Rudyard Kipling

Another book about SPARES (I wrote mine first!)

In 2021 I wrote a book about the lives of a group of aristocratic British Spares and specifically their extraordinary expedition to Jerusalem to find the Ark of the Covenant. The expedition ended in riots and disorder and headlines around the world. In January 2023 Penguin Books launched Prince Harry’s autobiography entitled Spare. It similarly has produced an enormous number of headlines around the world.

Prince Harry at the Invictus Games 2020

The title of the Duke of Sussex’s book refers to the fact that Harry’s elder brother William is the Heir and Harry, the younger brother, is the Spare. This fate which has faced countless royal and aristocratic brothers. It is inherent in the system whereby the title and position passes automatically to the eldest son. The fate of sisters has traditionally been worse, as in a hereditary system they were simply there to be married off in a suitable dynastic match determined by their father.

The issue for the male Spare is what to do with their life. Initially Prince Harry followed a familiar path which has been trodden by generations of young royal and aristocratic British men. Only later did he have to worry about what to do with his life. As a spare in the British Royal Family Harry did not have to really worry about money.

Eton College

As mentioned earlier most British members of the Parker expedition were spares and this is not the only similarity between them and the Duke of Sussex. The first of these is Harry’s upbringing and education. Prince Harry, like his elder brother, was educated at Eton College. King Henry VI founded the College in the 15th century. The King is possibly best remembered by the famous quote that he “lost his wits, his two kingdoms and his only son”. Henry VI’s goal for the College was to educate poor children around Windsor Castle, the king’s principal residence. However, over the years, the College changed its role. Its purpose became, and in no small degree still is, to create the next generation of English gentlemen. Eton was and still is a school for those who came from power and money and who assume, generally correctly, that this situation will continue. Most Etonian schoolboys have traditionally known that their academic achievements or otherwise at the College were not the prime drivers of their future. Over the centuries many boys have realised that there was no absolute necessity for them to work hard. This was certainly true of Prince Harry who left the College with decidedly underwhelming academic qualifications. In his autobiography he says he confessed to Meghan on their second date that he is “Not really big on books”.

An Eton schoolboy’s uniform in the 1890s.

Most of the members of the Parker expedition were younger sons, not necessarily destined to inherit their father’s titles. The eponymous expedition leader, Montagu Parker was the second son of an earl. Cyril Foley was the second son of a general and the grandson of a baron. Clarence Wilson was the third son of a rich, knighted member of parliament. Cyril Ward was the fifth son of an earl. These men, like Harry, were not meant to inherit their father’s title, estate or realm. So the question was what they did with their lives.

The Royal Family

Many of the members of the Parker expedition were very close to the Royal family. Gordon Wilson even helped ensure the continuation of the monarchy. When he was a schoolboy at Eton he helped foil an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria in Windsor. A mentally ill man named Roderick Maclean fired at Queen Victoria’s carriage as she drove from the station to the castle. Gordon hit Maclean over the head with his umbrella a number of times and ensured he could be subdued by the police before he could fire any more shots.  

Roderick Maclean firing at Queen Victoria

Other connections were very personal, Cyril Ward’s aunt, Lady Harriet Mordaunt, had been one of Edward VII’s many mistresses. She was also one of the most notorious. Her husband divorced her for adultery, a highly unusual move in Victorian England.  In court, Sir Charles Mordaunt as good as accused the heir to the throne of adultery with his wife. The Prince of Wales felt obliged to give evidence. It is hard to overemphasise how scandalous it was for the heir to appear in court to deny he had committed adultery. Many newspaper reports said that Robin Duff was a cousin of the King, albeit a distant one. However, he was close to the English (and German) Royal families. Robin Duff married Lady Juliet Lowther, a favourite of the Royal family and King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra attended their wedding. Cyril Foley knew many of the Royal family well and shot regularly with George V and VI. In his autobiography he 

The British Army

Prince Harry had many of the same constraints as late Victorian aristocratic men. They and he could not go into, what was called, trade to make money. One route which many royal and aristocratic young men took after finishing education was to go into the military. This is exactly what many of the Parker expedition and Prince Harry did. Military service, of course was as officers typically in an elite regiment such as the Guards, Hussars or Lancers. In the Edwardian era aristocrats dominated the officer corps of such regiments. Prince Harry joined one such regiment, the Blues and Royals of the Household Cavalry. Several members of the Parker expedition served in the Household Division and one, Gordon Wilson, rose to command the Royal Horse Guards. Monty Parker served in the Grenadier Guards and Robin Duff served in the Royal Life Guards. Most of the other British members of the expedition served as officers in the British Army, the only exception being Cyril Ward who served as an officer in the Royal Navy.

Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Wilson  

Active Service in a Foreign War

Most of the members of the expedition who served in the British Army saw active service, just as Harry did. In the case of the Parker expedition this was the Second Boer War. Like the war in which Harry fought, the war was fought against irregular and guerrilla forces. In March 1900, Montagu Parker sailed with a contingent of the Grenadier and Scots Guards to South Africa. He was twenty-one years of age and one of the youngest officers in the Grenadier Guards. Before they sailed, Queen Victoria inspected the regiment at Buckingham Palace, with the officers being presented individually to the Queen. During the Boer War Gordon Wilson fought at the siege of Mafeking with Robert Baden-Powell, his brother Clarence was wounded and another brother Wilfred was killed in action. Clarence went on to be the main funder of the Parker expedition, ploughing the equivalent of millions of pounds into it.

Cyril Foley, like Harry, wrote an account of his time in the war and recounted the tale of one night when there was a tremendous fusillade from two blockhouses under his command. This went on for forty minutes. When Foley got through to the blockhouse, his men told him they had fought off a massed attack by the Boers, who had driven a herd of cattle at the wire. The two blockhouses fired 1,200 rounds of ammunition, fighting off the supposed attack. In the morning, when he inspected the battlefield, Foley found the sole casualty was a single cow!

What To Do Next? Marriage to a famous American divorcee perhaps

The members of the Parker expedition who fought in South Africa came home to a more cynical country and were possibly more cynical and damaged themselves.  For example Monty Parker was diagnosed with PTSD caused by his service in the war. After Harry’s service in Afghanistan he resigned his commission in 2015 and had to find a new role for himself. It was while he was looking for this new role that he met Megan Markle and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Once again there are many similarities with the members of the Parker expedition, many of whom had finished their military careers shortly before the expedition. They had to find new lives, which given their status as Spares was difficult. One possibility was to make a good match and marry well. Monty Parker, if you believe the newspapers of the time was a favourite of Ava Astor, one of the most beautiful women of the age. One newspaper report said

‘His attentions during the recent visit of Mrs Astor were indefatigable, while in his company the beautiful American seemed to lose that wearied look she continually wears, and occasionally smiled, something she rarely does.’

 There seemed a possibility that she and Monty Parker might wed once she divorced her first husband. He was one of the richest men in America, John Jacob Astor, commonly known as Jack. Ava Astor was one of the most beautiful women of her age and with her eventual divorce settlement of $10 million from her husband would be worth over $300m today.

Ava Astor

The Parker expedition

In the end Monty and Ava did not marry and instead he led the expedition to find the Ark of the Covenant together with other Spares. The expedition seemed the perfect opportunity for young men who were searching for something to do with their lives.

The Parker expedition believed they had solved the 2,500-year-old mystery of the location of the Ark. The expedition members were convinced the Ark and the Temple treasures were not lost. They believed the precious objects had been hidden to protect them when Jerusalem was once again under threat. The participants were confident they knew the hiding place and had come to retrieve the Ark. The venture started when a Finnish poet and biblical scholar convinced the aristocratic Spares that he had discovered hidden cyphers in the Old Testament which showed the Ark’s hiding place.

The story of the Parker expedition includes secret codes, bribery, betrayal, gun-running, madness, bankruptcy, untimely death and more. It sounds improbable; Downton Abbey meets Indiana Jones meets Dan Brown. However, there is no need for invention. When Rudyard Kipling, the most famous writer of the day, heard the story of the expedition from one of its participants, he wrote to a friend: ‘Talk of fiction! Fiction isn’t in it.

Newspaper Headlines

It does not spoil the story of the Parker expedition to say that the expedition did not succeed in its goal and the members live happily ever after. Instead it created riots and disorder in Jerusalem in 1911 resulting in headlines around the world. Many of these were inaccurate and some contained outright journalistic invention. To use a modern phrase, there was a great deal of fake news about the expedition. However, a well-sourced story in the Jewish Chronicle reported that one cypher the expedition used contained a curse. The report said that any unauthorised person who attempted to disclose the secret chamber containing the Ark would be cursed ‘sixty and six fold’. Another newspaper report asked rhetorically what fate would await the Ark’s robbers. In my research I have found that the answer to this question was often an unhappy one. Within a few years, three were dead, one was mad, two were bankrupt, one divorced and another deported.

Hopefully the Duke of Sussex’s path is smoother and does not lead to the same unhappy endings as many of the Spares on the Parker expedition!

Another book about SPARES (I wrote mine first!) Read More »

The connections to Finland

Biblical scholars and poets

Finland played a pivotal role in the Parker expedition from the start with Valter Juvelius to the less well known role of Pertti Uotila.

Valter Juvelius

Valter Henrik Juvelius was Finnish. He was born in 1865 in Pyhäjoki on the Baltic coast of northern Finland. After finishing school, Juvelius took up his father’s profession and worked as a surveyor for many years. A few years before the expedition he gave this up and studied for a doctorate at the Finnish Imperial University. While studying for his doctorate, Juvelius became interested in kabbalist ideas that there were hidden messages within the Old Testament text. His thesis was not directly about the existence of the cypher but it was closely related. It covered the time of the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the exile in Babylon. It was during this period that he said he discovered the hidden cyphers. Juvelius submitted his thesis in 1907 and, after completing his doctorate, became the head of a Workers Education College.

