Monday, January 30, 2012

The Trial and Regicide of Charles I

Few events in the history of nations can be as traumatic as civil war. Yet, the English Civil War in particular was a conflict with an outcome unprecedented in the history of the world: the public trial and regicide of a reigning monarch by rebel forces. Unlike similar disturbances in France or Russia, the English rebels who executed HM King Charles I actually made at least a haphazard effort to look like they were showing fairness and providing a legal validation for the murder of their archenemy, who happened to be their anointed sovereign.

It seems like a theme that would appeal to Americans in particular; the idea of Parliament overthrowing and executing a powerful monarch. However, is the situation as simple as it seems? Not likely, and how fair was this trial and how accurate is the picture painted of the Stuart king? Certainly, few people if any could accuse King Charles of being a wicked or immoral man. Charles, son of King James I (of the Authorized Bible fame), never had a mistress, set an example of moral uprightness and required that his court follow the same high standards that he lived by.

The method with which Charles led the British government is a bit more complex, but still does not seem malicious by any leap of the imagination. Nevertheless, he inherited an attitude and mindset that was not always good for his image or government function. S.R. Gardiner wrote that King Charles “looked upon the whole world through a distorting lens” and refused “to subordinate that which was only desirable to that which was possible”.

King Charles believed (like his father) that the monarch was answerable to God alone, not the public and not both. He was afraid, not so much of rule by the people but rule by those who claimed to speak for the people. He felt that government was for kings and not meant for the public. There was no evil intent behind this, it was simply his sincere belief that republican rule would harm society. King Charles did not speak of himself as the divine personification of Britain, as Louis XIV of France might have been tempted to do, but instead spoke of himself as the guardian of his people and their place in society and status as free subjects.

In fact, it has been argued that if King Charles had shown as much ruthlessness in fighting the war as he was accused of showing in government the royalist cause might well have prevailed. The King himself wrote, “It is a hard and disputable choice for a king that loves his people and desires their love either to kill his own subjects or be killed by them”. His enemies were successful, especially in the Irish campaigns, because they were willing to be more cruel than the King was who seemed to only want to use his military force to persuade his enemies to surrender and frighten the rebels into submission. An impartial look shows that the philosophy of the forces of Parliament and the Puritans was even more terrifying than the principles of Divine Right Monarchy. Their warrior-hero, Oliver Cromwell, expressed the belief that Charles was wrong simply because he had lost and in effect stated the very dangerous belief that ‘might makes right’.

Also, as much as His Majesties’ Puritan opponents, Charles I was a man of great faith who was extremely devoted to the Anglican communion of the Christian religion. Part of this faith was his belief that it was his right and duty to rule England as best he could, not as Parliament saw best or advised him. He made it clear that he could never be king if he did not have the power to rule as he saw fit. Even after his defeat Charles remained convinced of the righteousness of his cause. He wrote, “If I must suffer a violent death with my Savior…it is but mortality crowned with Martyrdom”.

This prophetic statement undoubtedly rung in the ears of many when the event that seemed so unthinkable to most people, the regicide of the King of Britain, actually occurred. However, it was not a thing that happened by sheer accident. Before the second war had even started Cromwell was stating that Charles had to be destroyed and his people should not deal at all with the monarch as to negotiation a peaceful settlement. Cromwell’s son-in-law, Henry Ireton, was advocating that the army occupy London, remove all dissenters from the House of Commons, arrest the king and abolish the monarchy by sheer military force. Eventually this was taken to even greater extremes to propose that Parliament should be dissolved altogether and an entirely new voting system be established for entirely new elections and representations. This is important to remember since the rebels claimed to be on the side of popular opinion and called themselves the forces of Parliament. In fact, the Parliament had already declared that the king could not be legally deposed.

It would also be a mistake to claim that the rebellion against the King was the masses against the upper class. In the end all of the results of the war and the regicide were to the advantage of the merchants and gentry class. The forces of the rebellion were anything but popular or democratic. When rebel troops marched into London and seized Parliament they were acting to prevent the democratic process by turning away close to 200 members who tried to take their seats. When these men protested against this tyrannical, police-state action, many were arrested.

Even before the “legal” process began Cromwell told the remaining 150-man ‘Rump’ that was to judge Charles I, “I tell you, we will cut off the King’s head with the crown on it”. So much for a fair trial. This is not to say, however, that there was even a great deal of popular support for putting the king on trial at all. Had this been the case the rebel troops would not have feared a fair vote by the Parliament. The prosecution for “treason” (legally defined as encompassing ‘the death of the King or the overthrow of the King’s legitimate governments’ -which was exactly what the rebels were doing) of a reigning monarch was opposed by the Presbyterians and the Levellers, both of whom opposed Charles I, who believed that the trial was a trick to divert public attention away from the issues of what they regarded as much-needed social reform. Both Chief Justices and the Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer all boycotted the proceedings; all of whom were opposed to the King’s policies! The House of Lords likewise was absent, not recognizing the act of putting a monarch on trial. However, had they wished to take part, it is unlikely they would have been allowed to. Even for his enemies, trying a reigning monarch was too much for most people.

Far from being an upright quest for justice, the trial of King Charles is seen by many as perhaps the greatest act of deceit in British history. Author C.V. Wedgwood wrote that,
“Cromwell’s faction was determined to kill the King mainly because this symbolic act of revolution would satisfy discontents that might otherwise be directed toward the more fundamental and more farsighted constitutional changes sought by Lilburne’s Levellers”.
Nevertheless, just or not, King Charles I was taken before what was left of Parliament to stand trial for his actions.

To say that such an act was unprecedented is a vast understatement. The King was accused of making war against Parliament, not the actual nation, and no effort was made to show how this “Rump” (which had been purged by military force) was a true representation of the English people. Realizing this, His Majesty protested that this left his accusers with no legal right to judge him saying, “you never asked the question of the tenth man in the kingdom, and in this way you manifestly wrong even the poorest ploughman, if you demand not his free consent”.

Because of this principle, King Charles refused to enter a plea and demanded to know by what authority was he, a reigning monarch, called to trial? The head “judge” John Bradshaw said he stood accused by “the people of England” at which time Lady Fairfax (wife of the Parliament’s military commander of all people) shouted from the audience, “Not a quarter of them! Oliver Cromwell is a traitor!” At this the officer of the guard actually ordered his troops to fire into the crowd, but relented when the lady’s identity was made known. She was, however, forced to quit the proceedings.

This is a good example of how unfairly this rebel trial was conducted. King Charles conducted himself superbly by all accounts. When told that the court operated in representation of the Commons Charles said, “Show me one precedent” in which it was the King who was answerable to the Commons rather than the reverse. In any case, this was a moot argument since the Commons had been purged by force of arms. Previous cries among the crowd calling Cromwell a traitor led to the court’s order to immediately arrest anyone who “caused a disturbance”.

On His Majesty’s charge that the court had no authority Chief Justice Bradshaw brazenly said that the court was convinced of its own authority and that the king and the country must submit to their judgment. When Charles began to refute this statement he was cut off by the judge. This seemed to be rather typical for this court. When making a speech that came out too logical for the court’s comfort, rebel troops promptly dragged him from the courtroom amid cries of “Justice!” but also of “God save the King!”.

Finally, Bradshaw pronounced the King guilty for refusing to plead. In response, Charles requested that a full Parliament, the Lords and Commons, be called to hear him. His Majesty said, “If I cannot get this liberty, I do here protest that so fair shows of liberty and peace, are pure shows and not otherwise, since you will not hear your King”.

