, this month’s treasure is part of poet Peter Bennet’s notebooks containing a draft of his poem ‘Moons at Cleethorpes’ from 1985. Whilst the moon landing of 1969 was a significant moment in the history of space exploration and the development of scientific understanding of outer space, the moon has long held a significant place in culture, particularly in works of art and literature such as Bennet’s poem.

Bennet initially studied Art and Design with ambitions to be a painter but turned to poetry when he began working as a teacher of redundant steelworkers in Consett. The connection to visual imagery can be seen in this poem through the language used to evoke the real moon and the pleasure park rides, and the sense of interplay between the natural dark and artificial lights of the park. The notebook provides a fascinating insight into the working processes behind Bennet’s poetry. It is possible to see where he has amended lines, scribbling over phrases, and rewritten over the poem in coloured pen to try out alternative words and phrases. Comparison with the published version of the poem can show which part of the poem Bennet chose to use as the ‘finished’ version, but these drafts can also demonstrate the development of ideas. In this case, the red annotations to the poem suggest Bennet was interested in how to convey a sense of light and movement as he tries out alternative phrases of ‘garish’ and ‘brashly lit-up’, ‘floats high’ and ‘soars back’.

You can hear more about Bennet’s life and work and his hopes for the future of his notebooks held here in Special Collections through our Collected Voices resource. More of his drafts and pages from the notebooks are also available to view online through the Collections Captured resource.

Letting in the Light: The Leonard Evetts Archive

Our summer exhibition at the Marjorie Robinson Library showcases the archive of world renowned artist and designer Leonard  Evetts (1909 – 1997), whose archive has been donated to Newcastle University Library Special Collections.  A designer, painter, calligrapher, author, and teacher, Evetts is perhaps best known as a master in the design of stained glass windows.  The most prolific English church window designer of the 20th Century, he created over 400 works of stained glass in his lifetime.

Our exhibition features works which span his range of expertise.  From some of the beautiful windows we can find locally here in Newcastle to examples of his work overseas, and including glass work, textile work, watercolours and letters from his time as Head of Design here at Newcastle University.

The exhibition was designed by Cathleen Burton and Paul Campbell, who for the past year have been undertaking a placement in Special Collections as part of Newcastle University’s Career Development Module.  Working on the recently acquired Leonard Evetts archive, they have catalogued, re-packaged, and researched this fascinating collection.

Archivist Ruth Sheret will now be pulling all of Paul and Cathleen’s hard work together and will be finishing work on the final catalogue, which is scheduled to be open to the public in 2020.  Meanwhile the exhibition is on display in the Marjory Robinson Library from July 2019 – March 2020.

Window design, Church of Our Lady and Saint Oswain, Tynemouth, 1994.

Proposed design for a memorial window to Lieut. Hugh Walton-Wilson, Church of St John, Snod’s Edge, Northumberland, circa 1939.

Proposed Alter Frontal, Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1989.

Design for Newcastle General Hospital Chapel, 1979.

Jack Mapanje – poet and prisoner of conscience

Extract from a letter written on toilet tissue paper by Jack Mapanje to David Kerr whilst a prisoner in Mikuyu Prison in Malawi

Extract from a letter written by Jack Mapanje to David Kerr whilst a prisoner in Mikuyu Prison in Malawi (Jack Mapanje Archive, MAP/6/3/43)

Within Special Collections and Archives we hold the papers of a number of contemporary poets. One of that number is Malawian poet Jack Mapanje. In 1987 he was imprisoned for 4 years for critical views of the Malawian government expressed in his first published collection of poems. Since then he has had several more works published alongside a career as an academic in Malawi and the UK. In the Mapanje (Jack) Archive we hold material relating to his poetic works, items relating to his academic career in both Malawi and the UK, and perhaps most interestingly, correspondence written during and after his time held as prisoner of conscience.

Jack Mapanje was born in 1944 in Malawi, where he was educated before he studied at universities in Malawi and the UK. He then went on to lecture in the Department of English at Chancellor College, University of Malawi. In 1983 he was awarded a PHD in linguistics after study at University College London, he then returned to work at the University of Malawi.

