Child Drowned for an Hour but Survives, 1986

Read of how a little girl survived a 1-hour submersion in freezing creek water one Summer in Utah.

On a hot June day the birds were singing, the bees buzzing, and mum’s voice on the phone wafted through the warm air, so warm after a late start to Summer.

Her reassuring tones set her blond-haired toddler at ease to range the backyard’s expanse and soak up its lush colours.

The green foliage was offset by a beautifully painted butterfly, drifting into focus for the keen-eyed child.

Two and a half-year-old Michelle Funk’s eyes sparkled in awe and the eyes on the butterfly’s wings waved back. She lunged to grope the floating beauty to hold it. The butterfly flittered on towards the sound of gushing water.

Could the intrepid infant reach the insect before the forest of grass which marked the garden boundary end the chase? Her mother’s voice was now almost drowned out by the babble of icy cold water below.

She got her break; in a chance moment the butterfly dipped in time for Michelle to swing her little arms up and capture her quarry.

But the ground treacherously slipped downwards; her face an instant of triumph turned to alarm as she vanished under the grass blades towards the water’s edge …Michelle’s alert older brother hared back to the house.

At the Bells Canyon Creek-bank Michelle tumbled down through the grass then plunged over the edge. There was no one to respond to her gurgled cries. As the warm sun rays glistened off the mountain meltwater Michelle slipped under, lost.

Michelle drowned in the Bells Canyon Creek for over an hour (thisisgoodgood.com)

The minutes ticked by; her skin now a ghostly white and her flame barely flickering. After 66 minutes a rescuer finally hauled her blue, lifeless form from the 4 Celcius (40 Fahrenheit) water. Could she be saved at all? If there was even the smallest chance it was worth the try.

They rushed her to hospital where a Dr Bolte was waiting. The extreme time Michelle had been submerged had surely drowned her. Many doctors, knowing how long she’d been submerged, would have declared her dead on arrival — indeed some of them thought Bolte crazy for even entertaining the notion she had a decent chance.

Yet one factor was in her favour; instead of sealing her fate, the icy submersion had slowed down her metabolism to the extent her body’s oxygen needs were suspended. What’s more by happenstance, Dr Bolte had been preparing for such an emergency for months. He and his team went straight to work.

They started injecting warm fluids into Michelle’s veins and stomach and squeezed warmed air through a tube into her lungs, but three hours after the child had fallen into the creek she was still lifeless. Meanwhile, Michelle’s parents and doctors feared her resuscitation would merely bring her back to a vegetative state. They persevered.

However it was when her body reached 25 Celcius (77 Fahrenheit) that Bolte allowed himself to think there was hope for the poor little thing yet. She gasped; moments later she opened her eyes; then her pupils, responding to the bright lights in the operating room, narrowed — a sign of returning brain function. And then, to everyone’s cheers and high fives, a faint heartbeat was detected.

Michelle was saved and made a full recovery with no lasting cognitive damage. Even the staid Journal of the American Medical Association described the case of Michelle Funk as “miraculous’’.

Her treatment went on to form the protocol for treating previously deadly cases of drowning.

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Drunken Aviator Lands in City Centre, 1956

In perhaps the greatest ‘hold my beer’ escapade to date, Thomas Fitzpatrick stole a plane to prove he could fly from Jersey to New York in just 15 minutes. Read about how he won his crazy bet.

Bulky sedans rumbled sedately along the right-angled streets, and haggard creatures of the night here and there passed under the patchy street lighting past rows of rectilinear brownstone tenements.

It was the witching hour on St Nics Avenue in New York City’s heart. Of course in the city that never sleeps life still stirred, and it was about to get a serious wake up call.

Jimmy was wiping down the bar waiting for the last of his patrons to stumble out after a long night. The edge of his lips curled up with a wry smile; earlier that night one of his favourite patrons, a gung-ho flyboy named Thomas ‘Fitz’ Fitzpatrick made a bet that he could fly from New Jersey to New York City in 15 minutes. ‘I’ll land out there to prove it, how ‘bout that?’ slurred Fitz. ‘OK ya crazy, drunken Irishman’ laughed Jimmy ‘Hold my beer, will ya?.’ And, with a leery grin, Fitzpatrick plodded out the door.

Good laughs, thought Jimmy.

That was almost an hour ago. A barking dog out the window broke his reverie and Jimmy looked up to see a late night walker and his dog facing opposite directions; the man was pulled back by his leashed dog.

