Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Monday, January 30, 2012
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”.
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.
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”.
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”.
“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
Saturday, January 28, 2012
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.
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.
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
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.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
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.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
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.
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".
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
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.
Monday, January 23, 2012
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.
Again, a happy Year of the Dragon to all.
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 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.
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.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Saturday, January 21, 2012
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.