Another Royal Event: The Queen’s Sapphire Jubilee

With the forthcoming wedding of Prince Harry and Miss Meghan Markle on 19th May it is easy to forget that another royal celebration is not far away. On 2nd June this year, Queen Elizabeth II celebrates 65 years since her coronation; her Sapphire jubilee.

The Queen was crowned in 1953, in Westminster Abbey, aged just 27. The ceremony took place just over a year after she came to the throne in February 1952. This long gap between her ascension and her coronation was due to the fact she considered it improper to hold a coronation during her period of mourning. Unlike the anniversary of her ascension to the throne, which the Queen sees primarily as a personal occasion remembering her father, the anniversary of her coronation is cause for celebration. That said, when talking to The Telegraph newspaper in 2015, on the occasion of becoming the UK’s longest reigning monarch, the Queen said of her record that it was “not one to which I have ever aspired.”

Such was the enthusiasm for the Queen’s coronation that millions across the country managed to watch it live, even at a time when such viewing figures were unheard of and television was still relatively new. In London, people lined the streets to watch see the Queen and Prince Philip go by in their carriage. Street parties were held in celebration across the UK and the Commonwealth, and commemorative coins and medals were issued.

Some travelled from abroad to be there. Many Canadians came to see the coronation, for instance, while for those back home, on the very same day pilots from RAF Canberra flew BBC film of the ceremony across the ocean so it could be broadcast by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation. In fact, this was the first non-stop  transatlantic flight between the United Kingdom and the Canadian mainland. In all, 750 commentators across the world broadcast the ceremony, with it being translated into 39 languages. Consequently, more than twenty million people worldwide watched the coverage of the Queen receiving the Crown Jewels and taking her place on the throne.

For the 65th (Sapphire) anniversary special coins will again be issued, including a brand new 50 pence piece which has the final words of the Coronation oath, that Queen Elizabeth spoke during her coronation speech: “The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.” Other coins have also been released for collectors, including an unusual £4 coin and a star shaped silver coin worth £149. (See here for more information- https://www.bnt.org.uk/events-themes/the-queen/65th-anniversary-of-queens-coronation)

So, only a few weeks after Prince Harry and Meghan start their married life together, the bunting will be up again to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s II outstanding lifetime of devotion to her country.

This month, after decades of control over the country of Cuba, Raul Castro promised to step down as the countries president when his current term is up. This will bring an end to a regime which began when Fidel Castro took power in 1959, turning Cuba into a communist state.

Born on 13th August 1926, Fidel Castro came from the town of Biran in eastern Cuba. The son of a wealthy Spanish sugarcane farmer and a Cuban servant, Castro grew up with an acute interest in politics and the law. He studied law at the University of Havana, and entered the world of politics by joining the anti-corruption Orthodox party. In 1952, Castro ran for election into the Cuban House of Representatives but the election never took place. For in March 1952, the dictator, Batista, seized power. Castro famously stated this as being the beginning of his political journey: “From that moment on, I had a clear idea of the struggle ahead.”

That journey was to be a complex and bloody one. In 1953 he led a failed assault on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. However, two years later, in a bid to improve his standing with the USA, Batista released Castro as part of a general amnesty. Castro headed to Mexico, where he formed a working relationship with the revolutionary “Che” Guevara.

Determined to return to Cuba, in 1956 Castro, with a force of 81 men, sailed to the east coast of Cuba. As soon as they landed, government forces ambushed them. Only a handful of men survived, including Castro and his brother Raúl. They went into hiding in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. It was from there, with few resources at their disposal, that Castro and his brother began to organise the revolution which would change Cuba forever. By 1957 they were attracting recruits and winning small battles against armed patrols.

On January 1st, 1959, Fidel Castro arrived in Havana, and a week later he’d taken the position of prime minister. He wasted no time in turning Cuba into his idealised state. He nationalized all U.S. owned businesses, which prompted the United States to end diplomatic relations and impose a trade embargo. Reprisals were to go further than this, however. In April 1961, 1,400 Cuban exiles, funded by the CIA, landed near Cuba’s Bay of Pigs hoping to overthrow its new leader. Their plans ended in disaster though, as more than 100 exiles were killed and nearly everyone remaining was captured.

