I’ve just started a new mini-vlog series on my YouTube site – Templar Knight TV – called Beardy History. It’s intended to give you bite-sized insights into the scandals and mysteries of the past. And I will often film on location for these small films. My first one is about the alleged drug habit of Queen Victoria.
It may surprise you to know that Queen Victoria had a drug habit. Well, they were different times. Apparently she shared cocaine infused chewing gum with a young Winston Churchill. She also took marijuana during pregnancy. These things were not frowned upon to the extent they would be today.
For example, the very buttoned-up Prime Minister, William Gladstone, is said to have stirred opium into his tea before making terribly important announcements in parliament. Just to give himself a little pick-me-up. And opium was openly unloaded at British docks, just like any other cargo coming in from overseas.
I talk about this while strolling round the idyllic settings of Kensington Gardens a green space in London with lots of fountains. It was devised by Prince Albert who gave it to his wife Queen Victoria as a present.
Future episodes of Beardy History will deal with all kinds of topics. I’m working on one right now to help American followers of the blog find their Irish ancestors. I’m half-Irish myself and have found American relatives that I never knew I had. Thanks to the power of Ancestry.com
I’m also intending to take you round east London and share some new insights into the notorious 19th century serial killer, Jack the Ripper. But for this week, please enjoy the drug habit of Queen Victoria!
I originally discussed this topic on a TV documentary series called Private Lives of the Monarchs presented by Tracy Borman, curator of the Royal Palaces. It’s currently showing on the Smithsonian channel and I recommend it of course!
The idea of Victorian movies may seem weird – people in the 19th century able to watch films – and yet it actually happened!
We’ve grown up with TV and film so the idea of living in a world were there are no recorded motion pictures would seem bizarre – even more so with our smart phones and social media.
But up until the 1880s, film had never been experienced. There had been crude motion pictures using a series of slides projected on to a screen but movies were unknown. However, once the Victorians discovered the technology – there was no going back!
The dawn of Victorian movies!
Victorian movies became a staple of popular entertainment by the turn of the 20th century.
Documentary and drama in primitive form developed pretty quickly. Many of the Victorian movies were purely observational – pointing a camera at people and just marvelling in the ability to capture them moving.
Here is a heap of footage of industrial workers leaving factories and mills at the turn of the 20th century, which I find fascinating. Note the youngsters who just stare at the camera as if they’re about to experience something.
London traffic seems to have mesmerised film makers with its hustle and bustle. As a Londoner myself, the presence of so many horses and what seems to be smog (fossil fuel pollution) is really striking.
Royalty got in the act and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 was the subject of a very long film circulated around the empire. Here is Victoria attending a garden party. She loved being the obvious star of Victorian movies.
Every day, I walk past the Imperial War Museum on my way to work. I was aware that in its vaults, the museum was sitting on huge amounts of black and white World War One footage. You know the kind of thing. Silent movie films where the troops look like extras in a Charlie Chaplin comedy only there are bombs going off and millions losing their lives.
To mark the centenary of the end of WW1 – or The Great War as it was called until WW2 came along – the Imperial War Museum asked film director Peter Jackson to do something amazing with all this footage. Jackson, as you all know, was the man who brought us The Lord of the Rings trilogy and some very interesting art house movies before that.
Jackson, it turns out, has a massive interest in the 1914-1918 conflict that engulfed Europe and drew in the United States from 1917. His grandfather fought in WW1 and he’s always wanted to know what it was really like. So, Jackson has taken the footage and done more than just colourise it. He’s used his technical production facilities in New Zealand to bring the soldiers back to life.
He also got access to masses of tapes from the BBC of interviews conducted with WW1 soldiers in the early 1960s for a documentary series that aired fifty years ago. Jackson used some of that audio to give us first hand testimonies from those who lived in the trenches and fought for King and Country (or the Kaiser for that matter).
How Peter Jackson made They Shall Not Grow Old
They Shall Not Grow Oldis for those of us who ever met WW1 veterans (and I did as a much younger man) a very moving experience. There is something about the First World War that touches my generation much more than the story of WW2, even though it was closer to us. That’s unfair on those who fought Hitler but WW1 has its own very unique atmospheric. It’s no good denying it – we feel very deeply about those soldiers.
