Friday 30 January 2015

The Mayerling Incident

On 30 January 1889, Crown Prince Rudolf, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary was found dead alongside his mistress, 17 year old Mary Vetsera at The Mayerling, an isolated hunting lodge.
At first it was announced that he had died of natural causes, most likely heart failure. Mary's death was kept secret, but not for long.
The official investigation that followed concluded that both Rudolf and Mary had died of gunshot wounds in what appeared to be a suicide pact.
The Emperor Franz Joseph now ordered all inquiries to cease.
Rudolf did not get on with his father, he was was liberal who associated with radicals and lent his support to those who demanded reforms.
He was a heavy drinker who frequented, clubs, brothels, neglected his wife and was heartily disliked at the Imperial Court for his outspoken views and discourteous manner.
He was also considered a liability by Austria's German ally without whose support the Empire would struggle to survive.
As the only son of the Emperor the Crown would now pass to Franz Joseph's brother Karl Ludwig but he renounced it in favour of his son the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
No more liked than Rudolf he was at least a sober and level-headed man who took his responsibilities seriously, and his assassination on 28 June 1914, would prove the catalyst for war.
At Rudolf's funeral the Imperial Family remained barely fifteen minutes.
Was the Mayerling Incident a suicide pact? Or was it a politically motivated murder? Certainly many of Rudolf's relatives believed it was the latter.
Either way it remained a convenient death.

Crown Prince Rudolf

Mary Vetsera, Crown Prince Rudolf's 17 year old mistress.

Crown Prince Rudolf and Princess Stephanie, the wife he later ignored on the day of their engagement.

Thursday 29 January 2015

Rasputin: The Devil Made Flesh

Rasputin: The Mad Monk

The homosexual transvestite Prince Felix Yusupov whom some believe murdered Rasputin out of revenge for being spurned.

Rasputin with Princess Irina Felixovna Yusupova, the wife of his assassin and said to be the most beautiful woman in Russia.

Another one of his disciples, Olga Lokhina, became convinced that Rasputin was Christ and she the Holy Virgin. She had earlier abandoned her wealthy husband and children to devote herself to Rasputin, and was to be seen in the street holding his penis and saying, “You are Christ and I am your ewe.” Rasputin called her a skunk who demanded sin.

“I went to see Rasputin and he sat down across from me and placed my legs between his knees. Something ruthless and terrible was staring at me from the depths of his eyes. He said, “You want to know what sin is,” and pulled me into the bedroom, tearing off my dress as he went. The next moment I became aware of his savage animal desire. The last thing I remember was his tearing off of my underwear then I passed out. When I woke I found myself lying on the ground torn and defiled.”

Rasputin and his Women

Rasputin:The Devil Made Flesh at

Thursday 22 January 2015

First World War Remembered: The Somme

Boy Soldiers:

Around 250,000 boys, some as young as 14, lied about their age to fight in the First World War.

The Army turned a blind eye.

Of these 18,000 fought at the Somme and more than 120,000 were to be killed or wounded during the war.

Private Frederick Darkes of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment - is this the man in the powerful and iconic image taken from the official film of the Somme Battle released in British cinemas in August, 1916?

On 1 July 1916, Lord Kitchener's trained but as yet untested Volunteer Army launched their first major offensive on the Western Front along the banks of the River Somme.

The assault, designed to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun, had been preceded by a massive bombardment lasting a week during which 1.7 million shells were fired.

But many of shells, low calibre and shrapnel, were useless against fixed positions and the German front-line positions remained largely intact and the barbed wire had not been cut.

At 7.27 am the British troops left their trenches and advanced into a hail of shell and machine gun fire.

By the end of the day 21, 053 men lay dead with a further 40,000 wounded.

Despite more than 60,000 casualties, the worst disaster in British military history, no first day objectives had been achieved.

But the battle was to continue for another five months and by the time it petered out 95,675 British and Commonwealth soldiers had been killed, 324,000 wounded, and 57 Victoria Crosses won.

They had advanced just six miles.

At 7.27 am on 1 July 1916, as the whistles were blown to go over-the-top Captain Wilfred Nevill of the East Surrey Regiment kicked two footballs into no-mans-land for the men to pass to each other offering a prize to the one who could dribble it all the way to the German front-line.

He was killed early in the assault, as indeed were almost 60% of the Officers leading their men that day.

Captain Robert Graves, already a poet and later author of I Claudius was so seriously wounded on the Somme that the doctors believed he was dead and were surprised to discover that he wasn't. He recovered but not before his family had been informed of his death and his obituary had appeared in The Times newspaper.

Lieutenant J.R.R Tolkien, future author of Lord of the Rings served throughout the Battle of the Somme with the Lancashire Fusiliers including a successful assault upon the German defences around Thiepval.

It is believed his experience of trench warfare greatly influenced his imaging of the subterranean world he later created.

Lance-Corporal Arnold Ridley, better known as the author of the Ghost Train and for playing Private Godfrey in Dad's Army, fought at the Battle of the Somme where his legs were shredded by shrapnel, he was bayoneted in the groin, clubbed unconscious by a German rifle butt, and was left with a scar that ran the entire length of his body.

He later went on to serve in World War Two.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Jesse James: The Last Rebel

At the age of 15, Jesse James joined his older brother Frank fighting with Quantrell's Confederate Guerrillas and took part in the raid on the town of Lawrence where 183 men and young boys were rounded up and killed.

In September 1864, he participated in Bloody Bill Anderson's cold blooded murder of 23 unarmed Union soldiers whose bodies were then mutilated.

