Brexit moment 1714

Britain was at the moment when a great change, believed to be settled some years earlier, might be overturned. It would only take a little push, and all those years of effort, and the confidence in peace, would be cast down. Freedom was in peril, a foreign power across the Channel waited, social and political unrest could break out. The nation was on edge. The year was 1714.

The Settlement to end the crisis

The healing peace of King Charles II’s reign was followed by three years’ turmoil and the Revolution of 1688, as I recalled in a previous article. The settlement of 1688 was solid in establishing the balance of authority and rights, but fragile as King William and Queen Mary were childless and the hopes of the nation rested on Mary’s sister Anne, who was fertile indeed.  However although she was almost constantly pregnant, Anne lost all but one of her children in childbirth or infancy. In 1700, Anne lost her one surviving child at the age of 11: she was the last Protestant of the House of Stuart and now she was a dead-end. At her passing, Anne’s deposed father would cross the Channel again and reverse the revolution.

There was time yet – the King and Parliament looked for an heir and found that the nearest Protestant heirs had inexplicably turned Papist, so they turned to a granddaughter of King James I, Sophie of Hanover, and the Act of Settlement was passed in 1701 to settle the succession on her. King James II died in exile in the same year, but was succeeded by a son, born the year of the Revolution, bred a Frenchman and a Roman Catholic and looking to reclaim his father’s throne. William died a few months later and Anne succeeded to the throne.

Queen Anne

Queen Anne was a popular queen (and was nothing like her portrayal by Olivia Coleman).  She achieved the union between her two realms and presided over a flowering of culture.  Hers though was a barren throne with no son to succeed her.

All surely was settled by the Act of Settlement?  An Act though is only as strong as the next election and the willingness of the establishment to uphold it.

By 1713 the Queen was ailing.  Those who supported the exiled king and his line, the Jacobites, had been quiescent while his daughters and his son-in-law sat on the throne, but as the end of their line approached, they began to move.  Suddenly the issues of the Revolution and even of the Civil War all those years ago were appearing again.

Queen Anne’s own thoughts are uncertain: she refused to allow her Hanoverian cousins to move to Great Britain, but we cannot know if that was to avoid an intimation of mortality or because she had sympathy with the idea of letting her half-brother’s succeed her, or if it was her Tory ministers who insisted on it.

The government and the Commons were dominated by Tories and the leading Tories were certainly playing both sides. It is known that there were contacts across the Channel. The War of the Spanish Succession was ended precipitously to make a rapprochement with France and Louis XIV. Harley and Bolingbroke were both in contact with the Jacobites and Bolingbroke had even met the Pretender in person. Outwardly they stood for the Settlement and the Hanoverian succession, but they were open to renouncing their pledges to the people and handing the Crown to the young James Edward Stuart.  If only James would renounce the Church of Rome and become Protestant, then the Tories in Parliament would most likely have repealed the Act of Settlement at once.  They also knew that as soon as the new Hanoverian monarch succeeded, they would be out of office and the Whigs would supplant them, and this, ambition for office, outweighed in some the public good.

The Settlement was looking very fragile indeed.

1714

In 1714, there was an alehouse in Stamford known as The George Tap, which was kept by a Mr Bolton, who had Jacobite sympathies.  The Jacobites had a custom of drinking to the Queen kneeling and bareheaded, which was a harmless defiance, but these were not normal days.  A dragoon was in The Tap, and when he saw Bolton on his knees and uncovered; his anger burst forth – he drew his sword and ran the man through.  A riot broke out, a mob surrounded the house and threatened to tear it down unless the soldier were handed over to them – he fled through the back gate.

The nation was on edge.  The little, bloody vignette in Stamford was just one eruption amongst the dramas played out up and down the land. Parliament had pledged to the Hanoverian succession, and spoken for it, both sides, but they were not trusted: the Tories were suspected of playing both sides and they were, or at least some were.

In June, the Electress Sophie of Hanover died; the heir was now George Louis of Hanover, one step further from the Stuart House.

On 29 July, Queen Anne was on her deathbed: this was the moment on which all would turn. The Queen realised it and acted:  she dismissed Harley and the next day appointed the Duke of Shrewsbury as Lord Treasurer; effectively as prime minister. Shrewsbury had been instrumental in the overthrow of James II and so was to be relied upon to support the Settlement. Two days later the Queen was dead and Shrewsbury held supreme power, and he ensured that the Settlement was honoured, and that King George succeeded peacefully.

