Thursday, 24 February 2011

“It ain't necessarily so" (3)

“Intrigue, secrecy, lobbying, back-stabbing, feuding, and conspiracy”, are words which I referenced in my blog entry about the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne, (as James I of England).

They are also apt in the matter of the “Glorious Revolution” which led to William III, Prince of Orange, and his wife Mary II as co-equal English monarchs, in 1688.

Here is a bit of background.  King Charles I was executed in 1649.  This led to what is known as the “Commonwealth Period” in English history, a time in which Oliver Cromwell was the Lord Protector of England.  

Cromwell’s ascendancy favored Independent and Presbyterian forms of church government, thus stripping the Church of England of its monopoly on English religion, and in fact setting the C of E at a distinct disadvantage.

After Cromwell’s death there was little official sentiment for the continuation of the Commonwealth/Protectorate, so C I’s son, Charles II was invited back to reign as King in England and Scotland in 1660.  

This “restoration” of the monarchy effected the reinstatement of the Church of England as the national church, to the distinct disadvantage of Roman Catholics and “Dissenters”.

Although C II favored religious tolerance (and was in fact a crypto-Catholic, who converted to Catholicism on his death bed), he had no choice but to sign the punitive (so-called) “Clarendon Codes” which favoured the Church of England.  (I will blog a summary of the codes  tomorrow).

Upon the death of C II in 1685 his brother succeeded to the thrones, as James II of England and James VII of Scotland.

James and his first wife Anne Hyde (she who led him by the nose in everything but his cod-piece) had secretly converted to Catholicism whilst in an earlier exile in France.  Once he became King his conversion was unmasked.

On the face of it, James II favored religious tolerance.  Those who admired him lauded him as a tolerant monarch.

Others, who were less sanguine believed that his “so-called” toleration for Dissenters and Catholics, masked an intention to restore England and Scotland to the Catholic fold.

They cited the ghastly aftermath of the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion. Monmouth  was a bastard son of Charles I.  He led a fateful attempt to seize the crown in the name of Protestantism.  His rag-tag army was defeated at the battle of Sedgemoor,

(Somerset) in 1685 and his followers were treated harshly by the infamous Judge Jeffreys. 


There was also great concern because James II had abolished the traditional County militia, and had established a Standing Army.

James II also promoted many Catholics to military office, to Judge-ships, and to high office in the English Counties.

Most tellingly (for his opponents) he had prorogued parliament in 1685, and never again called for a parliament.

The fear was that James II was en route to the establishment of a Royal and Catholic autocracy similar to the one which King Louis XIV ( 1643-1715) had created in France.

In the meanwhile William, Prince of Orange (a nephew of James) bided his time, but schemed and plotted from Holland.  (His wife was James’s elder daughter Mary).

William of Orange had long coveted the English Crown - not because he cared for England - but because he wished for an Anglo-Dutch alliance against the French.  His fame was as a military man, but he was also politically savvy, and through his network of spies, opportunists, and informers he’d kept his hand on the pulse of England.

When “the time was right” William (encouraged and supported by many an English opponent of James) invaded through Torbay in Devonshire, and advanced towards London.

James II had counted upon the support of his standing army and of the (mainly) catholic North of England Peers and Landowners. When it became clear that such support could not be counted upon, he “flew the coop” heading towards France.  As he crossed the River Thames he flung the “Great Seal” into the murky waters.  That action was interpreted as an “abdication” or “abandonment” of the Throne, leaving way for William and Mary to be offered the joint custody of the Throne.

But the Lords and Commons extracted a price.  They insisted on a “Bill of Rights”  which established that the Monarch ruled by the consent of Parliament, and not by Divine Right.  

Thus the U.K.  has a “Constitutional Monarchy”.  (If only Prince Charles understood this!).

I’ll blog the “Bill of Rights” tomorrow.

In 1690 James II tried to reclaim his throne via an invasion which he launched in Ireland.  He and his army were soundly defeated by troops led by William at the so-called “Battle of the Boyne”: hence the Northern Irish Protestant “Orange men” and their ghastly anti-Catholic antics and parades.

“It ain’t necessarily so…”.  That’s what I have begun to realize as I have re-visited my English history.  None of that history is as simplistic as it seemed when I learned it in High School (and in Seminary).

Indeed it is a story of “intrigue, secrecy, lobbying, back-stabbing, feuding, and conspiracy”.

So as I read the “news” I refuse to take it at face value.  I know that  behind the news reports of (for instance):

1. The hapless U.K. Premier (David Cameron); 

2. The well meaning  but naive American President (Barack Obama); 

3. The uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya:

there is a ton of “intrigue, secrecy, lobbying, back-stabbing, feuding and conspiracy”, which is rarely recognized, acknowledged, or reported.

“It ain’t necessarily so…”   Gotit?

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