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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Spetsnaz planned to assassinate Mrs Thatcher to prevent nuclear strike

Russian Special Forces planned to assassinate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher before she could press the nuclear button if war broke out.
She was warned of the danger by intelligence chief Sir Antony Acland in a secret report released by the National Archives under the 30 year rule.
He is believed to have been tipped off by Vladimir Rezun, a Soviet army defector smuggled into Britain by MI6.
Sir Antony, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, admitted that they had been in the dark about the Spetsnaz - the Russian equivalent of the SAS.
But the defector had helped train them and knew that around 500 of the 12,000 strong force had been selected to infiltrate Britain at the first sign of hostilities.
Their controllers, the GRU military intelligence section, had authority to commandeer whatever resources they needed, military or civil, to carry out their orders. They had already carried out peacetime reconnaissance missions to identify targets.

Their priority was to prevent an attack on Moscow by UK and US nuclear weapons in Britain. The sabotage squads would cause a diversion with attacks on essential public services before striking their real objectives.
Acland added: ‘They are elite troops … selected for their political reliability and physical fitness. They deploy in small groups and can operate singly or in pairs with or without the support of agents. Their attacks will be carried out in a determined and skilful manner.
‘The teams may wear plain clothes, Nato uniforms or Soviet uniforms. Rather than destroy a target, teams may inflict sufficient damage to put it out of action. This could include killing or incapacitating key personnel. Operations might include attacks using chemical or biological means.
‘Key personnel in the nuclear firing chain of command and those responsible for other political and military decisions could be targets for assassination.’
Since Mrs Thatcher was the only person in Britain with authority to press the button she would be Number One target.
The report was submitted to Downing Street in December 1981. No information is given about Mrs Thatcher’s response or the measures that were taken to counteract the threat.


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