KEEPING THE QUEEN’S PEACE

Watching the Queen’s recent attendance in parliament as part of the celebration of her Diamond Jubilee, it appeared to me that she reacted with distaste to The Speaker, John Bercow’s ill-considered remark that she was a kaleidoscope queen of a kaleidoscope country.    I do not think her (assumed by me) disapproval was in any way a rejection of our multicultural society and commonwealth, over which the Queen has presided with discretion and dignity for six decades.   Rather it may have been because the word kaleidoscope suggests that the colours were constantly changing, whereas she nailed her colours to the mast long ago and has remained true to them ever since.

I also recently watched an old film about the English civil war and reflected what an extraordinary period of history it was, and how it illustrates certain characteristics of the English.     (I must remind readers in my observations below that I am a Scot which is an entirely different thing to being English in ways both obvious and subtle.)

I am not an historian, but let us consider here four pivotal points in English history:   their conquest by Rome;  their fall to William the Conqueror;  their challenge to papal authority under Henry V111;  and their rejection of the unimpeachability of kings in the person of Charles 1.

Of Ancient Rome, whose conquests have been labelled ‘glorious’ by those who had no distaste for their ruination of other nations, nor their profit through the misery of those whom they enslaved, I shall say little.   When, briefly, I studied Latin, I was surprised by how impoverished a language it appeared to be compared with the great subtlety of English, and wondered why for generations we have wasted time studying an unusable language of an unedifying people, unless perhaps among our educators were descendants from this doubtful patrimony.

William the Conqueror’s claim to the throne of England had no legitimacy whatsoever (supposing such a thing exists), except by that bully’s charter, Right of Conquest.   I recently warmed to General the Lord Dannatt when he listed William the Conqueror as an enemy of England.

Henry VIII challenged the authority of Papal Rome and although his motives were entirely dishonourable, he freed his countrymen from the tyranny of submission to an external religious authority.   He challenged the notion that one section of Christendom was a true instrument of the divine, and chose to nominate his corrupt and venal self as a suitable head of the church in England, which peculiar state of affairs last until the present day.   (NB: In England only.  The Queen is not head of the church in Scotland.)    He then set about achieving the real objectives of his ‘heresy’ which was less to do with religious theory and more about getting rid of a wife of whom he had tired, and getting his hands on the wealth of the church, both of which aims he accomplished with speedy efficiency.

Charles 1 had not considered carefully enough the nature of the people over whom he was, for a time, king.   They were pragmatic enough to survive under tyrants when there was no alternative, but they were of an independent spirit.   He assumed that because he was king, he could claim to be anointed and chosen by God (whereas in fact kings hold their position due to an accident of birth, the aggression of their ancestors possibly long ago, and crucially by acceptance of the inhabitants of their kingdom.)   However, it appears that he could have held on to his crown (not to mention his head), had he only been sensible.

The religious choice of kings appears to me to be largely pragmatic, though not many are as frank as Henry of Navarre,  later Henry IV of France, (‘Paris is worth a mass.’)   Henry VIII had at different times cast into doubt the legitimacy of both his daughters.   Mary Tudor was daughter of a catholic queen, and according to that religion she was the only legitimate heir, so her loyalty to the church of Rome was never likely to be in doubt.    Had Elizabeth espoused Catholicism, that would have been to declare herself a bastard and ineligible to be queen, so she had no alternative but to support the Protestant cause.   James VI of Scotland, later lst of England, had seen his mother lose her head over her claim to the English throne by Catholic legitimacy, plus he came of the Scots brand of Protestantism which is an entirely different thing to the English.    But by the time it came to Charles 1, his legitimacy in terms of birth was not an issue and he appears to have been catholic in all but name, and indeed Charles II declared himself catholic on his deathbed.   Of course an individual’s private faith should be his own business, but Henry VIII had left English kings in the invidious position that they were head of the established church, and therefore their view was of national significance.   It appears that the majority of the king’s subjects wished to practise protestant variants of Christianity, while being prepared (mostly) to tolerate individual practising of personal belief.   I suggest that the attraction of Protestantism to the English was that it left you much more free to think for yourself, and certainly not in a position where foreign clerical authorities could interfere with your affairs.   Charles should have pondered this conundrum with caution.    As it was, he appeared to believe that he could not be challenged on his assertion that he was chosen and anointed by God, and was answerable to no other authority.   It appears that what angered his opponents into accusing him of treason against the people was discovering that he was prepared to open England’s gates to foreign armies in order to subdue his own people;   for this they declared him unfit to be king;   and they had found him to be so arrogant, dishonest and perfidious that his word was worthless;  and so he was executed.

Whereas Henry VIII and Cromwell appear to be opposites – one enhancing his personal power through the monarchy, and the other king in all but name for so long as he lived but refusing the crown; in fact what they had in common was that, broadly, the majority of the English were in support of their actions.     The English have long memories; and after their experiences with Rome and Roman Catholicism, perhaps they were no longer willing to accept that any unimpeachable authority could be applied to them.   (Exerting authority over others was of course a different thing.)  Charles I either never saw this, or he forgot it.

This is why, some time ago, during the recent visit of the present Pope, I was absolutely astounded to hear the Speaker of the House of Commons, still the sorry John Bercow, who is supposed to speak as the House wills him, refer to Charles I as ‘Charles the Martyr’.   Charles the Martyr, I thought.   How dare he?    Charles I was not a martyr to anything but his own arrogance, selfishness, intransigence and stupidity.

If ‘The Speaker’ is supposed to be a man of cautious and accurate words, as befits one who speaks on behalf of the English (and that’s not counting the other nations of Britain) then I think in his giddy attention-seeking silliness the incumbent has proved a poor choice.   Perhaps the House of Commons should remember what Cromwell said in addressing an earlier House.   ‘Consider, in the bowels of Christ, that ye might be mistaken.’     Then with that swift action after long deliberation which characterises the English, they might chose another Speaker who might better speak on their behalf and by extension, represent us all.

Meanwhile we should follow the good example of the protestant Queen Elizabeth 1 and the (presumably) catholic Charles 11, and follow our personal beliefs with gratitude that we are free to do so, and in mindful tolerance of the alternative views of others.

Keeping the Queen’s peace, one might say.

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About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

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