Saturday, 26 February 2011

Aint that the case!

I am enjoying a book which is entitled “Manhattan 1945”. It was written by the famed travel writer and historian Jan Morris, and published by the John Hopkins University Press in 1998.

Jan Morris first visited Manhattan in 1953 (?) and her book reflects the “Manhattan that was” at the end of World War II.

Jan quotes the following delicious anecdote (from the 1961 book “Children of the Golden Ghetto”):

A Jewish parent is reported to have said “I don’t want my children to get too much religious training - just enough to know what religion they aren’t observing”. 

Aint that the case! 

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Clarendon Code (1662) and the Bill of Rights (1689)

(Clarendon Code)

While some of the Penal Laws were much older, they took their most drastic shape during the reign of Charles II. Four of them became known as the Clarendon Code, after Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, though he was not their author and did not fully approve of them.[1] These included:
Corporation Act (1661) - This first of the four statutes which made up the Clarendon Code required all municipal officials to take Anglican communion, and formally reject the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. The effect of this act was to exclude nonconformists from public office. This legislation was rescinded in 1828.
Act of Uniformity, (1662) - This second statute made use of the Book of Common Prayer compulsory in religious service. Over two thousand clergy refused to comply and so were forced to resign their livings (the Great Ejection). The provisions of the act were modified by the Act of Uniformity Amendment Act, of 1872.
Conventicle Act (1664) - This act forbade conventicles (a meeting for unauthorized worship) of more than five people who were not members of the same household. The purpose was to prevent dissenting religious groups from meeting.
Five Mile Act (1665) - This final act of the Clarendon Code was aimed at Nonconformist ministers, who were forbidden from coming within five miles of incorporated towns or the place of their former livings. They were also forbidden to teach in schools. Most of the Act's effects were repealed by 1689, but it was not formally abolished until 1812.
Combined with the Test Act, the Corporation Acts excluded all nonconformists from holding civil or military office, and prevented them from being awarded degrees by the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. )

The Bill of Rights (1689)  (The beginning of a constitutional monarchy in ***England and Scotland)

The proposal to draw up a statement of the subjects' rights and liberties and James's invasion of them was first made on 29 January in the Commons, with members arguing that the House "can not answer it to the nation or Prince of Orange till we declare what are the rights invaded" and that William "cannot take it ill if we make conditions to secure ourselves for the future" in order to "do justice to those who sent us hither". On 2 February a committee specially convened reported to the Commons 23 Heads of Grievances, which the Commons approved and added some of their own. However on 4 February the Commons decided to instruct the committee to differentiate between "such of the general heads, as are introductory of new laws, from those that are declaratory of ancient rights". On 7 February the Commons approved this revised Declaration of Right, and on 8 February instructed the committee to put into a single text the Declaration (with the heads which were "introductory of new laws" removed), the resolution of 28 January and the Lords' proposal for a revised oath of allegiance. It passed the Commons without division.[85]

