The price of a slice of the truth

Nearly 350 years ago William Prynne, a lawyer from Lincoln’s Inn, found himself in a dank and dirty corner of the Tower of London.
It was a place where soldiers and civil servants refused to work ‘for fear of fouling their fingers, spoyling their cloathes, endangering their eyesight and healths by the cankerous dust and evil scent.’
Prynne was King Charles II’s new keeper of the National Archives.
And he was no stranger to the Tower. He had been jailed for life, had his cheeks branded with the letters SL – for seditious libel – and his ears chopped off, for a pamphlet attacking actresses and, by implication, Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.
A report of  the trial of William Prynne Esq, in the Star Chamber, for writing and publishing 'A Scourge for Stage-Players,' can be found in the Archives. Subsequent keepers have been less harshly treated.
Prynne wrote: ‘In raking up this dung heap I found many rare antient precious pearls and golden records &c.’
It is a sentiment echoed every day in the modern National Archives building at Kew, where researchers request 600,000 document files a year and millions of documents are viewed online.
These are just some of the gems from my researches, many of them published for the first time, but none of them worth losing an ear for.

© These pages and their content are copyright of Peter Day 2014.

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Elvis Presley greets King Mahendra and Queen Ratna during a 1960 visit to Hollywood - UCLA Library.

How MI6 bought luxury hi-fi system for King Mahendra of Nepal

MI6 secretly bought Britain’s most expensive sound system – so the King of Nepal could play back his favourite tunes by royal musicians.
It was the Swinging Sixties when every teenager saved up to buy a red and white Dansette record player – price eleven guineas (£11.55).
Classified documents released at the National Archives show that King Mahendra found something rather more sophisticated waiting for him when he arrived at Buckingham Palace on a state visit in October 1960.
Lord Snowdon, then married to Princess Margaret, had been commissioned to create the gift.
It was, according to a Foreign Office memo kept secret for 50 years: ‘A stereophonic machine of such splendour that it excels anything hitherto made in England.
‘It plays not only records but also tapes and will allow the king to record his own court orchestra and his own compositions and then play them back to himself.’
The snag was that it cost £640 – the equivalent of £11,000 at today’s prices – and the Treasury had a strict limit of £300 for royal gifts.
Sir Derick Hoyer Miller, the permanent under secretary responsible for the secret service budget, agreed to make up the difference, on the grounds that the king deserved ‘a rather specially expensive present’ in recognition of the contribution Nepalese Ghurkhas made to the British Army.
After getting approval from the Foreign Secretary, Lord Home, he sneaked the money out of a fund set aside for MI6 operations in Nepal and sent a cheque for £350 to Lord Plunket, the Queen’s equerry.
The Palace had originally intended to give the king a shotgun, so that he could go deer stalking in Scotland, but discovered that the Americans and the Russians had already done that.


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