It was said Jesse was handy with a knife.

At the end of the Civil War both Jesse and Frank refused to accept the surrender - they would continue the fight by other means.

Jesse James, aged 21.

Things started to go wrong for Jesse on 7 September 1876, following the fiasco of the Great Northfield Minnesota Raid when in a shoot-out with the townspeople all were wounded and two of his men killed, another would die soon after.

In the subsequent manhunt the Younger brothers would be captured. It was the end of the James/Younger Gang and no longer would he be able to work alongside his old Confederate colleagues, people he could rely upon.

On 24 April 1874, Jesse James married his cousin Zerelda Mimms but though they were to have two children he could not escape his past and any thought of settling down proved impossible.

The coward Bob Ford who never received the reward he expected for the murder of Jesse James but still tried to cash in on his fame leading to him being killed in a bar room brawl some years later.

On 3 April 1882, Jesse was discussing future raids with the Ford brothers when he removed his gun belt (something he never did) and mounted a chair so as to straighten a picture. As he did so Bob Ford took out his pistol and shot him in the back of the head.

The increasingly paranoid Jesse who had earlier killed another gang member he thought would betray him did not trust the Ford's either, and he certainly would not turn his back on them.

So was Jesse testing their loyalty or realising it was all over had he chosen to die as a martyr to the cause he had fought for all his life?

Monday 12 January 2015

The Death of Amy Robsart

On 17 November 1558, Elizabeth Tudor was crowned Queen Elizabeth I of England. But as everyone knew the young Queen required a King with whom to produce a male heir.

The problem was that it appeared her preferred choice of husband was her childhood friend the handsome, brash, arrogant, ambitious, and widely loathed Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

No one who had seen them dance could doubt the affection they shared for one another.

Dudley, however, was already married to Amy Robsart.

On 8 September 1560, Amy was found dead at the bottom of the stairs of their home Cunmore Place in Oxfordshire with a broken neck.

Scandal swept the Royal Court - had Amy been murdered?

Elizabeth had little option but to banish Dudley until the results of an Inquiry into Amy's death were made public.

The Inquiry was to find him innocent of any involvement in Amy's death but few people believed its findings and the scandal was to scupper his chances of ever marrying Elizabeth.

Had Amy, who was suffering from breast cancer and in great pain been pushed or had she jumped? Or did she as a jilted wife so long neglected and humiliated take her own life in the knowledge that by doing so she would end for good her philandering husband's ambition to be King of England?

Friday 9 January 2015

Wild Bill Hickok

James Butler Hickok (Wild Bill)

On the afternoon of 2 August 1876, in the town of Deadwood deep in the heart of the Black Hills he joined a game of poker already in progress so wasn't able to get his usual seat where his back would be to the wall and he could see everyone who came and went.

Not long after he started playing John McCall, a buffalo hunter, entered through the door to Hickok's rear and shouting - Take That! Shot him once through the back of the head.

Wild Bill Hickok, the Legend of the West, died instantly.

The hand that Wild Bill Hickok had been holding that fateful late afternoon in the summer of 1879 was two Black Aces, two Black Eights, and an unturned Queen of Hearts.

It has been known ever since as - Dead Man's Hand.

Wild Bill - dressing for the press

Wild Bill's physical appearance belied his fearsome reputation.

Long-limbed and slight at 6’1” he was taller than most men and was so graceful in his movements that with his long auburn hair tinged with red and gentle soporific eyes he had an almost feminine mien.

Libby Custer wrote of him:

"Physically he was a delight to look upon. Tall, light, and free in every emotion, he rode and walked as if every muscle was perfection."

He was also quietly spoken rarely raising his voice except in anger though it was said that his expression could change in an instance, that his clear blue eyes would narrow and a darkness would descend that was frightful to behold.

For a brief time Wild Bill Hickok joined the cast of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, but he was no actor.

Wild Bill Hickok's oldest friend - Buffalo Bill Cody.

Calamity Jane, claimed to have married Wild Bill and to have borne him a son.

John Wesley Hardin, who once shot a man for snoring was the deadliest of all the gunfighters of the Old West but even he declined to confront Wild Bill Hickok.

Friday 2 January 2015

The Siege of Sidney Street

Late on the night of 16 December 1910, nine Officers of the City of London Police attended a reported break-in at a jewellery shop in Houndsditch. 

They soon came under fire and two Police Officers were killed on the spot with two others later dying of their wounds, along with one of the burglars, apparently shot by accident.

No one was in any doubt who was responsible - the gang of Latvian revolutionaries under the leadership of the mysterious Peter the Painter who had been terrorising the East End for sometime.

A massive manhunt ensued and a £500 reward offered for information leading to the culprits arrest.

Eventually, they were tracked down to a house in Sidney Street and besieged but they refused to surrender and in the fierce firefight that followed the police armed only with shotguns could not compete against the semi-automatic weapons of the revolutionaries and were forced to withdraw and seek shelter.

The Home Secretary Winston Churchill now appeared on the scene and sent for soldiers of the Scots Greys but still they ignored demands to surrender and so artillery was summoned but before it could be used the building that was already on fire collapsed.

On the building however the police found just two men dead.

Five men and two women were later arrested for the murder of the policemen but their trial at the Old Bailey collapsed and six were acquitted and the only woman found guilty later had her conviction quashed on appeal.

Winston Churchill, who'd seen a bullet rip through his top hat was accused of recklessness, a stigma that would remain with him for the rest of his life.

The mysterious Peter the Painter was never positively identified and the Siege of Sidney Street remains one of the great unsolved crimes of British history.