The Apostles

T.E Lawrence was best known for his autobiographical work Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but that is not all that he wrote. He also translated books into English and wrote The Mint which was published after he had gone over his handlebars. The Mint was a sharp account of his time in the RAF. RAF you mutter? Indeed. After returning to the UK as a full Colonel, he worked in the stuffy corridors of the Foreign Office. This did not last. A bureaucratic desk job, as you might imagine for a man who had spent several years running loose across the desert in robes, held little appeal. And so he signed up to join the RAF under the name John Hume Ross.

The Mint then is his account of his time in the RAF as an ordinary airman. By all accounts it didn’t hold back, which was why Lawrence insisted it was only to be published after he had died. One man who did read the book and share his thoughts with Lawrence when he was still in his slippers, was the novelist E.M Forster who had cast an eye over it in the interests of harassing any stray comma or split infinitive off of its pages. Forster liked bits of the book, but lambasted the conclusion, a conclusion which he described as “insipid”. Golly.

Forster though knew how to nail down a book, famous as he was for Howards End and his greatest success, A Passage to India. If you’ve been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature on sixteen different occasions and widely regarded as one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century, you have swallowed the right to call other people’s work what you like. And so he did. Forster lived most of his life in King’s College, Cambridge where he was an undergraduate and honorary fellow and he too, like Lawrence, turned down a knighthood, which is something many a fleshy Tory donor can chew on if, and when, they have a minute.

It was whilst Forster was an undergraduate at Cambridge that he first became involved with the Apostles.

The Apostles is, are, probably is, given it is a singular group, is then, an intellectual society who sit around in each other’s college rooms talking about stuff; stuff that would leave you and I staring at the fruit cake wondering if anyone would notice if you took another slice. We wouldn’t have a great deal to add, save the occasional throaty grunt, consumed as we would be by a deep fear of being asked any question other than: “could you pass the fruit cake?”

The society was founded by a George Tomlinson who ended up in Gibraltar, as Gibraltar’s Bishop. A clever man you suspect. Indeed, they were all clever men, talking until the early hours, talking and debating, and voting and talking; documenting the gathering on note paper that would go in the “Ark”, a cedar chest containing papers and notes from previous meetings. It is, by all accounts, a point of honour that any vote held only had tangential bearing on the topic that had been splayed open over the course of any given evening. Make of that what you will.

As you might imagine for an intellectual Cambridge society, entry into the club is not straightforward. There are no forms. There is nothing online. Indeed, getting a mortgage is a lot easier. Undergraduates who are thought to have what it takes are invited to an ‘embryo party’, they being embryos in the eyes of the established Apostles. They are then intellectually skewered over the sausage rolls by a few committee men, who later decide whether an invitation to join the society should be posted in the embryo’s pigeon hole. The embryo has no idea he or she – for women were accepted into the cadre in the 1970s – is being appraised, and so is likely to go away thinking that everyone was all very friendly. Maybe a bit intense, but friendly. Should they later choose to become an Apostle, they then take an oath of secrecy and listen to the reading of a curse, a curse that was written by the Apostle and theologian Fenton Hort, who sported the sort of beard that suggested he could pen a mean curse.

The Apostles, given it was a society stuffed full of very clever people, rose to prominence outside of Cambridge in the years before the first World War through the group of intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group, most of whom were Apostles. The Bloomsbury Group lived and worked in and around, umm, Bloomsbury, swapping ideas, dinner plates and beds. They were united by an enduring belief in the arts and their work shaped many modern beliefs towards feminism, pacifism and sexuality. The best known members included Virginia Wolf, John Maynard Keynes and Lytton Strachey who too, had a lovely beard. His, though, was a ginger beard. Even better. Keynes and Strachey were both Apostles.