The court recessed after Charles’ request, though not so much for a consideration but so that calm could be restored. For while Bradshaw was accusing the King of delaying tactics a man in the audience began to call out, “Have we hearts of stone? Are we men?”. It was becoming ever more clear to all that this court was not interested in justice at all but vengeance and the idea was a profoundly disturbing one. When the court did reconvene, the King’s request was denied on the basis that it was a ploy to delay his execution, or as they termed it, “justice”. Charles admitted it would cause delay,
“but a little delay of a day or two further may give peace, whereas a hasty judgment may bring on that trouble and perpetual inconvenience to the Kingdom, that the child that is unborn may repent it”.

In his closing Bradshaw referred to the ridiculous notion that the King was elected and even went so far as to compare him to the Roman Emperor Caligula (who was murdered by his guard). He cited the removal of Edward II and Richard II, neither of which was lawful, the Magna Carta, which was forced by and for the lords and not the common people and all in all his argument was high-sounding but full of holes, half-truths and blatant lies. In fact, when King Charles tried to reply to this Bradshaw silenced him and arrogantly declared, “And the truth is, all along, from the first time you were pleased to disavow and disown us, the Court needed not to have heard you one word”. In effect, he was saying that even if the King had not been given a fair trial, he deemed if undeserving of one anyway. His Majesty was sentenced to death by beheading. He was refused permission to respond and was taken out by troops while saying, “I am not suffered to speak; expect what justice other people may have”.

On January 30, 1649 King Charles I was taken to a scaffold outside the palace of Whitehall for his execution. He dressed warmly for fear that shivers of cold would be mistaken for a sign of fear. He addressed his enemies one last time saying,
“I must tell you that the liberty and freedom [of the people] consists in having of Government, those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in Government, Sir, that is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things. If I would have given way to an arbitrary way, for to have all laws changed according to the Power of the Sword, I needed not to have come here, and therefore I tell you…that I am the martyr of the people”
His final words were, “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be”. A boy in the crowd who witnessed the execution wrote,
“The blow I saw given, and can truly say with a sad heart, at the instant whereof, I remember well, there was such a groan by the thousands then present as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again”.

King Charles was buried in secret at Windsor Castle. In the end, Parliament itself was its own worst enemy. Rather than pointing out the merits of their case (dubious though they were in the best cases), they resorted to strong-arm tactics that only made them look all the more like the disloyal demagogues that they were. King Charles never looked better than when he was seen by all the world as the pious victim of treasonous force. Due to the forceful tyranny and the unjust murder of their anointed king, Parliament also provided the Royalist forces with a martyr in the person of King Charles I. The monarch’s gentle and passive conduct impressed his friends and infuriated his enemies. He was himself no less aware of the course history was taking, and showing both mercy and foresight; Charles told his son in Eikon Basilike, “Let then no passion betray you to any study of revenge on those, whose own sin and folly will sufficiently punish in due time”.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Royal News Roundup

Tuesday saw some great royal news in Denmark when Prince Joachim and Princess Marie welcomed a healthy new princess into the Danish Royal Family, the second child of Princess Marie and the fourth for Prince Joachim (having had two sons by his ex-wife Alexandra Manley). We of course sent our most heartfelt congratulations to the happy couple! Further north in Sweden, Crown Princess Victoria has gone on maternity leave in preparation for the arrival of her firstborn, leaving little brother Prince Carl Philip to pick up the slack in royal duties. On Wednesday he handed out the “Chef of the Year” award to Klas Lindberg for his prize-winning fried steak and lobster dish. Meanwhile, Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway joined other royals and world leaders in Switzerland for the 42nd World Economic Forum in Davos, a gathering of international big-shots to discuss ways to improve economic conditions for people around the world. They certainly have a lot to work on when it comes to that subject these days.

In southern Europe, Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain and Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Asturias welcomed the President and First Lady of the South American nation of Peru at the Royal Palace where a special reception was held followed by a formal banquet. HM King Juan Carlos said that, “Peru and Spain maintain a fraternal relationship that is based on history, culture, language and common values” and that, “Peruvians living in Spain and the Spanish who live in Peru contribute to the further strengthening of our ties”. The King also discussed the trade agreements between the two countries and Spanish business investments in Peru which has been a great help to the Peruvian economy. The King closed his remarks by saying that Spain sees the South American country as a, “sister and friend, and it is committed to the projects of progress and welfare for the beloved people of Peru”.

In Great Britain the republican crowd threw another treasonous temper-tantrum this week with Graeme Smith calling the Duchess of Cornwall a “criminal” for, of all things, supporting a school project to have children design dishes for the upcoming Diamond Jubilee (as in a menu, not making plates to eat off of). I suppose the American school children who were taught songs of praise for President Barrack Hussein Obama (mmm,mmm,mmm) would have been perfectly acceptable to him but have British youngsters prepare some tasty treat for a milestone in the history of the monarchy of their country and it’s “criminal”! It never fails to baffle me to hear republicans in a constitutional monarchy howl at the very system so tolerant as to allow them to spew their treason whereas in republics such as France, Germany or Italy it is actually enshrined in law that the government can never, ever be anything but a republic -whether the people want a monarchy or not. One of the most highly placed traitors in the Commonwealth, Australian PM Julia Gillard, got mud on her face after claiming that Australian taxpayers had to foot the bill for gifts handed out by the Queen during her last visit to Australia. Later she had to back down since, after this aroused a clamor among Aussie republicans, the Palace put out the information that the Royal Household had paid for the gifts, which had a total price tag of about £10,000. It always makes me laugh to see socialists who never met an expenditure they didn’t like, who will shell out billions to bums, business buddies and foreign countries suddenly turn so penny-pinching when it comes to the monarchy.

There were commemorations in Germany this week marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of King Frederick the Great of Prussia on Tuesday. HIRH Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia, head of the House of Hohenzollern and newlywed, was invited to speak at the Berlin Concert Hall on the occasion, which he did very well. The Prince talked about King Friedrich II and how he was regarded as ‘one of the family’ by the subsequent generations of Hohenzollerns and said it was an occasion for everyone to think about their own families as he thought about his own. Nothing flashy, nothing grandiose, but nice. I was a little surprised he was asked since we have recently seen other historic anniversaries celebrated by republics in which the royal heirs of those directly involved were snubbed by the government.

In royal news on the opposite side of the world, HM Queen Sirikit and daughter Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand were out on Monday to celebrate the lunar New Year in the Chinese district of Bangkok. They were accompanied by the Chinese Vice Minister of Culture Li Xiaojie who also expressed the condolences of the Chinese government for the devastating floods Thailand experienced last year. The Queen and Princess wore red, the color of good fortune in the Far East. Festivities will continue until January 30. Also, over in the Pacific Kingdom of Tonga, Prince ‘Ulukalala, second-in-line to the Tongan throne, celebrated his engagement to his second cousin the Hon. Sinaitakala Fakafanua at a party in Sydney, Australia. The wedding is set to take place on May 4th of this year. There has evidently been some concern recently over the lack of suitable royal consorts for the Kingdom of Tonga with the descendants of past dynasties and noble families becoming in ever shorter supply. In due time they may have to go abroad or follow the European trend of going ‘common’ to keep the Royal Family going. We wish them all the best.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Feast of Charlemagne

It would be hard to overestimate the impact on western history of Charlemagne, whose feast day falls on today (at least by those who recognize it). Considered something of a “founding father” by both the nations of France and Germany, Charlemagne brought a great deal of new “light” to the “Dark Ages” by defeating barbarian raiders, restoring law and order and stable government throughout much of western and central Europe. His reign would also see a restoration of Rome, in a way, as his coronation as “Emperor of the Romans” marks the birth of the Holy Roman Empire. Royals from France, Germany, Austria and Italy have attached themselves to his legacy, the Christendom of the old Roman Empire began to revive under his rule and no less a figure than HH Pope John Paul II referred to him as the “father of Europe”. He was an astute statesman, a fairly tolerant lawgiver and a bold warrior whose accomplishments would not be rivaled for centuries to come. No matter which way one looks at him, Charlemagne was quite a man.

