Archive for November, 2007

Hello, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101.
Today’s episode will be a bit more brief than usual, due to the fact that it is being produced during a rather hectic week with many projects to be done towards the beginning of the week. I thought it better to produce a shorter podcast of high quality rather than a longer podcast with a noticeable sacrifice in quality, and so here we are.
In past episodes of British History 101, we have learned about several orders of chivalry – the Order of the Garter, the Order of the Thistle, and the Order of St. Patrick. Today we will learn about a fourth order, the Order of the Bath.
In the Middle Ages, it was customary for a man soon to be made a knight to take a ritual bath, a sign of spiritual purification and a harkening back to the ceremony of baptism at the beginning of the man’s life. He would then spend the night in a chapel, keeping prayerful vigil, until dawn. He would then make confession and hear Mass before presenting himself before the king once it was fully daylight. This audience with the king culminated with the accolade, or as we commonly see it referred to now the act of “dubbing” the knight by striking him on the neck with a hand or a sword. From the evidence we have of this elaborate ceremony taking place in the 12th century to the coronation of Charles II in 1661, knights who were created at the end of this overnight process were known simply as Knights of the Bath, for obvious reasons.
On 18 May 1725, George I, By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, Prince-Elector of Hannover, Duke of Brunswick, officially founded the The Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath (although the word “military” has since been removed, for reasons we shall discuss shortly). It is usually thought that George I was convinced to found the order by his Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, who wanted a way to reward his political allies and those from whom he sought political support. At its creation, the Order consisted of the Sovereign, a Prince of the blood Royal as Principal Knight, a Great Master and thirty-five Knights Companion. What is extremely interesting about this order is that although it recalls the time when knights were ritually bathed before being “dubbed”, that medieval ceremony has never been used to create knights since the Order was officially established in 1725; thus, the original members of the Order were simply installed on 17 June 1725 in the Order’s newly designated chapel, the Lady Chapel of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey.
Although never used, the medieval rituals of bathing and prayerful vigil remained in the Order’s statutes until 1815; at this point, the end of the Napoleonic Wars, they were formally abolished. It was also at this point that the Prince Regent, later to be crowned George IV, expanded the Order into two divisions, military and civil. He also drastically increased the number of knights allowed into the Order; this caused no small amount of controversy, as many people (perhaps justifiably so) felt this devalued the honor of membership in the Order. This split into two divisions also produced three ranks of knighthood within the Order – Knight Grand Cross, Knight Commander, and Companion. After various revisions of the Order’s statutes which we will not discuss here (due to the complexity of each change and the relatively monotonous nature of reading off a list of dates), The Most Honourable Order of the Bath now accommodates 120 Knights (or Dames, since 1971) Grand Cross, 355 Knights or Dames Commander, and 1,925 Companions.
As we have discussed with the other orders of chivalry, members of the Order of the Bath are entitled to several nominal attachments; specifically, Knights and Dames Grand Cross and Commander are allowed to place “Sir” or “Dame” before their names and GCB, KCB, or DCB after. Companions of the Order of the Bath are not entitled to a prefix, but can use CB after their names.
Knights and Dames of the Order are still installed in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey; this ceremony, which takes place every four years, is attended by the Great Master of the Order (the Prince of Wales) at every installation and attended by the sovereign of the order (Her Majesty the Queen) at every alternate installation. The last such ceremony was in 2006, and the Queen was in attendance; therefore, there will be another installation in 2010, and the Queen will appear again in 2014. I have every confidence that Elizabeth will still be Sovereign then – even as an American I say Vivat Regina!
In the Chapel, each Knight or Dame Grand Cross is assigned his or her own stall in the choir. However, due to the limited number of stalls available it can take years, approaching even decades, for a person honored with the Grand Cross to actually get their stall. At the pinnacle of a knight’s stall is his helm, topped by his crest; for Dames Grand Cross, being women and therefore without crests, the coronet appropriate to her rank is used. A banner with the knight’s coat of arms hangs over the stall, and a brass nameplate is affixed to the back of the stall itself. Upon the death of a knight or dame, all the heraldic devices removed, but the name plate remains.
Knights of the Bath are provided with a considerable array of vestments and regalia; however, when I looked at the usually best source of this information, which (believe it or not) is actually Wikipedia, I was absolutely overwhelmed with the variations and regulations of the Order’s garb. Therefore, I have taken the high road, as it were, and copy and pasted the section from Wikipedia about said garb; I hope you will forgive me the cop-out, but I believe explaining it all would not be worth the time it would take to explore the different situations in which certain things are worn based on rank and position. I would strongly encourage you to visit the blog so you can see for yourself the interesting garments of knights of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath! Of course, all credit to Wikipedia and the sources cited therein.