After declaring himself a Marxist-Leninist in late 1961, Castro began to make Cuba dependent on the communist Soviet Union for both its military and economic support. Cuba’s association with the USSR soon led to a dramatic escalation of tensions between the USA and Cuba; something that worsened in 1962 when it was discovered that Cuba was keeping a number of nuclear missiles just 90 miles from Florida.

As world diplomacy fought hard to stem panic that World War Three was imminent, after almost 2 weeks the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles. In return for the removal of the weapons, President Kennedy of America promised not to re-invade Cuba or attack Castro.

Despite his hostile approach to the rest of the world, Fidel Castro did many positive things within Cuba itself. He abolished legal discrimination, established electricity supplies to the countryside, provided for full employment and advanced improved education and health care. A recent report from Havana by The Guardian, explains that, “Thanks to universal and free education and healthcare, however, Cuba boasts first-world levels of literacy and life expectancy. The commandant made sure the state reached the poorest, a commitment denied to many slum-dwellers across Latin America.” However, these perks came at a price. Castro stopped any opposition to his rule, jailed thousands of political opponents and ended political elections.

The biggest impact of Fidel Castro’s rule on the population of the country was the abolition of private business and housing. The ruling government owned everything. This meant that hundreds of thousands of Cubans, including vast numbers of professionals and technicians, left Cuba, leaving the country, despite its educational gains, poor and lacking a skilled workforce. It was a status that would remain in place for many years to come.

Having switched his title from Prime Minister to President, Fidel Castro stayed in power until 2008, when he passed the rule to his brother, Raúl. Now, ten years later, (and 2 years after Fidel’s death), Raúl Castro has promised to step down at the end of his second term as president. Whether this will bring the hoped for upturn in Cuba’s economy and the life of its population remains to be seen. The chosen successor to the Castro dynasty, Miguel Díaz-Canel, shares the ethos of the family, and Raúl Castro himself will remain in control of the Communist Party and the armed forces until 2021. However, the fact that a change has been made has to be seen as a positive sign.Whatever happens next, the world at large, and the USA in particular, will be watching Cuba with interest.

Many of you who are doing exams this year will be revising or starting to think about revising. As a tutor, I am often asked, “What should I revise?” The answer is, unfortunately, everything that you have covered in the course. No one except the exam writers know what is going to be in the exams in any single year, so always make sure that you cover everything.

Barnaby Lenon, an ex-headmaster at Harrow, has recently written in a blog that GCSE students should revise their course at least three times. The same applies for A level students, but officially there is no magic number given as to how many times you should do so. Usually, however, it will be more than once. Some lucky people, the exceptions, can read something once and it will “go in”, but more will have to go through the course over and over again for it to sink it. We are all different, and this is the main point with revising – what works for one person will not work for another.

With all this in mind, there are some tips below. Remember, some will work for you, some won’t.

• Find a good place to work. Some of you will like quiet, others will like some noise. We all work best in certain places. Some students may like to work in a library, others in their room, others in a coffee shop. Find a place that works well for you and stick to it.

• What time works best for you? Some people work better early in the morning, others in the afternoon, others late at night. Again, stick to what works for you. If you are a night owl, it’s pointless to try and force yourself to get up early and study – it just won’t work as well. Use your strengths and find the best time to suit you.

• Avoid distractions. There are so many distractions today: mobile phones, television, emails and so on. It can make it hard to study. If you are reading this now but also looking at your social media feed on your phone, for example, it’s doubtful all you are reading will go in. So avoid such distractions if you can. Turn off your phone. Turn off your emails. If you find it hard to do this, give yourself a time limit, “I will revise for one hour, then spend five minutes looking at my phone.”

• With the above point also in mind, some students find it hard to sit down and study for long periods. Others prefer it. Again, you should do what suits you best. If you do find it hard to sit for long periods, give yourself a reward. One student I worked with played volleyball at national level. He found it very hard to sit down for long periods and study. Consequently he was doing hardly any revision. We came up with a plan. He would revise for 50 minutes, then go outside and play with a ball or go for a jog for ten minutes. Then he would revise for 50 minutes again and so on. This worked well for him. You may find a similar reward works for you, looking at your phone, going for a walk, making a cup of tea, watching TV, phoning a friend and so on. Decide on your time limit and give yourself a reward.

