Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Beware of Plymouth scorned...

I've been doing a bit of reading recently and by chance it's been a lot of history material. Primo Levi's account of his time in concentration camps as well as John Van Der Kiste's history book on Plymouth have been on the go the most.

In many ways, both books confirm for me my dislike of people who acquire or seize power and then wield it very badly indeed. (We've all met them, haven't we. Usually at work, which makes for a right laugh between the hours of 9am and 5pm every bleedin' day of the week, eh?)

For instance, in the spring of 1596 an expedition (read raiding party) was put together by Sir Walter Raleigh, a nephew of Drake, in concert with the Earl of Essex, Lord High Admiral Howard and Sir Thomas Howard. According to Van Der Kiste's book they gathered four squadrons, twenty-four Dutch ships and nearly 150 ships.
"To muster a sufficient force of men the press gangs went round the town [of Plymouth], and Essex executed several conscripted landlubbers on the Hoe who tried to escape, as an example to others"

Charming, eh?

Earl of Essex: 'You there! Yes you - the oik with the facial boils and rickets... get on board that boat and do as I say so I can earn a shed-load of money pillaging foreigners while I eat like the fat pig I am in the safety of a spacious cabin at the back of the vessel'

Plymouth Oik: "How about you lick my left testicle mate, I've got proper work to do sorting through all this cow shite to find something of value for the wife and seven kids."

Earl of Essex: "How dare you disobey me? Master at Arms?

Master at Arms: "Sah!"

Earl of Essex: "Have this man's giblets and spleen ripped out and boil what remains in oil as a warning to others..."

Plymouth Oik, muttering: "Just you wait until Cromwell comes along... you'll get yours sunshine... aaaaaaarrrrrrrrggghhh, my giblets!"

Needless to say, it's no great surprise that along came the civil war and unlike a lot of neighbouring towns Plymouth actually bucked the trend and sided with the Parliamentarians. Various mistreatments of Plymouth by King James and then the "hapless King Charles" [as described by Van Der Kiste] resulted in the Royalists taking it for granted the oiky Plymothians would be a walkover. Oops.
I do like the bit about when Oliver Cromwell and General Sir Thomas Fairfax arrived in Plymouth as the Civil War ended they received a 300-gun salute. Not even the Queen Mum ever got that.

However, I particularly found this section illuminating for a number of reasons: "Charles II's main purpose in building the Citadel was ostensibly because he recognise the strategic importance of Plymouth as a coastal town when it came to war on England's enemies. A belief persisted for many years that he had taken ill its unfriendly attitude towards his father and therefore sought some kind of revenge, or at least wished to 'overawe' the town as well as foes across the Channel, though there is little evidence to support this view.
"The only argument to advance such an idea is a passage from the writings of Cosmo de Medici III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who visited the King's court in 1669 and visited Plymouth the same year. In it he referred to the Citadel 'which the King built to be a check on the inhabitants who showed themselves on a former occasion to be open to sedition'."
According to Van Der Kiste's book, the construction of the Citadel began in 1666, designed by Sir Bernard de Gomme, the King's Engineer General. He writes: "Cannon were set both facing out to sea and into the town, a reminder to residents not to oppose the Crown."

How great it that? The Establishment was as afraid of the residents of Plymouth as they were of warring foreign nations who were itching to invade and take England's spoils! Can there be any greater accolade for the residents of Plymouth?

Can you imagine a modern equivalent?

Cameron: "Right, when 29 Commandos get back from their latest tour of the Afghanistan, I want them sited along Union Street and Mutley Plain..."

Flunkey: "Prime Minister... are you sure?"

Cameron: "Am I sure? Have you BEEN down there on a Friday night? Frankly, the war on Terror would have been over within a Bank Holiday Weekend if we'd risked setting down four tanked up Swilly boys in the middle of Helmand province and told them 'see that lot over there, the ones with towels on their heads and CIA-approved Stinger missiles on their back... they shagged your mum last night and she loved it..."

Which brings me to my final point... probably my only point really. With regard to Devonport, the much feared move of the Royal Navy's historical home and the Herald's campaign to get the new Government fully aware of how much Plymouth people are justifiably sick to the back teeth of being shafted time after time after time.

And my point to MPs (at home and in London... yes, you Alison, because over the past decade your party didn't come out with flying colours as far as Plymouth is concerned and you Oliver because it won't go well for your party if they choose to do the dirty on the city yet again) is this:

Don't mess with Plymouth... because - historically speaking - you really do run the risk of Plymouth messing with you.

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