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How Neville Chamberlain Went Wrong

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I believe it is safe to say that most Americans who have ever heard of Neville Chamberlain associate him with appeasement of Hitler and selling out Czechoslovakia at Munich. Why did Chamberlain think that appeasement was a good idea?

Chamberlain had been a managing director of a ship berth manufacturer for 17 years. He had also been Lord Mayor of Birmingham, as had his father before him. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer twice, from 1923-24 and again from 1931-37, at which time he succeeded Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister.

Britain had not prospered after World War I, and the Depression had hit hard. Known in Britain as The Great Slump, it was a time of technological progress but economic distress. Official unemployment reached 25%, but some areas in the industrial North of England experienced 70% unemployment. Entire towns, such as Jarrow in Durham, were plunged into hardship as industries closed; the most famous of the hunger marches was the Jarrow Crusade. Chamberlain concluded that the country could not afford to keep up with Germany in military spending.

It was a decision that Chamberlain had reached mostly by himself. Ian Colvin researched the proceedings of the Chamberlain cabinet and found little policy discussion. Ministers who disagreed with Chamberlain, such as Foreign Minister Anthony Eden and First Lord of the Admiralty Duff Cooper, were ignored until they went away in frustration. He is known to have preferred to surround himself with people who would ratify his decisions, such as Samuel Hoare and John Simon.

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.
— Neville Chamberlain, radio address, 27 Sept 1938.

Chamberlain had believed that war would be disastrous both for Britain and the Empire, and he was right. What he was wrong about was how to prevent that war. Chamberlain believed that Hitler was a rational statesman with whom one could negotiate rationally. Hitler only respected strength, but Chamberlain did not want to hear that. Because of the way he managed his cabinet, there was no one to persuade him otherwise.

So Hitler had to show Chamberlain the error of his ways. On 15 Mar 1939, contrary to his claims to have no further territorial demands in Europe, Hitler invaded the rump of Czechoslovakia. This area was not ethnically German and there were no legitimate German ethnic claims to it. The action shattered the illusion that Hitler was only seeking redress of the wrongs of the Treaty of Versailles.

Britain now belatedly recognized the seriousness of the menace and guaranteed Poland’s territorial integrity. When Hitler violated that on 1 Sept, after two further days of “you better or I’m gonna,” Chamberlain reluctantly declared war. Privately, he admitted the futility of his policy:

Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life has crashed into ruins.

 

Written by srojak

July 24, 2016 at 12:00 pm

The Nation State Strikes Back

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Thursday evening, June 23. I was watching the Brexit results on the BBC just before midnight when they announced that the Leave vote had gone mathematically over the top.

Apparently all the major parties favored Remain. There were discussions with representative of various viewpoints as to what had happened. Explanations ranged from anti-immigration sentiment in England to, “what the voters are really trying to say is [insert pet political program here].”

Meanwhile, the Leave partisans were saying that they would now have to reflect upon what the next steps were. Hadn’t they ought to have figured that out before now?

I am relieved to report that America does not have a monopoly on aimless politics and insipid public discourse.

Also worth noting: no reporting district in Scotland favored Leave. The closest result was in Moray, where Remain carried by a couple hundred votes. Many Scots would rather remain in the EU and leave Britain; we may soon find out just how many. The previous independence referendum was in 2014, when the proposal was defeated 55-.3% to 44.7%. Now that staying in Britain means leaving the EU, will the Scots reconsider?

Nicola Sturgeon, who is First Minister of Scotland and an advocate of separation, has many reasons to call for a second referendum. However, Sturgeon became first minister after her predecessor, Alex Salmond, resigned in the wake of the failure of the 2014 referendum. Failure again would hold similar risks for her.

And success would be no easy ride, either. What would the currency of Scotland be? They would certainly have to leave the pound and join the Eurozone — right in the teeth of various recurring crises from the Mediterranean countries. Would the Eurozone even accept Scotland with its £15 billion annual deficit?

Which brings us to the euro in general. There was great celebration when it was launched. Now, like many other expansive notions before it, the risks that were swept under the carpet have been laid bare. As long as member nations are still sovereign, putting them all on one currency is like having twelve college graduates sign up for a joint credit card account. Sure, the big vacation was fun, but now Ryan and Amber are not paying their share of the bills. What are you going to do about it?

Commentators have fallen all over themselves to blame the result on ignorance generally and xenophobia specifically. There is even a petition to hold a second referendum, although the back story behind it is cloudy.

