Never be tired of England

April 23, 2010

Happy St Georges Day.
Did you know that King George III never formally acknowledge the independence of the USA? Therefore, we still own it. Nor did we agree to the full independence of Australia (The Australia Act of 1986, I choose to ignore). Therefore, we still own that too. And when I get there in July, I will proclaim myself Governor of Australia for Her Majesty The Queen. We’ll forget this silly “independence” thing in no time.

The Daily Mail in it’s quest to tarnish Nick Clegg as some great evil, had this to say earlier this week:

“His wife is Spanish, his mother Dutch, his father half-Russian and his spin doctor German. Is there ANYTHING British about Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg?”

It’s amazing isn’t it?
Nick Clegg, the posh English intelligent Lib Dem leader, is apparently an evil foreigner, despite the fact, that he was born….. in Berkshire.
Given that the husband of the Queen is a relative of the Russian tsars, I hope the Daily Mail will soon begin an anti-monarchy quest.

Today is St Georges day.
It is beautiful outside.
I have sat in my garden with a book and a drink sat by me, for most of it.
The reasons I do not fly the St Georges cross flag is something I dislike about the way it has been manipulated. St Georges cross and the Union Jack have been hijacked by the far right in recent years, to show that they aren’t too keen on muslims. It is used by those who keep claiming muslims are out to destroy England, rape your children, punch your grandmother in the face, and ban Christmas. It is from those who use the phrase “it’s political correctness gone mad” to cloak their inherent stupidity and ignorance. “You know, you can’t even smear shit into a a pakistani man’s face in the shape of the cross of St George whilst telling him to fuck off out the Country any more, without the politically correct bias liberal media telling you it’s racist. It’s political correctness gone mad!!!” I don’t want to associate myself with that type of person. Anyone who associates England with “the white race” is disgusting, in my view.

But I do love this country. In fact, I absolutely adore this country. I do not appreciate the far right telling me that I hate this country, simply because I am not a nazi. I do not believe in a singular concept of “Englishness”. My views on Englishness, are pretty post-modern in that respect. I love this country, for my own reasons, which I will now list.

I love the English summer time. I love traditional English seaside holidays. I love the sound of English amusement arcades on the seafront. I love Tudor history. I love being in the city centre for Diwali celebrations. I love the English countryside. I love standing in the sea on the English south coast despite it being freezing. I love the scent of England in the early summer mornings. I love English Christmas, the food, Morcambe and Wise, and bucks fizz. I love red post boxes. I love the majority of the people who are always polite, friendly, and tolerant. I love that I am the grandson of a World War II navy veteran. I love eccentric Brits. I love Camden. I love not understanding a word the speaker says over the tannoy at a local Tesco. I love Newstead Abbey. I love Bradgate Park. I love feeding ducks. I love those little green or red or blue or yellow arm bands the local swimming pools give you, to let you know when your time in the water is up. I love how we are a mash of cultural differences and historical struggles. I love how we cannot go a day without at least one cup of tea. I love Brit pop! I love getting into bed, under a huge new duvet on a freezing winter’s night. I love wearing an England football shirt throughout the World Cup and Euros every couple of years. I love reading the papers before the World Cup that tell me that Wayne Rooney is at his peak. I love not understanding why our clocks go forward and backward every now and again. I love trilby hats. I love speakers corner. I love hearing the sound of an ice cream van. I love that we are part of Europe. I love Devon and Cornwall. I love our charity days like Red Nose day and Children in need. I love the National Health Service. I love that we are a country that still cares for it’s sick and injured. I love that we are a nation of compassion and acceptance rather than distrust, dogmatic individualism and miserable hatred. I love great British comedians like the Pythons, and Spike Milligan and comedies like Blackadder and Only Fools. I love our sense of humour. I love our sarcasm. I love talking to random people on the park when i’m taking the dog for a run. I love our political music like The Clash and The Jam. I love London. I love bike rides around England. I love black cabs. I love that on one long road just outside of Brighton there is a church, a mosque, a synagogue and a gay bar a little further down, and no problems arise. I love that we have minimum wage. I love the BBC. I love how overly excited our papers get when Wimbledon begins. I love our poets like Wordsworth and Byron. I love that Darwin was English. I love traditional English breakfasts. I love that we do not care what our leaders’ religious beliefs are. I love random games of football on the park. I love our regional colloquialisms. I love the words of Shakespeare and Milton.

I highlighted “I love how we are a mash of cultural differences and historical struggles” because I think it raises an important point. We have never been a single culture, that is now being “eroded“. You cannot erode something that is not static. We have always been a mash of cultures constantly updating and changing. There have been times when those in control or those sporting racist and xenophobic views have tried to impose uniformity, but Britain is great because we have always rejected uniformity in that sense. I will give you an example.