• Aim to study for no more than two and a half hours without taking a break. You are probably not revising as well as you would if you carry on revising after that time.

• Making and reading notes and using flashcards can all work well for some students. Others can make recordings of their notes and listen back to them when they are going for a walk or even when they are sleeping at night – Mind maps and memory palaces can also be useful when revising. Again, find a method that works well for you and stick to it.

• If you are reading something and it isn’t sinking in or you don’t understand it. Try a few of the following techniques…
o Read it out loud. When you do this, sometimes it seems to make more sense.
o Try and explain it to someone else – You may find that you know far more than you think you do when you explain it to another person.
o Read it in another way. There are a lot of resources online today, so if you don’t understand your notes or textbook, look online and find another explanation.

• Making a revision timetable for when you intend to revise your subject is also useful. You may be revising for more than one subject, so work out when you are going to study and make a plan for each subject.

• Practice exam papers and old TMAs under “exam conditions.”

• Try to take off a day a week. You decide which day. Take some time off from all that studying.

• Try to start revising as soon as you can. The earlier you start to revise, the more revision you will do.

Remember, you have revised before. You know what has worked well for you and what didn’t. So if you have a good way of revising, stick to it. But if your way hasn’t worked so well, why not try another option from those listed above? There is also of course a lot of advice out there online and in books. The best way to revise is the way that works for YOU! So find your best method and stick to it.

Finally, though success in them is all about your hard work and revision, I am still going to wish you this – Good luck with your exams!

2018 marks the one hundredth anniversary of one of the most well recognised military units in the world, the Royal Air Force (RAF), which was formed on 1 April 1918 in response to the pressures of the First World War by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.

At the start of the First World War, the air borne troops consisted of an amalgamation of the Royal Navy’s aircraft, airship, balloon, and man-carrying kite companies and the Royal Flying Corps planes. They were formed into squadrons for the first time, in July 1914.

It wasn’t until, worn down by the continual barrage of the more advanced German flying squadron, that the British military planners created the RAF in order to carry out more strategic bombing campaigns against Germany. So, on April 1, 1918, the RAF was formed along with the Women’s Royal Air Force. On that same day, Bristol F.2B fighters from the 22nd Squadron carried out the first official mission as members of the RAF. So effective was the newly formed RAF, that by November 1918 consisted of almost 300,000 officers and airmen, and more than 22,000 aircraft.

During the period of peace between the First and Second World Wars’ the RAF’s troops was cut to just 2000 aircraft, so when Adolf Hitler had developed the Luftwaffe–with the specific aim of destroying all the ports along the British coast, his troops severally outnumbered.

The Battle of Britain, one of the most famous military engagements of the Second World War, was fought against Germany in the skies across the nation. The RAF was hugely outnumbered, yet through a combination of new radar technology, new and more manoeuvrable aircraft and exceptional bravery, it successfully resisted the intense German air invasion. For every British plane shot down, the Luftwaffe lost two. In May 1941 the Battle of Britain was declared a British victory; a feat which led Prime Minister Winston Churchill to say of the RAF pilots, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

By the war’s end in 1945, nearly one million people worked within the RAF. Once peacetime arrived, this number was reduced to about 150,000 men and women. It hasn’t just been during the two World Wars that the RAF has proved valuable to the safety of the UK, however. It has provided protection during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Cold War, the Falkland Conflict, the Gulf War and beyond. By using modern technology, the RAF has developed and changed to stay relevant to the world in which it operates- and will continue to do so for years to come.

To help celebrate the anniversary, and to teach us more about their history, the RAF have put together a schools project. If you’d like to get involved you can find out about all the events and information here: https://www.raf100schools.org.uk/ There are also many events happening up and down the UK to commemorate the RAF’s 100th year. You can find out more here: https://www.raf.mod.uk/raf100/

At the age of 85, on 31st March 1727, Sir Isaac Newton died. He was the first scientist to be given the honour of being buried at Westminster Abbey in London. Considered to be the father of physics, Newton was born in Lincolnshire in 1642, coincidentally the same year that Galileo – the scientist who influenced him most – died.

Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, Newton studied Galileo Galilee’s theories of motion. He went on to work at the University for 30 years as a Professor of Maths and while there,  developed his own and Galileo’s theories further by applying them to laws of motion and gravity – the backbone of modern day physics.