The mut was staring back up the street and whined, its head tilted with that gaze of rapt concentration only a dog can do. “Come on!” the guy bawled, looking bewildered.

Then Jim detected the sound of an engine, but it was no automobile; it was more of a deep buzz, and it quickly got louder.

That sound was one of a small plane approaching and, crazy as it sounds, Fitzpatrick was making his approach to land the thing on the Avenue.

One or two cars screeched to a halt as the small aircraft buzzed overhead. Bedroom lights flicked on and anyone quick enough caught a fleeting glimpse of Fitzpatrick as he zipped by.

Jimmy slammed the door open in time to witness, mouth agape, the plane touchdown and whizz past his bar before coming to a stop.

So Fitz won the bet after all!

The stolen plane on St Nics Avenue, complete with chalk outline (cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com)

After leaving the bar, Fitzpatrick had hightailed it 15 miles across the state line to Teterboro Airport and there, stole an aircraft.

What the wager was is unknown but he won his bet and his antics made newspaper headlines. The New York Times called the flight a “feat of aeronautics” and a “fine landing”, and a plane parked in the middle of the street made for quite a sight in the morning.

For his illegal flight, he was fined $100 after the plane’s owner refused to press charges.

Incredibly Fitzpatrick performed the same stunt again in 1958 because in another bar someone questioned the story. For that, he was sentenced to 6 months incarceration, blaming his antics on the “lousy drink

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Dog Fall Kills Three Passers-by, 1988

When a poodle fell off a high rise balcony in Buenos Aires, it is hard to understand how it could result in the deaths of three pedestrians below. Read here to find out how it happened.

Cachi’s beady eyes were locked on to the tennis ball the Montoya family’s youngest boy bounced, so engrossed his head nodded up and down to its rebound.

The ball! The furry, squeezy round thing, fast and agile, and to his prehistoric instincts, his prey. Did he want the ball, his 4ft human friend asked? He certainly did.

The breeze cooled the family lounge that wafted through the open balcony doorway. In the background could be heard a cartoon on the TV and the dull, gentle thud of the ceiling fan.

Cachi’s sinews were trip-wire taut in anticipation. Finally the boy released the ball with a lob and it arched over the white family poodle. Cachi launched himself after his quarry.

The ball bounced too far however, bounding out onto the balcony and through the ornate railings to the street below.

Cachi’s frantic bid to gain traction on the smooth clay red ceramic tiles was in vain. With paws flailing, Cachi sadly dropped off the side after it. It was to his demise the apartment was on the most unlucky floor in the building.

To the agonised, lung-busting screech of his best friend ringing in his ears the red-rimmed hat below rushed up at him before he could eve…

Cachi the poodle’s 13 floor fall (bestoftruecrime.com)

A small, delicate lady named Señorita Espina halted her slow walk along the Buenos Aires pavement in just the wrong spot. She turned to admire a lush carpet in a shop window; she admired it for its vivid colours as much as the fact her fading eyesight made it hard to enjoy the sight of anything much further away.

A sharp canine yelp made her jerk her head up. A heavy thump and moan caused other pedestrians to jerk their heads around in turn.

Catchi left his cherished human boy without a chance for even a farewell head pat. His journey to the next life abruptly commenced, now at the heel of his new grey-haired companion.

A woman named Edith Sola, with streaks of grey coming through her long, glossy dark hair, peered across Rivadavia Avenue. Her mouth hung slack-jawed and her brown eyes twinkled in curiosity at the scene.

She craned her head up to see the source of a child’s loud blubbering on a balcony thirteen stories up. Down at street level a crowd had gathered around directly below the balcony looking at… what, she wondered? Her curiosity took over.

The bus driver was making good time moving up the gears along Rivadavia Avenue, too good.

He had about two seconds to react to a woman stepping out into the road obliviously. In vain he stamped the brake pedal as far down into the footwell as it would go and tugged on the steering wheel. The bus screeched; an ugly thump; a crack of bones and Sola’s body was hurled into the air sideways before slapping to the tarmac, motionless.

Yet the catastrophic ripple effect of that bouncing ball wasn’t over. A gentleman had stepped out of a pharmacy in time to witness the small poodle slam into the elderly woman, killing both instantly.

He gasped in dismay, his feet rooted to the spot. He held his head and a silent prayer streamed from his trembling lips.