Not much is known about his origins, his birth place being listed as various places, usually western Germany or Belgium. Charles (Charlemagne - Charles the Great - Carolus Magnus -we all know that right?) was a descendant of Charles Martel, “the Hammer” who defeated the Muslim invasion of France at Tours. His son was Pepin, King of the Franks, who was the father of Charlemagne and Carloman. When Pepin died in about 768 he divided his lands between his two sons but after Carloman died in 771 Charlemagne got it all, roughly what is now western Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. From the start, and certainly by the time of his death, no one had ruled more of western Europe since the days of the old Roman Emperors. However, there was no mistaking the fact that Charlemagne was what the Romans would have called a “barbarian” himself, meaning he was of the Germanic rather than the Latin branch of the European tree. His private life was not always exemplary, he was a Christian certainly but not above carrying out forced conversions, he was illiterate yet was not uneducated and was multi-lingual with a knowledge of many of the available scholarly works of his time even if he could not read them himself. In the tumultuous days of the Dark Ages, things like reading and writing were left to scribes and monks as the paramount duty of a king was to be a warrior, defending his land and people.

Right from the start he marched his knights into the eastern lands of Germany, where no Roman legions had ever tread, to take on the pagan Saxons who were still occasionally carrying out human sacrifices and eating each other -not exactly civilized behavior by any definition. Charlemagne and his mostly Frankish army gave the Saxons a sound thrashing, made them promise to be good little boys and girls and then marched off to their next adventure. That came when the Pope in Rome started having trouble with the Lombard kingdom in northern Italy. So, it was Charlemagne to the rescue, wiping out Lombardy and possibly having the Iron Crown placed on his head -that’s not definite but in any event he made himself King of the Lombards by conquest before going on to Rome to accept the thanks of a grateful Pope, see the sights and buy a few postcards for the wives. But, just as he was picking up coliseum t-shirt word came that the Saxons were running wild again and he had to round up his knights and march back to Germany. Once again, he gave them a good drubbing but this time decided that there would be no peace until the Saxons found Jesus. Being a man of action rather than words, Charlemagne had all the Saxons rounded up, pointed a few swords and lances at them and “encouraged” them to become good Catholics.

With that done and dusted, Charlemagne turned his attention to Spain which had been almost completely conquered by the Muslims. Unfortunately, the Muslims proved a much more formidable adversary than the northern barbarians had been and Charlemagne wasn’t exactly at the top of his game. To make a long story short, Charlemagne took a dusting and was forced to give up on the idea of liberating Spain and go back to France. Many mistakes were made and about the only good thing to come out of it was the famous tribute to suicidal bravery in the “Song of Roland”. Charlemagne was pretty bummed after this and devoted himself to more peaceful campaigns to develop his still strengthening Carolingian Empire. Combat was never too far off in those times though and soon, you guessed it, those naughty Saxons were causing problems again in 782.

It seems when everyone was swearing to be good Catholics some of the Saxon big-shots had their fingers crossed and it took a long, grueling war for Charlemagne to subdue them again. There were still armies in the field when Charlemagne and the Saxon king agreed to peace with Charlemagne leaving Saxony to the Saxons so long as the King was baptized. He did, Charlemagne loaded him down with gifts, the Pope sent him a pat on the back and there was much rejoicing. Charles then settled down in the town of Aachen, taking time out occasionally to thrash the Avars and punish heretics and corrupt clergymen. Although he did not take ‘sins of the flesh’ very seriously, at least concerning himself and his own family, Charlemagne was very conscious of being a Christian monarch and was determined to keep Church affairs orderly. He was, in this regard, not unlike the first Christian Emperor Constantine who was not without his personal flaws but who wanted a clearly understood and defined religion everyone could unite behind and he was willing to use his position to ensure that the Church was protected, its message was clear and its clergy upright.

All of this coincided with his efforts to increase defensive measures against the Vikings from the north, the pagans from the east and the Muslims to the south. Finally, the most triumphal moment for Charlemagne came on Christmas of 800 when he was crowned Emperor of the Romans at St Peter’s Basilica by Pope St Leo III. There is still some debate over whether this was planned, if Charlemagne knew it was going to happen or not but in any event it did happen and it was a pivotal moment in the history of western Europe. It marked the start of what would be known as the Holy Roman Empire (later the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation), a revival of the Imperial Roman legacy in the west and, somewhat controversially, a sign that the Pope had more or less ‘given up’ on the Byzantine Empire of the east as the protector of the Latin Church in the west. The Great Schism was still some way off but squabbles and tensions had been going on for some time even at that point and by crowning Charlemagne the Pope was effectively saying that he felt it more prudent to trust the converted former barbarians than the remnant of the Roman Empire ruled from Constantinople.

Charlemagne died not too many years after in 814. His empire was divided up among his sons, none of whom could quite match his achievements and the Holy Roman Empire would have to wait until the reign of Otto the Great to see itself reformed and solidified into a major power again. Nonetheless, European history would certainly not have developed as it did without Charlemagne, King of Franks and Lombards and Emperor of the Romans. He had rescued Europe from the worst period of the Dark Ages and set the stage for the rebuilding of Christian civilization in the west. Much was left to be done but none of it would have happened without the giant historical figure of Charlemagne. In recognition of his great achievements he was locally beatified soon after his death as Blessed Charles the Great, his feast day being January 28 where it is celebrated. Pope Benedict XIV much later confirmed this beatification and though he was formally canonized by the anti-Pope Paschal III in 1166 this step was never taken by the official Church hierarchy. However, his great contributions cannot be denied, his influence is still felt and the Latin West lost its first Holy Roman Emperor 1,198 years ago today.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mad Rant: Racism and Monarchy

Recently I got a particularly long comment (which I did not post due to excessive foul language) regarding my post on Jamaica and the monarchy of last November (obviously not the most timely commentator) and although I shrugged it off at the time as yet another incoherent bit of hatred from someone who is obviously not a regular reader but a troll looking trouble. However, the accusation is one which I see frequently made on news articles dealing with the monarchy in Jamaica and even in articles dealing with the monarchy in places such as Canada, Australia and elsewhere. That accusation is “racism”. It is old, it is tired, it has been overused to the point of being an epithet devoid of meaning and is a sure sign that one is winning an argument with a leftist. However, the ugliness and injustice of it never fails to infuriate me. It is such a grossly dishonest and despicable accusation to make that my temper threatens to get the better of me. Nothing could be further from the truth in saying that the monarchy is racist and it burns me to the core that the Queen is not given her due credit for being one of the most adamant (and effective) crusaders against racism in modern times nor is the fact often recognized that the Queen has, as it turned out, sacrificed vast domains because of her refusal to abide racism.