The elites from most major parties, from the Tories to the Greens, mostly backed Remain. London was strongly Remain. How likely is it that we will find out what was really going on in the minds of the majority of English and Welsh voters that rejected it?

I don’t doubt that anti-immigration sentiment played a role. However, even that exists within a larger framework of national sovereignty. The writing is on the wall: either you will have tighter political union to go with economic union or you will have to opt out of both.

Political elites always think they can buy off the people with material comfort. Sometimes it works. In late nineteenth century Germany, Bismarck bought off the workers with state-run sickness, accident and old age insurance in exchange for allowing the Prussian nobility to keep a disproportionate influence in politics.

However, it doesn’t always work out that way. Certainly the Americans of 1770 enjoyed wealth and protection behind the shield of Great Britain, particularly the Royal Navy. The rational thing to do would have been to work out some sort of deal that allowed Parliament to appear to be the unopposable force in the kingdom while quietly blunting the most offensive edges of ministerial policies. Not necessarily honorable, but certainly more rational than opposing the richest nation and greatest military power on earth.

The scare tactics of the Remain campaign promised economic disaster — the financial center of London might even decamp for Paris! Now the nation has called their bluff.

Even when — not if — there are economic consequences for the Leave vote, the people chose them over political consequences that would have necessarily followed a decision to Remain.

 

 

Written by srojak

July 5, 2016 at 11:32 am

Sarah Bunting, Fictional Class Warrior

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The season of Downton Abbey currently airing is set in 1924. Unlike some of the past seasons, the outside world is impossible to ignore. Ramsay MacDonald has become the first Labour Party Prime Minister ever. Economic realities are squeezing the Crawley’s household staff. Penniless displaced Russian nobles have washed up in England.

And here comes Sarah Bunting sharing her abundant opinions. Sarah has a talent for wearing out her welcome, not only with the Crawleys but with many viewers as well.

Being a fictional character in a melodrama, Sarah would not merit extensive comment if she were not representative of real people who lived in Britain at the time and can still be found there today. Allow me to introduce Polly Toynbee:

By comparison, Downton’s conservative aristocrats would have been far more abusive – verbally and actually: mocking, sneering and complaining about their servants was standard Edwardian and inter-war conversation. Instead we see the Crawleys’ deep concern for their staff’s welfare, compassionate when one is charged with murder and another revealed as jailed for jewellery theft. In life, they would have been turfed out without references at any whisper of scandal.
— “What if Downton Abbey told the truth about Britain?”, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/22/downton-abbey-truth-about-britain

I’m sure some were abusive, small-minded and self-absorbed. Like any population, I would expect a wide variety of behaviors. As for the subset who were as described by Ms. Toynbee, really, who wants to watch them?

The British person who wants stories with cardboard, one-dimensional characters — brave, downtrodden, horny-handed working-class heroes and smug, nasty rich brats — can obtain these in abundance from The Guardian. Really, Polly, is it wise to cultivate competition for your audience?

Downton Abbey humanizes aristocrats, domestics and socialist agitators. Set in the years during and after World War I, it exposes those characters to forces of social, economic and political change for which they were completely unprepared. Gwen, Thomas, Daisy, Moseley and Shrimpy illustrate the gains and losses that these forces have wrought.  At its best, the series makes us care about the characters. Judging by the following it has, the series has been rather successful at that.

Being Lord Robert

The milieu in which a man such as Robert would have been raised was a shame culture, where honor was emphasized (Civilian America in 2015, by contrast, has a guilt culture; we are bereft of shame). There were relatively small circles of people with whom one had to get on, so reputation was critical. Whatever you were really like as a man, there were definite expectations of your behavior. Nobody cared a fig about authenticity; you were to do what was expected of you, even if you had to bend yourself into a pretzel to do it. Whereas we deplore a phony, the man of honor expects proper conduct in public, whatever one was like behind closed doors.

A man who failed to meet these expectations was a cad: “a man whose behavior is unprincipled or dishonorable.” Once your reputation was ruined, there was no retrieving it. There was no possible option to move to another part of the country and start afresh. However, a duke who was a cad was still a duke, entitled to all the accompanying prerequisites and social standing. He might be someone you would never speak to but he could still walk into a public ceremony in front of you.

The distinguishing hallmark of a person of social standing was leisure. It would not do for a man to shovel coal into his own furnace or for a woman to cook her own meals (and for a gentleman to cook his own meals — don’t even go there). One had servants for that. When Matthew, who is the heir apparent, announces his intention to work at a local law firm in season 1, it is not well-received. Matthew originally does not want to have a valet, but Robert prevails upon him to keep Moseley on, as much out of obligation as personal ease.