Vestments and accoutrements
Members of the Order wear elaborate costumes on important occasions (such as its quadrennial installation ceremonies and coronations), which vary by rank:
• The mantle, worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross, is made of crimson satin lined with white taffeta. On the left side is a representation of the star (see below). The mantle is bound with two large tassels.[81]
• The hat, worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross and Knights and Dames Commanders, is made of black velvet; it includes an upright plume of feathers.[82]
• The collar, worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross, is made of gold and weighs 30 troy ounces (933 g). It consists of depictions of nine imperial crowns and eight sets of flowers (roses for England, thistles for Scotland and shamrocks for Ireland), connected by seventeen silver knots.[81]
On lesser occasions, simpler insignia are used:
• The star is used only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross and Knights and Dames Commanders. Its style varies by rank and division; it is worn pinned to the left breast:
o The star for military Knights and Dames Grand Cross consists of a Maltese Cross on top of an eight-pointed silver star; the star for military Knights and Dames Commander is an eight-pointed silver cross pattée. Each bears in the centre three crowns surrounded by a red ring bearing the motto of the Order in gold letters. The circle is flanked by two laurel branches and is above a scroll bearing the words Ich dien (older German for "I serve") in gold letters.[81]
o The star for civil Knights and Dames Grand Cross consists of an eight-pointed silver star, without the Maltese cross; the star for civil Knights and Dames Commanders is an eight-pointed silver cross pattée. The design of each is the same as the design of the military stars, except that the laurel branches and the words Ich dien are excluded.[81]

The badge varies in design, size and manner of wearing by rank and division. The Knight and Dame Grand Cross' badge is larger than the Knight and Dame Commander's badge, which is in turn larger than the Companion's badge;[83] however, these are all suspended on a crimson ribbon. Knights and Dames Grand Cross wear the badge on a riband or sash, passing from the right shoulder to the left hip.[81] Knights Commanders and male Companions wear the badge from a ribbon worn around the neck. Dames Commanders and female Companions wear the badge from a bow on the left side:
o The military badge is a gold Maltese Cross of eight points, enamelled in white. Each point of the cross is decorated by a small gold ball; each angle has a small figure of a lion. The centre of the cross bears three crowns on the obverse side, and a rose, a thistle and a shamrock, emanating from a sceptre on the reverse side. Both emblems are surrounded by a red circular ring bearing the motto of the Order, which are in turn flanked by two laurel branches, above a scroll bearing the words Ich dien in gold letters.[81]
o The civil badge is a plain gold oval, bearing three crowns on the obverse side, and a rose, a thistle and a shamrock, emanating from a sceptre on the reverse side; both emblems are surrounded by a ring bearing the motto of the Order.[81]
On certain "collar days" designated by the Sovereign, members attending formal events may wear the Order's collar over their military uniform or eveningwear. When collars are worn (either on collar days or on formal occasions such as coronations), the badge is suspended from the collar.[81]
The collars and badges of Knights and Dames Grand Cross are returned to the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood upon the decease of their owners. All other insignia may be retained by their owners.[81]

Tonight I am very pleased to introduce a new artist to the musical tone of British History 101. Sony Recording Artist Simon Mulligan has very graciously offered me the license to use his performances as the closing theme of our show. What we will be using for the next few weeks is the piece you hear playing right now, called Promenade 5; I really enjoy it and think it fits the tone of our show very well. However, Mr. Mulligan has yet more in the works for British History 101, and I am very excited for what he is currently working on and can’t wait to share it with you. Thank you, Mr. Mulligan, from myself and all the listeners of British History 101.
That’s all for our show tonight; a brief one, to be sure, but I hope it was an enjoyable bite of history nonetheless! Send questions, comments, rants, and raves to British History 101. Our new music tonight is Promenade 5, performed by Simon Mulligan. Thank you for joining me again this week; for those of you in the United States, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving, and we will meet again soon!

