Sunday, November 23, 2014
Monarchist Monarchs, Part I
The start and spread of the Protestant Reformation was certainly a painful period for the western world with Christians fighting Christians as never before and thus also Christian monarchies fighting each other as well. Some monarchs embraced Protestantism while others opposed it and some peoples were inspired by it or perhaps simply used it as an ideological shield to actions they wished to undertake in any event, to rise up in rebellion against their princes. Such was the Peasant’s Revolt in Germany and later, encouraged also by economics, the Dutch Revolt in the Netherlands which was, at that time, ruled by the Spanish Hapsburgs. The Dutch rebels embraced republicanism, albeit republicanism of a very unique sort that most today would not recognize, though their greatest leader was a prince and one who came to Protestantism rather late in the game, perhaps as much to attract the support of Protestant powers as religious conviction. The primary enemy of the Dutch republicans was, of course, the man the were rebelling against; King Philip II of Spain. King Philip II of Spain also happened to be a very monarchist monarch.
However, King Philip II was a monarch who took royal power seriously (though he was no arbitrary tyrant as he respected the laws and traditions of his various domains). He was so staunch a Catholic that he considered even Pope St Pius V insufficiently zealous, yet he was himself at odds with the Supreme Pontiff on more than one occasion (though, fortunately he never took it as far as his father had). It is evidence enough that Philip II was a loyal son of the Church even when he was sometimes considered a papal adversary that even today the most zealous Catholics tend to take the side of the King over that of the leader of the Catholic Church. King Philip II was a Catholic champion but he was also a monarch who believed in monarchy and would not allow the Pope to diminish his own legitimate authority or shy away from opposing the Pontiff politically, though such occasions were very much the rare exception.
Political realities, religion and the principle of monarchy came together again when King Philip II sent Spain’s “Invincible Armada” (which turned out to be all too ‘vincible’) against England. There were numerous motivations for this but one was certainly the regicide of Mary Queen of Scots by Queen Elizabeth I of England. Putting a monarch to death was a shocking event and one monarch subjecting another to a trial and execution was perhaps even more so. The Scots Queen was beheaded in 1587 and the Spanish Armada set sail the following year which, as we know, was unsuccessful in its aim of invading England and overthrowing Queen Elizabeth I.
Prince Willem II of Orange rather than his father. His father was, of course, a giant figure in Dutch history, a masterful military commander as well as an astute statesman but it was Prince Willem II who actually took to the field to fight for the idea of a Dutch monarchy and a powerful, Calvinist (because he saw himself as a champion of his religion just as Philip II of Spain did) ‘Kingdom of the United Netherlands’. Of course, each side also had their confederates in Britain as the English Civil War was the pivotal monarchy vs. republic contest of the time. Prince Willem II naturally favored the side of his father-in-law and thus there were many close ties between the Orange party in the Netherlands and the royalist Cavaliers in England. Prince Frederik Hendrik had also supported King Charles I in his domestic troubles and had even considered bringing his highly professional and experienced Dutch army to England to help the royalists win their war.
Tsar Alexis I of Russia. He was only the second Romanov to rule Russia and was a great monarch all around. Tsar Alexis I presided over the last flowering of Muscovite culture before the campaign of westernization, he was a powerful monarch, a devout Orthodox Christian and it was he who took the first steps towards modernization though in a more limited and conservative way than Peter the Great would. He tried to rebuild the Russian economy after a costly war with Poland by promoting trade. Yet, though it certainly was not beneficial to his country, Tsar Alexis put principle before profit and cut off all trade with England after the regicide of King Charles I. The fact that someone so far removed from the issue that he could do practically nothing else about it always impressed me all the more. Tsar Alexis I had no real vital interest in what happened in Great Britain and any actions he took would have little impact (the English Commonwealth certainly did not suffer unduly for lack of trade with Russia) yet, he nonetheless did what was in his power to do to show that he would have nothing to do with a regime which had murdered its legitimate, anointed sovereign.
King Louis XIV of France. As a man who was not above getting his hands dirty if it would advance French interests, his reputation was not so pristine as the Tsar of Russia (he did deal with Cromwell, as did the Dutch but that was the republican faction rather than the Orange party), yet King Louis XIV was certainly a big believer in monarchy and the sacred nature of monarchy which anyone who knows anything at all about him can attest. He also gave support to the British Stuarts in their hour of need but I think what stands out as the most laudable thing he did for the cause of monarchy came after the Stuart restoration. In the end, it was a promise he was never called upon to fulfill but he did promise his support and even a French army should it be necessary to keep King Charles II on his throne and defend the British Crown from republican traitors. It was also thanks to the subsidy King Louis XIV that Charles II had the funds to dissolve Parliament and rule in his own right for the final years of his life. This was not insignificant as it prevented Parliament from being able to force the King, by the power of the purse, to disinherit his brother and place the succession under the control of Parliament. This would have effectively meant that the Crown was in the gift of the Parliament and that the King of England, Scotland and Ireland reigned ‘by the grace of Parliament’ rather than “By the Grace of God” as is right and proper. When King James II was overthrown, Louis XIV gave him shelter and support and finally French troops to aid in his attempted restoration in Ireland, which, as we know, ended in failure at the Boyne. Practical reality finally compelled Louis to come to terms with Britain’s new Dutch monarch but while he was obliged to withdraw most of his support from the exiled James II, he never forced him to leave the country and even tried to find a crown for him in Poland but James refused the offer.