During this time Jack Mapanje witnessed at first hand the regime of Hastings Banda and began to write poetry, some of which reflected his despair at the political situation. His first collection, Of Chameleons and Gods, was published in the UK in 1981. In 1985 the Malawian government withdrew the book from circulation without reason, and in 1987 Mapanje was arrested and imprisoned without trial in Mikuyu Prison.

Whilst detained he wrote a series of letters to David Kerr, an English colleague and friend who also worked at the University of Malawi. Their content tells of the conditions inside the prison and Mapanje’s thoughts on the campaign to release him. The harshness of prison conditions meant that paper and letters had to be smuggled into and out of the prison. This included using clean toilet paper as a medium on which to write letters.

One letter written on toilet paper survives as part of our collection (MAP/6/3/43). This particular letter is dated the 10/1, in it he mentions prisoners released the previous day and discusses possible tactics and options open to his contacts fighting for his release.

Letter written on toilet paper tissue by Jack Mapanje to David Kerr whilst a prisoner in Mikuyu Prison in Malawi

Extract from a letter written by Jack Mapanje to David Kerr whilst a prisoner in Mikuyu Prison in Malawi (Jack Mapanje Archive, MAP/6/3/43)

Whilst he was in prison his first collection, Of Chameleons and Gods won the Rotterdam Poetry International Award and the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. These helped to highlight his plight and political oppression in Malawi to an international audience. At the same time there was a campaign for his release coordinated by Amnesty International which involved several well-known writers and activists including Harold Pinter and Noam Chomsky.

He was eventually released in May 1991, after this he and his family moved to the UK. In the years since he has had a successful career as an academic with several universities and has carried on writing. The collection of poems he largely wrote whilst in Mikuyu Prison, ‘The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison’, was published in 1993. More recent books include The ‘Last of the Sweet Bannanas: new and selected poems’ and ‘The Beasts of Nalunga’. He has edited other works and his memoir, ‘And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night’ was published in 2011.

Front cover of ‘Beast of Nalunga’, showing the head of a crocodile with its mouth open

Front cover of ‘Beast of Nalunga’, published by Bloodaxe Books in 2007 (Bloodaxe Books Collection, Bloodaxe 821.94 MAP)

A catalogue of Jack Mapanje’s papers held at Newcastle University Library can be found here on our Archives Hub pages and a small selection of digitised images from the archive can be found on Collections Captured.

200 years of John Ruskin

February 8th 2019 marks 200 years since the birth of art critic and social thinker John Ruskin (1819-1900).

In our collections, substantial letters from Ruskin appear in the Trevelyan (Walter Calverley) Archive (WCT). Sir Walter was a naturalist and landlord of both the Nettlecombe and Wallington estates. Ruskin’s link to Sir Walter came through a close friendship with his wife Paulina Trevelyan (Pauline). It is to Pauline that the majority of the letters from Ruskin are addressed.

The correspondence from Ruskin in the WCT Archive reflect the friendship between Trevelyan and Ruskin. He advises her on her own artistic practice, reflects on his own work as well as discussing art, society and family matters. In his autobiography, Ruskin described Trevelyan as ‘a monitress-friend in whom I totally trusted’. This trust appears to have been returned, as Trevelyan was one of the few to stand by Ruskin during the collapse and annulment of his marriage.

Extract from a letter from John Ruskin to Lady Pauline, advising her on her own artistic practice

Extract from a letter from John Ruskin to Lady Pauline, advising her on her own artistic practice (Walter Calverley Archive, WCT 39)

Both Trevelyan and Ruskin were supporters of the burgeoning Pre-Raphaelite movement. Trevelyan became an important patron of the movement, using the opportunity presented by roofing the courtyard at Wallington Hall, to showcase the style she enjoyed. The Great Hall at Wallington remains an important artistic monument, featuring eight large wall paintings by William Bell Scott. The floral designs which appear between the main panels were painted by Ruskin and Trevelyan themselves, among other figures from their social circle.

Their friendship came to an end when Trevelyan died in Switzerland, while she and her husband travelled with Ruskin. Both men were present at her death-bed.