It was a month and a half before the new King arrived in London, and he was a hated foreigner, but he was received and took the throne.

There were riots on the day of the coronation and the next year a rebellion was put down in the Highlands, and other risings that were snuffed out before they began. The Hanoverian succession and the rights enshrined in the settlement of 1688 were secured, but it all turned on a moment at the Queen’s death-bed.

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Brexit moment 1688

All the efforts, the progress, the confidence built up and settled over many years was in sudden danger.  The establishment was reasserting an ugly face and turning for its model towards European despotism. On a small push of the balance one way or the other the fate and freedoms of the nation would turn. The year was 1688.

King Charles II, from his restoration in 1660, with great skill healed the wounds that were yet open from the Civil War and the Cromwellian dictatorship, not by favouring a side but encouraging both, such that both sides thought they were in the winning place. The Puritans were so strong still that it was assumed that the Church of England would be refashioned as a Presbyterian church as under the Protector, but that was defeated by public opinion.

The King kept the peace until his strength began to fade and it was revealed that his heir, his brother James, had embraced the Popish religion and all the despotic tendencies that implied. For three years from 1679, the Exclusion Crisis raged, in which Parliament sought to exclude James or any Papist from the succession, and King Charles responded by dissolving Parliament, only to find new parliaments elected which were even more vehement against James. The crisis ended only after the exposure of the Rye House plot and the collapse of the opposition.

Then in 1685 the King, the peacemaker, died, and all the issues of the Civil War were open again, twenty-three years after the muskets had ceased.

James II was not a popular king and he was at once at odds with Parliament both in England and Scotland. His one advantage was that the Civil War was too raw a memory for anyone to want another. He also saw time on his side:  he was a modernist, and the most modern of states in Europe were those operating what they called ‘enlightened despotism’. First amongst these was France, under Louis XIV, James’s cousin. Louis also operated a revivified, militant Roman Catholicism, which again was portrayed as the modern way and had been advancing in Europe. Had James known our modern idioms, he might have said that his opponents were “on the wrong side of history”, and he just had to wait for the older generation to pass away.

This was not 1642 though: under James I and Charles I Parliament had met infrequently and the coming men were used to rule by the King alone, but under Charles II Parliament had been a permanent feature.  When James II interfered with elections to Parliament and then dissolved it to assume personal rule, he crossed the Rubicon. Then in 1688, James dismissed justices of the peace throughout England and issued new commissions packing the benches with his supporters, and in this way alienated those who expected as of right to hold rule locally. In Scotland too James predated upon the ruling class – Parliament was dismissed, leading men were prosecuted under ancient, forgotten statutes and new royal decrees introduced, clan chiefs were deprived of authority, and noblemen even had their sons sent abroad to be educated in France.

Unless something happened, the freedoms of England and of Scotland would be lost. The nation would become a European state, remodelled according to a European standard. It might even become a dependency of Louis XIV.

In the autumn the displaced establishment struck. William III of Orange, already a Protestant hero and enemy to Louis XIV, was invited to sail for England. His fleet swept down the Channel, allowed to pass unmolested by the King’s Navy. He landed at Brixham in Devon on 5 November 1688 and by Christmas he was on the throne beside his wife, James’s daughter Mary. James had fled.

Nothing was yet safe though, with a new, unknown quantity on the throne and those who would not forswear the old king still in influence.  A new settlement was made, in the Bill of Rights and the Claim of Right, and what we would now call a new “narrative” of history: the king had abdicated voluntarily and as a Papist was now incapable of holding the Crown. This created “the Whig interpretation” of history, which dominated constitutional theory.

This was an almost bloodless change, known as “the Glorious Revolution”, without upsetting the Old Constitution but reasserting it with new, stated provisions, which are still the basis of our constitution.

There were then rebellions, in the Highlands and most dangerously in Ireland, and Louis XIV attempted an invasion which would have landed his cousin James back in England. The settlement was in danger, but with the French driven back both in the Channel and in Ireland, the settlement restored peace. The necessary change had been made and the moment of danger had passed, and seemed settled at last.

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Cromwell despairs of Parliament again

This Parliament, which had seen how Cromwell had handled the two former, the long one and the short one, had surely learned the wit to behave themselves better to him than those had done?

