A Triptych of England and the English

Procession_of_Characters_from_Shakespeare's_Plays_-_Google_Art_ProjectThis royal throne of kings,this scepter’d isle, This earth of majesty,this seat of Mars, This other Eden, Demi-paradise, This fortress, built by Nature for herself, Against infection,and the hand of war; This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands; This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England..

Seems a good way to start since we mark three things today, a triptych, if you will. In 1564 William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon, and 52 years later on this date he died there, as well. In between he became the greatest author to ever write in the English tongue, and simply perhaps the best, ever.

A man whose works we have read, and honored in all our generations, and whose phrases like the one above, continue to grace our everyday tongue. There’s little more for me to say, except that it would be a good day to reread some of your favorites.

st-george (1)The third pane of our triptych today is that it is St. George’s day, and so as we celebrate the greatest author in English, we also celebrate the patron Saint of England herself.

Wikipedia tells us:

St George was born sometime around the year 280 in what is now Turkey. He was a soldier and rose up through the ranks of the Roman army, eventually becoming a personal guard to the Emperor Diocletian. He was executed for being a Christian on April 23, 303, and is buried in the town of Lod in Israel.

St George is most widely known for slaying a dragon. According to legend, the only well in the town of Silene was guarded by a dragon. In order to get water, the inhabitants of the town had to offer a human sacrifice every day to the dragon. The person to be sacrificed was chosen by lots.

On the day that St George was visiting, a princess had been selected to be sacrificed. However, he killed the dragon, saved the princess and gave the people of Silene access to water. In gratitude, they converted to Christianity. It is thought that the dragon represents a certain type of pagan belief that included the sacrifice of human beings.

St George is the patron saint of a number of places, such as Bulgaria, England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Portugal and Russia. He is also remembered in some regional holidays, such as in the province ofNewfoundland and Labrador in Canada and among the Gorani people who live in a mountainous area in the Balkans and were converted to Islam many centuries ago, but still observe St George’s Day. Around the world, a number of days are devoted to St George, including April 23 and dates in November and December of the Gregorian calendar.

Sir Winston Churchill said:

There is a forgotten -nay almost forbidden word,
. . . . a word which means more to me than any other. . . .
That word is
“ENGLAND”

This morning in an article on the Watchtower, I said this:

Seems to me he wasn’t far wrong. We hear much of Great Britain, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and even of the former Empires: America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, and even India, but we hear little of the source of the glory: England. For without the driving force of English ideas, our world would simply not exist.

The Late Rt Hon Enoch Powell MBE gave the following speech to a dinner of The Royal Society of St George, in London, on St George’s Day, April 23rd 1961

There was a saying, not heard today so often as formerly . .

What do they know of England who only England know?”

It is a saying which dates. It has a period aroma, like Kipling’s “Recessional” or the state rooms at Osborne. That phase is ended, so plainly ended, that even the generation born at its zenith, for whom the realisation is the hardest, no longer deceive themselves as to the fact. That power and that glory have vanished, as surely, if not as tracelessly, as the imperial fleet from the waters of Spithead.

And yet England is not as Nineveh and Tyre, nor as Rome, nor as Spain. Herodotus relates how the Athenians, returning to their city after it had been sacked and burnt by Xerxes and the Persian army, were astonished to find, alive and flourishing in the blackened ruins, the sacred olive tree, the native symbol of their country.

So we today, at the heart of a vanished empire, amid the fragments of demolished glory, seem to find, like one of her own oak trees, standing and growing, the sap still rising from her ancient roots to meet the spring, England herself.

 

Perhaps, after all, we know most of England “who only England know”. 

So the continuity of her existence was unbroken when the looser connections which had linked her with distant continents and strange races fell away. Thus our generation is one which comes home again from years of distant wandering. We discover affinities with earlier generations of English who felt no country but this to be their own. We discover affinities with earlier generations of English who felt there was this deep this providential difference between our empire and those others, that the nationhood of the mother country remained unaltered through it all, almost unconscious of the strange fantastic structure built around her – in modern parlance “uninvolved”.

Backward travels our gaze, beyond the grenadiers and the philosophers of the 18th century, beyond the pikemen and the preachers of the 17th, back through the brash adventurous days of the first Elizabeth and the hard materialism of the Tudors and there at last we find them, or seem to find them, in many a village church, beneath the tall tracery of a perpendicular East window and the coffered ceiling of the chantry chapel.

