Here today for your enjoyment, I present Vol. IV Part I of William Thackeray’s Miss Tickletoby’s Lectures on English History (satires published in Punch magazine in 1842), in which the (fictional) amateur historian Miss Tickletoby gives a unique take on the events of what is perhaps the most famous year in English history – 1066.
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR – HAROLD – WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. Part 1
[The Lecturer’s voice was here choked with emotion, owing to the early death of the latter lamented hero].
But don’t let us be too eager for military glory, my friends. Look! We are angry because the French beat us eight hundred years ago! And do you suppose they are not angry because we beat them some five-and-twenty years back? Alas! and alas! this is always the way with that fighting; you can’t satisfy both parties with it, and I do heartily hope that one day there’ll be no such thing as a soldier left in all Europe. [A voice, “And no police neither”].
Here today for your enjoyment, I present the third of William Thackeray’s Miss Tickletoby’s Lectures on English History (satires published in Punch magazine in 1842), in which the (fictional) amateur historian Miss Tickletoby elaborates on that little-known period in English history – the Danish Conquest.
|Could this be the learned Miss Tickletoby herself?|
THE SEA-KINGS IN ENGLAND
In the olden time our glorious country of England, my dears, must have been a pleasant place; for see what numbers of people have taken a fancy to it! First came the Romans, as we have seen, then the Saxons; and when they were comfortably established here, the Danes, under their Sea-Kings, came gallantly over the main, and were not a whit less charmed with the island than the Saxons and Romans had been. Amongst these distinguished foreigners may be mentioned the Sea-King Swayn [Sweyn Forkbeard], who came to England in the year nine hundred and something, landing at Margate, with which he was so pleased as to determine to stop there altogether – being, as he said, so much attached to this country that nothing would induce him to go back to his own. Wasn’t it a compliment to us? There is a great deal of this gallantry in the people of the North; and you may have observed, even in our own days, that some of them, ‘specially Scotchmen, when once landed here, are mighty unwilling to go home again. Well, King Swayn’s stay became preposterously long; and his people consumed such a power of drink and victuals, that at length our late beloved monarch, King Ethelred the Second, was induced to send to him.
A-reading of the newspaper, in meditation lost,
A bard of those days has recorded, with considerable minuteness, the particulars of Swayn’s arrival; and as his work has not been noticed by Turner, Hallam, Hume, or any other English historian, it may be quoted with advantage here. Snoro the Bard (so called from the exciting effect which his poem produced on his audience) thus picturesquely introduces us to the two kings*:
The ballad, which is important to the archaeologian as showing how many of the usages of the present day prevailed nine hundred years back (thus fondly do Englishmen adhere to their customs), and which shows that some of the jokes called puns at present were in existence at this early period of time, goes on to describe, with a minuteness that amounts almost to tediousness, the interview between Swayn and the herald. It is angry, for the latter conveys to the Danish monarch the strongest exhortations, on the part of King Ethelred, to quit the kingdom.
A battle, as is natural, ensues; the invader is victorious. At Swayn’s death, Snoro is lost in grief, being, however, consoled in the next stanza by the succession of his son Canute to the throne. After following King Canute through his battles – in one of which the celebrated GODWIN (who, I believe, afterwards married Mary Wollstonecraft) showed the valour of Englishmen – after going through a list of murders, treasons, usurpations, which the great monarch committed, the bard comes to that famous passage in his history which all little boys know; when King Canute tried to order the sea to retreat. I have the pleasure to show a copy of an Anglo-Saxon drawing which is to be found in the manuscript, and which never has been seen until the present day.
[This drawing was handed round to the company by Miss Tickletoby and excited an immense sensation, which having subsided, the lecturer proceeded to read from the same MS., Claud. XXVII. XXVIII., “The Song of King Canute”, at which point – without wishing to disparage the abilities of the great bard Snoro – the editor feels it is right to stop].
To Master Spry. How did I punish you, my dear? Tell the company.
All the little children. Hurray! Alfred for ever!
Miss Tickletoby’s Lectures on English History is a series of great satires written by William Thackeray for Punch magazine in 1842. The imaginary Miss Wilhelmina Maria Tickletoby is an august old lady who tutors rich people’s children; a formidable teacher who has “none of the new-fangled notions regarding the uselessness of corporal punishments, but, remembering their effects in her own case, does not hesitate to apply them whenever necessity urges”.