Wherever one sides on the divisive racial issues of the era that encompassed the period of the dissolution of the British Empire, the fact remains, though it is seldom spoken, that in numerous countries across Africa, especially the major regional powers of Rhodesia and South Africa, republicanism was embraced because the Queen refused to abide the continued rule of White minorities over Black majorities. The monarchy refused to allow that state of affairs to continue, the White governments in power saw the monarchy as taking the side of the Black majority and so they broke away from the monarchy and became republics. This was no surprise, plenty of people at the time could see that this was going to happen and yet the monarchy basically looked at the people who were in charge in these countries, considered them racist and effectively said, ‘if you’re going on that way, we don’t want you anyway’. If the monarchy was such a racist institution they certainly would have taken the side of the local governments and so kept the reign of the Crown over those countries for decades into the future. But, that did not happen, the monarchy firmly stood against racism and lost more than one Commonwealth realm because of it. Yet, today, where is the appreciation for this?

In 1999, when the divisiveness of Australian government recognition of the aboriginal population was still a very hot-button issue, Queen Elizabeth II invited a delegation of aborigine leaders to a meeting at Buckingham Palace to come to a better understanding of their situation and their goals. It undoubtedly upset some people and a great many people said it would never happen, that the Queen would never receive such a delegation and yet she did, not only receiving them but taking the initiative of inviting them in the first place. And the important thing to realize is that this is nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary and is simply the continuation of a long history of respect for native peoples on the part of the British monarchy. When Pocahontas came to England she was invited to Whitehall where she was given the full royal treatment with King James I treating her with such warmth and informality she had to be told after the fact that the man she had been talking to was the King of England, Scotland and Ireland. Mohawk chief Joseph Brant was very cordially received by King George III in 1775.

This was the same King George III who boycotted sugar in all his royal residences when he was told about the conditions of the slaves on the sugar plantations and it was this same King George III who granted freedom to all slaves who managed to flee their masters in the American colonies and enlist in the service of the Crown. He was also the King who signed into law the final abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Slavery was abolished completely in the British Empire under Queen Victoria and the Queen left no doubt as to her own opinions on the subject. She met with escaped slaves, anti-slavery activists and expressed her support for abolition. There was, at the time, absolutely no doubt about this even though they were many powerful people in the country who strongly supported the institution. That did not matter to the very high-minded Queen Victoria who viewed slavery as a wicked and uncivilized practice and was extremely pleased to put her name to the law banning it forever. When slavery was becoming an ever more controversial issue in the United States, Queen Victoria made it clear that it would not be tolerated on British soil and that any escaped slave who reached Canada would never have to fear being returned south. Many anti-slavery activists were effusive in their praise of the Queen for the great support she showed their cause.

There is simply no justification for any sort of accusations that the monarchy is racist. It is outrageous that so many people are allowed to get away with making that a casual accusation without ever being stopped and challenged about it. There is absolutely nothing racist about monarchy in general, certainly nothing racist about the British monarchy and I will state unequivocally that no member of the British Royal Family has a racist bone in their body. Yes, that includes Prince Philip and I am sick and tired of people taking one or two remarks, always told in a friendly and joking manner, and stretching them out of all recognition to construe something racist on his part. It is slanderous, it is outrageous and it is absolutely dishonest. The monarchy has been a champion against racism for hundreds of years and far from being ridiculed and attacked they should be recognized and thanked for that long tradition. Any time anyone hears the monarchy, the Queen or any royal being accused of racism they should not let the comment go unchallenged. It is a vicious lie and must be exposed as such immediately at every opportunity. I am not so much surprised or even angered by those who most often make the accusation but I am positively enraged by the media people that let them get away with it without even challenging them to back up such a baseless claim. I am sick of it, I am tired of it and I am … The Mad Monarchist.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Happy Australia Day!

Today the “Land Down Under” celebrates “Australia Day” to commemorate the day in 1788 when a landing party from a British fleet came ashore and formally claimed the coast of what was then called New Holland in the name of HM King George III; the official beginning of the history of the modern-day Commonwealth of Australia. Since that time centuries ago, Australia has grown into one of the most successful, prosperous and popular constitutional monarchies in the world. No other country occupies an entire continent all on its own and Australia and the unique Australian culture is now famous all around the world. In the glory days of the British Empire, Australia was one of the cornerstones of the English-speaking world. When the place of the British Empire in the world was threatened, hard-hitting troops from Australia brought a world of hurt to the Central Powers, particularly the Ottoman Turks as seen with the tough Diggers who stormed the beaches of Gallipoli and the hard riding Australian cavalry who charged across the sands of Palestine. Again, in World War II, Australians showed just as much tenacity on defense when they held off the seemingly unbeatable Axis forces of Rommel at Tobruk. Also in World War II, Australia provided a crucial staging ground for the Allied counter-offensive against the previously ever-victorious forces of Imperial Japan. When the chips were down for the Anglo-sphere it was often the Australians who arrived to save the day.

Traditionally, Australians were known for their staunch loyalty to their country and their Sovereign. Australians have a reputation for being independent, rugged individualists who make their home on a continent known to many in the outside world for its giant lizards and poisonous snakes as well as more friendly, furry creatures. The rugged, resourceful Australian with a big knife and a smile who is most comfortable outdoors may be a bit of a stereotype, but like most stereotypes it exists for a reason. Australians had to overcome many, many difficulties to build the country and, again traditionally, this gave them a great sense of community, an appreciation of what is important and a very pragmatic but also fun-loving nature. It also gave them a great deal of respect for what their ancestors had overcome and accomplished and a desire to preserve the same ideals and values that were important to those who had gone before them. Today, like everywhere else, many if not most of these ideals and values are under attack. Things which every Australian would have once considered sacrosanct are coming under attack. That includes the Queen, the national flag and even Australia Day itself for that matter. This is rather incredible considering that it was not so very long ago that Australians could be divided into two groups; monarchists and ultra-monarchists. Today, however, there is a seemingly endless campaign by republicans and the biased, bought-and-paid-for news media to tear down everything that once defined Australia.

I have probably said before how incomprehensible this attitude is to me. Where I live, anyone who would even suggest that we change our flag would be run out of town on a rail (and I mean the Lone Star, not the Stars & Stripes which we did trade in once for something different). Things like the national day, the national flag and for most countries the monarch are part of the most basic set of things that make you who you are. They reflect the history, the culture and the common values of a people, where you came from and what you’re all about. I have stated before that I consider any Australian republican a traitor, pure and simple. Fortunately for them the local authorities take a different view but this will not change mine. So far there has not been much stomach for changing the date of Australia Day but there are some who want to do it. The disturbing thing is that these people never seem to go away. No matter how many times the republicans lose they, and their allies in the bought-and-paid-for media, refuse to take “no” for an answer. How very democratic of them. They want a republic, Australians were given a referendum and they voted to keep the monarchy. The republicans then said that was the wrong answer and have been planning another vote ever since. Of course, they keep getting stomped on by waves of support for the monarchy surrounding key events, royal visits and royal weddings and the like, so they may try to take a more insidious approach next time; who knows?

Although I have never been there, I have always been very fond of Australia. The history and culture there reminds me a good deal of my own homeland. It has often seemed to me that if the British Commonwealth were the United States, Australia would be Texas. Fond as I am of Australia, I don’t want Australia to become something else. Because that is exactly what would happen if the current crop of republicans had their way. Scrap the Queen of Australia for a President, scrap the Commonwealth of Australia for the Australian Republic, scrap the flag for a new design and scrap the national day in favor of something else and what you really have is a completely different country with no history. Like a tree without roots, a country without a past will be in for a pretty sorry future. Doing that would be a betrayal, not only of the Queen of Australia (God Save Her) but of everything all the previous generations of Australians fought, worked and died for from the western front to Southeast Asia. One of the most distinct, admirable and glorious parts of the world would be lost forever.

