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November 14, 2019

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Short Rounds

"Well, Your Majesty . . . . "

Riding in Hyde Park one day, King George II happened to encounter a man he recognized as having fought under his command at the Battle of Dettingen (1743), when he’d defeated the French. Naturally, the King stopped to chat, old soldier to old soldier talking over the good old days. After exchanging reminiscences, the King asked the man if there was anything he could do for him.

“Why, please, Your Majesty, my wife keeps an apple-stall on a bit of waste ground as you enter the park. If your Majesty would be pleased to make us a grant of it, we might build a little shed and improve our trade.”

The King gladly consented, granting the man and his wife a small plot of land in perpetuity.

The old soldier and his wife erected a little shed and business soon prospered, the King himself occasionally dropping by for an apple, and thus inducing many other notables to do so as well. So successful was the apple stand that the couple were able to send their only son to university, and he became an accomplished practitioner at law.

But as the years passed, the old soldier died, and then the king died. Somehow the royal grant was forgotten. One day in 1771 Baron Apsley, the Lord Chancellor, decided the site would be an excellent one for a house. Over the objections of the old woman, the apple shed was torn down and the baron began building a stately home.

Naturally the woman consulted her son. He convinced her to wait until the structure was finished before taking any action. Construction was completed in 1778. And what a home it was. Designed by the distinguished architect Robert Adam, “Apsley House” was one of London’s finest residences. But hardly had Lord Apsley moved in when the old woman’s son approached him to demand compensation for his mother’s loss. At first the baron demurred, probably figuring that it was all a scam. But the young attorney persevered, presenting appropriate paperwork and testimony. Soon Lord Apsley realized that he had a problem. So he made what he believed was a generous offer of some hundreds of pounds to purchase the site from the old woman. To his surprise, her son spurned the offer. In the end, Apsley was forced to give the woman “rent’ for her portion of the land on which his house was built, to the tune of £400 a year, which her son and his descendants were still collecting until well into the nineteenth century, even after it had become the residence of the Duke of Wellington.

Apsley House is today a museum.

 

The War of the Busted Bucket

In 1325 a group of young rowdies from the Italian city-state of Modena decided to have some fun by making an incursion into the territory of the nearby rival city-state of Bologna. When the dust had settled, several Bolognese had been slain and the Modenese hoodlums were fleeing home, taking with them an old leaky water bucket which they proclaimed to be “the spoils of war.”

Now this wasn’t just a matter of a criminal atrocity by some juvenile delinquents. Bologna and Modena were on different sides of the great political struggle of the day. Bologna belonged to the Guelf party, and supported the primacy of the Pope over the Holy Roman Emperor, while Modena was Ghibelline, supporting the authority of the Emperor. This dispute lay atop others, which had festered for centuries, including various unsettled territorial claims between the two cities. In short, the citizens of the two cities hated each other.

At Modena, the young men were received as heroes, for having stuck it to the Bolognese. And, of course, the Bolognese were enraged and demanded that the Modenese punish the young men in question and return the bucket, along with an apology. The Modenese refused. So Bologna declared war. There were several indecisive skirmishes and an occasional battle, and a substantial body count accumulated.

The decisive moment in the war came on November 15, 1325, when in a surprise attack at Zappolino, near Mantua, the Modenese defeated the Bolognese, despite being outnumbered, with only abut 10,800 troops against 22,000! So the Modenese were able to keep their bucket. And although many years later the Bolognese actually defeated the Modenese in another war, and demanded the bucket, even offering cash for it, they never received it; the Modenese claimed that they could no longer find it. Though that was perhaps a little bit of a lie, for the bucket is still in Modena, on display in the cathedral.

 

Prince `Abd al-`Aziz `Abdallah ibn `Abd al-`Aziz, Re-Enactor

On February 14, 2005, Saudi Prince `Abd al-`Aziz `Abdallah ibn `Abd al-`Aziz took part in a reenactment. Now he may not have been the first Saudi Arabian to have taken part in a “living history” event, but he certainly was the first member of the Saudi royal family to do so, so it was a rather unusual event.

But then, the re-enactment was not your usual event either. Instead of playing the role of a British Guardsman at Waterloo or a Johnny Reb at Bull Run, the Prince played a king. In fact, no less a king than his own grandfather, the great Abdul Aziz ibn Sa`ud, founder of Saudi Arabia.

The occasion was a ceremony commemorating the meeting 60 years earlier, on between King Abd al-`Aziz and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Murphy (DD-603), on February 14, 1945. To make the reenactment perfectly symmetrical, the role of F.D.R. was played by Hall Delano Roosevelt, the president’s grandson.

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