That said, Jackson found that the audio testimonies presented a surprisingly different picture to the one he expected. Many men (and they were men mainly) who enlisted to fight, were only too happy to get away from miserable lives back home. And when the war ended, it was like being fired from a job. Of course, there were also those whose lives were wrecked or ended by the war – but it’s an interesting perspective. Go see if you can!
Director Paul Greengrass (past movies include United 93) has turned his hand to a three part harrowing drama covering the appalling massacre carried out by Anders Breivik in Norway on 22 July, 2011.
22 July is now on Netflix and I recommend you watch.
On that day, the extreme right wing terrorist detonated a bomb in downtown Oslo, the Norwegian capital. That killed eight people and would have been bad enough. But what happened next horrified Europe and the world. Because Breivik then made his way to Utoya island.
He knew that a large group of teenage political activists from the country’s main left wing party were at a Workers Youth League event holding discussions and seminars. Breivik disembarked from his boat dressed as a police officer, pretending he had come to protect the teens. When challenged by an adult for an ID, he began his killing spree.
Terrified youngsters ran to hide from the fanatic and his array of weapons. But in the end, sixty nine people were slain. Most of them were youths and one just fourteen years of age.
As Europe witnesses a surge in extreme Right activity, it’s worth recalling what one neo-fascist was capable of doing in just a single day.
On YouTube, Breivik posted a rambling so-called Templar manifesto – that actually had nothing to do with the real Knights Templar. He excused his murders on the grounds of fighting “cultural Marxism”, “Islam”, “feminism”, etc.
He is now serving a very long jail sentence but has appeared to whine about how unfair it is to be incarcerated. I doubt the families of his victims are overly concerned about his welfare and mental state.
Thankfully, the Netflix drama does not try to pluck heart strings with back stories galore at the front of the movie, but goes straight into the gruesome action. All the facts about Breivik and his victims are revealed as we go along.
I think that’s important because these victims don’t need to have their innocence proven – it should be a given. Their deaths were a callous and brutal act with no justifiable reason.
It’s the conspiracy theory you can whack over the head multiple times but it will not die. The idea that the lunar landings were faked is firmly believed by a significant percentage of the American public. In fact, I suspect that percentage has increased since the dawn of social media.
From wonder to faked lunar landings
Growing up as a child in the 60s and early 70s, the Apollo missions to the moon captured my imagination – and that of millions of kids. Watching the rockets heave out of their launch pads then ditch their component parts leaving the module to soar through space was thrilling. It was a triumph of the human spirit and modern technology.
While the Americans were sending astronauts into orbit, the Soviet Union was launching its cosmonauts. Two years ago, I visited an exhibition at London’s Science Museum on the Soviet space missions and marvelled at how these incredibly brave cosmonauts returned to Earth in a small metal ball with less technology than you have in your iPhone.
On occasions, they were killed on impact. In one grim instance, the cosmonaut’s final scream could be heard as he knew this was his end. In 1967, all the Apollo 1 astronauts were incinerated on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy during a training exercise. Space travel came at a high human cost.
But…what if this was all faked?
How did the faked lunar landings theory begin?
Well, that’s been a persistent conspiracy theory since the space missions. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, our childhood heroes, never set foot on the moon.
The whole thing was done on a Hollywood studio set. Or maybe at the infamous Area 51. Some conspiracy theorists have even suggested that the late movie director Stanley Kubrick was involved because….he directed 2001: A Space Odyssey. That proves it!
There’s an array of bizarre arguments put forward. A hardy perennial is that the US flag is seen to be fluttering on the moon – inconsistent with the moon having no atmosphere.
Answer: There’s a wire running along the top of the flag so it sticks out and the flapping is the what the astronauts were doing as they tried to get the flagpole stuck in the ground.
Why are there no stars in the sky behind the astronauts?
Answer: The light bouncing off the surface of the moon blanks them out. You’d have to be on the dark side to see the stars.
But why would NASA and the US administration have gone to such curious lengths to stage a moon landing? The conspiracy guys believe they have the answer. It was to fool the Soviets.