Yet it was not all high teas and holidays for the Apostles, as they also hit the nine o’clock news with the exposure of the Cambridge spy ring in 1951, on account of one of the spies, Guy Burgess – or Guy Francis de Moncy Burgess – being an Apostle. So too, it turned out, was Anthony Blunt. Blunt was a few years older than Burgess, and was not only keeping an eye out for embryos, but was also keeping a keen eye out for Soviet sympathisers. Michael Straight, the American writer, and himself an Apostle, had called Blunt out, naming him as a Soviet spy. Blunt at the time had been, alongside his work at M15, an art adviser to the Queen which made an awkward situation, that little bit more awkward.*

On being confronted with Straight’s finger-pointing, Blunt put his gin down and admitted that he was indeed a Soviet spy and been drawn into Marxist ideology over cups of hot cocoa by his friend Leonard Long, himself an Apostle. He later wrote in his memoirs:

What I did not realise is that I was so naïve politically that I was not justified in committing myself to any political action of this kind. The atmosphere in Cambridge was so intense, the enthusiasm for any anti-fascist activity was so great, that I made the biggest mistake of my life.

There are also suggestions that Victor Rothschild – the 3rd Baron Rothschild – a playboy cricketer, financier and Apostle, was the fifth Cambridge spy; although this has never been proven. The suggestion seems to be based on the fact that he shared a London flat with Burgess and Blunt, worked at MI5 and had the sort of contacts book to make lots of suspicious introductions. A little fishy, you have to admit.

So that’s the Apostles then; a semi-secret, eccentric society full of very clever people that was – in the 1930s – a seething snake pit of Marxism.

Not today though.

At least, not as far as we know.

(*Unlike his fellow Apostles T.E Lawrence and E.M Forster, Anthony Blunt accepted a knighthood from the Queen. Yet, despite his monograph of the French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin still being regarded as a watershed book in art history, Anthony Blunt died just plain Anthony Blunt. Much like Fred Goodwin and Robert Mugabe will, the latter if he hasn’t done so already. Just saying. Perhaps email Beijing for further information.)



What does it mean, what does it say of our age
To witness what’s happened in the US of A;
It’s a world gone mad, it’s all a hideous joke
When the 45th President is a big orange bloke.

Trump you say, he’s the man off TV
He can’t be the President, no no, it cannot be;
He does the Apprentice, he owns Trump Tower
And you can Google nude photos of his wife in the shower.

Was there not an election, did the people not vote?
I mean politicians are bad but this man is a stoat;
He has a fake tan, he makes it all up
He builds flats for a living, so is definitely corrupt.

They say it was Russia who meddled about
The blogs they did whisper, the media did shout;
A little hack here, a little hack there
Putin I hear had a thing for Trump’s hair.

He’s upset all the Muslims, a questionable shout
He says they’re not welcome, he wants them all out;
And so Congress must vote, yet it’s a vote to be missed
For if you want to fight, best pick a fight with the Swiss.

And China too they’re a little bit miffed,
Their lips a bit sweaty and their backs a bit stiff;
For Trump phoned them up, he phoned up President Xi
And said “stop your fooling about in the South China sea.”

Build a wall he said, a wall twenty foot tall
So big the Mexicans will feel so very small;
They’ll pay he said, they will do as I say,
And if they don’t pay I’ll tweet that their President’s gay.

And we’re in trouble, the special relationship blown
Nigel Farage went to see him, and he went all on his own;
He grinned and he gurned and he promised Trump’s team
They could all come to London and have tea with the Queen!

God help us all.


Thomas Edward Lawrence

You’d expect the alumni of the Examination Fellowship to shy away from the more routine jobs on offer, and you’d be right. There are philosophers and poets, there is a Viceroy of India and, as you might expect, an Archbishop of Canterbury. None though, stoke the coals quite like the Fellow who was born in the town of Tremadog in North West Wales. A man who, as an undergraduate of Jesus College – remember All Souls didn’t bother with acne prone undergraduates – spent one summer walking a thousand odd miles visiting the crusader castles in Ottoman Syria. A man who in 1914 was recruited by the British Army and sent behind an archeological smokescreen to survey and map the Negev Desert. Military historians will reach for the sherry knowing, as they do, that the Negev desert would have been strategically important in the event of war. Which it was. The mapping was done in January, war broke out in August. The fellow, the man in question is Thomas Edward Lawrence, the author, military officer, and diplomat.

Thomas Edward Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia.

