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Catholics hail Duchess of Kent's conversion

THE DUCHESS of Kent, a direct descendant of Oliver Cromwell who is married to the Queen's first cousin, announced yesterday that she would become a Roman Catholic in a ceremony on Friday.

Crown Jewels moved amid tight security

PART of the Tower of London was sealed off yesterday as the Crown Jewels were boxed up and moved to a new home. The Waterloo Barracks was under tight security as, inside, the world's most valuable collection of jewellery was removed from its fortified bunker 60ft below ground and transferred upstairs.

Letter: Too good to be king

Sir: Mike Pentelow's letter (11 December) concerning King Charles II prompts me to mention that the king, Charles I, who is revered as a pillar of the Church of England, believed that he reigned by Divine Right, could do no wrong and was totally faithful to his wife, was the king that we beheaded for being a bad king.

Rambling home that inspired Dickens for sale: Agents lower financial expectations as 'Miss Havisham's house' goes on the market needing extensive restoration

MISS Havisham's house is up for sale. The huge 17th-century building that inspired Charles Dickens's Satis House in his novel Great Expectations is now in the hands of the receivers.

Happy Anniversary: Another seven for Arsenal

SOME of the anniversaries in the forthcoming week that you might otherwise have overlooked.

BOOK REVIEW / Poems with bottle: So idle a rogue: The Life and Death of Lord Rochester - Jeremy Lamb: Allison & Busby, pounds 14.99

THE MAD prodigality of Lord Rochester, Restoration poet and rakehell, was a world away from the dandified fripperies of sword knots and side-curls. It was demonic, and totally calamitous in the foppish court of Charles II, where Rochester was chief wit. Any gallant could enjoy the broad freedom - sexual, sartorial - that flourished after the riddance of Puritan morality. But only Rochester could yell at the King's favourite sundial - 'Dost thou stand here to fuck Time?' - and then proceed to smash it up.

BOOK REVIEW / All the king's men: 'So Idle a Rogue' - Jeremy Lamb: Allison & Busby, 14.99 pounds

IN THE summer of 1676 appeared on Tower Hill a magnificent quack. Sporting an ancient green fur-lined robe, a flowing beard and jewelled medallions, Dr Alexander Bendo provided remedies for scurvy, green-sickness and inflammations. He was paid for his medicines, which were made of soot, urine, old wall, soap, and powdered brick, among other tasty ingredients - but his advice was free. Simply by studying the naked body he could predict the future, interpret dreams and offer other 'affable and communicative' opinions. He became very popular.

Mahler's piano acquired for collection of historic keyboard instruments

Alec Cobbe, keeper of the Cobbe Collection of historic instruments, with one of his most recent acquisitions, a piano owned by Mahler. The collection, which includes instruments owned by Charles II and Chopin, is kept at Hatchlands, near Guildford.

Diary: Sylvia's battling biographers

IT IS now 30 years since the suicide of Sylvia Plath, but the public's interest in her life has not waned. Nor have people lost interest in the many biographers who have fought with Ted Hughes, Plath's former husband, for the right to tell the unexpurgated story. So far, only one biography - Bitter Fame, by Anne Stevenson - has received the Poet Laureate's blessing, and that book failed to receive critical acclaim. Depending on whom you believe, here is the reason.

Diary: So is there a gene for it?

THIS NEWSPAPER has never shown any great interest in the alleged relationship between the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker-Bowles, but there is one historical snippet of information about Mrs Parker- Bowles's ancestry that, I think, is worth recording. It is generally known that Mrs Parker-Bowles is the great granddaughter of King Edward VII's mistress, Alice Keppel, but it appears there is an even more notorious (although charming) royal mistress lurking among her antecedents: Nell Gwyn.

The Bluffer's Briefing on: Doing a runner

1097: Stephen of Blois (aka Stephen the Funambulist) slid down a rope to escape the Siege of Antioch. On his arrival in England, his wife, Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, sent him back to carry on crusading.

Profile: Embracing mass but not the masses: Ann Widdecombe MP, a stranger to compromise

LAST WEDNESDAY, at a sung mass in the chapel of the House of Commons, the social security minister took her first communion - mass, as she must now learn to call it - after having been received into the Roman Catholic church. Its very public nature has raised hackles among members of both her new church and her old one.

Widdecombe reveals her Thatcherite credentials

LISTENERS telephoned the BBC yesterday after hearing Ann Widdecombe, the junior social security minister, defending the imposition of VAT on fuel bills. The nation's milk had curdled over the cornflakes, writes Colin Brown.

BOOK REVIEW / Bible bashers in alehouses: 'The English Bible and the 17th Century Revolution' - Christopher Hill: Allen Lane, 25 pounds

TO SAY that Christopher Hill is a prodigy of learning is to admit a doubt as to anyone, apart from himself, being qualified to review this book. Every student of the 17th century in England knows that his familiarity with the pamphlet literature of that pamphlet-driven age is unrivalled. They know too, from his more recent publications, that his rapport with Milton and with Bunyan amounts to a special relationship. A finished writer himself, he responds to literary genius as well as to the historical context in which it finds expression. He knows, none better, how completely the Bible dominated the mentality of Englishmen in the first half of the 17th century: Charles I and Archbishop Laud no less than Presbyterian bigots like Prynne, large-minded men like Cromwell or the forerunners of socialism who are so lovingly lingered over in this book were equally ready to appeal to it. He also knows his Bible. If Tyndale had encountered him in the Senior Common Room at Balliol there would have been no room for unflattering comparisons with ploughmen.

ART / The child in time: James Hall on the touring exhibition 'Innocence and Experience' and Rembrandt's Girl at a Window at Dulwich Picture Gallery

THIS summer, one of the most sensational and original of recent art historical studies - Leo Steinberg's The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion - will be 10 years old. Though now remaindered, this iconoclastic tome hit the headlines at the time, and even got a respectful review from the then Director of the National Gallery, Michael Levey.
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These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

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