It wasn’t right, Carson. I just didn’t think it was right.
— Robert, series 1 episode 1, having reversed his decision to dismiss Bates

Even when the nobleman was serving as an army officer on campaign, it was unthinkable for him to be without a servant. A gentleman would not pitch his own tent or saddle his own horse. The officer would select one of the soldiers under his command to serve as his batman: a combination of valet, horse groom and gofer. A batman was expected to do anything the officer did not have time to do for himself, did not know how to do for himself or simply did not want to do for himself. In Downton Abbey, Bates had performed this role for Robert in the Boer War.

If you must know, when I think of my motives for pursuing Cora, I’m ashamed. There’s no need to remind me of them.
— Robert, series 1 episode 1

How representative is Robert’s character of an English lord at that time? To what extent does he vary from the norm? I shall have to leave that question to others whose experience includes encounters with earls and viscounts. I can say that he demonstrates the noblesse oblige, honor and self-examination that the aristocracy espoused, however much living examples did or did not live up to these standards.

If I’d screamed blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I’d have been hoarse within a month.
— Robert, series 3, episode 8

The British upper class standards emphasized tight emotional control. A man with Robert’s background and upbringing would strive to react with equanimity to whatever life could throw at him. His boat is not easily rocked, but Sarah has the knack.

Sarah and Robert

Sarah has lived in a world that Robert has never seen. She would likely have experienced real hardship. She is earnest in her convictions. She is apparently a very effective teacher. Were she a real person, it would undoubtedly chafe at her to see leisured people who don’t have to concern themselves with issues that confront her every day. She is also strident, very tiresome and does not know when to climb down from the soapbox.

All I’ve proved is that Lord Grantham would like us serfs to stay in our allotted place from cradle to grave.
— Sarah, season 5, episode 4

Serfs? You said it, not me. Not only have you verbally identified yourself as a serf, but your behavior is dishonorable. The word cad derived, a hundred years earlier, from caddie. When a person insults a man under his own roof, attributing beliefs to him without even knowing him well enough to speak from fact, in his code she demonstrates that she is only fit to carry his clubs, not to play the course as an equal. Sarah should be — and I mean this in all the richness of the word that the foregoing discussion entails — ashamed of herself.

With communist takeovers and revolutionary terror in Russia and Hungary quite fresh in everyone’s mind, Sarah’s remarks are quite threatening. Many enlightened people hoped for change, just as they had in the early years of the French Revolution. Defenders of the revolutionaries excused the casualties, saying, “You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.”

I have seen the future, and it works.
— Lincoln Steffens, 1919, after touring Soviet Russia

Seen across the gulf of the past 90 years, this viewpoint is also rather naive. However, people in 1924 didn’t fully understand what was going on in the Solovki Special Purpose Camp, pilot project for the Gulag. We now know that revolutionary ardor is not a justification for upturning a society. Maybe we should have known earlier, because we were told:

All you intended when you set us a-fighting was merely to unhorse and dismount our old riders and tyrants, so that you might get up and ride in their stead.
— John Lilburne, 1646, at his trial in the House of Lords

Sarah and the Exiles

One can view the Russian aristocracy as a ruling class gone horribly wrong. While they were “dancing and shopping and seeing their friends,” millions of people whose lives they influenced lived in poverty and squalor. Finally, the nation stumbled into a modern war with a feudal economy. Germany held France and Britain off with one hand for three years while battering Russia into submission with the other. There were aware, committed members of the aristocracy who wanted to reform Imperial Russia, but not enough of them.

Sarah would see the Russian exiles getting a taste of how the other half lives. Now you have nothing, just like the people you lorded over all those years? Cry me a river.

To Robert, this is uncharitable. Whatever they have or have not done prior to the Revolution is water over the dam now. These people are here, living in poverty. There is no reason to be unkind to them and certainly none to pour salt in their wounds.

Later a real Russian would write, of a person much worse than any of these exiled nobles:

No, I have no intention of forgiving everyone. Only those who have fallen. While the idol towers over us on his commanding eminence, his brow creased imperiously, smug and insensate, mutilating our lives—just let me have the heaviest stone! Or let a dozen of us seize a battering ram and knock him off his perch.
But once he is overthrown, once the first furrow of self-awareness runs over his face as he crashes to the ground—lay down your stones!
He is returning to humanity unaided.
Do not deny him this God-given way.
— Aleksandr Solzehnitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, vol. 3, p. 436.