Now Lawrence had a sticky childhood. He was born out of wedlock which, in 1888, was news. Bad news specifically for Lawrence, he being then, a bastard. Bastards had a tough time integrating themselves given the conservative and religious mood of the age. Playdates were hard to come by. Lawrence’s father was one Sir Thomas Chapman an Anglo-Irish nobleman and the last of the Chapman baronets of Killua Castle. Chapman was married with four daughters. Four daughters, he decided, needed a Governess, so they hired a Scotswoman called Sarah Junner. By all accounts Chapman’s then wife, Edith, got all wet lipped with religious zeal and subjected her household to frequent prayer meetings. Chapman hit the booze. As you might suspect, one night he hid behind the curtain of the Governess’ bedroom. The rest is history. Chapman and Junner, later moved to England and went on to have five sons, one of whom was Thomas Edward Lawrence.

With the outbreak of war in 1915 Lawrence, given his extensive knowledge of Arabic culture, was packed out to Cairo. He arrived to a bit of a diplomatic dog’s dinner. Within the Arabic-speaking Ottoman territories, there was simmering unrest, revolution beckoned. Sharif Hussein, the Emir of Mecca, was in touch with the British suggesting that he lead the uprising against the Ottomans. In exchange, he wanted the British guarantee of an independent Arab state. For the British, this made a lot of sense as it would take the heat out the threat against the Suez Canal. Trust me on the geography. As ever, the problem was French. The French wanted Syria to be French, not an Arab state. India, also had reservations. India was technically part of Britain back then, but it acted independently. An Arab state wasn’t part of their playbook either.

It wasn’t long before it got properly sweaty. Frustrated by the diplomatic torpor, Hussain threatened to go rogue and throw his chips in with the Ottomans. For the British, this was not good news. Not at all. So they did what the British do best. They wrote Hussain a letter, a letter that was broadly supportive of his plans but sufficiently vague enough that it didn’t explicitly guarantee anything. Later, unbeknown to those on the front line in Cairo, the Sykes-Picot Agreement was being thrashed out in London. The agreement was basically a slippery pact based on the premise that the Ottomans would be defeated, and once they were, there would be no Arab state. There would be French bits, and British bits.

And so began the Arab Revolt for which Lawrence is best known.

In 1916 Lawrence was sent to Hejaz on a fact-finding tour and to interview Hussein’s three sons, to see who had the cojones to lead the revolt. Lawrence reported back that Faisal was the man. It was decided then, that Faisal needed a permanent British liaison to keep him on the fairway and so Lt. Col Stewart Newcombe packed his bags. The problem was Newcombe was in London. To hold the fort, Lawrence was sent in his place, and the two of them, Faisal and Lawrence started to make things difficult for the Ottomans. When Newcombe arrived Faisal insisted Lawrence stay. Without Faisal’s intervention Lawrence of Arabia could well have been, just plain Lawrence.

He remained attached to Faisal until the fall of Damascus in 1918.

Immediately after the war Lawrence worked for the foreign office. In 1919 the war correspondent, Lowell Thomas – who had spent some time with Lawrence in the desert – took all his photographs and film on a bit of a tour. It was wildly popular. Starved of excitement, the photos of Lawrence dressed in full Bedouin garb, captured the public’s imagination. Thomas’ show catapulted Lawrence to fame and he became a household name.

Whilst he hated the stifling nature of bureaucratic work thrust on him in the post-war years, he was a prolific writer. In addition to writing a lot of letters, corresponding with the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill and Noel Coward, he also wrote three books the most famous one being the Seven Pillars of Wisdom a wartime memoir. He re-wrote the Seven Pillars of Wisdom three times, once because he left the manuscript on the train when he changed at Reading – easily done – and the other, presumably, to give it a bit of spit and polish. George Bernard Shaw even did some editing. Not a bad man to be telling you where to put a semi colon.

Lawrence sadly died aged just forty-six. He was fatally injured after flying off his motorbike as he swerved to miss two boys on an undulating stretch of road near his home in Dorset.

The bike is currently on loan at the Imperial War Museum.