The Soviet Union forced the United States into faked lunar landings
The US didn’t have enough money or resources to get to the moon. So they faked it. The Americans had been embarrassed by Soviet success in the so-called “space race” between the superpowers and needed a success story for the American public and to demoralise the Russians. After all, communism had to be defeated here on planet Earth and in outer space.
The faked lunar landing theories took off at the same time as the Apollo missions. Maybe it just seemed too fantastical that we had sent men – and they were all men – on to the surface of the moon. I would suggest that those who doubt the veracity of the moon landings suffer from a serious lack of imagination and grasp of what science can achieve.
1970s – faked lunar landings make it to Hollywood!
In 1978, Hollywood cashed in on the paranoia with a movie called Capricorn One. The plot brought the nutty theory to life. Only this time, it was a faked mission to Mars. The whole thing was done on a movie set and afterwards, the astronauts had to be killed.
One of the astronauts in the movie was none other than OJ Simpson..subsequently jailed in real life. And yes, there are those online who link the movie to Simpson’s trial. I’m not going there – Google it for yourself.
At the end of his life, the bloated and vindictive Henry VIII found himself without any friends. But you can hardly be surprised when he’d executed so many of them!
Even showering admiration and homage on this volatile monarch was no guarantee that your head would remain attached to your shoulders. Let’s look at friends that Henry VIII had judicially murdered:
HENRY VIII FRIENDS: Cardinal Wolsey
Wolsey was an adviser inherited by the young Henry VIII from his father. He was a top diplomat and by that, I mean his ability to scheme and spin had no equal. Henry had in Wolsey a Chancellor respected all over Europe and elevated to cardinal by Pope Leo X.
The high point for Wolsey was organising the opulent meeting between the King of France and Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. But in the years that followed, he struggled with the king’s strong desire to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled by the pope.
She had not borne him a son. And the Tudor dynasty had come to power as a result of a very bloody war between factions of the English aristocracy called the War of the Roses. Henry needed to cement the legitimacy of the dynasty and have a male heir. Catherine was clearly not able to do that.
But Wolsey wasn’t able to get the annulment – despite his diplomatic brilliance. He died aged 57 already under arrest and more than likely facing an appointment with the ax and block. With his death, Henry lost a very loyal ally and a great mind. But divorcing Catherine came first.
HENRY VIII FRIENDS: Thomas More
After Wolsey failed to convince the pope, Henry declared himself head of the Church of England. He effectively nationalised the Catholic church and ended over a thousand years of papal authority in his realm. But not everybody was happy with this development.
Thomas More was a highly effective lawyer and humanist thinker. But also an ardent opponent of the Protestant Reformation and the teachings of Martin Luther. He had worked with Wolsey to try and halt the spread of Protestantism into England. Succeeding Wolsey as Chancellor, he pursued his pro-Catholic agenda.
But here was a King effectively embracing this new variant of Christianity to further his desire to divorce Catherine. Thomas More found it impossible to accept the end of papal authority, let alone agreeing to the idea of Henry leading the church in his stead.
When refusing to acknowledge Henry as supreme leader of the church became a crime, More found himself cast as a traitor. He tried to remain on friendly terms with the king but the final nail in his proverbial coffin was not turning up to the wedding between Henry and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.
More was tried for treason and beheaded on 6 July 1535.
Thomas Cromwell was an enthusiastic supporter of the Protestant Reformation – diametrically opposed to the position of Thomas More. He organised the dissolution of the monasteries across England taking the enormous wealth of the Catholic church into the state coffers.
But he tripped up by organising the fourth marriage of Henry to Anne of Cleves – a German princess that the king didn’t like at all. However, the knives were already out for Thomas when he went to the executioner’s block.
After Thomas, Henry never really had an adviser of the same calibre as Cromwell, More or Wolsey. Not just advisers but friends and confidantes. They had served the monarch wisely and loyally. But this was a mercurial and authoritarian character who doesn’t seem to have been much good at keeping either friends of wives.
Here I am on Yesterday TV’s Private Lives of the Monarchs explaining what a wretched figure Henry VIII cut at the end.