Of course, this does not mean that there is nothing in Australia that needs changing. There are plenty of problems. However, the problems Australia does have are invariably the result of drifting away from the constitution, certainly not from being too faithful to it. The great benefit of the Australian monarchy is often lost because the Queen, or her representatives, are not allowed to make full use of their constitutional powers. In practice the powers of the Crown are often exercised by politicians and this takes away from the benefit of having an impartial, non-political sovereign to make sure everyone is playing by the same rules and nothing underhanded is being done. Things would be better if the choice of Governor-General and the use of the powers of the Crown were actually exercised by the Queen or her representative as is supposed to happen. However, over the years, the politicians have co-opted the powers of the Crown in many ways and this has meant that sometimes there is no impartial person in the engine car to apply the brakes when things get out of hand. The republicans, who represent the politician-class, have caused most of the problems in Australia by failing to follow the rules of the constitutional monarchy and yet rather than going back and following the rules, their response is to call for even more of the same, throwing out all the rules and basically letting the politicians write their own rule book. Hardly seems fair does it?

Thankfully, so far, the Aussies have managed to see through this and favor keeping the system of constitutional monarchy they have. That’s a good thing but it needs to be more than just apathy toward change, it needs to be a real understanding of the Australian government and a desire to change in the right way; putting the politicians in their place and letting the Sovereign of Australia see that they stay there and stop trying to usurp power for their own ends. The original system made Australia a success, getting away from it has only caused problems and there was nothing wrong with the old, traditional Australia of past generations. So, keep it royal in the land Down Under and a very happy Australia Day to everyone in the land of OZ from The Mad Monarchist!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Monarchist Profile: Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp

Many people have probably heard of Captain Ritter von Trapp because of the hugely successful film "The Sound of Music", but not many may be aware of the whole story of this upstanding man and devoted son of Austria. Georg Ritter von Trapp was born on April 4, 1880 in the coastal city of Zara, what is today Zadar, Croatia but what was then a Hungarian port, part of the Hapsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary. The son of a navy captain, the sea was in his blood from the very beginning. He listened to his father's stories of naval adventure all his life and eventually attended the Naval Academy and became an officer in the Imperial and Royal Navy of Austria-Hungary, first seeing service in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China where he earned his first combat decoration.

Later on, von Trapp determined to join the new, and still very hazardous, submarine service. He went to Fiume (modern Rijeka) where innovations were being made in submarine and torpedo technology. Promoted to lieutenant commander, he was later offered command of one of the earliest submarines in the Imperial and Royal Navy, the U-6. It was at the christening of U-6 that he met Agathe Whitehead. She was the granddaughter of Robert Whitehead, torpedo inventor and manufacturer and it was she who christened von Trapp's new U-boat. This was 1910, and after the two became acquainted at a ball they were married a short time later. It was said of Georg that he had two great loves in his life: the sea and Agathe. Sadly, though he was to prove a masterful sailor and a devoted husband, he was destined to lose them both. Still, his years of marriage were happy ones, blessed with seven children: Rupert, Agathe, Maria, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna, and Martina. Contrary to his image on film, Georg was a doting father who loved to play with his children.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Captain Ritter von Trapp proved right away to be one of the most courageous and skillful naval commanders of the war. He took command of the U-5 on April 22, 1915, a very early and primitive submarine, with a crew made up of men from all corners of the empire: Austrians, Magyars, Poles, Italians, Czechs and Croats. He scored a major success on the night of April 26-27, 1915 when he sank the French armored cruiser Leon Gambetta (12,500 tons). Later, still at the helm of U-5, Captain von Trapp sank the Italian troop transport Principe Umberto which was carrying 2,000 Italian soldiers. He did finally manage to upgrade his vessel when he was given command of a captured French submarine, the Curie, re-dubbed U-14. At the helm of this boat he sank the massive 11,480 ton ship Milazzo. In 1918, von Trapp was promoted to Korvettenkapitan and given command of a naval base, however, his record stood as the most successful Austrian submarine commander of World War I having completed 19 war patrols and sinking 12 cargo vessels, one French cruiser and one Italian submarine for a total of 58,494 tons of enemy shipping destroyed. Although often forgotten compared to the larger German U-boat fleet, the Austro-Hungarian submarines actually had a success rate of 90%. For his role in this Captain Georg von Trapp was awarded the rare and prestigious Knight's Cross of the Order of Maria Theresa.

Of course, for an officer like this, the defeat of the Central Powers came as a particularly bitter blow. The Hapsburg Empire was destroyed and torn to pieces, Austria being reduced to a small, land-locked republic with no navy at all. Captain von Trapp was forced to surrender, along with all other Austro-Hungarian naval officers, all naval weapons and equipment to the newly created Yugoslavian government. Ritter von Trapp retired, but the loss of his beloved naval career was only the beginning of his misery as in 1924 his beloved wife Agathe died in a scarlet fever epidemic. As someone later wrote, he had now lost the two things in life he had loved the most, and afterwards seemed like a different man, always slightly melancholy.

However, Ritter von Trapp was a devout Catholic and was able to take some comfort in his faith. He also needed someone to help him take care of his large family especially as one of his daughters was ill with the same wave of scarlet fever that had taken Agathe and so turned to the sisters of Nonnberg Abbey. They assigned to him the young novice Maria Augusta von Kutschera, a nun-in-training who had herself had quite an interesting life of her own, having been born and raised as an atheist and socialist before a conversion experience that caused her to devote herself to the service of God. The children adored their new governess and since it was only intended for her to be there temporarily, they began to plead with their father for some way to make her stay. Finally, one suggested they marry. With the children acting as matchmaker, Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp and Maria von Kutschera were married on November 26, 1927.

There remains though some major differences between the movie and what really happened. In 1932 the Great Depression hit Europe and devastated the von Trapp family's finances. To keep things going, the children had to take odd jobs and even sang for money. Although the von Trapp family often sang together for fun, none of them really took it seriously until 1935 with the arrival of Father Franz Wasner, who was a lover of music and became their family chaplain and musical conductor. In 1936 they came to great fame by singing at the renowned Salzburg Music Festival. However, just as Ritter von Trapp seemed on the verge of success in a new area, he was faced with the problem of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. The rise of the Nazi Party in Germany and the eventual merging with Austria created problems that Captain von Trapp could not ignore.

Hearing of the famous Austrian family singers, Adolf Hitler invited them to perform for his birthday in Berlin, but Ritter von Trapp firmly refused. The Nazi government sent him three offers of command in the new German navy, all of which he turned down. This was undoubtedly a sacrifice for someone who loved the navy so much; the opportunity to once again be in command of his own submarine had to be hard to pass up, but Captain von Trapp could never bring himself to fight for the Nazis. His response was, "I have sworn my oath of loyalty to only one Emperor" and Ritter von Trapp was a man who stuck to his word. He had sworn allegiance to the Hapsburg Emperor of Austria and would serve no other. He also refused to fly the Nazi flag from his home in honor of Hitler coming to visit Salzburg, famously saying, "I can do a better job with one of my Persian carpets".

