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By tboullemier, Sep 13 2017 03:45PM

I HAVE faithfully followed his marches ‘through Flanders, Portugal and Spain, over the hills and far away’. As the famous signature tune goes in the TV series ‘Sharpe’.

My journeys have taken me from Salamanca and Talavera to Quatre Bras and Waterloo. And now I am standing in the room where he breathed his last.

It is of course the bedroom of the Duke of Wellington at Walmer Castle in Kent. A modest room that also served as his study.

His deathbed was his simple camp bed from the Peninsular War, although strictly speaking, he died in the rather more comfortable armchair nearby, which his servants had to help him into.

And his iconic boots stand outside in a display case.

Walmer is an interesting castle with circular walls, built as a gun platform by Henry Vlll in 1539 to defend us against invasion threats from those Frenchies.

Towards the end of his life, Wellington was appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and with Walmer the warden’s official residence, he spent much of his last 23 years there.

He died in Walmer in 1852 aged 83 and while he lay in state, 9,000 visitors filed past his coffin in this very room.

The castle was once condemned as cold and draughty and Wellington spent most of the time in this bedroom-cum-study.

Other Wardens who spent time at Walmer include William Pitt the Younger, Sir Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother. They and other later residents made the castle a lot cosier.

It would now be a pleasure to spend an evening in Walmer's drawing room which boasts a long telescope that can see clear across the Channel.

Very useful for a Duke who might wish to keep a close eye on those Frenchies . . .

By tboullemier, Sep 9 2017 07:55PM

NO cameras. No recording devices. And definitely no mobile phones. Leave them all in the car!

These are the very firm instructions from our hyper-efficient guide.

Since we’d already had to make an appointment to visit. And to show our passports to the men on the gate, the security instructions seem somewhat over the top for an afternoon stroll round a country garden.

But this is no ordinary garden. It is the extraordinary estate of Highgrove House in Gloucestershire, private home to Prince Charles.

It is immediately clear that potentates and premiers will never have worry about what to buy Prince Charles for a gift. Just get him ‘something for the garden’ is clearly the way to go.

Highgrove is bursting with presents from right across the world, all fused into an eclectic garden that few others would be able to assemble.

Statues, busts, giant urns, tiles, sundials, pavilions, pagodas and temples, poke out of the woods and adorn the walkways. To say nothing of the vast variety of rare plants, trees and shrubs.

By all accounts the place wasn’t much to look at when Charles bought it off Maurice Macmillan (son of Harold) in 1980.

He sympathetically softened the front of the house to make it easier on the eye. But it’s the garden that really sets it apart and what he’s done at Highgrove (with the help of 18 gardeners) is outstanding.

There’s an Islamic-style courtyard carpeted in tiles; an Eastern pagoda in memory of late brother-in-law Mark Shand; a ‘Temple of Worthies’; a spellbinding statue of The Daughters of Odessa; an elaborate dovecote; an ornate wooden tree house that was used by William and Harry; and topiary to die for.

Mind you, we were told the hedges had been hit by ‘box blight’ which sounds frightening, especially as weed killers are banned in organic Highgrove. Weeding must be a nightmare for the faithful 18.

My wife inspected the statues and plaques of Royal Family members and grumbled that there were none for the late Princess of Wales. The nearest we got was a stature of Diana, Goddess of Hunting.

But as the Princess didn’t like Highgrove, that seems fair to me – if not to her legions of admirers.

There was, however, a chapel-like ‘sanctuary’, built from timber with earth walls. Buried deep in the woods, it was blessed by the Bishop of London.

And you can imagine HRH spending some not inconsiderable time there, contemplating his late wife.

Sadly, we weren’t shown the inside before our guide briskly whisked us into the tea-room for cakes and champers. Followed by the inevitable visit to the gift shop.

But don’t knock it. The rules for visitors might be unbelievably strict. But Prince Charles has a back garden to be proud of.