Sarah and the Future

People like Sarah and Robert would stand together to defend Britain, and the liberal state with it, in 1940. They would then allow the country to become such a mess by 1979 that Margaret Thatcher was needed to save the country from itself. I doubt that either Robert or Sarah would have had a good word to say about the Iron Lady. Robert would have found her ungenerous and objected to her readiness for conflict. Sarah would have vilified Lady Thatcher on class principles.

The obvious musical reference for Sarah is to the Beatles’ Revolution. But that has already been done, so I am going in a slightly different direction.

And there’s always a place for the angry young man
With his fist in the air and his head in the sand
And he’s never been able to learn from mistakes
So he can’t understand why his heart always breaks
And his honor is pure and his courage is well
And he’s fair and he’s true and he’s boring as hell
And he’ll go to the grave as an angry old man
— Billy Joel

The strident polemicism of Sarah is alive and well. Take it away, Polly:

Downton rewrites class division, rendering it anodyne, civilised and quaintly cosy. Those upstairs do nothing unspeakably horrible to their servants, while those downstairs are remarkably content with their lot. The brutality of servants’ lives is bleached out, the brutishness of upper-class attitudes, manners and behaviour to their servants ironed away. There are token glimpses of resentments between the classes, but the main characters are nice, in a nice world. The truth would be impossible without turning the Earl of Grantham and his family, the Crawleys, into villains, with the below-stairs denizens their wretched victims – a very different story, and not one Julian Fellowes would ever write.
— “What if Downton Abbey told the truth about Britain?”, The Guardian, loc cit.

Not only would Julian Fellows never write the story Polly Toynbee wants, but we would never watch it. I see no purpose to devoting an hour a week to watching a story about servile victims, abusive villains and abrasive proletarian rabble-rousers behaving in entirely predictable ways toward one another, with no complexity, no richness of character and no possibility of redemption. I would rather have a root canal.

The class warriors, like the post-restoration Bourbons, have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. It’s all about class divisions. Life is materially determined. The rich, who never deserve their station, continue to exploit their downtrodden, wretched victims until we, the Enlightened Ones, march to power and put everything right. The history of the twentieth century, in which many eggs were broken and no omelet was made, just a mess on the floor, is conveniently overlooked. We just have to try harder next time.

Then and Now

Prior to World War I, it is evident that most of the country across all social strata believed that the men of the gentry and nobility ruled the country because they were most fit for it. After World War I, there was a crisis because many of the young men from the upper class had not come back from France. Who was going to run the country? The experience of seeing Britain continue to function without them changed people’s minds about the inevitable necessity of having the “toffs” in charge.

There were some desperate rearguard actions where people attempted to preserve the social order. One notable instance was by the English educational psychologist Cyril Burt. During the 20s and 30s, Burt conducted studies by which he concluded that he proved that IQ was genetically heritable, thus supporting the idea that breeding mattered. After his death in 1971, investigation concluded that he had cooked his data to support the conclusion he wanted to reach.

Downton Abbey gives us a chance to look at a lost world and examine what happened to it. When the series is firing on all cylinders, it provides human examples of change bringing good and bad effects into people’s lives. Gwen got a chance to prosper by leaving domestic service. Moseley, not so much. Daisy is gaining confidence. Carson, not Lord Robert, is asked to be on the war memorial committee. Shrimpy and Susan might actually go public with their marital dissatisfaction, in violation of the code. Robert has to worry about where the money is coming from to support his obligation to convey the property to his heirs intact. Even Edith, who in prior times would have been destined to be a spinster aunt, might hope for a fuller life. We can see the consequences of change and consider what we have gained and what we have lost.

Americans are drawn to Downton Abbey, just as we are fascinated with the British Royal Family. It’s something we don’t have, with a heritage and deep roots. The closest thing we have to a castle is Fort Ticonderoga.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.
— US Constitution, Article I, Section 9

There is a reason that this prohibition exists. We don’t want to have a society based on inherited privilege. However, there are still issues important for us in the picture of life shown in Downton Abbey. Our error was that we thought, with those words in the Constitution, that we had dispensed with the nobility. In fact, given our political aspirations, what we need is for a majority of the voters to be noble. Not by birth but by behavior. Noble in outlook, in worldview, in standards of honorable conduct in the public square.

