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Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican
particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.
I can hardly believe that it was just four newsletters ago that I was writing about how in the history of Britain the BBC flagrantly distorts history to present political propaganda in support of the monarchism. Yet again I have to write to correct a departure from the truth.
Last time it was the George’s. Now it is the Stuarts. I learned from the last time, if I do not do this job, no one else will -such is the overriding domination by the monarchy of our press and academics.
The agenda is surely evident here. Monarchists have an eye on the succession of the queen by King Charles III (unless he rechristens himself as he can to avoid evoking the other truly awful King Charles’s of our history).
The Queen at 86 is viewed as having an uncertain tenure on the throne. Many say, both monarchists and republicans, that the changeover could be the moment to call the monarch’s continuation as Head of State into question. So the BBC has clearly been ordered to crank up the propaganda machine.
It does not do this by direct argument for this would have to compare monarchism with republicanism and that would be all too dangerous. So it relates a golden history of past monarchs and how they were essential to building the character of modern Britain.
The fact that Britain is a product much more of parliament and great thinkers like Locke and Milton and their battles to deny the monarchs their schemes is denied. In this the BBC apparently can rely on a complete ignorance among the public of British history – in itself a shocking state of affairs.
The format for The Stuarts is very similar to that of The First Georgians. The BBC has recruited another posh bird presenter, who would obviously be very at home making the royal curtsy, to relate how nothing happened in our history that did not involve the royal family. British history is royal history.
However, for the present series the relation with the current monarchy and its crucial role in our affairs is even more overstated with constant clips of the current royals in ceremonies. The message is hammered home. Without the monarchy we are nothing. That applies to our history. It applies to us today.
The Stuarts begins, as The First Georgians began, by reminding us of a very central fact about monarchs. They are by nature dynastic not national. That is, they owe their position in the first place to being a member of a dynastic lineage – not to being a Head of State or occupying a throne. This means that very often monarchs are foreigners or to be more exact they come from dynasties that have a foreign origin.
Our present queen does not hold a British passport. She does need one. So she is in a sense stateless and this is in the way of monarchs. They are secondarily associated with a nation through their tenure of the throne. Their primary identity comes from the dynasty – in the case of the present queen the dynasty is of German origin.
Being foreign to the nation is therefore natural to monarchs and this was the case with the Stuarts just as it was with the George’s. James I was offered the English throne when Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudors died without issue. He was king of Scotland at the time and as the programme explains he brought Scotland and England under the same crown so effecting a degree of union between the two nations. Real union had to wait until 1707 when the Parliaments were merged to create a single one at Westminster.
The intention of both series is to suggest that there is a seamless historical continuity whereby the monarchs play the chief role in the forming of the Britain we have today. James I is presented as laying the foundations for the United Kingdom which we still have today – although most of Ireland became independent. This is true enough as far as it goes, but the narrative ignores the fact that James I was at odds with most of his new subjects who did not take to his style of authoritarian rule.
The Scotland he had come from did not have an active Parliament as England had and he failed to understand that in England he would have to deal with a strong Parliament that comprised different interests.
And he did not understand that English law was common law not the largely Roman law of Scotland – a difference that is preserved today. Under Roman law the law is codified and springs from the authority of the Head of State whereas under English common law it is Parliament and the judiciary that form the law.
These limits to his powers in England were not to his taste and lead to heavy clashes with his new subjects. Thus, far from facilitating the shift to enduring arrangements in Britain, James opposed fundamental features of British society. All this is ignored by the BBC version of events for they do not want to portray a king working against his people as this would undermine the monarchist message.
Although James was well known to be uncouth and a heavy drinker (facts the BBC does not mention, of course), he was at the same time a writer and a visionary. He well understood the shifts towards modernity that were taking place in Western Europe at the time and he attempted to play a role in them.