To turn to see the bus swerve wildly and another person die in front of his very eyes was too much. He suddenly wished desperately to be away from the lights, the babbling onlookers and oncoming blare of sirens. He started to pant, was then stricken with a sharp pain in the chest and his silent prayers were now audible.

His condition had turned to a full-blown heart attack by the time he was placed in an ambulance, and he too sadly perished.

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Sarah Ann Henley’s Unplanned Parachute Jump, 1885

Unlike the hundreds before and after, one woman survived jumping into the chasm of Avon Gorge from the bridge that spans it. Find out what quirk of fashion saved Ms Henley from her attempt to end her life.

The city of Bristol, UK, is a charming place in England’s West Country. It’s famous for a number of things; Massive Attack, Concorde, Banksy, Aardman Animations and… the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

This iconic structure was designed by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and completed in 1864. It spans the craggy Avon Gorge and thousands of ships have passed under its grand arch, sailing along the river Avon over the decades since.

Unfortunately, it also acquired a reputation as a place to end one’s life, with around 400 despairing souls who’ve scaled the railings before plummeting to their deaths 75 m (245 ft) below.

And so, Sarah Ann Henley’s story comes to light: On a Summer’s day in 1885 this distraught young woman made her way up through Clifton’s streets of fine townhouses to make her way along to the middle of the bridge, sobbing as she went. She stopped and peered down, contemplating her next move with a deep gulp.

Earlier she had got a letter from the man she loved and was engaged to marry, a porter for the Great Western Railway. In it, he announced his intention to break off their engagement and, in the depths of despair she made the rash decision to end it all. She climbed over the railings and onto the parapet and, before onlookers could rush to intervene, she flung herself off.

Fate had a twist for her however. As was the style of the time she was wearing a crinoline skirt — a stiff petticoat designed to hold out a woman’s skirt. Witnesses claimed that a billowing effect created by an updraft of air beneath her skirt acted as a parachute of sorts to slow her fall, misdirecting her away from the water and instead onto the river’s muddy banks. Two passers-by rushed to her assistance and found her in a state of severe shock, but alive nonetheless.

They escorted her to the refreshment rooms of the nearby railway station and from there she was taken to hospital to recover. Sarah Ann put the incident behind her and went on to marry Edward Lane in 1900 and lived to the age of 85.

Ms Henley, the bridge she leapt from and the crinoline skirt which acted as her parachute (thevintagenews.com)
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Woman Breaks £30,000 Bracelet, Told to Pay, Faints, 2017

You know the rule; ‘you break it, you buy it’. But what happens when you break something worth over £30,000? Read on to find out.

The late evening breeze kept the humidity a notch above oppressive in Ruili city which is located in the Chinese Yunnan Province on the Myanmar border.

A slim, middle-aged woman with neck length hair, a blue short-sleeved blouse patterned with light flowers and dark blue trousers was arrested in her tracks as she ambled past a row of vendors, shops and stalls.

The wide-eyed tourist hailed from far away and like any visitor sought out the city’s sights, scenes and wares on offer. This hapless lady was about to pull off the worst ‘you broke it you buy it’ gaffe in living memory.

She peered into a shop and its owner bowed his head and smiled pleasantly in greeting. The vibrant colours of gems, precious stones and metals almost made her eyes pop out of her head in delight. The shop owner’s smile remained fixed as he looked on.

She admired the stock and asked questions here and there. Perhaps because they were closest to hand her gaze settled on the collection of bracelets under the counter.

She asked to take a closer look at one and marvelled at it, a green, glassy, opaque and rounded thing of beauty. ‘It’s one of my prized items, I only wish I could give it to my wife as a gift!’ declared the man on the other side of the counter proudly.

She slipped it onto her wrist, enjoying the cool, glass-like feel of it against her skin. ‘So how much is it?’ The owner took a short breath before he answered.

The bracelet was in fact one made of Jade, a generic term for two different gemstones, nephrite and jadeite. Known to humans for 7000 years, to the Chinese Jade symbolises good health and long life and can be worth more than solid gold.

‘For you madam, the price is 300,000 yen’ (£35,000 in 2020)

She stared back in stunned silence before wrenching the priceless article off.

In her haste to remove it, however, the smooth gemstone slipped from her fumbling fingers. Then, almost in slow motion it seemed, hit the floor and snapped in half.