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J.R.R Tolkien Part II

Hello, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101. Tonight, we will continue our look into the life and works of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Let’s pick right up where we left off last week, when Tolkien wrote the famous words “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
Let us remember that Tolkien spent most of his time during 1917-1918 in hospital, recuperating from the trench fever he had gotten in France. He passed the time by writing what we know now as The Silmarillion, and the large amount of time he spent writing this unexpectedly influenced his work that had begun with a scribble on a blank exam booklet page. Tolkien originally had no intention of connecting that scribble, which grew into his book The Hobbit, with anything he had already written in The Silmarillion. However, elements from his earlier work began showing up in The Hobbit. It became clear as the story developed that the worlds in which The Hobbit and The Silmarillion took place were one and the same; however, The Silmarillion took place long before The Hobbit.
It probably would have been possible to publish The Hobbit much earlier than actually happened; however, with this book Tolkien exhibited his characteristic streaks of perfectionism, self-dissatisfaction with his work, and outright laziness. He had technically completed the story in the mid-thirties, wrapping up the tale in story-telling sessions with his children. Getting the thing written was another matter entirely, and Tolkien slowed down considerably after writing the death of one particular character (I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read it, but for those of you who have – I am referring to he who is felled by the one flaw in his armor). What did exist of the story in physical form was seen by very few people outside the family; incidentally, one of those people was a woman named Susan Dagnall, an employee of the London publishing house Allen & Unwin. The book deeply impressed her, and she asked Tolkien to complete and submit it for publication in 1937.
What happened next is one of those little events in history that must have seemed insignificant at the time but truly changed the lives of countless people later on. The head of the publishing firm, Stanley Unwin, was almost prepared to publish the book but decided to let his nine year old son, Rayner, read it first for review. Luckily for the world of literature, little Rayner loved the story, and so the very first edition of The Hobbit, featuring black-and-white illustrations by Tolkien himself, was made public to the world in 1937.The first printing of the tale sold out in three months – an incredible feat, especially at that time.
The enormous success of The Hobbit led Allen & Unwin to request a sequel to The Hobbit; perceiving a chance to finally complete and publish The Silmarillion, Tolkien submitted it to the firm. The Silmarillion, however, was rejected – readers, and thus the firm – wanted more stories about hobbits like Bilbo Baggins. This was how Tolkien began his next book, tentatively titled The New Hobbit. Tolkien admittedly had little idea of where he wanted to go with the book, aside from the fact that Gollum’s ring would play a substantial role; Frodo was originally called Bingo, and Strider was Trotter. By mid-summer 1938, his next story had gained considerable momentum, and the true power of Gollum’s ring was becoming more and more central to the story. It was thus that The Lord of the Rings was born.
Tolkien’s writing habits would plague the work done on The Lord of the Rings; the length of it, continuity of language and geography with his other writings on Middle-Earth, the interruptions everyone had to deal with during World War II, and his tendency to write and rewrite all worked together to slow down work on the new epic. Progress was so slow at some points that Tolkien began to genuinely fear he was suffering from writer’s block and that he would never finish either The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion, his beloved but as-yet unfinished mythology for Britain.
You and I, as readers, historians, and Anglophiles, can thank the Inklings for the completion of The Lord of the Rings. This group, comprised of C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Hugo Dyson, and C. S. Lewis’ brother Major Warren Lewis, closely resembled Tolkien’s earlier social groups the TCBS and the Coalbiters. They usually met twice a week, once at a pub called The Eagle and Child (or Bird and Baby to the Inklings) and once at C. S. Lewis’ home. It was here that The Hobbit had first been read aloud while in progress, and it was this group that first heard The Lord of the Rings as told by Tolkien. Recognizing the literary merit and potential of the work, Tolkien’s fellow Inklings strongly encouraged him to get it done – if effect, get off your arse (or on it) and write. This was reinforced immeasurably by Tolkien’s son Christopher, at this time in South Africa with the Royal Air Force. Ronald sent his son parts of his writings, and Christopher critiqued them and encouraged his father. Christopher didn’t want to hear fairy tales on his father’s lap – he wanted to read epic myths written by his father’s hand.
Bogged down by the effort of writing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien set out one day in 1944 to write a new story, eventually entitled Leaf by Niggle. He actually wrote this one through to completion, and this finishing of a work in its entirety refreshed and re-energized Tolkien. He thus found himself with the willpower to finish The Lord of the Rings.
We have spent much time discussing Tolkien’s fictional writings, but the next year, 1945, bears mention of another of his accomplishments. It was during this year that Tolkien was elected Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford. The young man smitten with an only slightly older Edith Bratt first arriving at Exeter College had now reached the pinnacle of his academic career.