Newton was also fascinated by light. He discovered that white light is made up of a range of colours, and went on to invent the first reflecting telescope; an instrument that could see tiny objects much more clearly than any telescope to date. It wasn’t just Galileo’s theories that fascinated Newton either. He was also passionate about the work of many others, including the French philosopher Descartes and the English chemist Robert Boyle. By learning as much as he could from his fellow scientists, he applied his own knowledge and skills to both light, the laws of force and – most famously – gravity.

Newton explained the pulling force of gravity by using the example of an apple falling from a tree. He used his theories to explain why things fell down to earth, rather than floated off to the side, or rose upwards into the sky. Newton used this same idea to go on to explain why the moon remained in the sky. This theory went on to become known as the ‘Universal Theory of Gravitation.’ Not only did Isaac Newton develop his gravitation theory, stating that two things will be attracted to one another and that the mass of each object will affect the amount of attraction, he also created the mathematical formulation of calculus.

Isaac Newton’s outstanding contribution to science led to him being made the president of the Royal Society in 1703. He didn’t just confine his work to science and mathematics, however. Newton was also appointed an MP in 1689, and went on to become the Master of the Royal Mint in 1700.Indeed, on 16th April 1705 he was knighted by Queen Anne, in recognition for his lifetime of achievements in both politics and science. His final honour was to become the first scientist to be buried at Westminster Abbey.

A hundred years ago, the weapons research facility know as Porton Down came into being. This will hardly see cause for much celebration due its nature, but is it something Britain still needs, or instead a grim relic of the past which should be confined to history?

Why did Porton Down come into being in the first place, though? Well, in response to the worldwide threat imposed by Germany’s use of chemical weapons during the First World War, in 1916, the UK government sanctioned the opening of a specialist investigative team known as the War Department Experimental Station, in London. The main purpose of this group of secretly operating scientists was to test and research the effects, and the possible future uses, of the terrifying nerve shattering chemicals, mustard gas, chlorine and phosgene on human beings.

By 1918, this research concentrated on the development of gas masks and respirators for the soldiers on the front line. The scientists work had become too extensive to be carried out in a heavily populated area, so the whole enterprise, now known as the Royal Engineers Experimental Station, was moved to a remote location on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire; Porton Down.

After the end of the First World War, it was decided to keep up work on the base. Now however, the work not only concentrated on defence, but also on how to use chemicals for weapons of our own. The staff at Porton, then as now, operated under the strictest secrecy. Bound by the official secrets act, very few of the scientists on site were/are allowed to talk about their work. This makes discovering what goes on behind closed doors difficult.

However, over the last century of investigation, Porton is known to have altered its approach to its work. Whereas it began by working on how to prevent and develop chemical, and then biological, weapons (in particular an anthrax bomb which – had it ever been used- would have cased death on a massive scale), its primary function now is to help with the destruction of all the chemical weapons made in the past, and to develop ways to treat those affected by exposure to such weapons, as well as extensive medical research.

In the 1980’s Porton Down was the subject of large scale and very public animal rights demonstrations in response to the number of animals used in the medical and weapon testing departments on site. Such was the public outcry when it was discovered just how much livestock was subjected to horrific experimentation in the name of science, that strict government guidelines were imposed. Now, government inspections at Porton Down are frequent, and occur without warning.

The ethos at Porton Down, 100 years on from its birth, has changed from the development of weapons to the treatment of those affected by chemical and nerve attacking agents, and on to in-depth research into worldwide medical emergencies. For example, in 1976, when there was an Ebola outbreak in Africa, the first samples for testing were sent to Porton Down.

Now split into two major departments – known as the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) and the Defence Science and technology Laboratory (Dstl) – the work at Porton Down remains topical. Although the use of chemical weapons was banned as part of the Geneva Convention, they are being used more than ever before by terrorist groups and some governments – particularly in Syria. In 2013 Porton became the base from which to test the samples of Sarin (a horrifying nerve attacking chemical) after it was used against hundreds of civilians in there.

A hundred years on, the journey of Porton Down’s development is far from over. Working hand in hand with Public Health England, Porton has recently expanded beyond Salisbury Plain into premises once belonging to the pharmaceutical group, GlaxoSmithKline. By 2024, this new base in Harlow is likely to be the main base for Porton’s scientific future.

