Thank You Earl! England Toasts 250th Anniversary Of The Sandwich

A picturesque English town is preparing a celebration for its signature contribution to world cuisine: the sandwich. Presiding over the events will be none other than the Earl of Sandwich, a distant relative of the Cribbage-crazy aristocrat who supposedly

More than a mouthful (Jessie Jacobson)
More than a mouthful (Jessie Jacobson)
Tina Kaiser

SANDWICH -- He just has to move the electric reading lamp out of the dining room and then things will be ready to roll, says Keith Williams, 79.

Sixteen years after retiring to Sandwich, in the southern part of England, this wealthy London entrepreneur is ready to share the charms of his historic home – his pride and joy – with the public. The house, which dates back to 1590, retains many of its original features, such as the old brass lock on the entrance door and the wood paneling with a relief of Catherine of Aragon (Henry VIII's first wife) in the dining room. But its most important asset, at least from a tourism perspective, is its location – in the town that gave birth to Britain's biggest culinary contribution to the world: the sandwich.

Legend has it that the fourth Earl of Sandwich (1729-1792) was a passionate cribbage player. This First Lord of the Admiralty spent every bit of his spare time playing the card game with his aristocratic friends and was even reluctant to leave the games table for meals.

So one day, in 1762, he had a revolutionary idea: he asked his servants to put a slab of roast beef between two slices of bread so he could eat without getting his fingers greasy and thus play cribbage without interruption. Those playing with him said they'd have what Sandwich was having -- and thus was born one of the planet's most beloved snacks.

And on the weekend of May 12-13, the small town of Sandwich in the county of Kent celebrates the 250th anniversary of the golden fast-food oldie.

Among the events on the program are a big street party, a sandwich-making competition, and a concert featuring music from the era of the fourth Earl of Sandwich. In Williams's dining room, amateur actors will be staging a production that recreates the birth of the sandwich.

The patron of the festivities is the 11th Earl of Sandwich who, with his son Orlando Montagu, has been running his own sandwich business since 2004 called -- what else -- Earl of Sandwich. The brainchild of Orlando Montagu, 41, the fast-food chain now has 22 locations, mostly in the United States but also in London and in Disneyland Paris.

Montagu's intention is to make a profit out of his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather's invention: "It's irritated our family for centuries that he never patented the idea," says Montagu. A Sandwich dynasty would have made a vast fortune -- in Great Britain alone, the turnover in sandwiches per year adds up to an estimated $9 billion.

"A ham and cheese portsmouth"

If history had gone just a little bit differently, they wouldn't be called sandwiches. The first Earl of Sandwich, Edward Montagu, owed his title to English King Charles II. It was a gesture of thanks: Montague was Admiral of the fleet that brought the King back from exile in 1660. Montagu's first choice was Earl of Portsmouth -- however, that had already been awarded so, none-too-enthusiastically, he opted for Sandwich.

"Had he gotten his first choice, you would have people around the world ordering a ham and cheese portsmouth," says Orlando Montagu.

When all is said and done, however, Sandwich was not a bad choice -- it was once the country's largest port. Today, it is the best-preserved medieval town in England and its entire historic center is a national heritage site.

There is not a souvenir shop to be seen anywhere – only picturesque narrow streets, restored houses, and an intact center complete with book shops, butcher shops, bakery shops, and Mom & Pop stores. People in Sandwich like tradition, so every day at 8 p.m. the "curfew bell" still rings out from the bell tower of St. Peter's Church. But that's where observance of tradition ends. In the Middle Ages, the sound of the bell was when people threw their trash into the streets, let the pigs out, and withdrew into their houses for the night. Ringing the bell today is the work of 31 volunteers each of whom is on duty once a month.

Musts for visitors to Sandwich include the Guildhall, a half-timbered building erected in 1579 on the old market square. Today, it is largely a museum and tours are conducted by Town Sergeant Kevin Cook personally. His position – part caretaker, assistant to the mayor and town crier -- is one that has existed since the Middle Ages. Cook, 45, knows all the anecdotes about Sandwich by heart. With particular pride, he shows visitors the fine stained glass window in the oak-paneled Court Room depicting Queen Elizabeth I's reception at Sandown Gate in Sandwich in 1573.

Sandwich's original location was at the mouth of the Stour River, where it fed into the North Sea. In the 16th century, however, the sea retreated, leaving a sandy river bed in its wake. Sandwich didn't have the means to stop the process. Their last hope was the visit of Queen Elizabeth I -- the subject depicted on the window at Guildhall.

"They set up a 26-foot long buffet with 160 different dishes in the hopes that the Queen might be moved to provide funding," says Cook. The history books record that the Queen heartily enjoyed the feast. "But unfortunately, no money was forthcoming," says Cook, waxing indignant some 439 years later. The result can be seen from the city walls: no sight of the sea anywhere. What was once England's largest port is now two and a half miles in from the coast.

Read the original story in German

Photo - Jessie Jacobson

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!