She gasped, clutching her face and barely registered the jabbering between the shop staff in her disbelief. The shop owner was dismayed. ‘You must pay!’.

The shop staff clamoured around her and picked up the broken jade piece. The poor woman began to tremble, turned a sickly pale, then fainted, overcome by what she had got herself into.

A crowd gathered around the commotion, as crowds tend to do, and one person tried to revive her with a pinch to the upper lip whilst another supported her sagging body. She was taken to hospital to recover.

It was a financial disaster. After she came around, The shop owner offered a reduced price of 180,000 yen to settle the breakage but all she could afford was 10,000 yen — not even close to an acceptable offer for the store owner.

Eventually an agreement was made; independent valuers weighed in and valued the broken bracelet at 190,000 yen which the woman’s family agreed to pay.

That is one wonderful family; one can only assume that come the Chinese New Year family get together the woman was on washing up duty.

UK’s Terrible Twin Town, 2006

It was an awkward moment when Mantao representative George McLauchlan crossed the Atlantic to present a commemorative clock to Bideford town’s officials, only for them to not have a clue why. Find out what happened here.

Before Mr Riley’s visit… (eveningstandard.co.uk)

The sky above was white and seagulls could be heard in the distance being a nuisance. David Riley was wearing his best suit and his best smile and cradled a fine wooden case in one arm. He strode jauntily along the pavement, a bespectacled American with a ready smile for anyone willing to meet his eye along the way.

He approached Bideford Town Hall entrance, an elizabethanesque building fronting the River Torridge.

This should have been a special day for the resident of Manteo, N. Carolina. His small city of little over a thousand residents had been twinned with Bideford, England for some quarter-century and announced this on large billboards to every visitor. Today Riley’s mission was to present Bideford Town Council with a commemorative clock to celebrate the link. Manteo’s town manager had emailed Bideford council heralding Riley’ visit a few weeks prior.

He was scheduled to meet town clerk George McLauchlan and was a little disconcerted with the secretary’s embarrassed greeting. Riley took a seat to wait. McLauchlan, a sandy-haired man in a crisp white shirt and light green tie, invited his visitor in, a bemused curl on his lips.

McLauchlan recalled: “He seemed like a nice guy and gave me a clock. It was a very nice clock. He said he was very proud to be twinned with us and offered a sincere thanks on behalf of the town’s population for representing them in the UK.

Yet Bideford’s officials didn’t have any idea what Riley was on about; the only town Bideford was twinned with was one in France.

They’d never even heard of Mantao. “I said thank you but had to let him down gently. It seemed even more cruel not to. He seemed a little puzzled and said our name was on all their road signs. I couldn’t really offer any consolation so he said he was going home to look into it.

The only explanation for the mix-up could be that a resident of Bideford visited Manteo in the 1980s and said or did something which led the townsfolk to believe an official tie had been established.

In 2010 Bideford officials reciprocated the affection sent forth from the good folks of Mantao by formally twinning the two towns.

…and after. (bbc.co.uk)

The Aristocrat Who Painted the Town Red, 1837

The legend of a Marquis’ drunken antics resulted in an epic night in town… painting it red despite the townsfolk’s spluttering rage. Read about the chaos this posh wild child caused.

One day in spring 1837 at the Thorpe End tollgate in the fine old English market town of Melton Mowbray, with its half-timbered Tudor townhouses and bustling square, a tollgate keeper lay a wary eye on an approaching party of men.

The scene was at odds with itself. Their veneer of clean, tailored clothing, fine riding boots, well-groomed moustaches and strong jawlines made the tollkeeper conscious for a moment of his own grubby stubble. Yet, from their cultured tones, boozy banter spewed. Laughter and shouts echoed down the narrow carriageway and the band of staggering, swaggering men jostled after it.

The tollkeeper hailed hopefully to a young man he took to be the ringleader but the big droopy eyes which met his twinkled with mischief and he wore an ominous, leery grin. To the side were some ladders, brushes and pots of red paint to effect repairs. The leader turned his gaze to them and, before the tollkeeper could step in between, the party leapt and scooped up the paint and brushes.

They set upon the tollkeeper who, dismayed, shrieked calls to wrest them away, but to their whoops and cackles they doused the poor man in red paint. A sputtering, red-faced constable rushed over… and he was turned even more red-faced!