By Tony Boullemier, Sep 8 2017 02:00AM

A RUINED medieval church and a rough stone tomb stand side by side in a sun-dappled glade amid the Kentish countryside.

I have long wanted to visit this place. And I am not the first. A single white rose lies atop the moss-covered vault at Eastwell churchyard, near Ashford.

For this is the reputed burial place of a Yorkist prince.

He is said to be Richard Plantagenet, the younger of the Princes in the Tower and you can read in detail how he got there by scrolling down to my earlier blog ‘The White Princess and the Lost Prince’.

Legend has it that King Richard lll took him out of The Tower after his brother, young Edward V, died of natural causes.

He was brought up in a safe house. But after King Richard lost his life at Bosworth Field, the boy was taken to Colchester Abbey, enrolled as a lay monk and taught the art of bricklaying.

With the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 he lost his home. Now an old man, he arrived at Eastwell looking for work.

The Lord of the Manor took him on and he apparently confided who he was. He was buried at Eastwell but sadly there are no surviving remains in the tomb to do a DNA test.

Some historians debunk this theory but it has captivated others, especially the late David Baldwin who wrote a book about it.

And since David, a lecturer, author and medieval expert from Leicester, predicted in 1986 exactly where the remains of Richard lll would be found, we should listen to him and keep the most open of minds about Richard Plantagenet.

And no doubt Yorkist supporters will continue to lay white roses on this lonely tomb until one of the greatest mysteries of history is solved.

By tboullemier, Aug 23 2017 10:38AM

CONGRATULATIONS to the Daily Mail for ignoring the Nelson’s Column story – unlike other national papers which have wasted lots of ink on it.

American protestors have been pulling down statues of General Robert E. Lee and his ilk because they supported slavery.

Now, an unbelievably misguided journalist has got lots of publicity by saying we should do the same to Nelson’s Column.

I won't contribute to her publicity by naming her, but she claims Nelson supported slavery so his statue should go.

It is likely he accepted slavery as an unpalatable fact, as did many in the 1700s and even early 1800s. However, he was a man of his time and should be judged on this basis.

But does this foolish woman not realise that were it not for Admiral Nelson, we would all be speaking French?

Napoleon’s Grand Armee was camped, 200,000-strong, on the French coast awaiting the combined French and Spanish fleets to clear the Channel of English warships and transport the troops to England.

Had they arrived, we simply wouldn’t have had the army to cope with them. Wellington could never assemble more than 30,000 or 40,000 troops to fight the Peninsular Wars that followed.

Fortunately, Nelson’s gruelling blockading tactics and his defining victory at Trafalgar destroyed Napoleon's fleets and stopped the invasion in its tracks.

Horatio Nelson gave his life for England when he died at Trafalgar and thanks to him, we are still speaking English.

And that is why he should stand atop a mighty column in Trafalgar Square until the end of time.

PS: Since posting my views on Aug 23, the Daily Mail DID write about this. The next day Max Hastings said almost exactly the same as I did. Although I was disappointed to see he named the Guardian journalist spouting this utter nonsense.

By tboullemier, Aug 7 2017 11:40PM

THE biggest ever battle fought in Northamptonshire was at Naseby. Right or wrong?


Around 25,000 slogged it out in the Civil War clash that finished Charles l and ushered in Parliamentary democracy.

But as many as 40,000 fought in the little-heralded Battle of Edgcote, on July 26th 1469.

When I walked the peaceful pastures on its anniversary I was disappointed to hear they will eventually be traversed by the High Speed Trainline.

But I was astonished to hear that the victory was probably decided by a barmaid from nearby Banbury.

The clash took place during the Wars of the Roses but it wasn’t between Yorkists and Lancastrians. It was more or less Yorkists v Yorkists.

The Earl of Warwick had fallen out with King Edward lV over his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and the growing influence of the Woodville family.

The devious Warwick got a mysterious ally named Robin of Redesdale to raise a rebel army and the king was assembling forces to deal with it.