From brass and stone, from line and effigy, their eyes look out at us, and we gaze into them, as if we would win some answer from their silence.”Tell us what it is that binds us together; show us the clue that leads through a thousand years; whisper to us the secret of this charmed life of England, that we in our time may know how to hold it fast.

“What would they say”?

They would speak to us in our own English tongue, the tongue made for telling truth in, tuned already to songs that haunt the hearer like the sadness of spring. They would tell us of that marvellous land, so sweetly mixed of opposites in climate that all the seasons of the year appear there in their greatest perfection; of the fields amid which they built their halls, their cottages, their churches, and where the same blackthorn showered its petals upon them as upon us; they would tell us, surely of the rivers the hills and of the island coasts of England.

One thing above all they assuredly would not forget; Lancastrian or Yorkist, squire or lord, priest or layman; they would point to the kingship of England, and its emblems everywhere visible.

They would tell us too of a palace near the great city which the Romans built at a ford of the River Thames, to which men resorted out of all England to speak on behalf of their fellows, a thing called ‘Parliament’; and from that hall went out their fellows with fur trimmed gowns and strange caps on their heads, to judge the same judgments, and dispense the same justice, to all the people of England.

Symbol, yet source of power; person of flesh and blood, yet incarnation of an idea; the kingship would have seemed to them, as it seems to us, to express the qualities that are peculiarly England’s: the unity of England, effortless and unconstrained, which accepts the unlimited supremacy of Crown in Parliament so naturally as not to be aware of it; the homogeneity of England, so profound and embracing that the counties and the regions make it a hobby to discover their differences and assert their peculiarities; the continuity of England, which has brought this unity and this homogeneity about by the slow alchemy of centuries.

For the unbroken life of the English nation over a thousand years and more is a phenomenon unique in history, the product of a specific set of circumstances like those which in biology are supposed to start by chance a new line of evolution. Institutions which elsewhere are recent and artificial creations appear in England almost as works of nature, spontaneous and unquestioned.

From this continuous life of a united people in its island home spring, as from the soil of England, all that is peculiar in the gifts and the achievements of the English nation. All its impact on the outer world in earlier colonies, in the later Pax Britannica, in government and lawgiving, in commerce and in thought has flowed from impulses generated here. And this continuing life of England is symbolised and expressed, as by nothing else, by the English kingship. English it is, for all the leeks and thistles grafted upon it here and elsewhere. The stock that received all these grafts is English, the sap that rises through it to the extremities rises from roots in English earth, the earth of England’s history.

 

We in our day ought well to guard, as highly to honour, the parent stem of England, and its royal talisman; for we know not what branches yet that wonderful tree will have the power to put forth.The danger is not always violence and force; them we have withstood before and can again.The peril can also be indifference and humbug, which might squander the accumulated wealth of tradition and devalue our sacred symbolism to achieve some cheap compromise or some evanescent purpose.

Good advice there for all of us who are members of ancient and honorable countries.

69387_1It’s a low key day in England, much like the 4th of July celebrations I remember in small town America, although with Morris dancing. so enjoy. Sadly, it’s no longer a holiday tough, although some are trying to rectify that.

Happy St. George’s day to the cousins

The King ( No Longer) in the Parking Lot

Jessica and I have written quite a little about this story starting way back in September of 2012 here, and then here and here as well as the article that forms the basis of this one, and closes the series. because last Thursday King Richard III, the loser at Bosworth field and the last Plantagenet King was re-interred at Leicester.

A Clerk of Oxford compared the whole tumult to the medieval translations of Saints from one cathedral to another. I think she makes a pretty good case, and I find it illuminating to see the same kind of arguments unleashed as were in those translations, as well.

In any case this article of Jessica’s is the centerpiece of what we wrote on this story.


 

Skull of Richard III

Skull of Richard III

So it was him – it was Richard III, the last Plantagent King of England who the archaeologists found underneath a car park in Leicester in the East Midlands of the UK.  If you don’t care for the romance of history, then look away now, but if you do then like me you’ll have wondered at it all.

Of course, when he was buried there it was a church, which was destroyed at the Reformation, and the site was lost over the years. That the first trench dug by the archaeologists should have yielded his bone was the equivalent for them of a lottery win.