Like a crazed troop of monkeys the men now rampaged into the town, smashing, kicking and pulling down pieces of property. They sploshed doors, a carved swan and anyone who tried to halt them in red paint while indignant townsfolk looked on, mouths agape. They vandalised the Post Office and the Leicestershire Banking Company and tried to overturn a caravan in which a man was fast asleep.

The time the Marquess of Waterford and his cronies went crazy in Melton Mowbray gave rise to a common idiom (leicesterchronical.co.uk)

Help was called in and, finally, to the clacking thrum of nail soled boots on street cobbles, constables clamoured into the street and set upon them. Clubs cracked and thumped and swang through the air and the scoundrels were finally subdued. Now for the biggest shock; as onlookers gawped, the party’s leader was identified to be a nobleman no less – Henry Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford.

The noble was sent to sober up in the local gaol but that wasn’t even the end of it.

Marquess Henry’s cronies came to his rescue, beating up two guards and holding a sharp blade to a guard’s throat for the cell key.

So the Marquess escaped …but scot-free?

Aristocrats stand as exemplars of grace, class and decorum. The Marquisate of Waterford is no exception; rows and rows of windows festoon the grand, Georgian facade of Curraghmore House – the family estate – and their noble lineage goes back to the 17th Century. At some point, an impish streak seeped into the bloodline when Henry entered the world; the trouble in Melton Mowbray is not the only time he brought his peerage into disrepute.

Once Marquess Henry sobered up he hastened to shell out for the damages but the townsfolk wouldn’t be placated so easily. Eventually Henry and his party were fined a considerable £100 each and ordered to contribute an idiom to the English language.

The Battle of Nibley Green – England’s Last Private Battle

The little known story of the two English nobles who fought the last ever private battle on English soil.

Throughout the long, often tumultuous history of Great Britain much of it has passed the rural folk of one quiet corner of it.

In the year 1470, a traveller might have set out from London and headed west. Days of travel first by riverboat along the Thames, then on horseback along ancient forest byways would’ve finally brought them to a halt at the banks of the River Severn Estuary, a mighty river miles wide at this point. On the far side lived the Welsh, of which the Severn had served as a bulwark against ages past. The Welsh had long been a warlike people until their kingdoms were subdued in the 13th Century.

Moving up the Severn Vale the traveller would’ve entered the ancient County of Gloucestershire, and along the riverbank they would’ve seen to their right a rising escarpment, some seven miles distant, of the Cotswold Hills; a rolling hill range of limestone. At the foot of these hills, a dramatic episode of English history played out but passed into medieval lore largely unnoticed.

The Background

It was in the year 1470 that a feud between two noble families that had festered for generations climaxed into a short, bloody showdown one chilly spring morning.

In 1417 a powerful nobleman with the family name Berkeley, and who held a Barony of the same name, passed down his estates to a male heir, his nephew, instead of his daughter. That daughter, a ruthless lady named Elizabeth Berkeley, vigorously disputed the decision and her descendants would do everything they could to get the estates back, all the way down in 1470, to her great-grandson Thomas Talbot. That nephew was James Berkeley and in 1470 his son, named William Berkeley, held the Barony.

The King’s Loose Hold on the Reign

This little known violent episode of English history might not have happened had the English kingdom not been going through a bout of intense political upheaval.

Just the year before, the War of the Roses had begun to warm up again after Edward IV vanquished the incumbent King Henry VI in the Battle of Towton 1461. By the end of 1470, the tables turned so much however that Edward was forced to flee the kingdom. This gives the reader an idea of how weak and distracted the government was. This allowed a noble feud to escalate to the extent two noblemen would stake everything they had; their lands, estates… and lives, in a clash of arms.

The Baron Berkeley

The Berkeley family coat of arms (en.wikipedia.org)

The New Year had just passed in a bustling settlement named Berkeley, a town later famous as the place Mr Edward Jenner would pioneer the Vaccination.

This night, with the sun long since set, smoke rose from openings in the thatched roofs of hovels into the pristine blackness of a night, free of the orange tinge that permeates the night time today. Hulls of small river craft creaked against their moorings on the town’s tidal river and everywhere was quiet and blanketed in crisp ice.

Overlooking Berkeley stood its sturdy castle — Berkeley Castle. It had been built to hold the Welsh at bay, thus it was a stout fortification but elegant and angular also. It was already over 300 years old and the site King Edward II was murdered almost 150 years prior. At this late hour the lord of the manor, William Berkeley, 2nd Baron Berkeley, sat, sated considerably after the feasting and celebrating during the winter festivities.