If it didn’t outright repeat itself, history at least very closely resembled the events surrounding the publication of The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings was completed in 1947, but Tolkien kept making revisions and rewriting parts of it. By 1949, Tolkien had finally completed the work, but his ideas of publication led to a further delay. After having completed The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien saw its intimate connection with The Silmarillion and wanted to publish the two works at the same time. As The Silmarillion had been rejected by Allen & Unwin earlier, Tolkien began negotiations with Collins, another publishing firm. However, over the course of the next months and years, Collins wanted Tolkien to make cuts to the The Lord of the Rings that he was unprepared to make, and their feelings on The Silmarillion were, shall we say, less than stellar.
Tolkien’s negotiations with Collins broke down in 1952 and went back to Allen & Unwin, where little Rayner had grown up and begun working for the company. Rayner accepted The Lord of the Rings and, perhaps surprisingly, divided it up into the form we know today of 3 separate books with a continuous story. Although in the long run a great success for both Tolkien and the company, this would result in the world not seeing The Lord of the Rings as Tolkien had originally written it for years to come, even though it had been completed 3 years prior.
1954 saw the publication of the first two books, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, in August and November, respectively. Tolkien’s habit of revision and perfection delayed the publication of the third installment, The Return of the King, until October 1955. Ronald actually thought using the title “Return of the King” gave away too much of the plot, and actually wanted to call it “The War of the Ring.” However, his return to Allen & Unwin after the breakdown of negotiations with Collins was unconditional, and so by October 1955 the literary world was graced with The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. It is interesting to note that the work received its largest audience in the United States ten years later, and originally received it without official permission. Ace Books published an edition without Tolkien’s (or Allen & Unwin’s) consent, which was not illegal at the time. Disregarding Tolkien’s desire for compensation, this is significant because it denied the author any royalties on the massive number of books being sold. Ballantine Books, the authorized publisher, put out an official edition later that year, and Ace Books agreed to pay Tolkien a royalty for each copy sold and not reprint their edition. Although it is unrelated to the overall story of Tolkien’s life, I should mention now that if you ever come across an Ace Book edition of any of The Lord of the Rings books, keep it forever (or send it to your favorite podcast host…). Anyway, back to the story. The royalties that Tolkien received from the sale of his trilogy must have been astounding for the man who spent most of his years on the lower edge of middle class – by 1968, three million paperback copies of The Lord of the Rings had been sold.
1959 saw the conclusion of Tolkien’s 34 years at Oxford. The Merton Professor retired, wanting to complete The Silmarillion (which, after the success of The Lord of the Rings, was finally desired by Allen & Unwin). However, the large amount of free time he now had allowed him to devote himself more to some other things he had long wanted to do, one of the top priorities being to spend more time with his wife after his years of hours spent in academic and literary discussion circles and holed away at his desk writing. The years following his retirement also saw the publication of some of Tolkien’s less well-known works, such as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and translations of Middle English poems that Tolkien had begun years earlier.
If you recall a few minutes ago, we discussed the story Leaf by Niggle that Tolkien wrote during his Lord of the Rings writer’s block. Ronald found himself in the same situation with The Silmarillion, and thus the story Smith of Wootton Major was born in 1964.
In our examination of the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, we have largely ignored his wife Edith. However, in 1968 the two moved to Bournemouth on the English coast so that Edith could be near her friends and enjoy the agreeable weather. Although late in life, this must have delighted Edith – she no longer had to live in Oxford where Tolkien was king, she had her friends close to her, and Ronald had much, much more time to spend with her. Edith enjoyed life in Bournemouth for three years before her death in November 1971. Perhaps out of mourning, perhaps out of a desire to go home, Tolkien returned to Oxford.
In 1972 Queen Elizabeth made J.R.R. Tolkien a Commander of the British Empire, and Oxford gave him honorary Doctor of Letters degree. Tolkien was receiving the well-deserved admiration and recognition to his contribution to the world of literature and the imagination of so many people, in all places and of all ages.
By this time, The Silmarillion had been in progress for 55 years, and Tolkien knew he could not complete it – besides, it was in such a jumbled state that it would take months, if not years, just to sort it out. He also knew that Britain’s high estate taxes would take most of any royalties he would receive from its publication upon his death, and so if it ever were to reach the public and provide financial reward to his inheritors, it would have to be done by his executor. Tolkien appointed his son Christopher, by now a long-time member of the Inklings, as his literary executor with instructions to complete The Silmarillion after Tolkien died.
In late summer 1973, Tolkien was back in Bournemouth to visit friends. It was then that it became possible for Christopher Tolkien to complete his father’s book; on 2 September, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien died.
A description of Tolkien’s funeral from Daniel Grotta’s biography of the author and teacher does a wonderful job of portraying the occasion. (For the passage read here, see: Grotta, Daniel. The Biography of J. R. R. Tolkien. Philadelphia: Running, 1978. p. 156)
Their headstone, with its reference to the love story in The Silmarillion, proves Tolkien’s commitment to his original mission, a mythology for Britain. It reads:
Edith Mary Tolkien
John Ronald
Reuel Tolkien