 

Written by srojak

January 29, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Simon de Montfort and His Good Idea

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Even in the Middle Ages, kings did not give the orders and have everyone just obey. The powerful nobles who provided service to the king — the earls and barons — had their own ideas about what ought to happen. The nobles believed that the king should consult them in the tradition of the Great Council (Magnum Concilium) that had been established by the Norman kings. When the king tried to ignore them and rule through court favorites, which happened often in medieval England, the nobles would rebel.

Simon de Montfort (c. 1208-1265) was the 6th Earl of Leicester. Originally, he had been a favorite of King Henry III, but the two fell out. Simon shifted his position and made common cause with other disaffected nobles. By 1258, de Montfort had become a leader of the nobles who opposed the king. Henry attempted to assert his authority forcibly, the nobles fought back and a civil war called The Second Baron’s War began.

Simon was initially successful against the king. However, he wanted to consolidate his own power base. Unlike the king, who was anointed, Simon was just another noble among many. He needed a political counterweight to the various other barons in order to establish his own power and to attempt to keep his coalition together.

Simon hit upon the idea of bringing the voices of people outside the nobility into governance. Along with the nobles  and bishops who were customary members of a Great Council, de Montfort invited ordinary knights and representatives of important towns to a Parliament. This opened on 20 January 1265. It was the first time that commoners were invited to participate in governance.

Simon had mixed motives and his actions to feather his own nest helped tear his coalition apart. Before the year was out, the son of Henry III — the future Edward I — defeated and killed de Montfort in battle.

After this, it would have been typical for any rebel innovations to have been discarded and forgotten. However, Edward I summoned Parliament in 1295 to fund his plans to invade Scotland. Edward also included representatives from outside the nobility in his summons, but separated them from the nobility. This became the Model Parliament, so called because it was the model for the organization of future Parliaments. The nobles and bishops formed the House of Lords, while the others formed the House of Commons.

Today, the House of Commons is marking its 750th birthday. It is an historic milestone for an institution that is an important part of our Anglo-American political heritage.

Links

UK Parliament

2015: Parliament in the Making

BBC

Democracy Day

Simon de Montfort

Memorable Speeches from 750 Years of Parliament

 

Written by srojak

January 20, 2015 at 2:03 pm

An American’s Guide to the English Civil War

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Every US citizen should buy, rent or borrow episode 8 of Simon Schama’s DVD series A History of Britain. The episode, titled “The British Wars”, covers the causes and outcome of the series of wars from 1638 to 1649 that include the English Civil Wars and the Bishops’ Wars. Everyone should watch this episode over and over until every running second of it is burned into their brains, because it has important principles and lessons that relate to what we are going through now.

At the same time, there are a few important turns in the plot that the DVD does not address. I shall speak to these as well.

The question in dispute between us and the King’s party was, as I apprehended, whether the King should govern as a god by his will and the nation be governed by force like beasts; or whether the people should be governed by laws made by themselves, and live under a government derived from their own consent.
— Gen. Edmund Ludlow (c.1617-1692), Memoirs

The focus of this post will be on the First Civil War, which was fought between 1642 and 1646 between Royalist and Parliamentary forces. I will not be taking up the subject of Charles’ religious misadventures in Scotland that culminated in the Edinburgh Prayer Book Riots and the Bishops’ Wars, except to the extent that they accelerated events in England.

Causes

Cavalier and Roundhead, from Sellars and Yeatman

Cavalier and Roundhead, from Sellar and Yeatman

Charles I was a Cavalier King and therefore had a small pointed beard, long flowing curls, a large, flat, flowing hat and gay attire. The Roundheads, on the other hand, were clean-shaven and wore tall, conical hats, white ties and somber garments. Under these circumstances a Civil War was inevitable.
— Sellar and Yeatman, 1066 And All That

But seriously, there were two principal issues in dispute which fused together because of the King’s personal agenda.

Royal Prerogative

Charles believed that kings were answerable only to God. He would call Parliament to discuss issues he chose, consider carefully their advice and ignore it if it displeased him.

The countdown to the Civil Wars started now — though nobody heard it. It was a countdown that could have been stopped time and time again, but the ticking grew louder and louder, until by 1642 it was deafening. And what triggered that countdown? Money.
— “The British Wars”

The English constitutional tradition was that the King needed Parliament to enact laws to raise taxes. Charles did not want to go to Parliament because he found himself in ugly discussions regarding what he wanted done and who he wanted leading it (such as the Duke of Buckingham, a royal favorite). So he sought to dispense with Parliament, having his ministers comb the books for various devices he could use to raise revenue without Parliament. His treasurer and attorney general sold monopolies, fined landowners for technical violations of obscure medieval forest laws and even levied fines on members of the gentry who had failed to apply for knighthood.