He was an able lord of the land at 43 years old, married for a second time (obtaining a divorce from his first wife after just a year), and had held his Barony for six years.

Everyone else had retired to their bed chambers at this dark hour and the Baron sat alone with just the crackling of the fire to break the meditative silence. He drained his goblet of wine and his lips pursed as his thoughts turned to the object of his contempt; that was the Talbot family, currently embodied in an impudent young man named Thomas Talbot.

The Talbots had been a thorn in his family’s side all his life and William had come to despise them deeply. Berkeley thought of young Talbot, virtually squatting in his residence in Wotton and holding a Viscountcy fit for a man, not an impetuous whelp as he. Of course, it was right that the lands and castle of Thomas Berkeley, 5th Baron Berkeley, had passed to his nephew, William’s father James Berkeley, instead of the man’s only child, Elizabeth Berkeley, in the 4th year of King Henry V’s reign, thought William. In taking up their inheritance however William’s parents had endured as much trouble as Elizabeth, then her daughter, in turn, Margaret Beauchamp, could cause.

They’d treated his family absolutely disgracefully. Elizabeth had married the Earl of Warwick, and his family was powerful enough to bar his parents from possessing Berkeley castle for years until Elizabeth died in her 30s. It didn’t end there either; Margaret married into a fire-eating family named the Talbots who were also formidable adversaries.

William’s nostrils flared in remembrance. Margaret stooped to a deeper low when she had William’s very own mother, Lady Isabel Mowbray, arrested and imprisoned at Gloucester where she would expire later that year, alone in a dingy cold cell, he imagined. That had been back when William was 25 years old. Despite the passing years and the fact the Talbots were fortunately not imbued with longevity, the boy Talbot was as hellbent on wrenching back Berkeley’s fine castle as his great-grandmother Elizabeth had been. But as the Baron’s midriff had expanded and hairline receded over the years, his attitude towards the Viscount had hardened in turn. Their vendetta had been allowed to become so all-consuming their mutual hatred even extended to their respective tenants and servants, who frequently quarrelled and fought in the local taverns.

For three years now the hotheaded Talbot let it be known that he would gladly meet William on the field of battle to decide the issue. Yet Berkeley was not an adversary to be taken lightly, as time would tell.

The Viscount Lisle

The Lisle Viscountcy coat of arms (en.wikipedia.org)

The gateman could see his lord, Thomas Talbot, 2nd Viscount Lisle, was in high spirits as he trotted his horse into the courtyard of his manor in Wotton-Under-Edge on a cold, grey afternoon.

War had visited this town before when it burned down in the English civil war of the 13th Century. Now, Wotton quietly prospered and a number of buildings that still stand today, including its church; the Ancient Ram Inn; and Katherine Lady Berkeley School stood then and had for over a hundred years.

Talbot’s cheeks were full of colour and his eyes sparkled with youthful exuberance. He’d just returned from hunting in the King’s wood down the hill. With the hubbub of a Cistercian Abbey within earshot the Viscount had been chasing game through the woodland with a new companion of his, Thomas Holt. It wasn’t all fun and games, however, for when the small hunting party took food and ale at the abbey canteen, talk turned to serious matters.

Holt was the Keeper of the Berkeley Castle and, as a servant of the Baron, a disgruntled man; he felt unappreciated and unrewarded for his years of service. His head was turned by the Viscount and together they’d hatched a sneaky plan to murder the Baron and take possession of the castle. And the Viscount would reward Holt very handsomely, that was made clear. Yet, more help among Baron William’s other servants would be needed, so the two Thomases agreed that Holt would approach the castle porter, Maurice King, for help. Talbot returned to his manor feeling more confident than ever. Soon, he mused, he could finally flaunt mettle worthy of the Talbot name and the Lisle Viscountcy.

The Viscount was 21 in 1470. Married to a wife expecting their firstborn come the Summer. He was known for his fiery belligerence which his dear grandmother had channelled against the imposters seated in his birthright; the castle down by the great river.

Talbot’s anger bubbled below the surface every time he thought of this. But then Talbot had been destined to be someone’s arch-enemy, such was the warlike lineage he was born from.