Edward’s Royalist army, composed mainly of Welsh and led by the earls of Pembroke and Devon, was marching to join him at Nottingham when they camped overnight on the Oxfordshire-Northamptonshire border.

But the noble earls then fell out over who should spend the night with a seductive barmaid from nearby Banbury.

Pembroke seems to have won and Devon marched off in a sulk, taking all his troops, which included a large contingent of Welsh archers. This seriously weakened Pembroke’s force.

The following day he found himself confronted by Redesdale’s rebels and was seriously outnumbered.

Pembroke’s mounted troops held the high ground but were forced off it by the rebels’ own archers and came down to the plain where they were soon locked in desperate hand to hand fighting.

At this stage a new force appeared from the east wearing red tunics. Pembroke’s men clearly thought this was the vanguard of a fresh army led by Warwick himself.

They were, in fact, “500 rascals from Northampton” including the sweepings of the town’s jails.

But in a situation reminiscent of Bannockburn, when the English army was fooled into thinking Scottish camp followers who appeared over the hill were real fighting men, Pembroke’s men broke and fled.

Some 5,000 were cut down in the pursuit and a little later, 169 Welsh noblemen were executed at Northampton’s Queen Eleanor Cross.

This was watched by Warwick who was by now in open rebellion. Soon afterwards he imprisoned Edward lV, thus bringing two kings under his control and two months later his men also captured the Earl of Devon and beheaded him.

But there are no reports whatsoever of what became of the seductive Banbury barmaid.

By tboullemier, Aug 7 2017 07:53AM

Whatever happened to happy endings on the telly?

Previews of the last episode of Poldark prepared us for Cap’n Ross seeing off a mini French invasion.

We obviously hoped George would be taken down a peg or two and that Morwenna would escape the clutches of her monstrous toe-sucking vicar.

Instead, our hero defends George’s grain store. He drives Demelza into the arms of the ungrateful wretch he rescued. Poor Drake has his smithy burned down and is beaten close to death. And the Frenchies never turn up at all.

It was deeply disappointing.

Producers have to leave storylines open for the next series but we’ve invested many hours watching this one and deserve a lot more satisfaction on our last Sunday night. We were left with none.

It was the same with Jamestown when every single villain was still standing at the end of the first series.

Let’s hope for a better ending in the penultimate series of Game of Thrones.

By tboullemier, Aug 1 2017 09:28PM

WE ARE all shuddering as the horrors of the Battle of Passchendaele are replayed for us on its 100th anniversary.

Could any serviceman ever have had anything to smile about during The Great War?

Well I seem to have found one. And it’s none other than my dear old dad.

He actually seems to have enjoyed life during the war and he was clearly amazingly lucky.

Dad enlisted aged 18 and joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1916. I have no idea whether this was easy to do. But that’s what he did.

Dad was a highly-skilled artist and won a scholarship to study in Italy. But the only time he went near it, was when he passed it in a troop train en route to Salonika in northern Greece.

We sent an army there to fight Germany’s allies, the Bulgarians. And two RFC squadrons went with it.

His role was as a motorcycle dispatch rider and the picture of him in his natty RFC uniform, jodhpurs and all, gives an impression of someone having a lovely time.

He ferried despatches and officers backwards and forwards in his sidecar from the aircraft park near the coast to the forward airfields. And in the evenings he would be in big demand to play the piano back in the NAAFI.

He reached the rank of corporal and even enjoyed a few flights in the back seat of a pal’s bi-plane.

And that was where he witnessed the beginning of the end of WWl.

Late in 1918, the Bulgarians abandoned the massive hillside bunkers which our troops had been unable to overcome and simply marched home.

Not long afterwards Turkey, Austria and Germany surrendered too.

When I visited Salonika a few years ago, on a Major Holt’s Battlefield Tour, I climbed up to those bunkers and imagined the terrible time our troops must have had, trying to fight their way up steep, thorn-covered hills, through clouds of mosquitoes and with temperatures approaching 40 degrees.