Thomas Hobbes: Behemoth

What can we expect from Parliament, now that the House of Commons has returned, more turbulent than ever? After Parliament won the Civil War, it found itself dethroned by its own creature, Cromwell. Champions of Parliament today should take care. In previous posts I gave Hobbes’s own account of the events of 1553:

Cromwell had dismissed two parliaments in a year, and next called a more supine parliament, forced by oath to obey him. Now Hobbes continues his Socratic dialogue to describe the events he witnessed:

A.  The following year, 1654, had nothing of war, but was spent in civil ordinances, in appointing of judges, preventing of plots (for usurpers are jealous), and in executing the King’s friends and selling their lands. The 3rd of September, according to the instrument, the Parliament met; in which there was no House of Lords, and the House of Commons was made, as formerly, of knights and burgesses; but not as formerly, of two burgesses for a borough and two knights for a county; for boroughs for the most part had but one burgess, and – some counties six or seven knights. Besides, there were twenty members for Scotland, and as many for Ireland. So that now Cromwell had nothing else to do but to show his art of government upon six coach-horses newly presented to him, which, being as rebellious as himself, threw him out of the coachbox and almost killed him.

B.  This Parliament, which had seen how Cromwell had handled the two former, the long one and the short one, had surely learned the wit to behave themselves better to him than those had done?

A. Yes, especially now that Cromwell in his speech at their first meeting had expressly forbidden them to meddle either with the government by a single person and Parliament, or with the militia, or with perpetuating of Parliaments, or taking away liberty of conscience; and told them also that every member of the House, before they sat, must take a recognition of his power in divers points. Whereupon, of above 400 there appeared not above 200 at first; though afterwards some relenting, there sat about 300.

Again, just at their sitting down he published some ordinances of his own, bearing date before their meeting ; that they might see he took his own acts to be as valid as theirs. But all this could not make them know themselves. They proceeded to debate of every article of the recognition.

B. They should have debated that before they had taken it.

A. But then they had never been suffered to sit Cromwell being informed of their stubborn proceedings, and out of hope of any supply from them, dissolved them.

All that passed besides in this year, was the exercise of the High Court of Justice upon some royalists for plots.

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Caliban the wild man

Man in the state of nature is the commonplace of Enlightenment thought, and the man who makes the chasm dividing philosophies to this day.  He is the starting point for building Leviathan.  When writing about the noble savage myth, I invoked this man in the state of nature.

The problem: there may be no man in the world who is strictly in that state.  He is a philosophical construct, a possibility.

Hobbes used the native of America as an example, and his opponents did too:  those with a benevolent view of human nature portrayed the Indians as living in harmony with their fellow man and with nature, while Hobbes observed that:

It may peradventure be thought there was never such a time nor condition of war as this; and I believe it was never generally so, over all the world: but there are many places where they live so now. For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small families, the concord whereof dependeth on natural lust, have no government at all, and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before.

The American Indians in the days of Hobbes did not quite live in a state of nature but were bound in tribes and clans, and these were constantly at war with one another.  The Iroquois had a vast territorial federation, which warred with its neighbours, specifically in order to keep peace between the tribes: this is far from the ‘state of nature’.  Even the smaller tribes had chiefs, by all sorts of title, as cazique, sachem or others lost to us.

The most primitive of peoples in the world today are those uncontacted tribes of inner New Guinea, or some in the Amazon Basin, but even those half-naked forest hunters blowing darts at aeroplanes live in tribes, and could not live were they expelled to live alone.  They have a common power to keep them in thrall, which is a form of Commonwealth, however small.

On occasion, history records, a feral child has emerged from the woods, abandoned or orphaned in youth and living apart, as an animal. Those remarkable accidents may be the only people truly ‘in the state of nature’. Once they have been brought into society, they are forced within the common power, out of nature.

A tale is told of a small village in the Caucasus in the 19th century when a creature of strange appearance emerged from the forest: naked and unable to speak, the villagers took her to be an alma, the local version of the yeti myth, and captured this wild beast to work as a slave. She was however not a yeti, but a woman; a grown, adult woman who had, apparently, been living in a state of nature.  She never learned to speak and refused to wear clothes even when brought not the village, from which life she was excluded, like a beast. (Professor Bryan Sykes, in his book Nature of the Beast looks at this story, finds it genuine, and finds through genetic study of the alma’s descendants – she was used as a sex-slave – that she was African; possibly an abandoned child of an Ottoman slave.)