Thomas’s Grandfather was John Talbot. Called the ‘English Achilles’ and the ‘Terror of the French’, he was England’s greatest general in the Hundred Years War and lavishly praised in the plays of Shakespeare. He was also a tough, cruel, and quarrelsome man, so the Talbots were the perfect family for Elizabeth Berkeley to marry into and continue the fight for her inheritance. John’s son, of the same name, was also warlike and was enthusiastic about pursuing his mother’s claims for the Berkeley estates. Yet in 1453, when Thomas Talbot was still a toddler, John Talbot, both grandfather and father, fell gloriously in the last battle of the Hundred Years War — the Battle of Castillon. When his wounded and unhorsed father begged him to quit the field and save himself, John Jr. refused, preferring death to dishonour; a scene immortalized in Henry VI.

One can assume then that the young Thomas Talbot, imbued with his paternal warrior instincts and loathing for William Berkeley, felt destined to confront the man in combat in order to quench his family honour.

Talbot had certainly let Berkeley know he was more than man enough to topple him. If the Baron were a man of honour, Talbot mused, he would have accepted one of Talbot’s many challenges to meet on the field of battle, but Berkeley was too old and paunchy to take on Talbot, a true warrior like his father and grandfather. Talbot felt a match for any knight in the land and he smirked at the thought.

A Call to Arms

Berkeley Castle, now a thriving site of English heritage (thelostcinema.co.uk)

It is hard to write too lucid an account of what exactly happened and when for obvious reasons, but as the weeks passed and the cold of winter still clung on, February came around and Talbot’s scheme involving Thomas Holt turned sour.

Holt had approached the Keeper of Berkeley Castle, Maurice King, to persuade him to switch sides. The man had listened carefully to Holt’s offer then promptly reported Holt’s treachery to his lord. This brought matters to a head. Clearly, Talbot would stop at nothing to take Berkeley’s estates and the Baron could envision this struggle going on forever if he didn’t act decisively.

They say be careful what you wish for, the Baron was going to give young Talbot the fight he wanted, yet he had to make sure he was in the stronger position when the two sides finally met. For that, he was going to call in some favours.

Talbot is said to have been furious when he found out his plot was exposed and his plan in ruins. In his fury, he issued yet another challenge to Berkeley to meet on the field of battle which was readily accepted this time. Berkeley told Talbot to meet him on ground halfway between their respective headquarters, just the next day at a village clearing called Nibley Green.

Giving Talbot just one day to raise an army clearly made it hard to gather more than just the tenants and servants of Talbot’s immediate environs. Berkeley, on the other hand, managed to raise a considerably larger force and from much further afield, including a strong contingent of miners from his lands in the Forest of Dean on the other side of the River Severn and troops sent up by his sister in-law’s family from Bristol, 20 miles (33km) south. Reading between the lines it’s hard to believe Berkeley hadn’t given these companies of troops some advance warning he would be in need of them soon for them all to arrive at Berkeley in time, particularly those hailing from Bristol.

So it was on the 20th of March an army of 1000 spearmen and archers coalesced at Berkeley Castle. They then made a short march through Michaelwood towards Nibley Green, trampling the bluebell carpet underfoot as birds’ sang their dawn chorus through the woodland.

Trying to imagine Talbot’s state of mind as he rose early that morning is muse-worthy. In an era of religion and high mortality rates, the fear of death was much lower and it’s fair to assume Talbot, with his illustrious lineage of war leaders, did not fear death in battle. This feud, which had fixated four generations of his family now, had been fuelled mostly by his family and Talbot had issued a number of challenges to his adversary which had not been taken up and I imagine this had nurtured a sense of complacent bravado, now severely rocked.

How confident was he now as he and Holt led his poor excuse for an army of just 300–400 hastily gathered armed peasants up over to Nibley village to meet his foe? Did he know he was outnumbered? I expect Talbot had at least an inkling the odds in the coming battle were not good. Perhaps he intended to call out Berkeley for a personal duel where the odds would stand in his favour, or felt that whatever else a ‘Talbot battle charge’ could carry the day against the superior forces arrayed against him.

The Battle of Nibley Green

The accounts of the short but bloody fight are sketchy; the main source on the battle being written a good seventy years after. Locals gathered under the banners of both lords and their family and friends would’ve spectated, praying their sons, husbands, and fathers would survive unscathed or better still return victorious. Youngsters climbed trees for a good vantage point. Their shouts of support would’ve been heard from the edge of the green by the two opposing forces and it is from these witnesses an account of the battle was collated.