Four years after his death, the work Tolkien began while in hospital during and after World War I finally saw publication. Christopher Tolkien finished the tale for his father, and it was finally published in 1977. It was 60 years in the making.
That’s it for this episode of British History 101. The approach that I originally took on producing this episode came in the form of two weeks – one for research, and one for writing. I have found this to be greatly advantageous, and I am going to use this format for a trial period to see if it fits well with our show. I would invite anyone to email me their thoughts and suggestions on this; how do you feel about an episode every two weeks? Along with your questions, comments, rants, and raves, email me at BritishHistory101@gmail.com. A transcript of this and past episodes of this podcast is available at BritishHistory101.com. Our music tonight is
“O Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast” by O Fickle Fortune and available on Magnatune.com. Magnatune is an independent online record label that equally shares all revenue from album sales with their hand-selected artists while allowing them to retain full rights to their works. Visit magnatune.com for great music at low prices and support the many wonderful artists hosted there. I thank you for joining me on our journey through the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien. It has truly been a pleasure, and I will see you again in two weeks’ time. Have a wonderful day!

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I’ve just seen this on the BBC and thought  the law voted most ridiculous by the British pertained especially to our show:

1. It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament.

Watch out!

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So grateful!

I want to thank everyone who has written to me in the past few days with messages of congratulations, thanks, and general good wishes – I do so very much appreciate it! Positive feedback like this is precisely why I love working on British History 101 so much. Thank you!

A while back, I posted a video from the Last Night of the Proms 2006, a performance of Jerusalem. I thought I’d post a YouTube video from the Last Night of the Proms this year specifically Land of Hope and Glory from Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March #1 (I’m not sure about other countries, but Americans are sure to recognize the tune from academic ceremonies). The lyrics to the chorus are posted below the video:

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free

How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?

Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set

God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet

God, who made thee mighy, make thee mightier yet

If anyone can find a video of Jerusalem being performed this year, I would greatly appreciate it!

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Episode 23: We’re back!