We will never know everything that goes on behind the closed doors of Porton Down. We do know however, that it has weathered its deep unpopularity of the 1980’s, and has developed military equipment and fail-safes that have saved many lives. The unknown scientists’ continuing medical research into the treatment of major viruses and pathogens is in my opinion  indeed vital, as is their continued disarming of the chemical weapons that were made many decades ago both here and across the world.

February 2018 brings with it the 100th anniversary of women over the age of 30 being granted the right to vote. As such, it was the first step towards all women being awarded equal status to men in political society. Without women like Millicent Garrett Fawcett, though, even the initial allowance might not have been so forthcoming, let alone equality for all.

In 1867, at the age of only 19, Millicent helped form the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage. She even served on its executive committee.
Born at Aldeburgh, Suffolk in 1847, Millicent was one of ten children. She was most influenced by her elder sister Elizabeth, who in the early 1860’s became the first woman to qualify in Britain as a doctor.

It was also Elizabeth and her friend Emily Davies who in 1866 organised the first mass female petition to Parliament, asking for women to be given equal status to men. Although they were too young to sign the petition themselves, Millicent and her sister Agnes contributed significantly by going around the streets of Aldeburgh collecting signatures from the poor, ensuring they were represented as well as the areas wealthy women.

When she was 20, Millicent married Henry Fawcett, a radical Liberal MP for Brighton and professor of political economy at the University of Cambridge. Henry helped further her education, and within a year Millicent had published her first article, The education of women in the middle and upper classes. Later, in 1870, she wrote a second book, Political Economy for Beginners.

On 20 May 1867 Millicent was present in the Ladies’ Gallery of the House of Commons when John Stuart Mill MP campaigned for an amendment to the Representation of the People Bill. He wanted to replace the word ‘man’ with the word ‘person’, so that women could be included on the electoral register. His suggestion was defeated by 81 votes, but it inspired Millicent to campaign further for women’s right to vote.

In July 1869, at a time when it was unusual for women to be allowed to speak on a public platform, Millicent spoke at the first public meeting held by the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. The Brighton Herald recorded her performance: ‘She is a lady of small stature, and of fragile but very pleasing appearance; perfectly collected in her manner, and with a very clear, distinct, emphatic delivery, not at times without a sense of humour.’
Millicent continued to engage in public addresses including one on 10th May 1872, when she addressed a packed central London suffrage meeting. She spoke against speeches that had been delivered in the House of Commons on 1st May which had been anti the Second Reading of the Bill for the Removal of the Electoral Disabilities of Women.

On 6th May 1880 Millicent made a very personal speech during a large London meeting. She spoke about how, when she and her husband were making their wills, they saw how unfair the law was. She realised that if her husband died she could not become their daughter’s guardian unless he had appointed her to the role. Nothing she owned, including the books she had written, legally belonged to Millicent in the eyes of the law. Everything automatically belonged to her husband.

When her husband did pass away several years later, Millicent took a break from public life, but by 1886 she was touring as a public speaker again. In 1888 she became honorary secretary of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. By this time, more and more suffrage groups were forming across the country, and Millicent began to help the different groups unite; In 1893 she became the president of the Special Appeal Committee, which ensured all suffrage societies had the same goal.

Millicent continued to campaign until 1896, when she presided over a meeting which would, the following year, lead to the formation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Ten years later she became the group’s president. This was a position she held until 1918, when she finally saw her life’s ambition realised, securing the first votes for women, and giving her a place in social and political history as the person most responsible.

We’re in winter now, and some of us may be feeling the chill. But it could be worse. It has been worse. And it will be worse again…

Throughout Earth’s 4.5 billion years, there have been five big ice ages, some of which lasted hundreds of millions of years. The most recent major ice age occurred in the Pleistocene period, about 2.6 million years ago, and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. Researchers are still trying to understand how often these periods of deep winter happen and how soon we can expect another one.

Across various periods of time, a quarter of our planet’s history has been held in the grip of a major ice event.. In between these ice ages, there have also been many smaller ice ages called glacials, and therefore some warmer periods, called inter-glacials.