Juvelius’ other great passion was poetry and the Finnish language. He wrote poetry in Finnish. His most famous poem Karjalan Kunnailla (‘O Hills of Karelia’) is still well known in his home country. He also translated many foreign poets and authors into Finnish including Goethe, Burns and Byron. At the start of the 20th century he lived in Viipuri. The town is close to Saint Petersburg, is now known as Vyborg, and has become part of the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation.

Juvelius said that during his studies he discovered the secret cyphers in the Old Testament. The cypher or, more accurately, the cyphers that Juvelius claimed to have discovered were based on the number seven. This number is highly significant in the Bible, as it is considered a holy number, reflecting perfection. He documented cyphers in the book of Ezekiel, the book of Deuteronomy, the book of Leviticus and finally the Wisdom of Sirach.

The cyphers only work in the language the text was first written in. Hence the emphasis that it was from an old unvowelled version of the books of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Biblical Hebrew is different from the Hebrew in general usage today. One of the critical differences to modern Hebrew is that the alphabet only has 22 letters. It does not contain any vowels. These have to be inferred or vocalised from the text and context of the word. It is not certain where Juvelius found his unvowelled Bible. An expedition member told Rudyard Kipling that Juvelius found the cypher in a document in Saint Petersburg. As we know, Juvelius lived within the Russian Empire and Saint Petersburg is less than 100 miles from his home. The Saint Petersburg Imperial Library contained two of the oldest Hebrew Bible manuscripts in the world: the Codex Babylonicus Petropolitanus and the Leningrad Codex. Both contain the book of Ezekiel.

In late 1907 Juvelius finished documenting the cyphers.  The hidden cyphers were a series of cryptic statements which Juvelius interpreted to say where he believed the Ark was hidden. He concluded his findings by saying,

‘To find the Jews’ temple archives would be an enormous gain for science (and) it might be worth while to fit out an expedition to find the archive.’

The question for Juvelius was how to achieve this. He could not fund the expedition himself and he had no contacts in Constantinople. While he was trying to work out what to do he met an old friend in Helsinki. Pertti Uotila was fifteen years younger than Juvelius. Their families were friends and Juvelius had known Uotila since the younger man was a child. Uotila’s father was a landowner, lawyer and professor at Helsinki University. He was also a poet and translator. Pertti was his eldest son and was born in 1880. Despite the age gap, Uotila and Juvelius became good friends. They shared a common interest in the Finnish language. Pertti Uotila was a poet, like both his father and Juvelius. He also worked as a journalist.

The two friends met for a meal in the elegant restaurant of the Hotel Kämp in Helsinki. Uotila brought along a friend of his, Arne Basilier. He was Finnish but had been working as a chemist in America. Over the meal, Juvelius told them about his discoveries. Uotila was interested in helping his friend secure funding to test his theories. Basilier told Juvelius he knew someone who could help. He suggested involving his stepfather, Johan Millen. So started the process which led to the Parker expedition.

Pertti Uotila

Pertti Uotila was known by different names during his life, including Bertil Oskar Lemmitty Favén, Pertti Faven, Bertil Faven and Oskar Nevanlinna. As well as helping to introduce Juvelius to Millen, Uotila was a participant and investor in the project. As a young man, Uotila was a socialist, and in 1905 he helped translate the hymn of the left, the Internationale, into Finnish. Pertti’s younger brother was Antti Favén a painter who had studied in France and became a well-known Finnish impressionist artist.

Uotila accompanied Juvelius on the expedition to Jerusalem and ended up spending much more time than his friend in the city. Juvelius had to leave Jerusalem at the end of 1909 and he was now restricted to a remote role. Pertti Uotila agreed to stay in Jerusalem to represent him. He stayed there till the end of the expedition.

When he left for Jerusalem, he had recently sold his family estate, including agricultural land and forests. He had capital and invested some of this in the exploration company. When he finally returned home he was close to bankruptcy and divorced. Soon after, he too joined up to fight in the First World War. As Finland was part of the Russian Empire, he became an officer in the Russian Imperial Cavalry. He fought in the disastrous Russian campaigns against Germany. The losses the Russians suffered were significant contributory factors to the two revolutions in 1917, which saw first the Tsar overthrown and then the Bolsheviks seize power. Finland took advantage of the instability and declared independence from Russia. This led to a bloody civil war in Finland, with Red versus White. As with most civil wars, it was brutal, with atrocities committed by both sides. The war also drew in the Bolsheviks, the Germans and the Allies. Despite his youthful socialism, Uotila fought for the right-wing Whites, who eventually proved victorious. After the Finnish Civil War, Uotila fought against Bolshevik Russia for several more years in the so-called Tribal Wars.

Other geographical connections

The connections to Finland Read More »