To understand James you have to appreciate that modernity is not a single idea but that there were, and still are, two competing versions of it. James was not a reactionary. He just aligned himself with a version of modernity that his new countrymen rejected and as it turned out in doing this he hastened the demise of his own cause rather than advancing it.
The version of modern government that he embraced was that developed mostly in France by the Bourbons - and to a lesser extent Spain by the Hapsburg dynasty. The fundamental idea was that absolute authority was necessary to run a modern state and so the equivalents of parliament that these countries had had were abolished or emasculated leaving the monarch with supreme power. Although not mentioned in the BBC account of British history, our country was firmly heading in a different direction from the king’s, for it was moving towards a balance of power between the monarch and parliament.
It is easy to take the view now, with the benefit of hindsight, that the English notion of a powerful parliament to balance kingly power was the model that would last into the future and create a successful and prosperous nation, but in James’s time it was not so clear. It was not obvious that a nation could survive if it allowed full vent to conflicting interests. And it was not proven by examples - although the burgeoning Dutch Republic could be cited.
So to understand James you have to see that his vision in his time was not necessarily so unreasonable even if it was definitely wrong. However, he made it unreasonable by taking it to a logical extreme.
To appreciate how he did this, you have to first appreciate how central religion was to everything in this era. You certainly could not discuss political matters without religion being an integral part of it. So James articulated his version of absolutism with reference to god and divinity with the doctrine of Divine Right. Kingly divine right was not an ancient medieval idea but a new post-Reformation idea. In mediaeval times if anyone had divine right is would only be one person – the pope. In England papal power had been rejected by Henry VIII and the monarch henceforth would be the head of the religion now to be known as Anglicanism, not Catholicism.
So James in coming to the English throne also inherited the position of head of the church. It was thus a relatively short step in his eyes to claim a connection to the divinity and assert his absolute power as god’s representative on earth. This is how he expressed this idea in person to the English parliament in 1609:
The state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth. For kings are not only God’s lieutenants on earth, and sit on God’s throne, but even by God Himself are called gods ... Kings are justly called gods, for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power on earth; for if you will consider the attributes of God you shall see how they agree in the person of a king. God hath power to create of destroy, make or unmake at His pleasure, to give life or send to death, ... to judge all and be judged nor accountable to none ... and the like power have kings; they make and unmake their subjects, they have power of raising and casting down, of life and death; judges over all their subjects and in all causes, and yet accountable to none but God only.
One can imagine how that went down with the members of parliament who were used to having at least some power to influence laws and events.
To the frequent objection that kings were not always virtuous, but could be despots capable of cruelty and injustice James had an answer. A wicked king, just like a good king is divine, and so must have been sent by God as a plague on people’s sins and it would be unlawful to shake off the burden which God has laid upon them.
All these were James’s long held views and he had set them out in a published treatise The True Law of Free Monarchies of 1598.
To see the way in which James’s views are a statement of a new modernity we only need to refer to some states in our time of the last century where, although the divine vocabulary was not used, the form of government was identical to James’s.
This aspect of James I, which is essential if we are to understand his role in British history, is simply not mentioned - not once - in the BBC account. The closest it gets is a rather protracted account of the journey by his son, Charles, to Madrid to attempt a marriage to the Spanish infanta but it completely glosses over the fact that this was all part of James’s plan to import Catholic style absolutism into Britain. Once again history is ravaged to show the monarch in the best light.
Other accounts of James emphasise his rough highland manner and his vices. Historian, Will Durant recounts that “he drank to excess and allowed some court festivities to end in a general and bisexual intoxication ... The court became gayer than ever and more corrupt ... [on the good side James was] unblemished in his relations with women ... [but against that] given to fondling handsome young men”.
The BBC knows nothing of this and displays a new tender side of James that has escaped historians’ notice until now. This is described in another drawn out piece in which extracts of James’s book Basilikon Doron, or Kingly Gift, are read, for this book was written for his eldest son, Henry, setting out the art and duties of the sovereign, which one day he surely would be. This work counsels that a good king should listen to his people and think of their wellbeing. The presenter tells us "the whole of seventeenth century Europe was fascinated by Henry's education". A likely story, frankly.