The last mini ice age, which scientists call the Maunder Minimum, plunged the northern hemisphere into a series of bitterly cold winters between 1645 and 1715. It was caused by incredibly low solar activity. During the Maunder Minimum, the River Thames froze solid. The ice was so thick that the people of London could walk or skate from one side to the other without needing a bridge (as depicted above). However, although the winters were much colder than average, they were not life-threatening as they would have been in a ‘big’ ice age; If the citizens of the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth century could survive the extreme cold without any form of central heating, then the next mini ice age will not be deadly for the human race.

It is a steady, severe drop in levels of sunshine that brings on a mini ices age. Solar expert Piers Corbyn, of forecasting group WeatherAction, warned that the Earth faces another mini ice age. “We are now in a decline of solar activity… This can cause a shift in the jet-stream, making it move further south and as a result it turns very cold in temperate latitudes including Europe, Britain and North America. We are anticipating temperatures to drop leading to ocean water freezing and ice drifts washing up around the coasts in Europe – we expect the next mini ice age.”

Corbyn and his colleagues have predicted that between now and 2020, the decrease in sun spots will continue. This fall in temperature will trigger the next Solar Minimum, which scientists think could last approximately 15 years. Work by the UK’s Met Office goes on to report however, that the effect of this mini ice age will be offset by an increase in global warming. This means that, rather than being faced with rivers that are frozen from top to bottom, and harsh temperatures that will keep us huddled around the fire, we will merely have to face winters that are much colder than we have become used to- so don’t rush out and buy those ice skates just yet.

On 29th October 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh was executed after being accused of plotting against King James I. His fortunes, once well in favour with the royal court, had fallen to the chopping block. During the Tudor times in which he lived, such dramatic reverses were not uncommon.

To begin with Raleigh, if you look at his earlier life at court, his eventual fall from grace once seemed unthinkable. Born to a well-connected gentry’ family at Hayes Barton in Devon in 1552, Raleigh was a renowned explorer. In 1578 he made his first exhibition to America, and in 1585 he attempted to set up the first English colony in America on Roanoke Island (now North Carolina). This attempt failed, as did others, but Raleigh was successful in introducing both potatoes and tobacco back to Britain.

Raleigh became a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I in 1580, after helping to suppress an uprising in Ireland. He was knighted and appointed captain of the Queen’s Guard in 1587. However, in 1592, Raleigh was to trigger his own downfall when he secretly married one of Elizabeth’s maids of honour, Elizabeth Throckmorton. The queen was intensely jealous, and threw both Raleigh and his wife into the Tower of London. After eventually gaining a plea for release, Raleigh soon set off on another expedition, this time to find the fabled land of gold, El Dorado. The trip inevitably failed, doing little to improve his standing in court.

When Elizabeth’s successor, King James I of England and VI of Scotland, came to the throne, it was clear that he and Raleigh would never get on; unsurprisingly, this would have worse consequences for Raleigh. In 1603 James accused him of plotting against him and sentenced Raleigh to death. The sentence was not immediately carried out, though, and he spent the next 12 years back in the Tower of London. Indeed, the need for funds then saw King James releasing Raleigh on the understanding he would try to find El Dorado again. However, Raleigh went against James’s orders and attacked the Spanish instead. Raleigh’s death sentence was reinstated, and after his recapture, on 29th October 1618 he was executed.

Sir Walter Raleigh was not the first Tudor favourite to be the most popular member of the Royal court one minute and in fear of their lives the next. One of the most famous falls from grace of all has to be that of Anne Boleyn. After a spectacular rise to prominence, her presence brought about both the divorce of the king, Henry VIII, from Catherine of Aragon, and the dissolution of the monasteries. Again there were to be grave consequences, including Anne’s decline from favour, which was to be no less dramatic than her rise.
Towards the end of January, 1536, Anne Boleyn miscarried a child, only three months into her pregnancy. Henry complained, ‘I see that God will not give me male children’ (Doran, 178). This statement signalled the beginning of the end of the royal marriage, and coincide with Henry moving his latest mistress, Jane Seymour, into the royal apartments.

Anne’s fall was ensured when she began to involve herself in political matters, particularly the dissolution of the monasteries. Anne argued with Thomas Cromwell, the man who was trying to organise the dissolution for the king. Cromwell insisted on filling the King’s depleted coffers with church money, while taking a cut for himself. Anne however, advocated that revenues taken from the church to be distributed to charitable and educational institutions. Unfortunately for Anne, she couldn’t deliver on her political promises or expectations, and Henry used this, as well as rumours of an affair she probably wasn’t having, to dispose of her. Ironically, it was only a matter of time before Thomas Cromwell himself also fell from grace.