There exists a Richard III Society which sponsored the dig, which seems to think the man was next door to a saint. They react violently to Shakespeare’s fictional portrayal of the king, not seeming to realise that the point of a play is that it is fiction, not history.  One of their claims is that the King was not a hunchback. Well, tough, because this skeleton was; this seems not to have gone down well with some ‘Ricardians’; but they are, themselves, writing fiction.

Richard did not, they say, kill his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. Well, they disappeared from view under his reign, when he took the throne from his eldest nephew, Edward V, and if we ask the simple question of what happened to deposed kings in those days, the answer is that the man who deposed them had them killed: it happened with Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI, so why not with Edward V? The answer of the Ricardians, that their hero wasn’t that sort of guy, won’t wash. They claim the man who defeated Richard at Bosworth, Henry VII did it. There’s no proof at all that the Princes were even alive in 1485, but to exonerate their hero, the Ricardians will blame anyone, even when the obvious is just that – obvious.

That’s what you get with people who already know the conclusion they want before they read the evidence; they read it in the light of their own conclusion; it is why it is pointless to argue with conspiracy theorists and atheists – they already know the truth, they just select the evidence to support it.

There is certainly a mystery with Richard.  As the youngest brother of King Edward IV he won a reputation as a gallant knight and a reliable supporter, and yet, on the sudden and unexpected death of Edward, he seized the throne, imprisoned his nephews, had his enemies executed and declared himself King.  The Ricardians claim that he’d become convinced that stories about his brother’s marriage not being legitimate were correct. When did that one happen? Oh, when Edward IV was dead – how convenient. Isn’t that just the sort of excuse a man with bad conscience would make to excuse himself?

Far more likely that Richard, like others, feared that the new King’s mother and her grasping and ambitious family, the Woodvilles, would seize as much power and money as they could, and that they’d try to get rid of men who stood in their way, as Richard would have done. It was a dog eat dog political world then, as now, and Richard would have acted wisely from his own point of view in seizing the throne.

If he’d won at Bosworth in 1485, no one would have cared one way or the other by now. But he lost – and ended up as the king in the parking lot. Moral of that one – if you seize the throne, better make sure you hang on to it.


And so he was reburied last week with at least a simulacrum of the pomp and majesty of medieval England. There were horses, and knights in shining armor, and pennons not seen in the field for hundreds of years.

And money was spent and money was made, and some decried the pandering to tourists, and some were appalled that he was not translated to York, or Westminster Abbey.

The Ricardians were aghast that he really was a hunchback, but pleased that he got a fancy reinterment. And so now it is all over, and everybody knows (or can know) where every anointed King (or Queen) of England is buried.

And here is the video.

And yet, one is left wondering what our world would have been like if Richard had won. Because so much of the modern world is the growth of what was no more, and no less, than a Tudor Enterprise when they turned the face of England from Europe and faced the outer world. So  much history flows from that, including the very existence the United States.

Loyaulte me lie

English: Bosworth Field: Richard III and Henry...

English: Bosworth Field: Richard III and Henry Tudor engage in battle, prominently in the centre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Author’s note: I fell in love with English history reading about the Plantagenets when I was a kid. From Henry of Anjou, grabbing the divorced former Queen of France, and one of the most beautiful, and headstrong, women in Christendom, shortly before he became Henry II of England, thereby creating the Angevin Empire all the way to Richard III, who lost it all to Henry Tudor at Bosworth field, and whose body has just been identified under a parking lot, they are a fascinating bunch.

From the best of Kings, like Edward I, called the “English Justinian” long before he was called “The Hammer of the Scots”, to King John, who was so bad that he brought about the Barons in arms allied with the church behind the Archbishop of Canterbury, forcing his signature on Magna Charta, they were always fascinating, often wise and quite often very good Kings for their subjects.

On average they were far more friendly to individual liberty than the Anglo-Normans that preceded them or the Tudors who followed.]

Yesterday, my co-author Jessica told us a bit about the finding of the body of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England, under a parking lot in Leicester, her article is here, and we were one of the first to notice the story in this country here, here, and here back in September. It’s a story that fascinates many of us, not least because if you read any English history, you’ll find the Plantagenet kings and queens to be larger than life from the founder of the dynasty Henry II and his fabulous wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (if you want to read about a very strong woman in a man’s world, she would be a great choice) to the execrable John, who was forced to give us Magna Charta, not to mention his brother Edward the Black Prince, that fabled Crusader and King, right on down to Richard III who was the very last to wear the White Rose of the House of York in the War of the Roses.