And that, given the space available, is Lawrence of Arabia, voted in a BBC poll as the fifty third Greatest Briton.

A knighthood, you splutter? Surely there was a knighthood? Even Lynton Crosby got a knighthood. No, there was no knighthood.

Lawrence of Arabia turned it down.

All Souls College, Oxford

The Archbishop of Canterbury is a busy man. He is the senior bishop and all round big cheese in the Church of England. He is also top dog in the Anglican Communion, an international association of likeminded churches. The Archbishop has no control outside of England mind, and no direct control of this loose community, he’s more of a focus of unity. That said, big shoes are required. He also has a role in providing spiritual guidance in the House of Lords which, given many Lords have ‘game’ when it comes to a free night up in London, is a likely to be a full time job in itself. It will come as no surprise to also read that the Archbishop is the highest ranking non-royal in the UK’s Order of Precedence; a long list with The Queen at the top, all the way down to you and I at the bottom. He is, then, a very busy man. Yet aside from all these plate fillers, the Archbishop also has many other roles and responsibilities, one of which is as a visitor of All Souls College in Oxford. As a visitor he is basically able to meddle in various affairs from college governance to approving a new gang-mower.

All Souls was founded by Henry VI. “The baby king” you yell, indeed, yes he being the very same Henry VI who took to the throne aged just nine months. Henry also inherited France on the death of his grandfather Charles VI, so he too had a lot on his plate namely war at home – the war of the Roses; and war abroad – the 100 years’ war. Henry later lost France to the French, had a breakdown, got locked up by Richard of York, was freed, suffered another breakdown, was captured again and was finally slammed in the Tower where he died, possibly pushed down the stairs on the orders of Richard of York’s son, Edward. Despite all of that, and despite being depicted by Shakespeare as weak willed and pussy whipped, Henry founded Eton College, King’s College in Cambridge and All Souls. All told, not a bad effort.

That said, Henry didn’t do it on his own. He founded All Souls with Henry Chichele, who was himself Archbishop of Canterbury. Chichele was a lawyer by trade, making him perhaps an odd choice to lead the Anglican Church. Either way, Henry and Chichele set up All Souls in 1438 with the means to support forty odd fellows all of whom had to take Holy Orders. They were then free to let minds roam across the arts, philosophy, and theology. Likely on Chichele’s leaning, sixteen were also allowed to study the law.

Now, the college has no undergraduates. None at all. It once had them. In the early 17th century the warden, a Robert Hovenden, thought maybe some undergraduates would be good. Yet this was not in the interests of nurturing hungry young minds or injecting a bit more life into hall dinners, but in order to provide the seated fellows with servants. This arrangement worked well until the nineteenth century when it likely attracted a bit too much attention, and so undergraduates were axed.

The college, as you might assume, has a lovely library, bequeathed by Christopher Codrington who built a small fortune using very cheap labour on sugar plantations in Barbados. Codrington was, as you might also assume, an All Souls fellow and an avid book collector. The library, completed in 1751 is though, very much the new block of college, for the chapel had its ribbon cut in 1442. A new roof or two has likely since followed. Christopher Wren – also a fellow – knocked up a sun dial for the college which was positioned on the south wall of the chapel but now resides in the quadrangle, where it can be better seen by the snap happy Japanese tourist. Not that All Souls need their lawns and buildings gawped at by the summer hoards, it being one of the wealthiest of the Oxford colleges, with the wine cellar well stocked off the back of £300m endowment.

For any Oxford graduate who struggles to make the transition from high hall to life on the corporate treadmill and 25 days holiday a year, they can – providing it is within three years of picking up their degree – apply for an Examination Fellowship at All Souls. It’s a competitive position, only two are taken each year – sometimes none at all – but it is worth it. A “Prize Fellowship” as they are also known runs for seven years. Yes, seven years. There are no compulsory teaching or research requirements, and fellows can study anything Oxford has to offer, with room and full board thrown in. They can even pursue other careers, although why they might do this is not clear given the license to lie on punts  all day reading Chaucer and ogling undergraduates; but they can. All they have to do is engage in the occasional bout of academia and promise to attend weekend hall during their first year.

