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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 84 - Samuel Pepys' Turd-Filled Basement (Shoes Week)

Tom's Notes: Sir Jerome Bowes

I’ve been on lots of fun historical day trips!

We’ve finally got around to visiting the Duxford Airfield which is run by the Imperial War Museum and 5 minutes from where we live; in fact, we regularly see vintage aircraft flying over, like Spitfires. It’s awesome; they’ve got shit loads of aircraft and lots of other cool stuff like the capsule that Richard Branson and some other chap ballooned across the Atlantic in, part of the World Trade Centre, Montgomery’s tank from the Battle of El Alamein. Fecking awesome, and despite the fact that it’s an airfield with enormous hangers, people are still struggling with the concept of 2 metre distancing and I saw two fuckwits walking around with masks covering their mouths and not their noses.

I’ve also been to Sutton Hoo (HOO/WHO JOKES – Hoo actually just means hill shaped like a heel). It was great and I highly recommend it if you are in the area (it’s just beyond Ipswich, north east of London).

For those who don’t know, Sutton Hoo is an Anglo-Saxon burial ground of 7th century East Anglians (so this is very much in the Dark Ages after the Romans left and everyone in Britain went back to washing with cow dung, living in small damp holes and eating rocks; STUPID VOICE “why didn’t we pay attention to the Romans! 400 years and we learnt nothing!”). It’s famous for its ship burial; a large boat, requiring 40 people to row, was dragged up to the burial ground and buried with the dead individual’s prize possessions; notably an ornate mask and shield.

It is alleged that the burial is of Kind Raedwald, although apparently is disputes by some academics who point out that there is no clear evidence for this, it is merely based on the fact that there’s loads of nice shit in the burial, and Raedwald is a successful king we know about from about the same period. There’s a rather controversial and famous passage from the Venereal arse Bede (writing about 100 years after the death of Raedwald that refers to Raedwald as one of the early kings of the whole of Britain, although all other evidence goes against this.

I’ve been determined this week to show you that you can find interesting historical stories about slippers. Slippers are remarkably mundane, and so unlikely to appear, for example, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or on Trajans Column, or the complete works of Homer. The last example there, I actually checked, neither a slipper nor a sock. Although I did get a ‘slippery’ in the Odyssey and a few ‘slips’ in the Iliad. I needed to go more mundane. I wanted a large database of ancient material, available online that I could search through. The Oxyrhynchus Papyri was out of the question because I’ve discussed it before, I didn’t seem able to search the Dead Sea Scrolls, so I decided to look through the works of a few famous historical diarists. Anne Frank; too soon. Lewis Carrol, no reference to socks, Captain Scott, it’s all he bloody goes on about; dry sock this, cold sock that, wet sock the other. Hang my sock here, hang it there, borrow Bob’s sock, put a sock on my nose, oh look my sock is frozen, a penguin’s run off with my sock. And then poor old Pepys, I wanted to avoid him, but he led me somewhere that I liked.

Let me tell you a story that involves Elizabeth I, Ivan the Terrible, John Milton, Samuel Pepys and an ambassador’s sock. If you can find another podcast or website that has covered this topic folks, I salute you, because this comes to you from one of the deepest, darkest, fustiest and most insignificant crevices of history.

I’ve got three near contemporary sources for this story; Samuel Pepys (the famous diarist), John Milton (the famous poet, of Paradise Lost fame) and a physician by the name of Samuel Collins.

Let’s introduce these people and their sources:

Samuel Pepys, needs no introduction, but if you are a newbie to this podcast, Pepys is a famous English diarist from the 17th century who details such important events as this:

“This morning one came to me to advise with me where to make me a window into my cellar in lieu of one which Sir W. Batten had stopped up, and going down into my cellar to look I stepped into a great heap of turds by which I found that Mr. Turner’s house of office is full and comes into my cellar, which do trouble me, but I shall have it helped.”

Samuel Pepys actually refers to slippers on a few captivating occasions. On one such occasion, he and his wife hear noises in their house at night time, so Pepys takes off his slippers and gown, puts on some appropriate burglar fighting attire, including a firebrand, and sets off exploring the house. It turns out that the noise is coming from a recently cleaned chimney (SANTA VOICE; “ho ho ho! I’ve been stuck here since December, please fetch me a mince pie, I’m famished”.)

On another occasion, he gets given some lovely slippers by his brother Tom. More importantly, on the 5th September 1662 Pepys sits downs with some custom officers who he found to be excellent company. It is here that he heard about an incidence that took place around 80 years ago (to Pepys).

John Milton; the famous 17th century poet and author of Paradise Lost. He is buried in the wonderfully named Church of St Giles without-Cripplegate. YORKSHIRE ACCENT “You might not be a cripple lad, but you are dead, so stop boasting”.

Milton wrote the snappy titled “A brief History of Moscovia, and other less known Countries lying Eastward of Russia as far as Cathay, gathered from the writings of several Eye-witnesses” (1682). This is the book I’ve been reading.

Lastly Dr Samuel Collins who wrote ‘The Present State of Russia’ in 1667. Collins was the personal physician to Tsar Alexis I of Russia for 9 years before returning to London to write his book and thank god he did. Without him, we wouldn’t have this cracking anecdote, undoubtedly worth writing in the book:

“When Juan went… many of the Commons as well as Gentry presented him with fine Presents: A good honest Bask-shoemaker… consults with his wife what to present his Majesty; says she, a pair of fine… shoes… that is no rarity (quoth he); but we have an huge great Turnip in the Garden, we'l give him that, and a pair of shoes also. Thus they did; and the Emperour took the present so kindly, that he made all his Nobility buy shoes of the fellow at the shillings a pair, and he wore one pair himself. This put the man in stock, whereby he began to drive a Trade, and in time grew so considerable, that he left a great estate behind him… A Gentleman seeing him so well paid for his Turnep, made account by the rule of proportion to get a greater Reward for a brave Horse; but the Emperour suspecting his design, gave him nothing but the great Turnep, for which he was both abash'd and laugh'd at.”