Charles dismissed Parliament in 1629, and ruled without one until 1640, asserting his royal prerogative. However, the constraints of raising revenue without direct taxation coupled with Charles’ spending reached the limits of what was possible to achieve even dusting off obscure laws to enforce. By 1635 Charles’ administration was having to reach even farther, assessing inland towns for ship money, which had always by custom been limited to the ports. John Hampden, a Buckinghamshire landowner, refused to pay. His attorney argued the royal prerogative is limited by law; if it were not, a man’s life and property were not secure. Hampden lost his trial, but he sparked a renewed interest among the gentry in asserting their rights under law.

Charles I said that any money which was Ship Money belonged to him; but while the Roundheads declared that Ship Money could be found only in the Cinq Ports, Charles maintained that no one but the king could guess right which was Ship Money and which wasn’t. This was, of course, part of his Divine Right. The climax came when a villager called Hampden (memorable for his dauntless breast) advised the King to divine again.
— Sellar and Yeatman, 1066 And All That

Religious Conformity

Even before Charles was born, there was no religious toleration. Catholicism was seen as a mortal threat; when Pope Pius V had issued the bull Regnans in Excelsis in 1570, declaring Elizabeth I to be a heretic and releasing her subjects from obedience to her, he linked Catholicism and treason in England. There was no acceptance of Jews; Edward I had expelled them in 1290. It would have been completely out of the question for a citizen to have publicly been a Moslem, an atheist or a pantheist; such a person would be in mortal jeopardy.

Non-conformity

But it was not enough to be a Protestant; one had to be the approved kind of Protestant. The Act of Uniformity 1558 (actually enacted one year later) required all English persons to attend weekly services in the Church of England, with failure punishable by a stiff fine. The King, the bishops and Parliament regulated what the faith would profess, how the service would be conducted and who would be conducting it.

Protestantism had originated as a reform movement, challenging the authority of the Roman Catholic church. Rendering the Bible in English, putting it in the hands of ordinary people and asserting the qualifications of all believers to achieve salvation without the intermediation of priests, it should hardly be surprising that people formed their own opinions and were often not receptive to being told, “.. but believe this way.” A strong non-conformist movement developed in England, so called because its members did not conform to Church of England doctrine.

Puritanism

Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had sought to navigate something of a middle path between hard-core Lutheran or Calvinist reforms and Roman Catholic traditions. The more extreme Protestants were dissatisfied with this. They wanted to purify the church of lingering vestiges of Roman Catholic rituals and dogmas, and were thus known to contemporaries as Puritans. These were the people who wanted the church walls whitewashed, the stained glass smashed and the statues pulled down. To the Puritans, the images and the rituals had become ends of worship in themselves, getting in the way of the proper veneration of Christ.

The early Stuart kings, James I and his son Charles I, were not enthusiastic about Puritans. James sought to keep the Church on the middle way, acceptable to many Protestant reformers but not threatening to those who found comfort in tradition and ritual. James sponsored the King James Bible, finished in 1611. He was more than just a patron; he issued doctrinal guidance for the translators, and forbade the inclusion of notes. Under James, Puritans were dissatisfied, but not largely persecuted. Some, seeking to get away from what they considered the corrupting influence of the unpurified church, left for America on the Mayflower.

Official Repression

And alongside the lawyers in Parliament, Charles now faced another group of intransigent critics who had something even more unanswerable than Magna Carta — Holy Scripture — and they, of course, were the Puritans.
“The British Wars”

Charles was more willing to demand obedience than his father, and he found like-minded men to implement his desires. His reign turned a corner in 1633, when George Abbot died and William Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud demanded strict conformity to official Church doctrine and was prepared to employ the full apparatus of the temporal power to get it, using the Court of High Commission and Court of the Star Chamber as his venues. Men and women who publicly deviated from the official line could expect jail or worse. Some were punished by having their ears cut off, their noses ripped open or their faces branded. Others, such as Anne Hutchinson and John Lathrop (or Lothropp), fled to New England.

Many ordinary people were secretly influenced by Puritans, such as the Parliamentary leader John Pym. Many others, who found the Puritans dogmatic and tiresome, were appalled at the way Charles and Laud repressed them.