Given that wicket, competition is fierce and you’ll need a sharp pencil and an equally sharp bit of savvy to deal with the two day selection process, where you write an essay on a subject of your own choice and also share your thoughts on various questions, questions that are more general in nature. Questions such as “Does the moral character of an orgy change when participants wear Nazi uniforms?”

Before 2010 candidates also faced another free-form essay on a single, pre-selected word. Previous words included chaos, possessions and error. Do what you can with that. Candidates who made it to the final stages were then invited to dine with members of the college but this was recently scrapped as some of those who had made it that far apparently worried too much that the way they held their knife and fork was also part of the evaluation. Dinner is now, no longer part of the process.

Every hundred years, in and around the 14th January, there is a feast after which the fellows, presumably all robed up, parade around the college with flaming torches singing the Mallard Song. No joke. They are led around by a Lord Mallard who is carried around in a chair, with everyone looking for the legendary mallard that apparently flew out of the foundations when the college was built. During the early stages of the ‘hunt’, the Lord Mallard is preceded by a man carrying a pole to which a mallard is tied. This, back in the day, used to be an actual live mallard, netted that day on the Isis. Last time round though, given the shift in public sentiment on such traditions, the mallard was a wooden mallard.

The next ceremony will not be until 2101 so it might be, by then, a virtual mallard; providing that is, the RSPB’s zealous lawyers haven’t shut the whole thing down.

“F sharp, can someone give me an F sharp….. All together now…”

The Griffine, Bustard, Turkey & Capon
Lett other hungry Mortalls gape on
And on theire bones with Stomacks fall hard,
But lett All Souls’ Men have ye Mallard.


Hough the bloud of King Edward,
By ye bloud of King Edward,
It was a swapping, swapping mallard!
Some storys strange are told I trow

By Baker, Holinshead & Stow
Of Cocks & Bulls, & other queire things
That happen’d in ye Reignes of theire Kings.


The Romans once admir’d a gander
More than they did theire best Commander,
Because hee saved, if some don’t foolle us,
The place named from ye Scull of Tolus.


The Poets fain’d Jove turn’d a Swan,
But lett them prove it if they can.
To mak’t appeare it’s not att all hard:
Hee was a swapping, swapping mallard.


Hee was swapping all from bill to eye,
Hee was swapping all from wing to thigh;
His swapping tool of generation
Oute swapped all ye wingged Nation.


Then lett us drink and dance a Galliard
in ye Remembrance of ye Mallard,
And as ye Mallard doth in Poole,
Let’s dabble, dive & duck in Boule.


Coronation of a British Monarch

When it comes to a coronation of a monarch, there are few countries that do it better than the British. In fact, there are few countries that still actually do it. Coronations have fallen out of favour across much of the world due to various social and political reasons, and it is only really the velvet robe and pomp loving British, the Tongans, and some African war lords who still go in for the patriotic bling fest of a coronation. Those countries who have opted out of a coronation still like to make it a big day out though. Inaugurations are popular, so too simple enthronements where the monarch is simply seated on the throne in a formal manner. The difference between a coronation and an enthronement is the crown. No crown, no coronation. It’s hard to get too excited if there is no crown.

A coronation then, is basically the formal investiture, or instillation, of a monarch with regal power. It is characterized by the ritual placement of a crown on the monarch’s head, along with the presentation of other assorted regalia. The monarch’s other half can also be decorated with the appropriate regalia at the same time, or if the taste for a day off work is a popular one, it may happen as a separate event. There may also be vows, acts of homage by various misty eyed subjects, or any other rituals specific to the nation. You might mutter, it would be a bad time to be a goat in and around an African coronation. Indeed.

The coronation of a British monarch takes place at Westminster Abbey in a ceremony performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest and holiest man in the land. Man, that is, not woman, equality remaining something of a work in progress in the Church of England. Rachel Treweek became the first female Bishop in 2015, but later ruffled a few feathers by suggesting that God was not a man. God was, in fact, just God. A valid point perhaps but one that probably lengthens her odds a bit of ever calling the shots out of Canterbury. For the time being, it will be a man doing the honours of crowning his own boss. An act that is rare in the modern workplace, even in the sexy tech startup scene so famed for its ability to think outside the box.