Extract from a letter from John Ruskin to Lady Pauline, which includes his signature

Extract from a letter from John Ruskin to Lady Pauline, which includes his signature (Walter Calverley Trevelyan Archive, WCT 39)

The Trevelyan (Walter Calverley) Archive is available for public consultation and contains around 20 files of letters from Ruskin to Trevelyan, dating from 1848 to Pauline’s death in 1866. Images in this article are from a letter from Ruskin to Trevelyan dated 5th March [1849] which appears in WCT 39. Collections Captured also features images of Ruskin’s personal bookplate and annotations which feature in a book he formerly owned: The tea-table miscellany or, Allan Ramsay’s collection of Scots Sangs (18th Century Collection, 821.04 RAM).

Page from ‘The tea-table miscellany or, Allan Ramsay's collection of Scots sangs’

Page from ‘The tea-table miscellany or, Allan Ramsay’s collection of Scots sangs’ (18th Century Collection, 18th C. Coll 821.04 RAM)

The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals

A sow is dressed in a jacket and trousers being executed in front of a large crows in a public square

The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals by E.P. Evans, 1906 (Clarke Miscellaneous 180)

From the Middle Ages until the mid-eighteenth century a wide array of animals were brought to trial in Europe, charged with a range of crimes committed against both humans and other animals. E.P. Evans’ book The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals documents nearly 200 cases of animal trials from this period.

The frontispiece of Evans’ book shows a sow dressed in a jacket and trousers being executed in a public square. The pig had been charged with the murder of a small child and, following its execution, it was dressed up in human clothes to be displayed in the town.

Not all cases ended in capital punishment, however. Evans also documents cases where ecclesiastical trials of insects and vermin resulted in excommunication. For example, he writes about a case of rats who were defended by Bartholemew Chassenée – a renowned sixteenth century lawyer. The rats were accused of having ‘feloniously eaten up and wantonly destroying the barley-crop’ and Chassenée successfully defended the rats, who were unable to appear before the court due to the ‘length and difficulty of the journey and the serious perils which attended it’ – the ‘serious perils’ being the ‘vigilance of their mortal enemies, the cats’.

It wasn’t just animals who were subject to human law, however. Evans also writes of cases where inanimate objects were brought before the court. In one instance, a statue of a famous athlete, Nikôn of Thasos, had fallen and crushed a man. The statue was subsequently brought before a tribunal and sentenced to be ‘cast into the sea’.

While many of the cases Evans discusses may seem ridiculous to us, Medieval and early-Modern Europeans recognised that animals were capable of suffering pain and death. With contemporary movements like PETA and WWF working to establish animal rights, by granting animals agency in a court of justice, perhaps our Medieval and early-Modern predecessors were not too far wrong.

Aurelia Musso – The Exchange, Newcastle

One of the very special images we have within our ‘Local Illustrations’ collection is this picture: Exchange by Aurelia Musso.  Unusually for the prints that remain of this artist, it is a picture of a civic building, the Exchange on Newcastle Quayside (now known as the Guild Hall).

‘Exchange’, by Aurelia Musso and dedicated to David Landell, c. 1783 1793 (Local Illustrations, ILL/11/165). The Exchange is located along the Newcastle Quayside, now known as Guild Hall.

 

Aurelia Musso was a prolific artist, and highly regarded within Newcastle society in the late 18th Century.  Born in Piedmont in Italy in 1758, she moved to Newcastle in 1783 with her husband, fellow artist Boniface Musso, and their two children.  The early history of the Musso family is fairly scant, but Aurelia (nee Grezzini) appears to have had family links in Newcastle, with various members of the Grezzini family involved in wood carving trades and the making of high quality toys in the City.

Axwell Park by Aurelia Musso, commissioned by the Clavering family of Gateshead. Original held at Newcastle City Library and kindly reproduced with their permission.

Jesmond Mill by Aurelai Musso, commissioned by the Brown family of Benton. Original held at Newcastle City Library and kindly reproduced with their permission.