After his skillful handing of making sure Henry could divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn, Cromwell gained high favour with the king. He became Principal Secretary in 1534, and in July 1536, he was appointed Lord Privy Seal; one of the most influential and trusted positions in court. However, only four years later, Cromwell was arrested for treason- a crime historians can find no evidence of him committing. It is uncertain what happened to spark Cromwell’s demise. It is possible that it was triggered after he arranged Henry VIII’s disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves. The marriage was meant to help form a closer alliance between England and the Protestant princes in Northern Germany. Although it was a disaster, Henry made Cromwell the Earl of Essex to thank him for arranging it for him. Unfortunately, the influential Duke of Norfolk took exception to a commoner being made an earl; Norfolk appears to have orchestrated Cromwell’s end by introducing his niece, the nineteen year old Catherine Howard, to Henry. Her beauty beguiled the king, and soon Catherine was providing the Duke of Norfolk with greatly increased influence in court.

The Duke of Norfolk convinced Henry that Cromwell was plotting to bring in a full version of Protestantism to England despite knowing that the king was adamantly against this. Believing himself in love with Catherine, and wanting to keep in favour with her family, Henry no longer listened to Cromwell. So, after further persuasion from Norfolk, Henry had Cromwell arrested, and only one month later, on July 28th 1540, he, like Raleigh and Boleyn, was executed.

Raleigh, Boleyn and Cromwell were only three of the era’s many high status figures who found favour and distinction one moment, and the executioner’s block the next. In a time filled with paranoia and treachery, it was a brave man or woman who aimed to rise to the top.

On the 15th October 2017 the people of the UK had their last chance to spend their old style one pound coins. Over the past year the Royal Mint has updated, not just our pound coins, but also our five and ten pound notes, as well as updating the designs of our fifty pence pieces. The reason behind this large scale updating of much of our sterling is an old one- the race to stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters; criminals who produce fake money.

The crime of counterfeiting is as old as the making of money itself. Archaeologists working in the Greek city of Lydia, for example, have found evidence from around 600 B.C. of the counterfeiting of coins which involved mixing base metals with gold or silver. It was about this time when the practice of clipping came into being- when the edges of a coin were clipped off, collected, and used to make fake coins. Clipping remained a problem across the world until early this century.

It isn’t just metal cash that has been subject to forgery from the moment of its conception. In China, in the thirteenth century, when paper money was first made from the wood of mulberry trees, access to the trees was protected by guards stationed around the forests in which they were most common. Counterfeiters who still managed to find a way to make fake money were punished by death. This harsh punishment was adopted across the world as the standard penalty for faking any form of money and cheating the mint of the country in question, and it remained in force up until as recently as the twentieth century in the Western world. However, there are still some countries still do enforce the death penalty for the crime.

The Bank of England (pictured) and Royal Mint claim that the UK’s new one pound coin, which resembles the old three-penny-bit in shape, will be “the most secure coin in the world…. the new coin will reduce the costs of counterfeits to businesses and the taxpayer.” The coin is thinner and lighter than the previous round pound (2.8mm thick and weighing 8.75g to be exact), its bimetallic construction similar to the existing £2 coin. The outer ring is gold-coloured (in fact, nickel-brass) and the inner ring is silver (nickel-plated alloy). The reverse of the new coin shows one of four different images; the English rose, the Welsh leek, the Scottish thistle and the Northern Irish shamrock emerging from one stem within a royal coronet.

Prior to the introduction of the new pound coin was that of the new polymer five pound note, and then last month the new polymer ten pound note. These notes outraged vegans as they contain animal fats in their production. Although these notes will not be withdrawn, the Royal Mint are currently working on using either coconut or palm oil in the production of the new twenty pound notes, when they are replaced in 2020.

The notes, like the new coins, are much harder to fake, and very difficult to damage or destroy, so not only should the forging of money decrease, but so should the high cost of replacing old and out of service damaged notes.

Any old notes or coins you have left now may only be valuable for antiquity, or you could see if your bank may take them in exchange for the new tender. But time must be running  out, if it hasn’t already!

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