There will of course be other clergy present. Lots of them. All jostling for a good view. And there will be a celebration of the nobility and aristocrats of the land, there with smiley faces on, but quietly worrying how they are going to find the funds to fix the roof. The landed gentry have money problems too. Packing out the back pews will be government officials, assorted guests,and often representatives of other monarchies. The Tongans taking notes, the Belgians excited simply at being some place other than Belgium.

As you might imagine, the ceremony hasn’t changed for well over a thousand years. The British like to follow the form. First the sovereign is presented to the Archbishop who will likely mutter a few words in Latin. He, or she, latterly she, is then acclaimed by the people. Details of which are a bit thin. Acclaiming being a broad term ranging from the kissing of shoes, to the throwing boaters in the air. The monarch then swears an oath to uphold the law and the Church, and today, promise not air personal views on ill thought out government policy with the media. Following that the monarch is anointed with holy oil, crowned and then exits to Zadok the Priest, smiling with various degrees of enthusiasm as the great and good bow in homage. Later there will be a public appearance on a balcony to sate the appetite of the international press starved as they are of a good coronation and to give the people their own opportunity to pay homage. The Red Arrows are also likely to be involved. So too you would imagine, Claire Balding.

The timing of any coronation has varied a great deal through history. King Edgar, or Edgar the Peaceful, who was King of England between 959 to 975 and by all accounts a man who was extremely small, finally got around to his coronation sixteen years after taking the throne. It is thought that the coronation might have been timed to ring the bell on the high point of his reign, or that he had reached thirty – presumably an achievement back then – or for the fact that Jesus was baptized at thirty. Harold II meanwhile, had his coronation on the day after the death of his predecessor old Edward the Confessor, although this was largely explained by the fact that there was widespread confusion as to who Edward’s successor should actually be so Harold – as he was then – was probably very keen to get on with it. Henry VI meanwhile, was only a few days old when he became King, and so it was decided it would be better to wait. Spot on, you say. He was crowned aged seven, but did not assume the reins of government until he was deemed of sufficient age. What age, you ask? That would be fifteen; an age, today, more associated with fart cushions and lengthy periods of petulant silence. Good on the young man. Taking responsibility on the chin. A lesson to us all.

Some monarchs though never got to hum along to Zadok the Priest or wave in a detached manner from a balcony. Edward V and Lady Jane Grey were both clean bowled before they could be crowned, and Edward VIII also missed out given his unconventional decision to abdicate before the end of the customary one-year gap between accession and coronation.

Whilst the coronation may not happen for a year or so, the King or Queen, becomes King or Queen the moment his or her predecessor dies. Not when they are crowned.

Hence the tea towels The King is dead. Long live the King; and its assorted variations.

George Frideric Handel

In Christian theology the Messiah is the redeemer, savior of the Jewish people and mankind. The messiah is identified as the person of Jesus, known to his supporters as Jesus Christ. In Southampton, Jesus Christ has competition from Matt Le Tissier, a man who performed miracles of a very different sort but one who garners a similar following. In addition to Jesus Christ and Matt Le Tissier, there is also Handel’s Messiah, a stirring oratorio composed by George Frideric Handel in 1742, an oratorio that was first performed in Dublin’s St. Partick’s Cathedral of all places. An oratorio should not be confused with an opera. An oratorio is like an opera, but whilst an opera is musical theatre, an oratorio is strictly a concert piece with little or no interaction between the characters. There are no props. There are no elaborate costumes. There are, though, given the vocal requirements, fat ladies. Alleluia to that.

George Frideric Handel was born in Germany in 1685 yet spent much of his life in England. He was prolific a composer and, you suspect, a man who had good cause to look back on his life and think “mmm, gave that a go.” He left very little on the table. He composed forty-two operas, twenty nine oratorios, more than one hundred and twenty cantatas, trios and duets. As if that was not enough, he penned numerous arias, odes, serenatas and sixteen organ concerti. He never married did Handel, which perhaps afforded him the time to sit in his study with a whisky penning operas without being chased to take out the bins or fix the front fence.

