Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Hereford’s King of England

More Mutton Chop Miniatures love now – having bought the excellent Colonel Porter pack, I couldn’t for the life of me think how to fit the figures into my little world of VBCW Herefordshire. I thought they deserved to be more than being just part of another militia group, but wasn’t sure how to build a faction around them.

Then I remembered the story, already briefly touched upon in this blog, of Anthony Hall, Hereford’s own pretender to the throne. I was suddenly struck how this quixotic character could be merged with the pugnacious and somewhat seedy screen persona of Will Hay, the comedy actor who inspired the Colonel Porter figure...

Anthony Hall: pretender to the throne

William Hall at Birmingham's Bull Ring in 1931
Anthony William Hall, a former Shropshire policeman, believed himself to be descended from an illegitimate son of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. He also maintained that that the real James I of England had been murdered as an infant and his remains lay in a coffin in Edinburgh Castle. His place was taken by an "impostor and changeling", James Erskine, whom he dubbed "goggle-eyed Jim". In light of this, Hall maintained that his family should have inherited the Crown when Elizabeth I died in 1603.

Born in London in 1898, Hall grew up in the Herefordshire village of Little Dewchurch. After serving in WWI as an ambulance driver, where he was gassed at Ypres, Hall served in the Shropshire Police from 1919 to 1927 before leaving for Canada in disgrace. At one time or another he was also an export trader and author of a vehicle law manual, and inherited a fortune after the death of his father, enabling him to pursue his claims.

Thus asserting that the current monarchy was a sham and that he was a direct descendant of the ‘real’ monarchical line, in 1931 Hall asserted his claim to the throne in an open letter to King George V. “The whole world has been hoodwinked for 328 years,” he wrote. “You have no connection with the British Royal Family. You are an outsider. Therefore leave the country. I claim the Crown.”

Under the banner ‘a New King, a New Country’ he then began to tour the Midlands, making nightly speeches at Birmingham’s Bull Ring where he lambasted the ‘German’ occupants of Buckingham Palace. His speeches ranged from calling for George V to be dethroned via the law courts to challenging the King to a duel - at one time telling a large crowd of sympathetic Depression-era Midlanders that he would be the first policeman to execute a monarch! Police reports at the time noted: “In referring to the King of England, Hall states that he would have no hesitation in shooting him as he would a dog. The King was a German; a pure bred German and had not right to rule this country.”

His activities eventually became a cause of concern for the authorities, with King George's private secretary, Sir Clive Wigram, asking the Home Office for Hall to be sectioned. ‘King Anthony’ was remanded in custody, but the two doctors who examined him refused to certify him insane. "It is true that he is eccentric and wrong-headed, but he is not so obviously demented or insane that he could be dealt with without recourse to court proceedings” lamented Sir Clive.

With the Palace pressing for Hall to be dealt with (providing that the King’s involvement was kept secret) he was eventually arrested and tried for using ‘quarrelsome and scandalous language’. He was fined £10 and bound over to keep the peace with a surety of £25 or the alternative of two months' imprisonment with hard labour. Following this he held a final rally at the Bull Ring, before ceasing his activities for good.

He later went on to work at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Rotherwas and died, leaving no male heirs, in 1947 aged 49. He is buried St David's churchyard at Little Dewchurch.

Anthony William Hayle, the VBCW equivalent

Anthony ‘Will’ Hayle, a disreputable character who at one time or another worked, or posed, as a headmaster, policeman, teacher, fireman, ship’s captain, solicitor, stationmaster, and prison governor, briefly came to prominence during the early 1930’s after aggressively and colourfully asserting his claim to the throne of King George V in a series of lecture tours throughout the Midlands.

Claiming to be the direct descendant of Sir Richard Hayle, an illegitimate son of Henry VIII, Will was forced to cease his antics after his latest venture, the selling of ‘royal’ titles and honours, collapsed when a ‘Marquis of Shepton Mallet’ attempted entry into the House of Lords. Following this, Hayle retired to Herefordshire to breed sheep.

However the outbreak of civil war and the resultant calling into question of Edward VIII’s suitability to rule, prompted Hayle to renew his claims - especially after the Bishop of Hereford set a precedent with his failed attempt to depose the King in favour of the pretender ‘King John’. Once again reasserting his right to the throne, ‘King Anthony I’, his equerry ‘Duke’ Harbottle and Albert, Lord of the Privy (“you’ll get the ‘Seal’ bit when I’m king!”) narrowly avoided arrest by the Royalist authorities now controlling the county and, with a small band of eccentric, oddball or generally roguish followers, fled to the Anglican League enclave at Ross.

Here the ‘true and rightful King of England’ continues to press for recognition as the rightful heir to the throne, touring Anglican-held areas and espousing his claims (whilst gratefully accepting any and all donations). Hayle and his band of armed retainers are something of an embarrassment to the Anglican League, but in these desperate times any ally, however eccentric, is a valuable reinforcement.

1 comment:

  1. Oh crikey! Anthony Hall! I'd forgotten about him. Something of a character, to say the least. Ideal fodder for AVBCW. Inspired, sir! =)


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