Right, enough, let’s tell you this story that I have hyped up so much that it is undoubtedly going to be an utter disappointment. I’ve taken a bit of poetic license here to cobble the three accounts of events into one.

Sir Jerome Bowes was appointed Elizabeth I’s ambassador to Russia in 1583. At the time, the Russian Tsar was Ivan IV, otherwise known as Ivan the Terrible, or in parts of Asia, Ivan the Thunder (nah nah nah nah nah). He was apparently a bit of a nutter, prone to episode of extreme violence, amongst other things, he murdered his eldest son and his unborn grandson in one unpleasant moment of tsarist bonkersness. Interestingly, his nickname in English doesn’t really convey the Russian very well. Ivan the Formidable would be better, Ivan the Terrible has possible interpretations of just general incompetence; Ivan the Not Very Good, Ivan the Mediocre, Ivan the Could Have Done Better.

Elizabeth I was of course the last of the Tudors, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Her father having executed her mother. Elizabeth was followed by James I of England, whose mother Elizabeth had executed. It’s important to keep up family traditions.

So Jeromes Bowes was sent to the Court of Ivan the Alright I Suppose to explore a potential marriage with an English noble lass. Something he did with wonderful pomposity and foolishness. Or was it courage and boldness? Well, it depends on which Tsar you are talking too.

Milton details the journey of Bowes to the court of Ivan, it’s quite dull apart from an episode two miles away from Moscow where he Bowes and his retinue were met by representatives of Ivan on horseback. The Russians asked Bowes if he’d like to alight to discuss matters and Bowes responded with, “only if you lot get off your horses first”. The Russians replied with “no, you get off yours first”. To which Bowe replied, “no, you first”. This soon turned into a childish “yes”, “no” argument until a middle ground was reached; “on the count of 3”.

When Jerome arrived at the court, which sounds like it was rammed with courtiers not really doing much, he was made to wait at the bottom of the stairs whilst two other men were seen before him. Refusing to sit down and read 6 month old editions of Garden Monthly and Crochet Quarterly that had been coughed over by diseased old ladies who lick their fingers before turning a page, Bowes refused to go up the stairs until the two men before him were dragged back down by the feet with their heads banging every step on the way until they DEAD PARROT SKETCH ceased to exist.

When Bowes got to the doors of the court, he was asked to remove his sword. Aghast, Bowes sent for his slippers and nightgown and began taking off his boots. When asked what he was doing, he said that if he were not allowed to go into court dressed as a soldier, he may as well see Ivan in his pyjamas. Which according to Pepys, he did. Hence this story fitting in with the theme.

Bowes was placed about 10 places away from Ivan and courtier offered to take Elizabeth I’s correspondences to Ivan. Bowes told this courtier to piss off, because his name wasn’t on the envelope, and went and handed them to Ivan himself.

When Jerome arrived at the court, he would have heard that not long before him, a French ambassador had had his hat nailed to his head by Ivan presumably because Ivan found it rude that he did not take off his hat? On meeting Ivan, Jerome without hesitation, in a deliberately provocative move, put his hat on and cocked it at Ivan. Ivan looked at him and said, COCKNEY “what you playing at mate? Did you hear about what I did to old Jean-Claude nailey-head over there?” Jerome replied, I’m not a smelly Frenchie though, I represent Elizabeth I and will not take my hat off for any Tom, Dick or Egor. Ivan was impressed by his loyalty and asked his courtiers whether or not they would do something this stupid in honour of him, and so of course, as is only logical in this situation, Jerome was given some wild horses to tame, which he did, I’m guessing with a Crocodile Dundee style hand gesture to the eyes, and a finger up the butt hole. Ivan was even more impressed “for he loved such a daring fellow as he was, and a madd blade to boot” (Collins).

At some point, Ivan told one of his courtiers to jump out of a window as a show of, well, I’m not sure what. The courtier did this and broke his neck. Bowe pointed out that Elizabeth I made better use of her courtier’s necks. He then threw down his gauntlet, or perhaps his night hat because he was in his PJs, and challenged anyone in the court to a fight. “Come on then you lot! All at once or one at a time! I’ll have you I will.” It does sound like something you could have witnessed in a bar during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

At a later meal with Ivan, Ivan displayed his characteristic mood swings and one minute was offering Bowes lots of wine, the next, telling him to know his place, because Elizabeth I was not the equal of the French and Spanish Kings and the Holy Roman Emperor. Bowes, not taking a back step, rebuked this and pointed out that Henry VIII had the Holy Roman Emperor in his pay. Ivan disliked this and told Bowe that if he weren’t an Ambassador, he’d have him thrown down the stairs, Bowe replied by saying that if he doesn’t have anything useful to say, he’d be off. And so he left. Ivan was actually very impressed by Bowes loyalty and bravery.

In the end, Ivan died shortly after this, Bowe was not popular with Ivan’s successor and was imprisoned for 8 years before returning to England. His exploits were clearly legendary as they were being discussed over drinks 80 years later.

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