Aurelia Musso specialised in prints and her work was highly valued among the wealthy and powerful in Newcastle.  She was commissioned by several prominent families, including the Clavering family of Axwell Park, (Gateshead), John Bigge of Carville Hall (Wallsend), William Lamb of Ryton Hall (County Durham) and Ralph Carr of Dunston Hall (Gateshead), and often Musso’s images remain the earliest prints of these family estates and houses.  She appears to have been very much a part of this elite circle and was certainly a very fashionable artist during this period.

The image of the Exchange was presumably created whilst Aurelia lived in Newcastle, and can therefore be dated to between 1783 – 1893.  Not very long afterwards, in 1809, the frontage of the building was radically altered to the designs of architects William Newton and David Stephenson.  Whilst the interior and rear of the building remained intact, the old steeple and staircase were entirely taken down, and the present front was erected, with the clock placed in the front, largely obliterating the original Italian architectural style seen in Musso’s print.  The print below, dating from 1829, shows the building with its new facade, which remains to this day.

‘Guild Hall or Exchange’ 1829, William Westall (artist) and Edward Finden (engraver), held by Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The Musso family, although nowadays far less well know than during their lifetimes, play an important part in Newcastle’s history.  Aurelia’s husband Boniface was the tutor for a short time of architect John Dobson (link to profile), as well as the artist John Martin (link to profile).  John Martin moved to Newcastle initially in 1803 at the age of 14 to take up the post of apprentice to a coach-builder to learn heraldic painting.  Meeting the Musso family in 1804 however he was taken on by them, receiving classical art instruction.  After Aurelia’s death, Boniface moved with the family to London taking John Martin with him – although Martin proved to be a somewhat wayward apprentice and the apprenticeship was later terminated!

Aurelia died in 1793, only 35 years old, cause of death unknown.  She was buried on 17th September 1793 in St Andrew’s Churchyard, Newcastle.

Many thanks to Pat Halcro for her research for this piece.

Thomas Baker Brown – Story of a local Tommy

photograph-baker-brown

Photograph of Thomas Baker Brown in uniform wearing an ‘Imperial Service Badge’. Baker Brown (Thomas) Archive,  TBB/1/3/1

This month, marks 100 years since the end of the 1st World War. Our Treasure of the Month is part of the archive of Thomas Baker Brown. Born locally in Tynemouth, he served in France during the 1st World War, was taken a prisoner of war in 1918 and served as a member of the Home Guard during the 2nd World War despite suffering sight damage attributed to his time in captivity.

A highlight of the archive from the period of the 1st World War is a series of over 300 letters written at regular intervals to his family. These cover the period from when he joined the army as an 18 year old, his training for, and participation in the Great War, his time as a Prisoner of War and his return home from Germany at the end of the war. Together they combine to tell a captivating first hand account of his journey from a civilian to an experienced member of the forces fighting in France and give a fascinating insight into daily life of those who fought for the country.

Thomas Baker Brown was born in Linskill Street, Tynemouth on the 22nd of December 1896 to parents Thomas Baker Brown and J.H. Brown, he had an older brother and would go on to have a younger sister. He remained with his family, living in and around Tynemouth, until he joined the army in late November 1915, a month before his 19th birthday.

After joining the army he spent 4 months training at a base near York at Scarcroft School. Whilst there he regularly wrote to family updating them on his progress through training and his life as a young soldier. At this stage his letters detail the training he has undertaken, life in the barracks and other local men who have signed up to fight.

Letter from Thomas Baker Brown to his mother from a training camp in York. He describes getting used to life the military life and applying for a transfer to the signallers. The letter is written from 9th Platton, ‘C’ Company, 2/6th Northumberland Fusiliers, Scarcroft Schools, York. Baker Brown (Thomas)Archive, TBB/1/1/1/1/42

This letter (above) is typical of those written whilst Baker Brown was at the training camp. In this letter he writes about getting used to military life and requesting a transfer the Signallers.

By July 1916 he’d joined the 2/6th Northumberland Fusiliers, 32nd Division as a signaller and travelled to France with them. Their number included his brother, George, who had signed up after his younger brother. He went on join the ranks taking took repeated turns on the front line, being awarded the Military Cross for his heroism and bravery in March 1917. Throughout this time he continued to keep in regular contact with his family back in Tynemouth whilst fighting and remaining uninjured. His letters home from the front discus his experiences on the front line, the weather in France, replies to the letters and parcels he was receiving from home, and the often sad fate those he knew from his home area who were wounded, or worse, in action.