Hello, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101.
As promised in the update you’ve heard for the past week or so, we finally find ourselves together again, learning something new about the history of Britain. I am so very glad that you have decided to join me, and I hope you enjoy the show. With this episode, I have spent a substantially greater amount of time researching than I usually do, and the result is what I see as a more thorough and educating show. With that comes a bit of additional length, but I do not think this will detract from the experience. If you’re a tea drinker, I’d recommend a cup of Earl Grey (as I am drinking while I record) or some other black tea to enjoy with the show. Take this time to pause, head to the kitchen for tea, and then settle in for our journey through the mists of Britain. I think it will be an enjoyable one.
A man named Arthur found himself employed at the Birmingham branch of Lloyds Bank in the late 19th century, right at the time that South Africa was becoming an attractive place for those interested in diamonds and gold. Feeling as though he wasn’t going to make any particularly glorious strides in his career in England, Arthur left for South Africa around 1890, being accepted into the position he had applied for at Lloyds Bank there.
Before he had left for the African continent, Arthur had fallen in love with one Mabel Suffield of Birmingham. Unfortunately, they were unable to marry while he was still in England, but the success his new job in Africa brought was sufficient to allow the two to wed each other. He requested that Mabel join him, and she consented. The two were married on 16 April 1891 at Cape Town Cathedral, soon moving to Bloemfontein where Arthur was based. One of the couple’s early joys in their shared life was their first child. On 3 January 1892, Mabel gave birth to a son, and it was thus that John Ronald Reuel Tolkien came into this world. The creator of one of the finest pieces of literature ever to be written had been born. John was a grandfather’s name, Ronald was a parental preference, and Reuel was Arthur’s middle name.
Ronald (as he was known to his parents) was born prematurely and a sickly child, in stark contrast to the health of his brother Hilary, born in 1894. The boys’ mother had long had a wish to return home to England, and the detrimental effect that the South African climate was having on Ronald’s health convinced the Tolkiens that Mabel should return to England, which she did in April 1895. Arthur was to join the family later. Unfortunately, he fell ill with rheumatic fever, prompting Mabel to make preparations to head for Bloemfontein with Ronald and Hilary. Ronald, excited to return to South Africa to see his father, asked his nurse to write Arthur a letter; unfortunately, Ronald’s father would never receive the letter. Arthur Tolkien died on 16 February 1896. His sons Ronald and Hilary were only 4 and 2.
After a bit of time spent with Mabel’s parents (which Ronald especially enjoyed – he loved his quick-witted Grandfather Suffield), the remaining Tolkiens made a financially difficult decision and moved to Sarehole, a mile south of Birmingham. It was here that Ronald became so deeply attached to the pastoral English countryside vividly represented in his later writings. His mother homeschooled him, instructing him in the reading and writing of English, the languages of Latin and French, art and calligraphy. Ronald became adept at drawing, finding particular interest in trees. It was at this point that Tolkien, fascinated with books, became interested in fairy tales and folklore. He even wrote his own stories, remembering into his later years a tale he composed about “a great green dragon.”
1900 saw two important events in the life of J.R.R. Tolkien: the beginning of Ronald’s institutional education when he passed the entrance examination for King Edward’s School in Birmingham, the best school in the city, and his mother Mabel’s conversion to Catholicism (much to the dismay of both her family and the late Arthur Tolkien’s). Having moved to Mosely, much closer to King Edward’s School, to save money on transportation, Mabel then moved the boys twice more and ended up in Edgbaston in 1902 to be close to the Birmingham Oratory, where her sons could receive education in matters both religious and academic. Ronald thus switched from King Edward’s School to St. Philip’s, where the parish priest Father Francis Xavier Morgan became a close and trusted friend of the family.
Finding himself academically beyond the opportunities offered by St. Philip’s, Ronald was able to win a Foundations Scholarship to King Edward’s and returned to the school in 1903, where he discovered a love for Greek; his mother would later brag that Ronald knew more Greek than she Latin. The joy that Ronald found at the study of the history of language there was cut short around New Year 1904; both he and Hilary contracted measles and whooping-cough. Mabel nursed her ailing sons back to health, but this effort in turn made Mabel fall ill, being diagnosed in spring 1904 with diabetes. After a restful and healing summer spent in the countryside near Birmingham (arranged with the help of Father Morgan), all seemed to be well until November, when the diabetes Mabel thought she had under control reared its head. Collapsing onto the kitchen floor, she fell into a coma in the early days of the month and held on until the 14th. Her sons Ronald and Hilary, aged 12 and 10, were orphans.
Father Morgan, who had been appointed guardian of the boys in Mabel’s will, placed them in the care of their aunt Beatrice. Unlike the rest of the Suffield and Tolkien clans, she held no particular religious views and was unopposed to the boys’ Catholicism. Her proximity to the Oratory allowed the boys to spend most of their time there with Father Morgan, waking each morning to don cassocks and surplices to serve Mass for their friend and guardian.