For the majority of English history, since the year 0, this country has been Catholic. Our history, is Catholicism.
Before the 1530s, England was a Catholic nation. The Catholic church was a predominant feature of every community within England. It’s Latin mass, it’s imagery and it’s elaborate dressings along with it’s rituals and rites were what defined England. We weren’t really a nation state at all. We were a vassal of Rome, in all honesty. Given that our own King could not divorce without the permission of the Pope, suggests that ultimately, control lay with Rome. The English people liked it that way. That was England. That was our culture.

During the Reformation Parliaments of the 1530s, the preambles to the statutes written by Thomas Cromwell, try to rewrite this culture, to suit their own needs. The break from Rome and establishment of an English Church would have been massive. Within the space of three years during the 1530s, the entire English system of power, law, and the basis of community had changed beyond recognition. The Henrician church and the Roman Catholic Church were vastly different systems of control and belief.

According to historian Sir William Holdsworth:

“The preamble to the Statute of Appeals is remarkable.. because it manufactures history upon an unprecedented scale.”

Anyone who happened to disagree with the King’s god-given right above the Pope, to be “Supreme Head of the Church in England“, was swiftly and quite horrifically dealt with. It did not bother Henry or Cromwell or Cranmer or any of the other reformers within Court, that the vast majority of the English public, did not believe the King had power above that of the Pope. English culture, for over a millenium, put the Pope as their true ruler, and no one else. Catholicism, (which by the way, was brought to us by immigrants – the Romans, after Claudius invasion of the Country) was so ingrained in the minds of the public, that people like Thomas More were willing to die for their opposition to Cromwell’s reform, rather than betray their beliefs.

The preamble by Cromwell, to the Act of Supremacy of 1534 intriguingly tries to force opinion again, rewrites history, imposes the Act as objective truth (so much so that the accompanying Treason Act made it punishable by death to say the King was not Supreme head of the Church, or talk about the Pope being Head before him), and one wonders whether Cromwell would have gone this far, had the Pope granted Henry his divorce from Catherine in the first place:

“Albeit the king’s Majesty justly and rightfully is and ought to be the supreme head of the Church of England, and so is recognized by the clergy of this realm in their convocations.”

I cannot express just how momentous a change this Reformation Parliament truly was. We were now completely cut off from the Church in Rome, and therefore, cut off from Europe in it’s entirety. Propaganda from the government of Henry made it an offence to be Catholic.

A little over fifteen years later, after Henry had backtracked a little, adding more confusion to what it meant to be English; his son Edward was a child, and only allowed to read books by Protestant writers. He grew up anti-Catholic. When the Duke of Northumberland became the defacto King whilst Edward was still too young, the first thing he did, was rid the council of anyone who still held even slightly Catholic views. After Edward died, Mary then tried to revert back to Catholicism and rejoin the jurisdiction of Rome. Elizabeth, after Mary, settled the dispute, and created a settlement that held mainly Protestant beliefs, but incorporated Catholic beliefs too, although the authority of the Pope was still denied.

The point of this, is that we have never been one single minded Nation. We have always been a mesh of different beliefs and forced uniformity. Catholics viewed Protestants with suspicion in the same way that those racists who claim to be pro-British now view Islam. Irrational fear. There is nothing English about it. We have always updated, and we have always been in a constant state of change, there is no single identity. English culture is created by it’s people, and it is changed and updated with every passing generation. The people can be Catholic, Pagan, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Sikh, Black, White, Asian, Gay, Straight, fat or thin. It doesn’t matter. That is what makes Britain great, and it is the one thing I love most about this country.


Elizabeth I

March 24, 2010

Four hundred and seven years ago today, Elizabeth I of England died, and was replaced by James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England and Scotland.

I studied the early reign of Elizabeth I, her religious policies, her use of council, and her relationship with Europe but I only really started to sit up and take full notice of her reign, when I read “Elizabeth” by David Starkey. A biography of the Elizabeth from her birth, to her coming to the throne. I have since read it twice more, it is a great read and supremely recommended.

Elizabeth, in my opinion, was the greatest monarch this Country has even seen. She reigned at a time when the country had spent the past 150 years in turmoil. The disastrous period of the wars of the roses, followed by the horrendous upheaval of Henry VIII and Edward VI’s attack on Catholicism, Mary’s attacks on Protestantism meant that England was at boiling point. Elizabeth created stability and prosperity, a sense of brotherhood, that did not exist prior to her reign. This relentless panic to produce an heir, plagued the Monarchy from Henry VIII, through to Mary, and the power hungry obsessiveness of the Seymour family after Henry died, needed to come to an end. I’d recommend reading “Edward VI: The Lost King of England” by Chris Skidmore for a detailed analysis of Edward’s reign. It’s a great read. The Seymore brothers, and Thomas in particular have become my favourite characters from Tudor history, since reading that book.