After the English Civil Wars there was not much opportunity for a monarch to prove their monarchist zealousness in the way we are looking at here for quite some time. The next major clash between republicans and royalists came with the American War for Independence and Britain had been riding high for so long that most were not unduly distressed to see Britain humbled. In some ways it seemed as though the crowned heads of the world were eager to embrace the new American republic. The French Revolution was another story but in that regard it is still difficult for individual monarchs to stand out since almost all were united in their opposition to the monstrous French regime. After the rise of Napoleon, almost every monarchy was also forced at some point to come to terms with the new regime in France. It is for that reason that one monarch stands out, to me at least, and that was the much maligned Tsar Paul I of Russia. He was a staunchly monarchist monarch which was even displayed when he did finally come around to recognizing Napoleon. Paul I was a monarchist very much of the legitimist variety and it was this that ultimately led to his falling out with the Allies and why many have accused him of having an erratic foreign policy (often cited amongst the evidence for his being insane).
Thankfully, in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, there was a somewhat greater degree of monarchial solidarity in Europe as most everyone recognized that it was in their own interest to maintain the principle of monarchy. Since republicanism threatened everyone, it was more common to see monarchs coming to the assistance of each other when they were threatened. Yet, there were also disagreements as to what formula for monarchy was best to preserve the institution. This was on display in civil wars in Spain, Portugal and Italy in particular. As constitutional monarchists battled against absolute monarchists many, particularly the powerful British Empire, tended to favor the constitutional monarchists. Many absolutist-sympathizers of course have very uncharitable views about Britain because of this, yet it should be kept in mind that many people viewed constitutional monarchy (and Britain was the most shining example) were more conducive to stability and the long-term survival of monarchy than absolutism was. This was the view that absolute rule invites rebellion and disorder, possibly resulting in the overthrow of monarchy and the victory of republicanism, while constitutional monarchy was able to give the people enough of what they wanted to keep them peaceful and orderly and to take out their frustrations at the ballot box rather than barricades in the streets. Give them elected representatives, was the idea, so that they have politicians to hold to account rather than blaming their monarch for any misfortune that may come along.
Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. He was certainly a monarchist monarch and an absolute monarchist (and monarch) at that. His political views were illustrated early on by the curtailment of the power of the government in Congress Poland (of which the Russian Emperor was also King). When the Poles protested, favoring a constitutional monarchy, the Tsar sent in Russian troops, dismissed the Polish constitution and from then on ruled Poland as a conquered province rather than an independent country in personal union with the Tsar. Nicholas I also offered to come to the aid of any European monarch who came under threat from republican traitors or even constitutional monarchists whom he tended to view as subversives. None availed themselves of his help until the Revolutions of 1848 when the Austrian Empire came to be in a desperate state. Rebellions by the various ethnicities of the polyglot empire seemed to be breaking out all at once. The Italians were seizing control of northern Italy, riots had broken out in Vienna and the Hungarians were rising up and showing signs of being determined to take Hungary out of the Austrian Empire. The Hapsburg Emperor fought back hard but it seemed doubtful that he had the military strength to suppress both the Italians in the west and the Hungarians in the east at the same time. In 1848 the Austrian Empire really did seem on the brink of collapse.
However, Tsar Nicholas I came riding to the rescue. Even though his country was not under threat and even though one could argue that the break-up of the Austrian Empire would have presented favorable opportunities for Russia, the man known as the “Iron Tsar” and the “Gendarme of Europe” did not care about such things. A monarchy was imperiled and he would lend assistance regardless of the circumstances. He sent a large Russian army into Hungary in 1849 to stamp out rebellion there and this was successfully accomplished with the rule of the House of Hapsburg being restored there. Nicholas I also sent his moral support to the King of Prussia not to give in to those who were demanding a constitution. No one can doubt that the Russian Emperor would have sent his army to Berlin to help prevent such a thing if the King of Prussia had asked it of him. For the Tsar, it was a matter of principle and he had an absolute clarity on the subject. The Revolutions of 1848 ended with most monarchies having been shaken but having survived. The crowned heads of Europe would not feel such nervousness again on such a scale until the outbreak of the First World War. More on that next time.
Continued in Part II