The Anglo-Normans who preceded them always seemed sort of cold, and the presentment of Englishry, which was an occupation measure, denied justice to most of the population, and Henry VII who came after was a cold, acquisitive man, and after him we get into to the religious persecutions, and with the exception of Elizabeth I, I just never found too much appeal in any of them.

I note that the Catholics in England are calling for a State Funeral for Richard, which doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable to me, although I don’t have to pay for it, and some have called for a re-examination of the remains of two skeletons found in the 17th century who are believed to be the Princes in the Tower. The Queen has said no, so that’s an end of that.

If you don’t happen to know the Princes in the Tower were the sons of Edward IV and his Queen Elizabeth Woodville. They went into the Tower of London in June of 1483, shortly after that they were seen playing and then just disappeared. Their uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester had them declared illegitimate by Parliament (an act entitled Titulist Regulus) and then ascended the throne as Richard III.

Richard has always been suspected, of either killing them or at least giving the order but, there are plenty of suspects. There is Sir James Tyrrell, a Yorkist knight, there is Henry, 2d Duke of Buckingham, and there is also, of course Henry VII (Tudor) who defeated Richard at Bosworth Field and married their older sister. It’s a great mystery that most likely will never be solved. Incidentally, if most of what you know about this comes from Shakespeare, you need to broaden your horizons, Shakespeare was writing under the Tudor Kings and probably liked to eat (he was dependent on court patronage) as well as having his head firmly on his shoulders. Getting your history from playwrights has the same drawbacks as getting it from Hollywood.

I personally have problems with believing that Richard was the grasping, power-hungry man who Shakespeare portrays. His record as Duke of Gloucester is very interesting reading. He was a very loyal supporter of his brother and earned a reputation as a very good man as Lieutenant of the North. Here is a bit from Wikipedia

Richard’s Council of the North, derived from his ducal council, greatly improved conditions for Northern England, as commoners of that region were formerly without any substantial economic activity independent of London. Its descendant position was Secretary of State for the Northern Department.

In December 1483, Richard instituted what later became known as the Court of Requests, a court to which poor people who could not afford legal representation could apply for their grievances to be heard. He also introduced bail in January 1484, to protect suspected felons from imprisonment before trial and to protect their property from seizure during that time. He founded the College of Arms in 1484,he banned restrictions on the printing and sale of books, and he ordered the translation of the written Laws and Statutes from the traditional French into English.

England has a bad history with child kings by the way, Henry III reigned long but not well, during the latter part he was a figurehead for Simon de Montfort, Edward II was killed not for his homosexuality but because of his smart-aleck and overly greedy favorites like Piers Gaveston who manage to offend almost everybody, as well as because Edward was a very poor general in the wars with Scotland and France. Edward was eventually deposed by his wife Isabella of France, in favor of his son who became Edward III. There was also Richard II who succeeded at the age of 10, and while contemporaries say he acquitted himself well during the Peasant’s Revolt as he grew into adulthood he became badly out of tune with his barons and was eventually deposed by Henry of Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster, some sources say this was the effective start of the Wars of the Roses.

Richard III would have known all this, and also knew that Edward V (the oldest Prince in the Tower) was 12, what would he have thought?

The other thing we need to talk about is less exciting than Lords and Ladies but also quite important. England in the middle ages was almost entirely an agricultural land. The only real source of wealth was agriculture, with a very few exceptions, such as the de la Poles, who sprang from a merchant. In Medieval England the way to get rich was to get land, and the best way to get land was to be related to the King and/or Queen. Now throw in a generations long civil war (mostly amongst the nobility but extending to the gentry as well) and you have a wide open chance for corruption to hold sway.

Edwards IV’s Queen, Elizabeth Woodville came from a very large family and they were all greedy for land and honors, and Edward was in need of supporters. Which reminds me of the old American saw that came from the Credit Mobiliér scandal, when one of the financiers attempted to defend himself on a charge of bribing a Congressman by say that he asked for and took it. So here we have a situation where the family of his ward would fatten itself off of the King’s (and his mother’s) favor irregardless of the good of the realm.