As a child, Elizabeth was brilliant. She was taught Latin, French, Philosophy, History, Maths and Greek from an early age, and according to her teacher, Roger Asham (one of the most formidable scholars of the day), she was one of the best and brightest students he’d ever taught.

I think perhaps Catherine Parr, last wife of Henry, gets overlooked in her significant role as step mother to Elizabeth. Starkey points out that:

“Catherine, in short, was running a Tudor Open University course in religion at Henry’s Court. Elizabeth was certainly a receptive student. We can imagine her listening, intent, and white faced, to the lectures in the Queen’s privy chamber. In religion at least, Elizabeth was the student, and Catherine was the tutor”.

This suggests that the religious turmoil that came to an end with the religious settlement that Elizabeth ingeniously put in place during her reign, can be traced back to her education under Catherine Parr.

Elizabether seems to embody Niccolo Machiavelli’s statement that a Renaissance ruler should strive to be both loved and feared. Machiavelli saw this as a bit of a Utopia; unachievable, and so he goes on to point out that whilst one cannot be both loved and feared, one should strive to simply be feared. This position has been rather manipulated over the years.

Elizabeth, as a woman, was expected to marry. As the daughter of the King, she was expected to marry a rich noble perhaps of foreign descent, whom would then rule England, and she would take a merely ceremonial position. She refused. She wanted to rule. During her early life, she had lost her mum, two step mums and another step mum was gone. She had witnessed the 16 year old Jane Grey become the pawn in a game of power between her young brother’s protectors, and the power hungry Grey family, that resulted in Lady Jane’s beheading at only 16 years old. All because of Royal marriage. She knew how Royal women get treated. And given the pain of the previous Tudor monarchs (although, Edward was far too young to have much influence, it could be argued that his reign, was the reign of Somerset and Northumberland), it was a miracle that she managed to achieve what she did. An acceptable religious settlement in 1559 that put to rest the problems between the Catholics and Protestants who’d spent the past thirty years at war throughout Europe. Although, it may be said that it was far more Protestant than Catholic, given that Pope Pius excommunicated her for it. But still, it was an acceptable religious settlement for most of the Country, and so she was loved for it.

She established close relations with the Russians and the Ottomans, effectively attempting to explore the World further than ever before. She even considered an alliance with the Muslim world, because she, like they, believed they were both under threat from the Catholic Church at the time. She oversaw the first English expedition to Japan also. The theatre flourished, English culture had witnessed a golden age because of a Queen who seemed far less narcissistic and power hungry than her predecessors.

She became feared across the known World, after the ruthlessly powerful Philip of Spain (ex-husband of the now dead Queen Mary of England, and so brother in law of Elizabeth, and staunch Catholic) attempted again to overthrow his sister-in-law because he believed he should be the true ruler of England, and reunite the Country with Rome. Philip, and Spain, lost. We won. Howard and Drake are largely unknown as military geniuses, but in my opinion, for their defeat of the Spanish Armada, they’re the best Britain has ever seen.

“Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated.”

Here, Machiavelli describes how a feared leader, must not cross the line into a hated leader. It can be supposed that Machiavelli’s contemporary, and ruler of Florence, Giovanni de’ Medici, was hated. Supremely hated in fact. He had destroyed the Florentine Republic and the liberties upon which it stood. Giovanni become Pope Leo X in 1513, and was so hated, that an entirely new sect of Christianity (Protestantism) arose because of widespread disillusionment with the Catholic Church, on Leo’s watch. Perhaps Machiavelli was describing, subtly, the inadequacies of the Medici, in his writing. He goes on to describe how a ruler should not be cruel.

Elizabeth was neither hated nor cruel. She could so easily have been dismissed as the daughter of an adulterous mother who almost tore England apart. But she escaped that, owing to her own ingenuity in never mentioning her mother’s name in public. No doubt Elizabeth was influenced by the Protestant World she had been brought up around; if she had, she kept it to herself. Her father and her sister were cruel, and history has judged them to be tyrants. Elizabeth however, never crossed that line. She remained in power for close to fifty years, and was loved throughout. There has been no Monarch before her, or since, that has commanded that sort of respect and admiration.

Elizabeth I, who died on this day, 407 years ago, is the closest any ruler across the World, since her day, has come to being the Machiavelli Utopian ruler.