It became readily apparent that Ronald would excel in languages; at King Edward’s he studied Greek, Latin, French, German, then venturing into Old English, Welsh, and Old Norse on his own time. He even began making up his own languages, drawing inspirations from his cousins’ invention of the language Animalic. They were rough attempts, to be sure, but nonetheless they lay the foundation for some of Tolkien’s most fascinating work later in life.
Tolkien’s education at King Edward’s introduced him to Old English. A former instructor of Ronald’s named George Brewerton gave him an Anglo-Saxon primer, which lead Tolkien to the poem Beowulf. Tolkien enjoyed it immensely, continuing his adventure into the English language with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English.
On one of the several holidays that Father Morgan treated the boys to in Lyme-Regis, he learned that the boys were not as happy as they could be living with Aunt Beatrice, and thus Father Morgan arranged for them to live at a boarding house run by Mrs. Louis Faulkner in 1908, keeping them close to the Oratory. It was here that young Ronald met Edith Bratt, a fellow orphan and fast friend of Ronald and Hilary. Despite an age difference of three years between them (Edith was 19 and Ronald was 16), Ronald fell in love with Edith. It is highly probable that this love for Edith interfered in Ronald’s studying for a scholarship to Oxford in 1909, which he failed to achieve. Father Morgan learned of the love that Ronald and Edith had been keeping secret and duly forbade Ronald to see or communicate with Edith until he turned 21 – after all, if Ronald and Edith had been seen socializing in public, only God knew what was happening at the boarding house. Despite the ban on socializing, Ronald and Edith secretly met and exchanged gifts for their respective upcoming birthdays. Edith received a watch, and Ronald a pen. As you can probably guess, Father Morgan heard of this and renewed his prohibition on the relationship. Edith moved to Cheltenham to live with friends there, leaving Ronald to study for a second attempt at an Oxford scholarship.
Ronald Tolkien was involved in many different societies and clubs throughout his life, and it was at this time that he partook in the Tea Club, comprised of Ronald, Christopher Wiseman, R.Q. Gilson, the son of the headmaster at King Edward’s, and G.B. Smith. They spent free time together at the Tea Room of Barrow’s Stores, which later gave them the name T.C.B.S., or Tea Club-Barrovian Society. It was the T.C.B.C that Ronald called home socially, with its members being his best friends throughout his final year at King Edward’s, university, and the Army later in life. It is quite touching to know that Ronald, surrounded by young men trying to woo the ladies they took an interest in, avoided them as much as possible in order to stay true to Edith. He remained resolutely in love with the girl, despite her distance from him and the ban imposed by Father Morgan.
Ronald directed his attention towards studying for his next attempt at a scholarship, which he won in December 1910. The Open Classical Exhibition that he earned was a somewhat inferior award, but nonetheless it allowed him to attend Exeter College at Oxford University. Here, Tolkien made Comparative Philology his academic specialty, adding Celtic and Finnish to his linguistic repertoire, but he especially flourished in the numerous organizations he belonged to – rugby, the Debating Society, the Essay Club, the Dialectical Society, and his self-founded club the Apolaustiks.
In 1913 Ronald turned 21 and immediately wrote to Edith – the ban had been lifted. Edith, however, had in the interim become engaged to someone else, much to Tolkien’s dismay. However, he was not to be dissuaded. He traveled to Cheltenham and convinced his love that it was really Ronald that she should marry. Edith, realizing the love she really held for him, consented.
In that same year Tolkien specialized in linguistics, also studying Old Icelandic with W. A. Craigie. Ronald was indeed becoming an expert in languages. It was in the study of Old Icelandic that Ronald learned much of Norse mythology and folklore, and this would later affect the writings he would become so famous for.
Father Morgan had been opposed to the marriage between Ronald and Edith because Edith was not Catholic. However, she declared her intent to become Catholic in 1913 (which resulted in her eviction from her Cheltenham lodgings) and came into full union with Rome the following year. This removed the last obstacle preventing the marriage of the loving couple. Ronald was in the midst of studying for a second degree and they decided to wait until he had finished; unfortunately, the dark days of World War I were looming over Europe.
Ronald finished his second degree in 1915, drilling with the Officers’ Training Corps in his final year. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant with the Lancashire Fusiliers (the regiment which his old Tea Club friend G. B. Smith was based) and specialized in signaling due to his linguistics expertise. He left for France in June 1916, but not before marrying his sweetheart Edith on 22 March. After 8 years of clandestine love, long-distance pining, and patience in Tolkien’s studies, the two were finally married.
Tolkien escaped combat injury during the war, but his friends R. Q. Gilson and G. B. Smith did not fare as well as he. His two friends from the T.C.B.S. were killed in action in 1916. Tolkien was able to escape the horrors of war through no fault of his own; he contracted a severe case of trench fever in October 1916 and was sent to hospital in France to recover. The illness would not abate, and Ronald was sent back to England where he was able to be with his wife. His health wavered throughout 1917-18, but still he was far better off than he would have been in France: most of the members of his regiment were either captured or killed in the mindless chaos of the World War. Despite the dreadful scar this conflict left on humanity, joy was still to be found for the Tolkiens; Edith gave birth to their first child, John Francis Reuel Tolkien, on 16 November 1917. The happiness Ronald must have felt at this was augmented in 1918 when he became an assistant lexicographer with the Oxford English Dictionary, courtesy of his former Old Icelandic teacher William Craigie. Tolkien had achieved what many people even now cannot – he worked with his true passion, the nature and behavior of words.