The lectures, which take place in her house, are addressed principally to her pupils, but adults “of rank and fashion” and the press are also present. I like them because Thackeray’s imitation of Miss Tickletoby’s voice and his parody of Victorian perspectives on British history are nothing short of hilarious. Over the next few weeks and months I’ll be posting the best bits of each lecture, from the ancient Britons to Edward III, together with Victorian illustrations of the events being described. Take them as reliable accounts at your peril…
BRITAIN BEFORE KING ALFRED
‘MY LOVES, – With regard to the early history of our beloved country, before King Alfred ascended the throne, I have very little indeed to say: in the first place, because the story itself is none of the most moral – consisting of accounts of murders agreeably varied by invasions; and secondly, dears, to tell you the truth, I have always found those first chapters so abominably stupid that I have made a point to pass them over…
Well, then, about the abominable Danes and Saxons, the Picts and the Scots, I know very little, and I must say have passed through life pretty comfortably in spite of my ignorance. Not that this should be an excuse to you – no,no, darlings: learn for learning’s sake; if not, I have something hanging up in the cupboard, and you know my name is Tickletoby. [Great sensation.]
How first our island became inhabited is a point which nobody knows. I do not believe a word of that story at the beginning of the “Seven Champions of Christendom”, about King Brute and his companions; and as for the other hypotheses (let Miss Biggs spell the word “hypothesis”, and remember not to confound it with “apothecary”), they are not worth consideration. For as the first man who ever entered the island could not write, depend upon it he never set down the date of his arrival; and I leave you to guess what a confusion about dates there would speedily be – you who can’t remember whether it was last Thursday or Friday that you had gooseberry pudding for dinner.
Those little dears who have not seen Mrs. Trimmer’s “History of England” have no doubt beheld pictures of Mr Oldridge’s Balm of Columbia [a product which promised hair growth and preservation]. The ancient Britons were like the lady represented there, only not black; the excellent Mrs. T’s pictures of these no doubt are authentic, and there our ancestors are represented as dressed in painted skins, and wearing their hair as long as possible. I need not say that it was their own skins they painted, because, as for clothes, they were not yet invented.
As for the religion of the ancient Britons, as it was a false and abominable superstition, the less we say about it the better. If they had a religion, you may be sure they had a clergy. This body of persons were called Druids. The historian Hume says that they instructed the youth of the country, which, considering not one boy in 1,000,000,000,000 could read, couldn’t give the Druids much trouble. The Druids likewise superintended the law matters and government of Britain, and in return for their kindness were handsomely paid, as all teachers of youth, lawyers and ministers ought to be. [“Hear, hear,” from Lord ABINGER and Sir ROBERT PEEL].The ancient Britons were of a warlike, rude nature (and loved broils and battles, like Master Spry yonder). They used to go forth with clubs for weapons, and bulls’ horns for trumpets; and so with their clubs and their trumps they would engage their enemies, who sometimes conquered them, and sometimes were conquered by them, according to luck.
The priests remained at home and encouraged them – praying to their gods, and longing no doubt for a share of the glory and danger; but they learned, they said, to sacrifice themselves for the public good. Not only did they sacrifice themselves; I grieve to say that it was their custom to sacrifice other people: for when the Britons returned from war with their prisoners, the priests carried the latter into certain mysterious groves, where they slew them on the horrid altars of their gods. The gods, they said, delighted in these forests and these dreadful human sacrifices, and you will better remember the facts by my representing these gods to you as so many wicked Lovegroves, and their victims as unfortunate Whitebait. [Immense sensation.]
And as your papas have probably taken some of you to see the opera of “Norma”, which relates to these very Druids that we are talking about, you will know that the ancient Britons had not only priests, but priestesses – that is, clergywomen. Remember this, and don’t talk commit an error which is common in society, and talk of two clerical gentlemen as priestesses. It is a gross blunder. One might as well…talk of having your breakfasteses, as I have heard the Duchess of ____ often do…What is the singular of Breakfasts, Miss Higgins?
Miss Higgins. I don’t know.
Master Smith (delighted and eager). I know.
Miss Tickletoby. Speak, my dear, and tell that inattentive Miss Higgins what is the singular of “breakfasts”.
Master Smith (clearing his voice by rubbing his jacket sleeve across his nose). The most singular breakfast I know is old John Wapshot’s, who puts sugar in his muffins and takes salt in his tea!
[Master Smith was preparing to ascend to the head of the class, but was sternly checked by MISS TICKLETOBY, who resumed her discourse.]It was not to be supposed that the wickedness of these Priests could continue forever; and accordingly we find (though upon my word I don’t know upon what authority) that, eighteen hundred and ninety-seven years ago, Julius Caesar, that celebrated military man, landed at Deal. He conquered a great number of princes with jaw-breaking names, as did the Roman Emperors, his successors – such as the Trinobantes, the Atrebates, the Silures, all richly deserving their fate, doubtless, as I fear they were but savages at best. They were masters of the Britons for pretty near five hundred years; and though the Scotch pretend that the Romans never conquered their part of it, I am inclined to suppose it was pretty much for the reasons that the clothes are not taken off a scarecrow in the fields – because they are not worth the taking.