When the now world-famous singers were offered a chance to perform in New York, Captain von Trapp decided to use this as his means of escape. Although not the same as shown on film, it was a dramatic move. It was no small thing for a man like Georg von Trapp to leave his homeland, but his honor was more important still and there was no doubt that if he remained he would be forced into service in the German navy. Disguised as if going hiking, the family escaped to Italy in 1938 where they arranged passage to the United States. They performed concerts, traveled to Scandinavia and eventually settled in Stowe, Vermont in 1942, where their old home is now a resort. It was here that Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp died on May 30, 1947, survived by his beloved Maria and his ten children.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Great Frederick

It was on this day in 1712 that the future King Friedrich II of Prussia was born, better known as Frederick the Great, one of the "Enlightened Despots" and the military genius who held off almost all the great powers on the continent with his small but matchlessly efficient army.

MM Video: King Sisavang Vong

MM Video: Louis XVI Martyr-King

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tết - Happy Lunar New Year!

A Happy Year of the Dragon to all the loyal peoples of Eternal Asia. This year, particularly, the monarchial origins of the Lunar New Year are worth remembering. The dragon, as most know, was the symbol of good fortune and authority. As such it was always the primary symbol of the Emperor. In old Viet-Nam the Tet festival saw the dynastic flag and symbol displayed on every significant monument; the Imperial Palace, the Holy Citadel, the offices of the ministries, the fortresses and so on. In all the pagodas and imperial temples special offerings were set out in memory of the past emperors and imperial ancestors. At the Forbidden City in Hue the members of the Imperial Family, the mandarins and high-ranking dignitaries gathered to kowtow before the Emperor on the Golden Dragon Throne in the Palace of Ultimate Peace, wishing him "happiness, prosperity and longevity". Outside, gun salutes were fired, bugles were played and traditional musicians played for the occasion.

Across the country, special offerings were made for the family ancestors who were believed to rejoin their families at this time and children would come to kowtow before their parents in a show of filial piety and would be given a special coin wrapped in silk to symbolize a wish for their longevity from their elders. A great deal of noise would be heard as people symbolically drove away the previous year, and any misfortune attached to it, to welcome and make room for the happiness of the new year. The legendary Jade Emperor would appoint a new spirit for the year which the people would revere with special ceremonies and in appreciation the spirit was supposed to grant good fortune to the people and spare them from undue suffering. A special bamboo 'trap' was put outside the doors of homes to catch evil spirits while a basket was set out to collect offerings for the good and beneficial spirits. Special plants, pictures and other decorations would adorn every house to show the wishes of the inhabitants and evil spirits would be banished with noisy firecrackers. There was also a holiday from housework so as to avoid sweeping out lucky spirits along with the dust. Today children traditionally get red envelopes of money from their elders.

The Emperor, the Son of Heaven, played a pivotal role in the Tet celebrations. With all due ceremony the imperial seal would be covered and hidden. This was to symbolize that time had stopped for the holiday so everyone could forget their worries and celebrate. The Emperor would stand over the Noon Gate and officially announce the opening of the Tet holiday in what could be compared to the New Year's addresses of western monarchs still today. In the west, New Year is not usually considered a "family" holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) but in the Far East the Lunar New Year is very, very much a family holiday and a family-focused holiday when children are treated, parents are revered and people honor their ancestors as a way to keep their memories alive throughout time. And, of course, given that, the Emperor, as head of the Imperial Family and the national family presided over the Tet celebrations as a whole on behalf of his people. In these days when few traditional monarchies remain this may not be much remembered but it is no less true.

Again, a happy Year of the Dragon to all.

Soldier of Monarchy: General Vicente Filisola

A longtime figure in the early history of independent Mexico, General Vicente Filisola could always be counted on to be among the forces of the most conservative and loyalist faction. He was born in 1789 in Ravello, Italy but moved to Spain with his family when he was quite young. On March 17, 1804 he entered the Spanish army, starting what was to be a lifelong military career. He earned promotion to second lieutenant after six years of dedicated service and In 1811 was sent to New Spain (modern Mexico) to serve with the forces charged with suppressing the attempted revolution launched by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Filisola was a dedicated and loyal officer in the Spanish army and earned numerous promotions. His most important action, however, was becoming a close friend to his fellow officer Agustin de Iturbide.

Iturbide, also a leader in the Spanish army, had fought for the King of Spain against the revolutionaries but was the most prominent of a growing group of Mexican conservatives who believed that Spain was becoming too liberal, that Mexican independence was inevitable and that they could and should take the lead in the revolution to direct it to a more traditional and less radical conclusion. Filisola supported Iturbide in his "Plan of Iguala" which called for an independent Mexican monarchy, originally intended to remain part of the Spanish Empire, based on the guarantees of unity, independence and religion. Filisola was given command of the Army of the Three Guarantees and the rank of brigadier general. When Iturbide himself was persuaded to lead the independent Mexico as Emperor Agustin I, General Filisola was dispatched to the south to bring Central America into the new Mexican Empire.

Filisola succeeded in his assignment, taking control of Central America and ensuring that Imperial Mexico stretched all the way from northern California to Panama. However, when Emperor Agustin lost his throne as a result of the treachery of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the Central American nations broke away and Filisola returned to Mexico for a new assignment with the new republican government. Almost immediately, the new government faced the issue of immigration from the United States. Iturbide had been working out an agreement for the establishment of Anglo colonies in Texas and after a time the Mexican Republic continued the program. Invasions by Filibusters or land pirates had long been a problem, but the Anglo colonists were mostly loyal to the new Mexican constitution of 18124. However, the growing number of Anglo colonists alarmed many in Mexico and efforts were slowly put in place to halt immigration and increase the Mexican presence in Texas.

General Filisola, on October 12, 1831, was given a grant to settle 600 families in East Texas who could be anyone except Anglo-Americans. However, this was land which the government had promised to the Cherokee Indians in 1823 and Filisola was never able to establish his colony and his short term as an empresario came to nothing. Nonetheless throughout the 1820's and early 1830's General Filisola held a number of important commands in the Mexican army, including holding command of the eastern internal provinces which he was given in January of 1833. However, it was in 1835 that Filisola received what was to be his most important appointment. It was in 1835 that the province of Texas had risen up, captured all of the important posts in Texas and after a long hard battle in San Antonio had expelled the Mexican garrison commanded by General Martin Perfecto de Cos, the brother-in-law of the Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

General Santa Anna immediately began raising an army to retake Texas and crush or expel the entire Anglo population. General Vicente Filisola was made deputy commander of this force, named the Army of Operations in Texas, and was second only to Santa Anna himself. Santa Anna marched first on San Antonio where less than 200 Texans had barricaded themselves in the old Spanish mission known as the Alamo. The battle was a victory for Mexico, albeit an extremely costly one. General Filisola arrived with his troops three days after the Alamo had fallen since the massive size of the Mexican army meant that the main body was stretched out with units several days march apart. Later, General Filisola wrote down many observations about the campaign, commenting on the determined bravery of the Mexican soldier and the vanity of Santa Anna who would listen to nothing that was not in agreement with the ideas of Napoleon Bonaparte. Filisola also considered the assault on the Alamo a costly and unnecessary waste of manpower, pointing out that if Santa Anna had only waited for his heavy artillery to arrive they could have shelled the crumbling mission to rubble without risking the life of a single Mexican soldier.

After the battle, Santa Anna pushed his army relentlessly forward in pursuit of Texas General Sam Houston who was retreating north. Overconfident, Santa Anna was oblivious to the strategic danger he placed himself in and took a smaller part of his army ahead in the hope of capturing Houston personally. At San Jacinto, Houston cut Santa Anna off from General Filisola and the main army and launched a surprise attack on the sleeping Mexicans. Santa Anna suffered a stunning defeat and was himself captured and forced to order his army back to Mexico and recognize the independence of Texas. General Santa Anna sent orders to General Filisola to withdraw the army back to San Antonio. General Filisola ordered the retreat, but not simply to San Antonio, but all the way across the Rio Grande to Mexico. Because of this, General Filisola earned the total wrath of many of his subordinates and in time his retreat from Texas became the single most remembered action of his life.

