The Year was 1441

O tannenbaum, o tannenbaum… We know this is Oh Christmas Tree, oh Christmas tree…and in fact the Christmas tree comes from early German Protestant celebrations of Christmas. But where did the Lutherans get this idea of decorating greenery in the middle of winter? The Vikings made green bows part of their celebration of mid-winter, perhaps…

The Year was 1254

On November 1, 1254, when she was 13, Eleanor of Castile married her first cousin, Prince Edward. At 15, he was tall and strong. And he detested his father, England’s King Henry III. Heir to the throne he couldn’t wait to get his hands on, Edward had to wait another 16 years. Henry in fact,…

The Year was 1618

It was 400 years ago almost to the day (Oct. 29, 1618) that Sir Water Raleigh joked, “This is sharp medicine indeed.” He was talking about an axe. Raleigh had done the impossible – born a commoner, he had been knighted. In Elizabethan England, Raleigh did it with daring, intelligence, talent, and not the least,…

The Year was 1540

Court painter Hans Holbein had an off-with-your-head mess on his hands. He knew it the instant he laid eyes on sisters Anne and Amalia of Cleves. For once, Holbein’s boss, Henry VIII, was listening to his political advisor and not his heart. As Henry sought Wife 4th, his chamberlain, Thomas Cromwell, warned him, “Look for…

The Year was 1601

If ever a child was born with everything going for him, it was Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex. His mother Lettice was first cousin to Queen Elizabeth I. When he was 10, Robert’s father died and he inherited a title, great wealth and vast estates. Essex’s genes gave him great good looks, height,…

The Year was 1564

The most successful fraud ever? True, according to none other than Sigmund Freud. And Charles Dickens. And Mark Twain. Who were they talking about? Shakespeare. William was born in April of 1564 to a wool merchant. His parents, John and Mary, his sisters and brothers and all three of his children were unable to read…

The Year was 1986

What do you do when you can’t sleep? You read novels. And what do you do when you want to encourage authors to write more novels? You buy a 13th century castle in Scotland and set up a writers’ retreat – all expenses paid. Doreen Mary English did just this. Born in England in 1915…

The Year was 1151

Did King Arthur actually live? Or Guinevere? Merlin, Mordred – were any of them real? Vaguely real? Their tales of quests, of magic, of forbidden love, of betrayal were sung in ballads for hundreds of years before Geoffrey of Monmouth, a professor at Oxford from 1129 to 1151, included Arthur (books 9 and 10) in…

The Year was 1035

When King Cnut died in 1035, it should have been a simple matter to divide his kingdom between his two teenage sons. King Cnut had a wife, Emma of Normandy. They had a son, Harthacnut.  King Cnut also had a mistress, Aelfgifu. And they had a son, Harold Harefoot. King Cnut ruled two kingdoms, the…

The Year was 1939

Why would all these people be coming to this obscure graveyard? The caretaker could not understand the sudden interest in the nondescript grave of a teenage soldier who had died during a skirmish in the British Mandate of Palestine more than 60 years earlier, in 1939. The teenager, named Harry, had lied about his age…