Four years ago at a flea market, I found an 1898 book entitled History of England in Words of One Syllable, which was part of an entire series entitled “Burt’s One Syllable Histories.” And except for proper nouns (which are broken up syllabically), the author, Mrs. Helen W. Pierson, accomplishes her task according to her publisher’s specifications.
Here’s how Mrs. Pierson deals with some of our favorite folks:
Now this young man, Pier Gav-es-ton, was wild and bad, and led the king into all sorts of vice.
Needless to say, Mrs. Pierson does not elaborate here, either out of propriety or out of a lack of suitable one-syllable words, I can’t say.
But the weak king took a new friend, and did not seem to mind it at all. This new friend was a brave, fine young man by the name of Hugh De-spen-ser. He might have won the love of all if he had not been the friend of the king, but this made men hate him.
The Victorians, by the way, seemed to almost approve of Hugh le Despenser the younger. Maybe it was all that time he spent writing letters? Or that energy he demonstrated as a pirate?
The Queen Is-a-bel-la had a vile friend by the name of Mor-ti-mer, and the two took the rule of the land in their own hands. The young King Ed-ward III was a boy of twelve, but as soon as he grew to knew what vile acts had been done, he had some of the queen’s worst friends put to death.
“Vile” gets a real workout in this book.
Hen-ry the Sixth, of Wind-sor, grew to be a weak man who had no strength of will. His wife, Mar-ga-ret of An-jou, who was fierce and bold, had things for the most part her own way. The king was good and mild,and would read and pray and praise God all the time, while his queen rode rough shod, as it were, through his realm.
Was Mrs. Pierson cheating just a little, mayhap, by turning “roughshod” into two words?
The king [Edward IV] did not live long to taste the joys of peace. There is not much good to be said of him, save that he had a fine face and form and was brave.
Watch out! Guess who’s coming!
Now Rich-ard, Duke of Glou-ces-ter, of whom you have heard, who was known as Crook-back, from his odd form, had a wish to have the crown. . . . As he knew he had no right to the throne, he did not feel at ease till he had made way with the real heirs in the Tow-er.
But don’t despair, Ricardians, because Mrs. Pierson isn’t fond of Henry VII either:
Hen-ry the Sev-enth was a stiff, cold man, who, though fond of show, was mean in his ways.
But there was an upside to this:
There was peace in En-gland for years, and the young men had time to read books, which were by that time in print, and learn things of use to them.
I believe that my favorite section is that on Charles II, however:
He spent the last Sun-day of his life at play with his gay friends at cards.