General Filisola would spend much of the rest of his life explaining and answering for taking the army out of Texas. Santa Anna, it was argued, had given the order under duress and so Filisola was not bound to obey it. However, General Filisola said he would have ordered the retreat even without an order from Santa Anna because the military situation left him no other option. General Santa Anna had taken huge losses at the Alamo and San Jacinto, were deep in enemy country and could expect no reinforcements while the atrocities committed by Santa Anna continued to draw outraged volunteers from the United States to aid the Texans. The Mexican army had been pushed to exhaustion pursuing Houston, their supply lines had broken down and huge numbers were down with dysentery. Filisola, who had a higher regard for his soldiers than anyone, said that nature had left them no option but to withdraw or risk losing the rest of the army.

No instructions reached Filisola from Mexico City until he had crossed the Nueces River when he was ordered to hold what territory had been retaken. He offered to march back north, but it was clearly apparent that the army could not bear the task. They were weak, malnourished, poorly equipped and their morale was sapped. Filisola continued on to Matamoros and on June 12, 1836 command of the army was given to General Jose Urrea, the most victorious officer of the campaign, and Filisola resigned his post of deputy commander, turning the position over to General Juan Jose Andrade. He retired to Saltillo but was able to answer the charges other officers had made against him, accusing him of cowardice and treason for ordering the retreat, when he was court-martialed by the Mexican government. General Filisola presented the facts, gave his side of the story and was properly exonerated in June of 1841. He also wrote extensively, detailing what had happened on the failed Texas campaign and explaining his own actions. When the Mexican-American War broke out General Filisola was recalled to service and commanded one of the three divisions in the Mexican army. He died not long after the war on July 23, 1850 during a cholera epidemic in Mexico City.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Battle of Rorke's Drift

It was on this day in 1879 that one of the most famous little battles in British history began at the remote mission station of Rorke’s Drift in what is today South Africa when around 150 British troops were attacked by upwards of 4,000 Zulu warriors in the Anglo-Zulu War. The astounding thing is that, despite those seemingly hopeless odds, the British were victorious. The forces of Queen Victoria at Rorke’s Drift were led by Lieutenant John Chard of the Royal Engineers and Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead of the 24th Regiment of Foot. The Zulus were led by Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande. The battle was supposed to have been a simple ‘mopping up’ operation on the part of the Zulus after they had wiped out a British column of over a thousand men at the battle of Isandlwana in the worst defeat suffered by a European army at the hands of a non-European foe prior to being surpassed by the Italian defeat at Adowa who were later surpassed by the Spanish defeat at Annual in 1921. The heroism of the British forces at Rorke’s Drift was, therefore, something badly needed for the morale of the British Empire after suffering so devastating a loss. Not only did the handful of men at the isolated mission station repulse repeated attacks by a vastly larger enemy, they forged a record of courage that remains unsurpassed in British military history to this day. Since the institution of the Victoria Cross in 1856, the highest award for battlefield heroism the British monarch can bestow, more were earned at Rorke’s Drift (11) than in any other engagement to date.

That was how I first became aware of the action at Rorke’s Drift as my history professor at the time was an avowed Anglophile whose special area of expertise was the history of the Victoria Cross. Most people probably know about it thanks to the classic 1964 film “Zulu” starring Stanley Baker and Michael Caine. The movie actually has a royal connection as the man playing Zulu King Cetshwayo was one of his relatives, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi who later became famous as a political leader and a somewhat controversial one at that for his strident anti-communism and break with the African National Congress. The film famously contains a number of historical inaccuracies but is entertaining for all of that and correctly shows the daunting odds and courage displayed by both sides in the battle. The little outpost had heard, of course, about the annihilation of the column under General Lord Chelmsford at Isandlwana but knew that it would be hopeless to try to retreat in open country slowed by the many sick and injured they would have to carry along with them. So, they decided to stay and fight it out at Rorke’s Drift, knowing it would be a fight to the death since, as was demonstrated at Isandlwana, the Zulus were not in the habit of taking prisoners, particularly when it came to British regulars.

The Zulus were mostly part of a reserve force that had seen no combat at Isandlwana and were fresh and eager. Added to this was the fact that the Zulus were of a time-honored warrior tradition, very fit and possessing incredible stamina. The British force, by comparison, consisted of a large number of wounded men, some men of the Natal Native Contingent were armed only with spears and their commanders would not have been considered top-notch at the time. Lt. Chard did not have the best reputation in the army, Lt. Bromhead was half deaf and their ranking NCO was the youngest in the army. They were, on the whole, better armed than their enemies who mostly fought with primitive melee weapons though a number did have rifles. The British were better trained in the art of modern warfare but the Zulus also had a primitive but quite effective system of command and control with established tactics that had worked for them in the past. Finally, given their immense numerical superiority there should have been no doubt that they would have defeated the little British outpost and that fairly quickly and completely. The redcoats hastily improvised the best fortifications they could with the space and materials on hand and then waited for the waves of Zulu warriors to come crashing down around them.

The Zulus were not actually supposed to attack Rorke’s Drift. King Cetshwayo was no fool and realized that if he were to provoke a general war with the British Empire he would surely lose. He wanted to repel them from his claimed territory but gave orders against invading that of his enemies. As it turned out, the defeat at Isandlwana enraged British public opinion against the Zulus while the action at Rorke’s Drift inspired them that victory was possible and obtainable. Prince Dabulamanzi made the attack on the mission station on his own authority, being known for his aggressiveness and for being what we would today call a ‘war hawk’. After an initial clash with a small troop of the Natal Native Horse the cavalrymen retreated, leaving the men at Rorke’s Drift on their own. At that point most of the native troops there abandoned the post as well. At about 4:30 PM the Zulus came on, taking as much fire as the British could put out, in attack after attack before recoiling to catch their breath and try again.

The fighting was fierce and often hand to hand as the British fought desperately for their lives against wave after wave of Zulu warriors. For the redcoats, absolutely every casualty counted. As he lost men, Lt. Chard was forced to slowly give ground, abandoning his north perimeter wall and a few rooms in the buildings on that side to the Zulus. Still, in the best tradition of the British infantrymen, they kept order, maintained discipline, stood and gave fire until the enemy was right upon them and then fought them off with the bayonet. The fighting went on through the evening and into the night. Time and time again the British position was all but overrun but each time the heroic soldiers desperately fought their way back and held their ground. Crowds of Zulus were everywhere and the hospital had to be abandoned during the night as the two sides fought from room to room. Chard and Bromhead had improvised some interior lines and as their losses mounted pulled back more and more to maintain a defensible position. The Zulus, for their part, took very heavy losses but continued to attack with tenacious determination. As the night dragged on the British were finally reduced to a mere handful of men, many of them wounded, and they were almost out of ammunition. Mention must also be made of the medics, commissary men and the field chaplain who acquitted themselves just as heroically as the combat infantrymen, tending the wounded in the midst of battle, bringing up ammunition and taking part in the battle themselves.