In a sophisticated, urban society we can have no wild men, but then we see feral children to all intents and purposes abandoned by their mother running like wolves, at war with all men, as in the Hobbesian nightmare, and when they come together they may form tribes, which are a little commonwealth, and one in no way in harmony with its surrounding society. It is not the state of nature, but a hint at what this would be like.

The radical wants to break the bondage of those ties in the hope that something new will emerge, while the learned conservative, seeing these examples, has a good idea of what that will be, and shudders.

The idea of a wild man, or woman, living long outside all society, never having been part of society, seems inconceivable, and the few recorded examples we have are saddening and tragic, and end either in death or forced assimilation to society, or slavery within it. There is not a single example of a wild man living the way the Enlightenment philosophers liked to hope, in gladsome harmony with nature, nor of numbers of them living known to each other without forming or being forced into a social and political bond. For the state of nature of the wild man is, in the most famous passage of Hobbes:

wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

See also:

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Turbulent parliamentarians; the Cromwell approach

His way was to get the supreme power conferred upon him by Parliament. Therefore he called a Parliament, and gave it the supreme power, to the end that they should give it to him again. Was not this witty?

Thomas Hobbes: Behemoth

In a previous article, Cromwell and the parliaments, I quoted Thomas Hobbes on the end of the Long Parliament and what followed. Hobbes was an eye-witness: he had followed other royalists into exile, but had returned to live in London and was there when Oliver Cromwell drove the parliamentarians out at sword-point. He watched as Cromwell assembled a new, appointed assembly of ‘reliable men’, which promptly named itself a parliament.

However, many of the men whom Cromwell appointed, once they had nominal power, decided they could use it. Cromwell was not amused, and neither was the nation. Hobbes takes up the story again, in his Socratic dialogue, of how Oliver Cromwell found his pocket-parliament:

Harrison, who was the head of the Fifth-monarchy-men, laying down his commission, did nothing but animate his party – against him, for which afterwards he was imprisoned.

This little Parliament in the meantime were making of acts so ridiculous and displeasing to the people, that it was thought he chose them on purpose to bring all ruling Parliaments into contempt, and monarchy again into credit.

 B. What acts were these?

 A. One of them was, that all marriages should be made by a justice of peace, and the banns asked three several days in the next market: none were forbidden to be married by a minister, but without a justice of peace the marriage was to be void: so that divers wary couples, to be sure of one another, howsoever they might repent it afterwards, were married both ways. Also they abrogated the engagement, whereby no man was admitted to sue in any court of law that had not taken it, that is, that had not acknowledged the late Rump.

B. Neither of these did any hurt to Cromwell.

A. They were also in hand with an act to cancel all the present laws and law-books, and to make a new code more suitable to the humour of the Fifthmonarchy- men; of whom there were many in this Parliament. Their tenet being, that there ought none to be sovereign but King Jesus, nor any to govern under him but the saints. But their authority ended before this act passed.

B. What is this to Cromwell?

A. Nothing yet. But they were likewise upon an act, now almost ready for the question, that Parliaments henceforward, one upon the end of another, should be perpetual.

B. I understand not this; unless Parliaments can beget one another like animals, or like the phoenix.

A. Why not like the phoenix? Cannot a Parliament at the day of their expiration send out writs for a new one?

B. Do you think they would not rather summon themselves anew; and to save the labour of coming again to Westminster, sit still where they were?

Or if they summon the country to make new elections, and then dissolve themselves, by what authority shall the people meet in their county courts, there being no supreme authority standing?

A. All they did was absurd, though they knew not that; no nor this, whose design was upon the sovereignty, the contriver of this act, it seems, perceived not; but Cromwell’s party in the House saw it well enough. And therefore, as soon as it was laid, there stood up one of the members and made a motion, that since the commonwealth was like to receive little benefit by their sitting, they should dissolve themselves. Harrison and they of his sect were troubled hereat, and made speeches against it; but Cromwell’s party, of whom the speaker was one, left the House, and with the mace before them went to Whitehall, and surrendered their power to Cromwell that had given it to them.

And so he got the sovereignty by an act of Parliament; and within four days after, December the 16th, was installed Protector of the three nations, and took his oath to observe certain rules of governing, engrossed in parchment and read before him. The writing was called the instrument.

See also

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