Letter from Thomas Baker Brown to his father from France. He discusses friends who have died or been wounded, meeting his brother George and his plans to perhaps perform in a concert. The letter is signed Derek, a nickname used by Thomas Baker Brown. This letter is accompanied by an ‘honesty envelope’. Baker Brown (Thomas) Archive, TBB/1/1/1/1/216

In this letter from November 1917 (above), he talks about receiving a copy of the Shields Daily News from his parents and mentions other men from his local area who have died and been wounded recently.

He remained in France until late March 1918 when he was taken prisoner on the Arras Front at Bullecourt and transferred to Germany where he was held in Prisoner of War camps. He spent much of his time as a Prisoner of War in a camp at Limburg where he was required to work as a miner in a coal mine adjacent to the camp. Once he became a prisoner of war the frequency of his communications declined and were restricted to briefer postcards lacking the detail of his earlier letters.

As the war drew to a close and the armistice agreement was signed morale amongst the guards lessened to the extent that Baker Brown and 5 other detainees were able to walk out of camp on the morning of the 17th of November 1918 and attempt to travel home. He, and several other prisoners, made their way to a camp in the Netherlands where he was able to write to his parents letting them know the circumstances of his escape and his expectation of being home in time for Christmas.

Letter written on YMCA headed paper, from Thomas Baker Brown to his mother from a British Concentration Camp in Holland. He writes that he has crossed the frontier along with an Italian man, and they have ‘been dodging about Holland’ and now expect to be home for Christmas. Baker Brown (Thomas) Archive, TBB/1/1/1/1/305

Several years later he suffered damage to his eye sight which doctors attributed to his time as a prisoner of war. This would prevent him from re-joining the army and participating abroad in World War Two. However, he was able to join the Home Guard and play his part in the defence of the country. A number of items including diaries, correspondence and other documents covering his time as a member of the 4th Battalion Northumberland (Hexham) Home Guard form a significant part of the archive.

Images of the letters featured in this post, along with a selection of others written by Baker Brown to family during World War One, are available here on Collections Captured. A full online catalogue of the Thomas Baker Brown Archive is available here, along with the catalogue here of the archive Sir Lawrence Pattinson, another local man whose military career included the First World War.

400th Anniversary of the Death of Sir Walter Raleigh

The morning of the 29th October marks 400 years since the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh, beheaded at the Palace of Westminster under the auspices of King James I.

Raleigh is perhaps best known in the popular imagination as a courtier and favourite of Queen Elizabeth, and their relationship has often been speculated on and dramatised. Yet Raleigh was also a poet, a writer, a soldier, a sailor, and an adventurer, and embodied the idea of the ‘Renaissance Man’.

Spread from Raleigh's The Prerogative of Parliaments

A two-page spread from our 1628 copy of Raleigh’s The Prerogative of Parliaments in England, showing extensive annotations by a previous owner [Post-Incunabula, PI 328.42 RAL]

Raleigh’s life and career included many of the most events during this turbulent period of national history. Like many gentlemen of his social class, Raleigh gained military experience during the bloody English conquest of Ireland, where he infamously oversaw the massacre of 600 Italian and Spanish soldiers after they had surrendered at the Siege of Smerwick in 1580.

He was also instrumental in England’s early attempts to colonise North America, financing and planning expeditions to the Virginia region throughout the 1580s. The famous ‘Lost Colony’ of Roanoke, where the colonists disappeared with barely a trace, was one of his initiatives. In popular tradition, Raleigh is often attributed to bringing the potato and tobacco to Europe, although there is little historical evidence to suggest this. He did, however, make smoking tobacco popular at court.

As well as sending expeditions to North America, Raleigh was interested in Guiana, in modern-day Guyana and Venezuela.  He believed that the fabled ‘El Dorado’ was found there, and that there were mountains of gold to be discovered. He led an expedition there in 1595, but returned to England empty-handed later that year.