Breakdown

Charles was also attempting to assert his domination over the religious beliefs of Scots, and this was not going well. The Scots prevailed in the Bishops’ Wars, and Charles found himself backed into a corner. Unwilling to accept defeat with the Scots, he had to summon Parliament in England so that he could have the funds to retrieve his position. The first try, the Short Parliament of 1640, lasted only three weeks before Charles shut it down. However, this did not solve Charles’ Scottish problem. The Treaty of Ripon, to which Charles was forced to agree in October, left the Scottish forces in possession of Northumerland and County Durham, with Charles paying their upkeep. Charles had to get out from under this, and needed Parliament to do it.

John Pym was the most visible leader of the opposition to the King in Parliament. Pym organized this opposition throughout 1641, as Schama describes in the episode. Finally, having all he could take, Charles led a troop of retainers to Parliament on 4 January 1642 to arrest John Pym, John Hampden and three other leaders of Commons. However, the five had been alerted that the move was coming, and they escaped at the last minute before the King and his party arrived.

It was an unmitigated fiasco. The gamble had only been worthwhile so long as Charles was sure of absolute success. Exposed now, just as Pym had wanted, as a naked, abject failure, Charles appeared to be something worse than a despot: a blundering despot.
— “The British Wars”

Members of Parliament now saw they needed protection from the King, and began to organized armed militia. The King also called upon his loyal supporters to put down the rebels. That August, when Charles raised his standard at Nottingham, the actual war began.

The War

Royalist support was strongest in the economically backward north and west of England, while the south and east, including London, were more favorable toward Parliament. This meant that Royalist resources were more limited, but also meant that Parliamentary supporters had more to lose as the war dragged on, disrupting production and trade.

Both sides made strategic and tactical errors. There were serious command problems, because most of the forces were local militia who were not paid well and did not want to fight far from home. The war brought death, disease, famine and misery.

The Solemn League and Covenant

By the summer of 1643, people on both sides were becoming disillusioned with their causes, seeking a way out. This was particularly true for the Parliamentary party. Landowners were facing financial ruin and starting to wobble. Pym took action, doing a deal with the Scots Covenanters. The forces that had fought Charles in the Bishops’ Wars would now be fighting on the side of Parliament.

Under the terms of the agreement, the conduct of the war for the combined Parliamentary-Scots forces would be supervised by a Committee of the Two Kingdoms.

Marston Moor

In September 1644 a combined Parliamentary and Scottish force totaling about 27,000 men defeated a force of 18,000 Royalists at Marston Moor, outside of York. From Schama’s description, one would think that this battle decided the war and that the battle of Naseby, a year later, was a final mopping-up. Actually, the outcome was less clear cut. While the battle did result in the destruction of Royalist support in the north, the principal Parliamentary commanders, the Earls of Essex and Manchester, failed to press home their advantage. The Royalists were allowed to limp away after the Second Battle of Newbury.

The Half-Measures Men

The truth was that Parliament would never prevail under the command of men such as Essex and Manchester, who did not have the will to win. The Earl of Essex brought his coffin with him on every campaign. After Second Newbury, the Earl of Manchester said, “If we beat the King ninety and nine times yet he is king still, and so will his posterity be after him; but if the King beat us once, we shall be all hanged, and our posterity be made slaves.”

The Puritan Takeover

Oliver Cromwell’s reply to Manchester was, “If this be so, why did we take up arms at first? This is against fighting ever hereafter. If so, let us make peace, be it never so base.” The failure to win in 1644 led to a showdown over command between Lords, exemplified by Essex and Manchester, and Commons, led by Fairfax and Cromwell.

I would rather have a plain russet-coated captain who knows what he fights for and loves what he knows than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else.
— Oliver Cromwell, letter to Sir William Spring, September, 1643

The Self-Denying Ordinance

The Roundheads therefore made a new plan in order to win the war after all. This was called the Self-Denying Ordnance and said that everyone had to deny everything he had done up to that date, and that nobody was allowed to admit who he was: thus the war could be started again from the beginning. When the Roundheads had done this they were called the New Moral Army and were dressed up as Ironclads and put under the command of Oliver Cromwell, whose Christian name was Oliver and who was therefore affectionately known as “Old Nick.”
— Sellar and Yeatman, 1066 And All That

As the conflict within the Parliamentary command escalated, Cromwell proposed a solution: a man could be a Member of Parliament or a military leader, but not both. In April, 1645, Parliament passed the Self-Denying Ordinance, which denied Members command commissions. This applied to Cromwell, as MP for Cambridge, equally as it did for the Earl of Manchester, who sat in Lords. However, the Committee of the Two Kingdoms did not want to do without Cromwell, and repeatedly granted him temporary commissions which finally became permanent.