It was early morning and Talbot arrived from the west and halted atop Shankley Hill, a steep rise above the green, probably waiting for the opportunity to make a charge down upon his opponents. On the eastern side the Baron kept most of his force hidden in the woods, with just some men visible to lure Talbot into advancing forward.

Perhaps Talbot suspected a trap because a standoff lasted some hours, the Viscount reluctant to come down from his strong position on the hill.

Eventually, however, Talbot accepted the challenge to advance upon his enemy below.

It was at this moment Baron Berkeley’s true strength was revealed. He ordered his archers to step out of the trees.

As Talbot’s force closed in quickly, the order came for them to loose off volleys of arrows again and again, maybe not exactly a cloud so dense to blot out the sun, but one imagines, leaving a litter of bodies behind the dwindling company of peasants with a better-armed band of men, perhaps mounted, and the young lord very much at the front.

During the Hundred Years War, English longbow archers gained a formidable reputation as perhaps the deadliest troops on the continent. They were strong men armed with longbows the length of a tall man and were able to loose off arrows capable of piercing the thickest plate armour. Their fallen enemies would then be finished off with the thrusts of a dagger.

As Talbot closed the distance with Baron Berkeley a Forest of Dean archer named ‘Black Will’ stepped forward, drew his bow back, and fired an arrow which pierced Talbot’s left temple through his open visor.

With blood squirting from the wound to the rhythm of his dying heart, Talbot fell and there was nothing else to keep Talbot’s force on the field. They turned tail and melted away, perhaps before they had even reached Berkeley’s ranks. 150 men are said to have fallen that day. The young lord was customarily finished off where he fell and Holt died about an hour after Talbot, executed in cold blood.

As Talbot’s men stumbled back to their relieved families waiting nearby, Berkeley marched on to Talbot’s Manor home at Wotton-Under-Edge to sack it. Who knows if Talbot’s wife, Margaret Herbert, the daughter of the 1st Earl of Pembroke, was roughly handled during the plunder but it was a very traumatic day in any case. She miscarried her child shortly after. Thus, Thomas Talbot’s family line was extinguished. The destruction of Berkeley’s enemy was complete.

And so, the great Lisle-Berkeley family feud was finished. William Berkeley must’ve been immensely satisfied. One can imagine the joyous feast he held; the braggadocio and back-patting going on late into the night.

The moment Talbot’s left temple is pierced by an arrow fired by ‘Black Will’ (studio88.co.uk)

Aftermath

The Lisle Viscountcy would be inherited 13 years later by Edward Grey — the husband of Elizabeth Talbot, Thomas’s sister.

As for William Berkeley, his status in the kingdom went from strength to strength; William was created Viscount Berkeley in 1481, a Privy Counsellor in ’82, became Earl of Nottingham a year later, then assumed the life office of Earl Marshal and Great Marshal of England in ’86. Finally, he was made Marquess of Berkeley in 1488. He passed away 22 years after the battle in 1492.

It is interesting to note that William also never sired an heir, male or female, and so his Barony was passed on to his king. His brother, Maurice Berkeley, 3rd Baron Berkeley should’ve inherited the Barony but William disinherited his brother for bringing shame to the family for marrying a woman of common stock. This, even though Maurice’s in-laws had actually reinforced William with the men from Bristol. That’s gratitude!

The Barony was returned to the Berkeley family in 1553 and the Berkeleys are the only English family still in existence that can trace their ancestors from father to son back to Saxon times. Berkeley Castle has now been the Berkeley family residence for a whopping 850 years.

The Battle of Nibley Green was the last ever private battle in English history. It was remembered throughout Gloucestershire well into the 17th Century although little known farther afield.

It stands out for its portrayal of the nobility at their basest; not in pursuit of lofty ambitions but for greed and rampant pride.

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Sources

Battle of Nibley GreenWikipedia article (and links included)

Battle of Nibley GreenYoutube documentary, created by Robin Burton

Battle of North NibleyNorth Nibley website account of the battle (including Extracts from ‘Gloucestershire’s Forgotten Battle, Nibley Green 1470’ by Peter Fleming and Michael Wood), by D. Palmer

Berkeley CastleOfficial website

Nibley Green, Battle ofenacademic.com

The Battle of Nibley GreenMyThornbury account of the battle, as told by Professor Peter Fleming of the University of the West of England (UWE)

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