You might have heard of the Messiah given it has become a popular Christmas time spectacle. You will also definitely have heard of Zadok the Priest which was composed for the coronation of King George II and has been sung at every coronation since. It is now widely regarded alongside Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory and the Lightning Seed’s Three Lions as a British patriotic staple. You might also have heard the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, which is very much the rage at middle class weddings. All Handel. Yet to get a proper idea of how good Handel actually was, you need to look no further than what his peers thought of the man who hailed from Halle – incidentally a small city in the Southern part of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. If that matters to you.

Mozart, he who started composing music aged just five, said of Handel: “Handel understands affect better than any of us. When he chooses, he strikes like a thunder bolt”. And get this from Beethoven, yes Beethoven, the virtuoso pianist and one of the most famous composers to ever take an inked quill to a score. To Beethoven, Handel was “the master of us all…. The greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb”. Go Beethoven. The American musical historian Richard Taruskin later took a pot at Handel pointing out that he borrowed a lot of work from other composers. Despite this being common practice at the time Handel was, by all accounts, somewhat partial to slipping in the odd pre-prepared movement to get the job done. Whilst Taruskin’s point is a valid one, given Taruskin wrote no operas himself, Handel has little reason toss too much in his tomb, deep in storied vaults of Westminster Abbey.

Handel though very nearly didn’t become a composer. His father, who was a doddery sixty-three when young George was born, was very keen for his son to become a lawyer. A lawyer! Imagine that? A musical genius lost to the stifled corridors of law. Old Gerog meant it too, and banned his son from meddling with any musical instruments. The little man though was two steps ahead of the old man, and found means to get his hands on a small clavichord – a stringed keyboard instrument used largely as an aid to composition – which was spirited into the attic. When the family slept, George would be up in the attic tickling the ivories. On a trip to see a relative who was working for Duke Johan Adolf I, young George was lifted up onto an organ’s stool. As you might do with a young child. To everyone’s surprise George then bashed out a tune, at which point the Duke pulled his father aside and suggested he re-think the law option. Handel never looked back.

By 1710 Handel had become the Kapelimeister – the man in charge of making music – for the German Prince George who, following the death of Queen Anne in 1714, became King George I of Great Britain. As you do. Handel moved to London, and never moved back. In London he picked up some patrons including the 3rd Earl of Burlington and 4th Earl of Cork. To avoid any confusion this was one and the same man, Richard Boyle, who was also known as the “Apollo of the Arts”. Handel ultimately ended up dedicating two of his operas to him.

As his breathing began to rasp, Handel’s work ethic continued. The A sharps and E Flats tumbled as they ever did. He composed Music for the Royal Fireworks attended as it was by 12,000 people and went on to arrange a performance of his famous Messiah for the benefit of the Founding Hospital, founded by the philanthropic and jovial sea captain Thomas Coran.

Handel died at home on Brook Street, W1 aged a ripe – for the time – age of 74. More than a thousand mourners attended his funeral and he was buried with full state honours.

Fine job.

All together now…

Zadok the priest
And Nathan the prophet
Anointed Solomon king
And all the people
Rejoiced, rejoiced, rejoiced
And all the people
Rejoiced, rejoiced, rejoiced
Rejoiced, rejoiced, rejoiced
And all the people
Rejoiced, rejoiced, rejoiced and said:

God save the king
Long live the king
God save the king
May the king live forever
Amen, amen, alleluia, alleluia, amen, amen
Amen, amen, alleluia, amen