When I told our guide about my dad, his opinion was that no-one had ever had 'a better war.’

Out of range of the enemy, he spent his entire time in the RFC riding a motorbike around in the sunshine. If he hadn’t been so lucky, I most probably wouldn’t be here.

By tboullemier, Jul 25 2017 09:51PM

I have just been transported back to the life and times of my novel Leonie and the last Napoleon.

But not in Paris, where the book is set during France’s glittering Second Empire.

It happened in London at the Grosvenor Hotel.

When my wife Marie and I checked in before an Orient Express Pullman ride from the adjoining Victoria Station, we discovered the hotel had a “Cora Pearl Suite”. So we had to book it.

For those who haven’t read the novel or know the period, Cora was an Englishwoman, notorious as the leading courtesan in Paris during the rule of Napoleon lll.

She was the willing plaything of the Emperor, his cousin Prince Napoleon Jerome, his half brother the Duke de Morny, the Prince of Orange, the Duke de Rivoli and Prince Achille Murat. Among countless others

Apparently when she visited London she was wont to stay at the Grosvenor where her suite is now proclaimed as “The Courtesan’s Boudoir”.

It is decorated in fine Second Empire style with a six-foot tall painting of the lady herself above the very large bed.

A book of her reminiscences lay on the chaise longue. For perusal only – not to be taken away, we were told. Suffice to say they could hardly have been racier and confirmed the mentions I make of her in my novel.

Perhaps she stayed at the Grosvenor because the Paris boat train left from the adjoining station. But apparently the management wasn’t that keen on her custom.

She once brought swans into the hotel and it took the efforts of Prince Napoleon to smooth things over.

In Paris, her wealthy clients financed a string of racehorses and several houses. But when war broke out with Prussia, she put one to good use. She converted it into a hospital and helped nurse victims of the shells that fell on the city in 1870, during its five month siege.

She was brave too. She escaped from Paris by balloon, drifting over the encircling Prussian army dressed as a man.

I should add that both our wonderful Pullman trip and our night in Cora’s suite were equally memorable.

By tboullemier, Jul 18 2017 09:28PM

OUR big battlefield tour this year was Poland, which turned up a whole lot of surprises.

With Robin Goodfellow, Rod Kennedy and Chalky White, who did all the organising, I spent three days in Warsaw and three in Krakow.

We did of course visit Auschwitz and having read a reasonable amount about it, I knew roughly what to expect. But not the sheer size of it.

To actually stand in places where 1.1 million mainly Jewish people were murdered, was distressing.

If you’ve been there, you will know what I mean.

In the former army barracks at Auschwitz, an ammunition bunker was converted into an experimental gas chamber where the first victims took up to two hours to die.

At Birkenau are the remains of the purpose-built prison huts, stretching as far as the eye can see in either direction. Plus the ruins of purpose-built gas chambers which defied German attempts to blow it up as the Russians advanced on the camp.

This was also a feature of ‘The Wolf’s Lair’, Hitler’s wartime HQ in East Prussia.

It’s four hours' drive north of Warsaw and 80 miles from the Russian border where Hitler and his gang were protected inside 34 bunkers and about a zillion tons of reinforced concrete. They too ran out of explosives trying to destroy it as they retreated.

Hitler spent more than 800 days there, hidden under camouflage nets in the heart of the forest and divorced from the growing misery in Berlin and any opinions other than those of his toadies.

We stood where the Stauffenberg bomb failed to kill Hitler. If only the bold Von Stauffenberg had had the same mindset as the ISIS suicide bombers and stayed by his briefcase bomb instead of leaving it to be moved, the war would have ended a year earlier.

By complete contrast, only two weeks earlier I had visited Churchill's War Rooms off Horseguards Parade in London. They are just one floor down and although the ceiling was strengthened, I was told a direct hit by a big bomb would have wiped out the whole Cabinet.