After the death of Elizabeth in 1603 and the accession of James I to the throne, Raleigh was arrested for his involvement in the Main Plot against James. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he remained until 1616. It was during his incarceration in the Tower that Raleigh produced most of his prose works.

The title page from our 1652 edition of Raleigh’s The History of the World

The title page from our 1652 edition of Raleigh’s The History of the World, showing an engraving of the author. Raleigh wrote the History during his long imprisonment in the Tower of London between 1603-1616. A substantial piece of scholarship, the book mainly deals with Biblical history, and the histories of ancient Greece and Rome [Bradshaw Collection, Bradshaw 930 RAL Folio]

Much of Raleigh’s career was defined by Protestant England’s long conflict with Catholic superpower Spain: his colonisation ventures in the New World would have allowed the English more opportunity to attack Spanish colonies; he surveyed and assessed coastal defences during the Spanish Armada of 1588; he took part in the Capture of Cadiz in 1596, and was a Rear Admiral in another attack on Spain in 1597.

However, on his release from the Tower in 1616, the political landscape had changed, and England’s position was no longer defined by antagonism with Spain. After being pardoned by James, Raleigh led another expedition to Guiana in 1617. His men attacked a Spanish outpost in the area, and Raleigh’s son and namesake Walter was killed in the skirmish. Although they searched for gold, they found none.

When Raleigh returned to England in early 1618, tired and disillusioned, the Spanish ambassador demanded justice for the attack in Guiana. James, eager to avoid a major crisis with Spain, ordered Raleigh’s arrest and execution.

Raleigh was a complex man, living in a complex time. The 400th anniversary of his death provides us with an opportunity to assess his life, works, and legacy.

A map from our 1628 edition of The History of the World.

A map from our 1628 edition of The History of the World. This is one of the many detailed maps found throughout the book [Sandes Library, Sandes 174]

Agatha Christie and Archaeology

Agatha Christie is the world’s best-selling crime novelist; but did you know that she also worked in the field of archaeology alongside her second husband, the distinguished archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan? From the 21st Century Collection, this month’s treasure is Agatha Christie and Archaeology, edited by Charlotte Trümpler, which celebrates Christie’s relationship with archaeology, exploring what life was like working and travelling around archaeological digs in the Middle East in the 1930s to the 1950s, and detailing the extraordinary relationship between Christie’s books and the field of archaeology.

First published as part of a major exhibition at the British Museum in 2001-02 and translated from German, this book details Christie’s contribution to the excavations led by her husband at various sites in Syria and Iraq, including the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud which has since been destroyed. With reflections from those who worked as part of the excavation teams, the book describes everyday life for Christie and her husband at the digs (including anecdotes of Christie piecing together pottery shards and cleaning ivory fragments using hand lotion and face cream).

Christie photographed many of the finds, some of which are now held in the British Museum. These are explored in the book, as well as details and stills from two films she made of the excavation sites that have never been shown publically. The book also provides photographs of Agatha and Max, in addition to examples of photographs taken by Christie of late-1930s Syria and of Iraq between 1948 and 1958. Demonstrating Christie’s unique perspective on archaeological digs in these areas, Agatha Christie and Archaeology also explores the differences between her attitude to the Orient, and those of previous European travellers in the Middle East, including Gertrude Bell whose extensive archive is held in Special Collections.

Many of Christie’s best-loved and most well-known novels featuring Hercule Poirot, such as Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Murder in Mesopotamia (1935), Death on the Nile (1937) and Appointment with Death (1937), take place in the Middle East and feature settings of archaeological sites; Agatha Christie and Archaeology uncovers some of the little-known connections between the fictional dramas and characters of the novels and their basis on real-life events and people, such as Christie’s own adventurous travels to excavation sites.

Why not visit Special Collections to take a look at some of the examples of Christie’s work held here? There are children’s versions of Death on the Nile and Crooked House in the Booktrust Collection, and the little-known Star Over Bethlehem and Other Stories – a collection of religious stories and poems generally thought to be aimed at children that Christie published under her married name – is held in the Brian Alderson Collection.