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Edwin Austin Abbey, "The Penance of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester," Carnegie Museum of Art // Public Domain

The Necromancer Roger Bolingbroke and the Plot to Kill King Henry VI

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Edwin Austin Abbey, "The Penance of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester," Carnegie Museum of Art // Public Domain

Today astrology is often seen as harmless fun; the horoscope pages in newspapers or online are something to giggle over with friends. But back in the 15th century, being an astrologer was a dangerous business.

Roger Bolingbroke was one such astrologer and magician. He lived in Britain in the early 15th century and was perceived as a very learned man—the Latin he learned as a cleric in Oxford allowed him to consult many ancient texts on astrology, alchemy, and the rather more scandalous skill of necromancy.

At the time Britain was a strongly Catholic country and any dabbling in the supernatural was, strictly speaking, heresy. But the lure of the unknown and the widespread superstition of the people meant that many were fascinated by the dark arts.

Bolingbroke’s interest in magic came at a high price when he became caught up in a plot against a young King Henry VI. Bolingbroke worked as a clerk for Eleanor Cobham, the wife of Henry VI’s uncle, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, the former Lord Protector of England and heir to the throne (if Henry had no children of his own).

Eleanor asked Bolingbroke and a fellow astrologer, Thomas Southwell, to use their skills in necromancy—the art of communicating with the dead to predict the future—to compile a horoscope on Henry VI. Whether they were just telling Eleanor what she wanted to hear, or whether they really were attempting to divine the future from beyond the grave, we will never know. Whatever happened, what they did next was very foolish.

Bolingbroke’s horoscope predicted the likely death of Henry VI, an act that in itself constituted high treason. If true, of course, it would have put Duke Humphrey on the throne, with Eleanor as his queen. When the authorities learned of the horoscope, they saw it as tantamount to a plot to kill the king, and Bolingbroke was arrested.

Bolingbroke and Southwell were sent to the Tower of London and most likely tortured. Bolingbroke made a full confession, mentioning Eleanor Cobham. Eleanor fled to seek sanctuary in Westminster, which only served to make her seem yet more guilty, and her situation got even worse when a witch, Marjorie Jourdemayne, came out of the woodwork to reveal Eleanor had sought love potions from her to make Duke Humphrey fall in love with her.

The result of the plot was terrible for all concerned. Marjorie Jourdemayne was burned at the stake, while Eleanor Cobham had her marriage dissolved and was forced to march through the streets of London in penance before being imprisoned for the rest of her life.

As for poor Roger Bolingbroke, on November 18, 1441, he was taken to the Tyburn gallows, where he was hanged, drawn, and quartered—the pieces of his body sent to separate parts of the country as a warning to others and his head displayed on a spike on London Bridge.

So influential was the dastardly plot that Shakespeare included both Eleanor Cobham and Roger Bolingbroke in his play Henry VI, part II, which he wrote some 150 years later.

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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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Why Your Traditional Thanksgiving Should Include Oysters
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If you want to throw a really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need oysters. The mollusks would have been featured prominently on the holiday tables of the earliest American settlers—even if that beloved Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn’t. At the time, oysters were supremely popular additions to the table for coastal colonial settlements, though in some cases, they were seen as a hardship food more than a delicacy.

For one thing, oysters were an easy food source. In the Chesapeake Bay, they were so plentiful in the 17th and 18th centuries that ships had to be careful not to run aground on oyster beds, and one visitor in 1702 wrote that they could be pulled up with only a pair of tongs. Native Americans, too, ate plenty of oysters, occasionally harvesting them and feasting for days.

Early colonists ate so many oysters that the population of the mollusks dwindled to dangerously low levels by the 19th century, according to curriculum prepared by a Gettysburg University history professor. In these years, scarcity turned oysters into a luxury item for the wealthy, a situation that prevailed until the 1880s, when oyster production skyrocketed and prices dropped again [PDF]. If you lived on the coast, though, you were probably still downing the bivalves.

Beginning in the 1840s, canning and railroads brought the mollusks to inland regions. According to 1985's The Celebrated Oysterhouse Cookbook, the middle of the 19th century found America in a “great oyster craze,” where “no evening of pleasure was complete without oysters; no host worthy of the name failed to serve 'the luscious bivalves,' as they were actually called, to his guests.”

At the turn of the century, oysters were still a Thanksgiving standard. They were on Thanksgiving menus everywhere from New York City's Plaza Hotel to train dining cars, in the form of soup, cocktails, and stuffing.

In 1954, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to promote Thanksgiving oysters to widespread use once again. They sent out a press release [PDF], entitled “Oysters—a Thanksgiving Tradition,” which included the agency’s own recipes for cocktail sauce, oyster bisque, and oyster stuffing.

In the modern era, Thanksgiving oysters have remained most popular in the South. Oyster stuffing is a classic dish in New Orleans, and chefs like Emeril Lagasse have their own signature recipes. If you’re not looking for a celebrity chef’s recipe, perhaps you want to try the Fish and Wildlife Service’s? Check it out below.

Oyster Stuffing


1 pint oysters
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 cups day-old bread cubes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash pepper

Drain oysters, saving liquor, and chop. Cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Combine oysters, cooked vegetables, bread cubes, and seasonings, and mix thoroughly. If stuffing seems dry, moisten with oyster liquor. Makes enough for a four-pound chicken.

If you’re using a turkey, the FWS advises that the recipe above provides enough for about every five pounds of bird, so multiply accordingly.


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