But altogether we found Poland a great trip. Warm and friendly people; great hotels (and very cheap); really good food and interesting weather to say the least.

The best non-war bit was visiting Krakow salt mines which they've been digging since 1250 and only stopped working in 1996. There are 200 miles of tunnels and a stunning underground cathedral among other unique sights.

By Tony Boullemier, Jun 19 2017 11:00AM

THE centenary of arguably the worst of all World War One battles – Passchendaele – is upon us. The ghastly struggle in the Belgian mud cost Britain and Germany half a million casualties.

But like every other battle in the two world wars and in two other great conflicts, it happened because of one man’s lucky break.

Ever since I published my novel about the French Second Empire, I’ve wanted to visit Biarritz, where Napoleon lll built a holiday home for his empress in the 1850s and named it Villa Eugenie.

Since then it has since been rebuilt and extended into the magnificent five-star Hotel du Palais. It looks a bit like the London Ritz and sits imposingly above the resort’s main beach.

I chose a stormy week to stay and the day I arrived, big waves were sweeping in from the Atlantic and the surfers were out in their dozens. The following day the waves were massive, spry was lashing the cliffs and the sea appeared to be boiling.

The surfers were now sitting safely on the sea wall and telling of powerful currents that pulled in opposite directions. No-one was in the water. And that made the tale I was told by the genial hotel manager Jean-Louis Leimbacher all the more intriguing.

His hotel has played host to a long line of royalty, politicians and showbiz stars. Queen Victoria stayed. So did the Duke of Windsor, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra.

King Edward Vll was a frequent visitor and his ground floor apartment had a back door through which his mistress Mrs Alice Keppel would enter, unobserved by staff.

Monsieur Leimbacher knows Prince Charles, who was yet another guest. And he confessed that when Charles married Alice’s descendant Camilla, he almost wrote to the couple inviting them to honeymoon in the same room where their great grandparents had made their assignations.

A rather less congenial guest a few years earlier was Otto von Bismarck. He visited in 1862 when he was in his 40s and acting as Prussia’s ambassador to Paris.

Bismarck arrived at the Villa Eugenie with his mistress, a 21-year-old Prussian Princess called Katherina Orloff and the two of them went for a swim. It was the currents that did it. Both of them were swept out to sea and got into difficulties.

A local lighthouse keeper and part-time lifeguard called Pierre Lafleur spotted them and went to the rescue. The princess was unconscious by the time he reached her and he pulled her to the shore first. Then he went back for the floundering Bismarck who was waving frantically for help.

By the time Lafleur got the giant Prussian back to the beach he too had passed out and it took the attentions of a doctor to revive him.

Three years later Bismarck returned to Biarritz and strolled with Napoleon lll along the same beach. He was now Prussia’s Chancellor and was planning to make war on Austria to remove their influence from the south German states. His mission was to persuade Napoleon to remain neutral while this happened.

Napoleon did so and Prussia duly defeated Austria at the Battle of Koneggratz in 1866. The stage was set for the next part of Bismarck’s plan – a crushing victory over France which would convince the remaining independent German states to combine into a Greater Germany.

Had Bismarck drowned in Biarritz Bay, it is unlikely there would have been a war with Austria and therefore no Koneggratz, no Franco-Prussian War and no Greater Germany created over the fallen body of France.

With no German land grab of Alsace and Lorraine to avenge and no crazed kaiser ruling in Berlin, France and Germany would have been unlikely to enter the 1914 Balkan conflict involving Austria, Serbia and Russia that turned into World War l. And ergo no World War ll either.

So it was certainly a bad day for Europe when Pierre the lifeguard pulled Bismarck out of Biarritz Bay. We came unbelievably close to avoiding four major wars and countless millions of unnecessary deaths.

And all the more so when I tell you that just four weeks after Bismarck’s lucky escape, Pierre Lafleur was himself drowned in the Atlantic.