When dawn broke the next morning it was clear the British could not withstand another attack. If the Zulus had come on once more in all likelihood they would have swiftly taken Rorke’s Drift and massacred the remaining survivors. However, the Zulus had lost about a thousand men killed or wounded so that even their feisty chieftain had to admit that the little mission station was simply not worth it. To the great relief of the British survivors the Zulus decided not to try again and retreated. Sometime after 8AM a British relief force arrived under Lord Chelmsford so that the work of clearing the field and burying the dead could commence. It had been one of the fiercest battles in the history of the British Empire, lasting only hours and not of immense strategic importance but seeing some of the most brutal and desperate combat imaginable. It also saw some of the finest acts of bravery and heroism in the annals of British military history. Eleven men received the Victoria Cross, the most ever given to the men of one regiment for a single action, and four received Distinguished Conduct Medals for conspicuous valor in the face of the enemy. Another man, by all accounts, would have received the Victoria Cross had he not died in the battle as there was no provision at that time for posthumous awards.

Today, I doubt few people outside of military historians in the UK are all that familiar with the action at Rorke’s Drift and most would probably, I am sad to say, feel uncomfortable or even ashamed about it. White Europeans fighting African natives, that’s just terrible and brings up all that history of colonialism and the British Empire that the modern “citizens” of the UK would prefer to forget about or apologize for. Of course, it is a false dilemma to say one must choose between being either a jingoistic racist or someone ashamed of your own history. I look at Rorke’s Drift and see a clash of two kingdoms, unfortunate, but each with a great military tradition behind them and each displaying the heights of courage and tenacity. Ultimately, as we know, the Anglo-Zulu War ended in an “Anglo” victory with the Zulus losing their independence. However, we cannot assume that would not have happened anyway as the British (and most other Europeans for that matter) have now left South Africa and the Zulu kingdom is still not exactly independent but they seem to be okay with that. When remembering Rorke’s Drift and the wider war there is no reason for either side to be ashamed. The British troops were doing their duty and they and the Zulus alike displayed matchless courage. Britain was ultimately victorious but the Zulus had given them a fight like few other non-European peoples ever did.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Greatness of King Louis XVI

Once again, on this day we remember the impious and treasonous regicide of the royal martyr His Most Christian Majesty King Louis XVI of France and Navarre, lastly “King of the French”. Much can and has been said about the spiritual greatness of this late sovereign. At a time when moral decay had taken its toll on France, and nowhere more so than the court it often seemed, King Louis XVI was a man of devout faith. He never took a mistress, never shirked his religious duties, genuinely preferred work to frivolous parties and truly saw his kingship as a sacred duty rather than an opportunity to have the best for himself. All of that is well established and should be well known. However, even those who praise King Louis XVI for his pious spirit often portray him as rather lacking in the more secular qualities most often required of kingship. At times he is contrasted with King Louis XIV who, while certainly far from being a pious man, was a more decisive leader who steered the ship of state with a firm hand, bringing glory to France and around whom almost all the affairs of Europe revolved. The exact opposite of Louis XVI we are to believe. Yet, while it is true that the two men were very different, it is certainly not true that King Louis XVI occupied himself only with other-worldly matters.

It is tragic any time a nation sets to destroying itself rather than accomplishing the great deeds possible if they worked together to channel all of that energy into the pursuit of some more lofty ambition. Although he had trepidations about some of it, there is ample reason to believe that had it not been for the outbreak of the Revolution, King Louis XVI might have gone down in history as one of the greatest Kings of France in secular as well as spiritual terms. In all the focus on the Revolution and his personal character, the great events and foreign policies of his reign are often overlooked. In the first place, he was no despot and from the very start favored giving the people a greater say in how their money was spent and how France was governed. However, even with all of the problems facing France, as a monarch, Louis XVI took a broader look at the past, present and future of France and wanted to see past losses made right and gains made for a greater future for his country. Of course, particularly after the drubbing France had taken in the recent conflicts with Great Britain, it was the British who would be the primary rival in his foreign policy. The King was not malicious or reckless by any means but he was determined to see British gains made at the expense of France reversed.

This was what ultimately led to the French intervention in the American Revolution (or more properly ‘War for Independence’). Louis XVI had deep reservations about helping any rebels in waging war against their sovereign yet he was persuaded to make an alliance with the fledgling United States by a combination of the urging of his advisors and his desire to see an end to the British domination of North America and, perhaps, a much greater French influence in the region. Although not often remembered, following the French and Indian War the French military had been reformed and greatly improved. The expeditionary force sent to North America fought extremely well and, along with the French navy, proved decisive in securing the independence of the United States by forcing Great Britain to give up on the war and come to terms with their former fellow subjects. The islands of Tobago and Grenada were taken from the British (Tobago being retained by France along with Senegal in the final settlement) but, to some extent, Louis XVI was undercut by his American allies who made a separate peace with Great Britain and effectively thwarted the greatest ambition King Louis had for the conflict which was the recovery of Canada. Had the war gone on there is every reason to believe that could have happened.

In the other great arena of colonial competition, Louis XVI also hoped to reverse previous losses and see the growing British dominance in India come to an end. He allied with the Maratha Empire and took the side of the Sultan of Mysore in the Second Anglo-Mysore War in the hope of breaking the dominance of the British East India Company, curtailing British influence in India and increasing French influence. France actually had a much larger sphere of influence in India, controlling large parts of the east coast and holding sway over the majority of the southern subcontinent. French troops and ships were active in the region but due to the distance involved the campaign was overtaken by events elsewhere and when the end of the American Revolution forced France to make a hasty peace with Britain the previous French support for the Indians was withdrawn. In the end Britain and the Indian forces made peace that restored the pre-war status quo in India. Again, had not the situation in American brought hostilities to an end, it is conceivable that France, working through local alliances, might have dethroned Britain from her place of prominence in India.

There was also the Far East to consider and, though not often remembered, it was under King Louis XVI that France first took a serious interest in Vietnam and, indirectly, helped bring about the victory of the last great imperial dynasty of Vietnamese history. Crown Prince Canh, heir of the future Emperor Gia Long, came to Versailles as a boy, converting to Christianity and symbolizing the alliance by which French support was promised to his father in exchange for favorable trade agreements and some minor territorial concessions. The previous regime in Vietnam had viciously persecuted Christians and King Louis was anxious to see a more humane dynasty put in place. A Catholic missionary had saved the life of Gia Long and he vowed that the rights of Christians would always be respected in his domain. However, by the time these great events were to take place in southeast Asia the forces of the Revolution were gaining strength and events rapidly approached a climax. King Louis was not able to play the decisive role he had wished to. Still, the Bishop of Adran acted on his own to help Emperor Gia Long take the throne and so things worked out. The only problems arose in the future when post-revolutionary French regimes tried to collect the payments promised to Louis XVI which the Vietnamese were reluctant to grant since it was the Bishop rather than the government in Paris which had actually helped them at the critical time.

King Louis also sponsored around-the-world voyages of exploration and the world (certainly North America) owes a great deal to Louis XIV for doing the same in his time. The point of all of this is that King Louis XVI was not, as he is so often portrayed, some sort of totally indecisive ditherer who fussed and prayed over one crisis after another. He had big plans for France, he had ambition, he wanted to see France recover her place of greatness in the world and had a few things gone differently there is no reason to believe that she could not have done so. There are those who will say that the Revolution proves that France was too weak to have accomplished anything in that period but this is clearly false. Look at what Napoleon was able to accomplish, once the Revolution was ended, only a few years later with the same country. Considering that the goals of Louis XVI were all about restoration and not conquering every nation in Europe, there is no reason to believe that he could not have been successful. King Louis XVI fully deserves his pious reputation as a martyr for the Kingdom of France but he should also be remembered as a potentially great King who could have done magnificent things for his country.
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