The New Model Army

Cromwell and Fairfax set about reforming the army to overcome the problems that had limited its effectiveness. Over the winter of 1644-45, they created a new army that would fight wherever its officers directed it. In return, the army could count on reliable supplies and officers with the will to win. This army was now filled with professional soldiers instead of part-time militiamen. It was also religiously radical, with strong Puritan and Leveller presences.

By the spring of 1645, the New Model Army had nearly a 2:1 manpower advantage over the Royalist forces. In June, Fairfax and Cromwell with 14,000 men wrecked a Royalist army of 9,000 at Naseby. The Parliamentary leaders paraded half the Royalist army through London as prisoners.

After Naseby, the wind-up began. The New Model Army went around England, cleaning out the remaining Royalist strongholds. In May 1646, Charles I surrendered to a Scottish army in Nottinghamshire.

What Happened to the Parliamentarians?

The war began in earnest at the Battle of Edgehill, in October 1642, with the lawyers and squires in charge of the Parliamentary cause. Over the next two years, they were unable to obtain more than a bloody stalemate.

In early 1645, the Puritans took control of the army and the cause. Under their leadership, the war was successfully concluded in just over a year.

Religion was not the thing at first contested for, but God brought it to that issue at last, and at last it proved to be that which was most dear to us.
— Oliver Cromwell, 1654

Why did this happen? Was there a necessary relationship between religious zeal and military victory? Evidently there was something going on, as the contrast between Cromwell and Manchester illustrates.

The Earl of Manchester wanted to preserve the rights of Parliament and the liberties of Englishmen, but not at all costs. What good was liberty if you were dead?

Oliver Cromwell expected to stand before the judgment of God and account for his actions. Cromwell knew that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it.” (Mark 8:35) Cromwell built an army of soldiers that feared only God.

The Fate of King Charles I

Charles spent the next two years trying to recover through political maneuver what he had lost in military defeat. He attempted to use his position as an anointed king, which still meant something to most people, and to play off Parliament, the Scots and the Army against one another.

Ultimately, the Army asserted itself, demanding Charles be brought to account. He was tried for treason before Parliament in January 1649. Charles still maintained that he was not answerable to any mere mortal:

No earthly power can justly call me (who am your King) in question as a delinquent … this day’s proceeding cannot be warranted by God’s laws; for, on the contrary, the authority of obedience unto Kings is clearly warranted, and strictly commanded in both the Old and New Testament … for the law of this land, I am no less confident, that no learned lawyer will affirm that an impeachment can lie against the King, they all going in his name: and one of their maxims is, that the King can do no wrong.
— Charles I in trial, 1649

Parliament wasn’t buying it. Charles was condemned to death, and beheaded on 30 January at Whitehall.

Significance

The English Civil War changed English governance forever. Although the Monarchy was restored in 1660, the King would now rule in Parliament, not above it. Parliament would take the crown away from Charles’ son, James II, and give it to William III in 1689. The King could do wrong. He was under the law, not above it.

Taxation, the very thing that had triggered the British Civil Wars, would do so again, this time in America. The taxes may have been different, but the result would once again be disaster. What really happened in America was really Round 2 of those wars: the civil war of the British Empire, with the Hanoverians playing the part of the Stuarts, and the Americans the heirs of the Revolutionaries, of Cromwell and of William III — the inheritors of a true British liberty that had somehow got lost in its own motherland.
— Simon Schama, A History of Britain, Episode 11, “The Wrong Empire”

The experiences of the seventeenth century were the foundations on which British colonists in the New World built their political principles in the eighteenth. Settlers came from Britain and set up their own colonial legislatures, which they expected to control the financial exactions on them to support the British Crown. If the colonists did not like London’s policies, the legislatures would then refuse to grant the taxes to pay for them. When Parliament attempted to take control away from colonial legislatures, it claimed that colonists had virtual representation in Parliament. This is the origin of the phrase, “taxation without representation.”

The idea of a virtual representation of America in this House is the most contemptible idea that ever entered into the head of a man. It does not deserve a serious refutation.
— William Pitt, speech in Parliament, 1766

The idea of a legislature challenging an executive by withholding funds to implement policies is not a departure cooked up in our time. It goes back to 1625 and the fight over Buckingham’s appointment. It was baked into the political understanding of the Framers of the Constitution. It is part of what legislatures do.

Executives, whether kings or presidents, do not like being limited in this way. They trot out all manner of arguments to evade accountability and assert their power to do as they please. Understanding the history gives us the context to make sense of it all.

Written by srojak

November 1, 2013 at 10:36 pm