Obviously in 1917-18, the years Ronald spent in recuperation from his trench fever, there was no television, no computer technology, no Internet. To pass the time, Ronald set about creating something that England did not have – its own mythology, drawing heavily from his knowledge of Icelandic lore. This was how Ronald created the core stories of The Book of Lost Tales, now better known as The Silmarillion, including “The Fall of Gondolin,” “The Children of Hurin,” and “The Tale of Beren and Luthien,” the last being based on his and Edith’s warm and loving relationship.
Tolkien’s love of language enabled him to become a tutor at Oxford, helping mostly female students learn Anglo-Saxon. He began earning enough to quite his job on the dictionary after two years. His application to become Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds was accepted in 1920. Ronald moved north to assume his new job in the fall of 1920, and Edith joined him in 1921 after the birth of their second son, Michael Hilary Reuel.
The Tolkiens spent 4 years in Leeds, during which Ronald directed linguistic studies for the entire university. It was also during this time that Tolkien collaborated with a colleague of his, E. V. Gordon, on a new edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, published in 1925. The result of their combined effort remains a popular item in academic study today. This accomplishment was rewarded by the University, which appointed Tolkien Professor of English Language in 1924 (although it was not published until 1925, Tolkien’s work with Gordon had received enough attention and recognition by 1924 to merit the promotion). Ronald’s promotion enabled his family to purchase their own house in Leeds, which was added to that year by their third son, Christopher Reuel.
The following year, 1925, Tolkien was given the opportunity to leave his well-deserved post at the University of Leeds: Oxford offered him the Rawlinson and Bosworth Chair of Anglo-Saxon, succeeding his old tutor and friend William Craigie. Tolkien accepted.
While Tolkien had still been at Leeds, he nearly completed what was now known as The Silmarillion. However, rather than finish the work, Tolkien began to revise and rewrite the book, and this would become a characteristic of his writing style for the rest of his life.
The Tolkiens’ move back to Oxford would result in them buying a house on Northmoor Road, only to buy the larger house next door in 1930 when their daughter Priscilla was born. Part of the time he spent at Oxford after his return was in the group known as The Coalbiters; it is interesting to know that one of Tolkien’s friends, a man named C.S. Lewis, was also a Coalbiter. This group met to read, in their original language, Icelandic sagas, getting their name from a word derived from a group of friends gathered around a fire to keep warm.
By this time, The Silmarillion had more or less been in production since 1917, and hopes of it ever being published were looking dim – Tolkien used to the stories within it to entertain his children, which lead him to make up more, unrelated stories for them. One of those seemingly unrelated stories was born one day while Tolkien was grading exams. He turned the page in a student’s examination booklet and found the next one blank; on it, he wrote “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
That is where I am going to stop for this week – I see that we are approaching the ___ minute mark for this episode, and the feedback that I have gotten consistently says that the relative brevity of this podcast is what makes it enjoyable; that is, I have been told that listeners prefer the show when it is digestible in one sitting, as it were! There is much more to the story of J.R.R. Tolkien, and exactly one week from today we shall finish it together; I guarantee that we will complete the story unlike our foray into Henry VIII!
A small reminder before we conclude for the evening:
“Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot,
I know of no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.”
Although the second (and less well-known) verse of that rhyme is substantially anti-papist (with me being Catholic), Guy Fawkes’ Day is still an amusing and fascinating topic for me. Celebrate this coming Monday – it’s an easy excuse for some relaxation around the warmth of a bonfire!
As usual, send any questions, comments, rants, and raves to BritishHistory101@gmail.com You can find a transcript of this and previous episodes of this podcast at BritishHistory101.com. I’d really encourage everyone to visit the site, as I have been updating it with a few new links and would like to be active there while I’m researching and producing episode. Also, be sure to add yourself to the Platial map on the right side of the screen – it’s fascinating to see where everyone is! Special thanks tonight to John Hawksley, gracious provider of our opening theme, and John Lu, my generous helper in matters technical for publishing this podcast!
Our music tonight is “The Irish March” by Da Camera and available at Magnatune.com. Magnatune is an independent online record label that equally shares all revenue from album sales with their hand-selected artists while allowing them to retain full rights to their works. Visit magnatune.com for great music at low prices and support the many wonderful artists hosted there. Until next week, my best to you all, and thanks again for learning with me.

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