The Declaration of Right was in December 1689 enacted in an Act of Parliament, the Bill of Rights 1689. It listed twelve of James's policies by which James designed to "endeavour to subvert and extirpate the protestant religion, and the laws and liberties of this kingdom".[86] These were:
  • by assuming and exercising the dispensing power;
  • by prosecuting the Seven Bishops; by establishing of the court of commissioners for ecclesiastical causes;
  • by levying money for the crown by pretence of prerogative than the same was granted by Parliament;
  • by raising and maintaining a standing army in peacetime without the consent of Parliament;
  • by disarming Protestants and arming Catholics contrary to law;
  • by violating the election of MPs;
  • by prosecuting in the King's Bench for matters cognizable only in Parliament and "divers other arbitrary and illegal courses";
  • by employing unqualified persons to serve on juries;
  • by requiring an excessive bail for persons committed in criminal cases;
  • by imposing excessive fines and "illegal and cruel punishments inflicted";
  • by making "several grants and promises made of fines and forfeitures before any conviction or judgment against the person, upon whom the same were to be levied".[87]
The Bill of Rights also vindicated and asserted the nation's "ancient rights and liberties" by declaring:
  • the pretended power to dispense with Acts of Parliament is illegal;
  • the commission for ecclesiastical causes is illegal;
  • levying money without the consent of Parliament is illegal;
  • it is the right of the subject to petition the king and prosecutions for petitioning are illegal;
  • maintaining a standing army in peacetime without the consent of Parliament is illegal;
  • Protestant subjects "may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions, and allowed by law";
  • the election of MPs ought to be free; that freedom of speech and debates in Parliament "ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament";
  • excessive bail and fines not required and "cruel and unusual punishments" not to be inflicted;
  • jurors in high treason trials ought to be freeholders;
  • that promises of fines and forfeitures before conviction are illegal;
  • that Parliament ought to be held frequently.[88]
On 13 February the clerk of the House of Lords read the Declaration of Right and Halifax, in the name of all the estates of the realm, asked William and Mary to accept the throne. William replied for his wife and himself: "We thankfully accept what you have offered us". They then went in procession to the great gate at Whitehall. The Garter King at Arms proclaimed them King and Queen of England, France and Ireland, whereupon they adjourned to the Chapel Royal, with Compton preaching the sermon.[89] They were crowned on 11 April, swearing an oath to uphold the laws made by Parliament. The Coronation Oath Act 1688 had provided a new coronation oath, whereby the monarchs were to "solemnly promise and swear to govern the people of this kingdom of England, and the dominions thereunto belonging, according to the statutes in parliament agreed on, and the laws and customs of the same". They were also to maintain the laws of God, the true profession of the Gospel, and the Protestant Reformed faith established by law.[90]

***  The Monarchs from James I and VI, through William and Mary were monarchs of both the Kingdom of England, and the Kingdom of Scotland.

It was not until the reign of the last of the Stuarts, Queen Anne  (who succeeded in 1702 after William's death) that the two kingdoms were united by an Act of Union (1707).  Kings and Queens since then have been monarchs of the United Kingdom.

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?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

“It ain't necessarily so" (2)

“It ain’t necessarily so…” has also been on my mind as I have been revisiting two bits of English and Scottish history.

Perhaps I was taught badly, or maybe I was a poor student  (most likely a bit of both), but I now realise that I’ve had a very incomplete and inaccurate understanding of the rise of James VI of Scotland to become James I of England, and of the “Glorious Revolution” which led to the accession of William and Mary as joint monarchs.

I remembered those bits of history as if they were almost seamless and inevitable transitions in the English/Scottish monarchies. ‘Twas far from so!

The three immediate successors of Henry VIII  (Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I ) each died without heirs.  Henry VIII had willed that a member of the Scottish Royal House of Stuart could never inherit the throne, and English law stated that the Monarch should be a native.

Elizabeth I steadfastly refused to name a successor. There was a certain wisdom to this, for it ensured that no “faction” could grow around any one this named,  But her decision led to an enormous trade in intrigues and alliances between and amongst those who had a vested interest in securing the favour of the next Monarch.

James VI of Scotland was not the only option. 

A Catholic, Spanish leaning minority favored the Infanta Isabella of Spain and Portugal.  She was descended from John of Gaunt. 

Others “supported”  Arbella Stuart (a great, great grand daughter of Henry VII), scheming to have her married to Edward Seymour who was a descendant of King Edward III.

Meanwhile north of the border, James VI of Scotland  (son of Mary Queen of Scots) waited, schemed, plotted and planned for his chance at the English Throne, even in the face of the knowledge that Henry VIII’s will and English law should have prevented his “candidacy”.

There was no popular desire for a Spanish/Portugese Monarch, let alone another woman.  (By the end of her reign Elizabeth was heartily disliked and greatly unpopular.)

Arbella Stuart stood not a chance.  The proposed marriage to Edward Seymour never “got off the ground”, and this poor young woman (so dreadfully abused by her grand mother, the (in)famous “Bess of Hardwick), may well have been mentally ill.

James had long desired the English Throne. 

In 1602/03 in a letter to the Englishman Sir Robert Cecil he wrote (regarding the comparative merits of the Scottish and English thrones) “ ….. alas it is far more barbarous and stiff-necked people that I rule over. St George (England)  surely rides upon a towardly riding horse, where I am daily struggling to control a wild unruly colt”.