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin

Legend has it that the expression chancing your arm originated at St Patrick’s Cathedral, when the 8th Earl of Kildare, a one Gerald Mor Fitzgerald – known to those who knew him as Garret the Great – cut a hole in a door and thrust his arm through it in an effort to shake hands with the brooding Black James, in so doing putting his arm at risk should have Black James given the nod to one of his goons to do for Fitzgerald’s bowling arm. Garret the Great though took the risk, keen as he was to end the bloody dispute that had pitted two dynastic families at each other’s throats. Enough blood, time for peace. Fortunately Garret remained Great as, James, Black James, was also tired, and the two men shook hands. The whole of Ireland took a breather. The year was 1492.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, the site of the great shake, is in Dublin, and was built way back in 1191. Today, as it probably was back then, it is Ireland’s tallest church, and as you might rightly suspect, is also Ireland’s largest church. In a delicious twist for those who  scurry mac-clad from tea room to tea room marking off historic buildings of the land, St Patrick is also one of Dublin’s two Cathedrals. Yes two. “The Bishop!” you cry, “what of the Archbishop?” Yes, indeed the Archbishop. The Archbishop, as all know, cannot sit in two seats at once.

The Bishop then, sits in Christ Church Cathedral, leaving St. Patrick’s to draw its chapter members from each of the twelve dioceses of Ireland. The Dean is the big cheese, elected by the chapter, and for a long time was the only Dean in Dublin, going by the name of – hold back the drum roll – the ‘Dean of Dublin’. Then, in 1539, Christ Church Cathedral announced they too would have a Dean. Dublin then had two Deans. One Dean, you might mutter, too many. The most famous Dean of St Patrick’s then, was our favourite political pamphleteer, Jonathan Swift. Indeed our favourite and only political pamphleteer. Swift was the pen behind Gulliver’s Travels, the well-thumbed satire on human nature, and the wry observation that eating an oyster required a bit of chutzpah.

Now, even the clergy aren’t shy of a little willy-waggling and there was a generous serving of spice in the relationship between the two cathedrals. Whilst St Patrick’s was bigger, Christ Church could claim the Archbishop. Dealings were frosty. Eventually a six-point charter was thrashed out in 1300 to smooth the crinkles in everyone’s velvet cloth. The good news was that Archbishops could choose to be buried in the grounds of either, when the time came, otherwise the two would act as one, and function together in the diocese.

St Patrick’s was built by John Comyn, the first Archbishop of Dublin, who had been the chaplain to King Henry II of England, a ruthless ruler who clearly disliked any kind of irritation. See Thomas Becket for details. The Cathedral used to be a church, but Comyn demolished it and built something a bit bigger – a sort of Grand Designs of the age – and elevated its status from church to cathedral – because he could.

St. Patrick the man, as the marketing team at Guinness well know, is the primary patron saint of Ireland although no one appears to be too sure when St Patrick exactly plied his trade. If you ever get asked at a drinks party, go with the 5th century, or thereabouts as you’re unlikely to get much push back. St Patrick was actually born on the UK mainland but was captured by pirates and taken to Ireland when he was sixteen years old. He escaped six years later and went home. Yet Patrick was bitten by all the shouting and drinking and boisterous bonhomie, and he returned to Ireland and went on to make name for himself as a Bishop.

St. Patrick’s day today is a celebration, a religious and cultural holiday, and an excuse for anyone Irish to get blind drunk on a school night.

St Patrick’s did hit a bit of a sticky period in the mid sixteenth century though when, under the chaotic rule of Edward VI – son of the corpulent Henry VIII and the unfortunate Jane Seymour – it was stripped of its status as a cathedral and demoted to the humble status of parish church. The silver, jewels and goblets were shipped over to Christ Church, part of the building was designated a court house and a school was established in the Vicar’s hall. Chickens would peck the ground listlessly in the courtyard. The joinery fell into disrepair. Good news for St. Patrick’s though arrived with Mary I – Bloody Mary – who following the death of her younger half-brother Edward VI had seen off Lady Jane Grey and seized the throne for herself. In her five year reign, Mary burnt over 280 protestants, married a Spaniard and restored St Patrick’s privileges. Good girl.

The two cathedral issue was finally sorted out in 1871 when it was decided Christ Church would be the undisputed cathedral of Dublin, and St Patrick’s the national cathedral. So that’s that. Dublin now has only one cathedral, so too Ireland.

The current Dean-elect is the Very Reverend William W. Morton, who is or was, also the Dean of Derry. The Derry Dean. The Very Reverend Dean of Derry. The very Derry-do Dean of Derry.


Mine’s a Guinness.