And, so

As we here in the colonies move into the 5th year of the reign of King Barack I, what do we have but an inexperienced and corrupt king who rewards his courtiers with no thought for his commons, in fact denigrating them, and attempting to take away the rights of free men. We all know the story of Baroness Nancy of San Fransisco, of the Duke of Solyndra, the Earl of Windmill, and all the others. Veritably a story of a child king.

What would Richard III, a man who served his brother the King loyally and well, as a soldier and general, as a Duke, and Lord Lieutenant of the North, and as a man who might have been one of the best of English Kings have thought of all this? Would he see a comparison with the Woodville family? I surely do.

Does Richard have a message for us? You see when he decided to become King his title was

Lord Protector of England

not regent of Edward V

Did he maybe have a conflict of loyalties between his loyalty to not-yet-crowned Edward V and his family and his loyalty to England itself? I think he did. I think he assumed the crown not because of overweening ambition, which he had never shown before in life. I think he assumed it because he had a higher duty to England.

The title of this piece is Loyaulte me lie, it was Richards personal motto, in English it is

Loyalty Binds Me

I think it did, and I think he does have a lesson for us about loyalty, whatever the cost

Loyaulte me lie

The King in the Parking Lot

Skull of Richard III

Skull of Richard III

So it was him – it was Richard III, the last Plantagent King of England who the archaeologists found underneath a car park in Leicester in the East Midlands of the UK.  If you don’t care for the romance of history, then look away now, but if you do then like me you’ll have wondered at it all.

Of course, when he was buried there it was a church, which was destroyed at the Reformation, and the site was lost over the years. That the first trench dug by the archaeologists should have yielded his bone was the equivalent for them of a lottery win.

There exists a Richard III Society which sponsored the dig, which seems to think the man was next door to a saint. They react violently to Shakespeare’s fictional portrayal of the king, not seeming to realise that the point of a play is that it is fiction, not history.  One of their claims is that the King was not a hunchback. Well, tough, because this skeleton was; this seems not to have gone down well with some ‘Ricardians’; but they are, themselves, writing fiction.

Richard did not, they say, kill his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. Well, they disappeared from view under his reign, when he took the throne from his eldest nephew, Edward V, and if we ask the simple question of what happened to deposed kings in those days, the answer is that the man who deposed them had them killed: it happened with Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI, so why not with Edward V? The answer of the Ricardians, that their hero wasn’t that sort of guy, won’t wash. They claim the man who defeated Richard at Bosworth, Henry VII did it. There’s no proof at all that the Princes were even alive in 1485, but to exonerate their hero, the Ricardians will blame anyone, even when the obvious is just that – obvious.

That’s what you get with people who already know the conclusion they want before they read the evidence; they read it in the light of their own conclusion; it is why it is pointless to argue with conspiracy theorists and atheists – they already know the truth, they just select the evidence to support it.

There is certainly a mystery with Richard.  As the youngest brother of King Edward IV he won a reputation as a gallant knight and a reliable supporter, and yet, on the sudden and unexpected death of Edward, he seized the throne, imprisoned his nephews, had his enemies executed and declared himself King.  The Ricardians claim that he’d become convinced that stories about his brother’s marriage not being legitimate were correct. When did that one happen? Oh, when Edward IV was dead – how convenient. Isn’t that just the sort of excuse a man with bad conscience would make to excuse himself?

Far more likely that Richard, like others, feared that the new King’s mother and her grasping and ambitious family, the Woodvilles, would seize as much power and money as they could, and that they’d try to get rid of men who stood in their way, as Richard would have done. It was a dog eat dog political world then, as now, and Richard would have acted wisely from his own point of view in seizing the throne.

If he’d won at Bosworth in 1485, no one would have cared one way or the other by now. But he lost – and ended up as the king in the parking lot. Moral of that one – if you seize the throne, better make sure you hang on to it.

 

Autumn on the Prairie

Well the leaves are turning on the prairie and there are semis backed up for blocks from the elevator as the amazing American harvest happens again. Seems like everyday they load out a 100 car train to keep the elevator working, by the time it’s over piles of corn will cover entire city blocks. But there are few autumn leaves, it was bit breezy on the prairie Thursday; steady winds of 30-40 with gusts into the 60s on occasion, but whatever.

Out here we call that breezy but some of effete easterner might call it…

Say what you want but I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore

But our leaves probably are

.

Next week we’ll celebrate St. Crispans Day, perhaps the most famous day of battle in the English-speaking world.

Have a great day.

 

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