In the end James was the only viable choice. Queen Elizabeth’s Council members created a fiction that she had indicated her preference for James whilst on her death bed.  

With that in mind, James was offered the English Crown, and he accepted it.  His progress from Edinburgh to London lasted from 5th April through 7th May in 1603.  He made many promises en route, many of which he promptly broke.  He became wildly unpopular within weeks of arriving in London due to his promotion of many relatively impoverished Scots to much coveted offices.

A popular rhyme put it this way:

Hark! Hark!
The dogs do bark
The beggars have come to town.

Some in rags,
And some in tags,
And some in velvet gowns.

James I and VI was the King James who commissioned the Authorised, or King James translation of the bible.  

He was also the King who scandalised the Royal court by the promotion of handsome young men as his favourites (nod, nod, wink, wink -  say no more!)

“Intrigue, secrecy, lobbying, back-stabbing, feuding and conspiracy”.  So the San Antonio Express-News wrote of the book from which I have derived my new learnings.

It is “After Elizabeth, the rise of James of Scotland, and the struggle for the throne of England”. The book was written by Leanda de Lisle in 2005 , and was published by Ballantine Books in 2007.

In reading this book I have again come to the conclusion that “it ain’t necessarily so”, i.e. the way in which I was taught history.

In a day or two I will return to that theme when I will write about the accession of William of Orange and his wife Mary to the thrones of England and Scotland.

In the meantime, as I read “the news” it will be with this in mind.  “It ain’t necessarily so”.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Mrs. Bowden and my Nanny

“Nanny” Povey was the  mother of my Dad, Henry John “Jack” Povey.  

Her husband (my paternal grandfather) was Henry George, (or George Henry) Povey.  He was a plumber and gas fitter who ran his business from 12, Robertson Road, Eastville, Bristol.

I never knew Grandfather Povey who died in 1939.  He was riding a bicycle on Church Road, Redfield, Bristol and was hit by a car, sustaining injuries from which he died.  Only my oldest sister Maureen has any memories of him.

“Nanny” had been born in Easton, Bristol. (U.K.)  Her birth name was Sarah Bennett.  Her own father had been a coal miner, back in the days when there were open cast coal mines in the Easton district of Bristol.

As a wee lad I was confused since my nanny was known as “Sally”.  I knew that her given name was Sarah, but I did not know that Sally is a diminutive of Sarah.  I thought that her name was “Sally Sarah“.

Nanny Povey told me that as a young girl she had seen Queen Victoria as the aged Queen  drove in procession through Bristol. 

Nanny had been given a sticky bun and a penny that day  (or so I remember her saying).

My best guess is that this happened during the celebrations for Victoria’s 60th anniversary as Queen.  That would have been in 1897, leading me to believe that Nanny had been born in the late 1880’s.  That makes sense since my Dad was born in 1911.

Thus my Nanny was comparatively young when she was widowed in 1939.  Widowhood led her into comparative destitution, and into great loneliness.  Her one and only child (my dad) was already married by then.

By the time that my memories had begun to form, Nanny was a friend of another woman, Mrs. Bowden.

Mrs. Bowden was a leader at the “Spiritualist Church”  which had a meeting room on Grosvenor St, off Lower Ashley Rd in the Montpelier/St. Paul’s district of Bristol. Nanny would attend various séances, in the hope that her deceased husband would communicate with her.

By this time my Dad and Mum had been “born again”.  As far as they were concerned, “Spiritualism” was beyond the pale.   

They were deeply concerned at Nanny’s involvement in the movement, and they thought that Mrs. Bowden was a very wicked woman.  I remember Dad saying  “there is nothing spiritual about her Church, they are “spiritists”, not “spiritualists”.

In due course Nanny accepted Jesus and gave up spiritualism .  I suspect that my parents badgered into this.

Nanny (she was so beloved to me) died in about 1960.

Since she had been “born again” her funeral was held at our Gospel Hall.  Her remains were buried next to her husband at the Greenbank Cemetery in Bristol. 