The use of Basilikon Doron to represent James’s view on monarchical government and overlook entirely his address to parliament should be a national scandal. It is not the role of public media to tells lies about our history (and gross omissions like this are little different from lies) in support of a political position. The private media as represented by our not-so-free press praise and grovel to the royals but that is their opinion. It is not the same as lying about our history as the BBC does repeatedly.
In fact, the relationship of James to his son is a whole lot more interesting than the BBC’s heart warming version, for Henry did not concur with James’s fondness for continental style absolutism. James had attempted a marriage between him and a French princess, just as he attempted a marriage between Charles and a Spanish one. But Henry firmly rejected this arrangement as he was a dedicated protestant and disliked royal absolutism.
It is probably unfortunate for Britain that Henry died young at the age of 18 from typhoid contracted by swimming daily in the Thames, for, as king, he probably would have taken a wholly different course to that of his brother King Charles I. It is almost certain that he would not have provoked the disastrous Civil Wars that Charles did.
Although the BBC, did not refer to it, James is also sometimes thought of by some historians as a man of peace eager to see friendly relations between Britain and the continental powers. To this aim, he ran down the British navy, built up under the Tudors, to a deplorable degree. This left England exposed to attack which fortunately did not happen as the Thirty Years War of religion was raging in Europe, but it did mean that his subjects on the south coast were the victims of piracy, pillage and onshore raids by Barbary Coast pirates who often seized them and disappeared them into slavery.
James disliked the navy and one of his great crimes, in sending the British Elizabethan naval hero, Sir Walter Raleigh, to be beheaded in 1618 to appease the Spanish ambassador, was never forgotten. As G.M.Trevelyan says “The ghost of Raleigh pursued the House of Stuart to the scaffold”. James’s attitude to British military power and in particular the navy does not appear in the BBC account. Nothing can be allowed in that suggests the monarch was working against the history of the country. The BBC monarchs benignly direct the country to its destiny. People of James’s time would not recognise the BBC James I.
Finally, is there anything good to say of James? As I have mentioned James was a writer and genuinely valued literature. It was he who commissioned one of the world’s greatest written works -the version of the bible that bears his name. It is with the King James Bible that the English language came to refined perfection, far surpassing the execrable verse of arch-monarchist, William Shakespeare.
And, no, the BBC did not tell you that either.
Chris Martenson of Peak Prosperity writes
For reasons that have no rational explanations at this time, the US and Europe have embarked on a concerted program to demonize Putin, ostracize Russia, and bring the world as close to a major conflict as it's been since the Cold War, a time hardly memorable to many in the current crop of our elected officials.
Within hours of the MH-17 plane crash, the United States pinned the blame on Russia generally, and Putin particularly. The anti-Putin propaganda (and if there were a stronger term I'd use it) has been relentless and almost comically over-the-top (see below).
The US and the UK in particular, are leading the charge. Indeed, the UK's Daily Mail managed to crank out an article on the MH-17 affair within just a few hours on the very same day it occurred with this headline:
Jul 17, 2014
The world may have averted its gaze towards Israel and Gaza, but this week the rumbling warfare in eastern Ukraine has been erupting into something growing daily more dangerous.
Meanwhile the Russian bear, still pretending to be an innocent party despite blood dripping from its paws, has begun stealthily rebuilding its forces on the border.
Now we may well have witnessed the kind of shocking event that happens when heavy armaments are placed in the hands of untrained and desperate militias.
That's really an amazing piece of journalism to have managed to have figured out the who, the what and the why of a major catastrophe without the benefit of any evidence or investigation. One wonders who the author's source was for obtaining what have become very crisp talking points that both the US and Europe are echoing as they exert increasing pressure on Russia?