Her internment was on a very rainy day.  As was the custom, there were long sermons, both at the Gospel Hall, and at the cemetery.  A Plymouth Brethren Elder - Ernie Cox - preached incessantly at the graveside.  We were trying to shelter from the rain under our umbrellas. I was aged 15 or 16 and I remember that I wanted him to shut up.  It was all too much.

Lord knows why, but Mrs. Bowden’s name came into my mind earlier today  (Feb 21st 2011). 

The remembering of her name triggered  all these memories of Nanny Povey.

It’s all too late but I wish that my parents had not been so judgmental about Nanny and her involvement with Mrs. Bowden and the Spiritualists.

They were not evil people who dabbled with spirits.  They were simply a group of lonely widows (many of whose husbands had died in World War II),  who hung on to each other for comfort and support.


Sunday, 20 February 2011

“It ain't necessarily so

“It ain't necessarily so
It ain't necessarily so
De things dat yo' liable to read in de Bible
It ain't necessarily so”

These are words from Ira and George Gershwin’s musical “Porgy and Bess”.

They have a ring of truth.

The Christian Bible is a strange admixture of myths, fables, fairy tales,  oral history remembered, and teaching.

Mostly it is a collection of 66 “books”, more accurately described as “writings”, which are trying to make a case for the G-d of Israel in the “old testament”, and for the “Jesus Movement”, (a.k.a. the Church), in the “new testament”.

As we come to understand that these writings are for the most part “propaganda” (in the best sense of that word), so we can approach them with suspicion, albeit a suspicion which is biased towards faith.

As I read the bible it is always with the questions: “What’s the angle here?”, “what’s the spin?”, “what are the underlying suppositions of the writer or compiler?”, and (very importantly) “what are the biases of the translator/s?”.

Only then am I ready to ask “how do these ancient writings speak to me as God’s word?”

I use a similar suspicion as I read biography and history.  For those writings are never simple and straightforward recitations of facts, or of information.  Historians and biographers are not merely recorders, they are also interpreters.  

This became clear to me as I read David McCullough’s biography of President Harry Truman.

Whilst he never got into hagiography (making Truman a saint), it was clear that McCullough liked Truman, so that he painted the most favourable word picture of the President.

As I read the book, I was reminded of yet another bias – that of me, the reader. I’ve always had a high regard for President Truman, so my mind and heart were more than ready to concur with McCullough’s interpretations.

That same bias applies when I read scripture.  I am particularly fond of the prophet Isaiah, and of the gospels according to Mark and Luke. I take a much more jaded view of the gospel according to John, and of Revelation.

So, even before I open a bible, I know that I am likely to be nodding with approval when reading Isaiah, or scowling with displeasure as I read John.

All of this makes me very alert as I read a newspaper, or listen to the news broadcasts on radio.  For instance, I am extremely aware that certain newspapers have “conservative” publishers, and others have publishers which are “liberal”.  (Take for instance the London Daily Telegraph and the London Guardian).

As I read those papers even though I believe that most reporters strive to be un-biased, their under-lying presuppositions are likely to influence the “voice” they use when writing their reports; the “angle” from which the story is written; and the bits of the story which they choose to include or exclude. 

(I also know that the reporters themselves do not write the “headlines”.  These are written by the editorial staff and in many cases the headline gives an inaccurate or biased spin to the story which follows.)

When I was a boy my parents told me that I could always believe what I heard on the B.B.C.

Of course that was stuff and nonsense!  From its very inception the B.B.C. was susceptible to governmental pressure, and was often the source of governmental propaganda.

It’s not that my parents were lying to me.  They truly thought that the “Beeb” was objective and unbiased.

Fifty-five or more years on, my eyes, ears and mind have become increasingly sceptical about the ways in which news is reported, even on the B.B.C.

But there is a bit of a saving grace these days.  Thanks to the internet I can read the news from a rich variety of sources, based in very many nations, and from very many reporters. Some of them work for T.V., radio and the newspapers; others make their reports on personal blogs or on Facebook.

As I read the stories of the same events from “all over” it’s like creating a mosaic. 

I can just about get the story by putting all the bits together. 

But even then the “mosaic” is never entirely clear.  I, (and WE ) never get the whole and complete story.

With that in mind, I continue to hone my “canons of suspicion”.