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Comments by Bob Corbett
I found this to be an awesome history to read. Churchill gives detailed facts of history, yet makes it read like a novel. He takes history seriously, but always sees larger pictures and ties the drama of the moment to the creation of the future. I see these volumes as models of how history should be written.
This is only ¾ a page which opens this volume, but it does contain a wonderful Churchillian zinger. The volume will cover two centuries, 1485-1688. Churchill points out:
“They (English peoples) confronted and defeated the might of Spain. Once the freedom of the seas had been won the American colonies sprang into being.”
Only 8-9 lines into this volume and I’ve had a great giggle as Churchill springs a gentle slap-slap at the Americans. Without England’s taming of the Spanish navy, suggests Churchill, the colonies would never have existed.
Italy ushered in the Renaissance, a Catholic led revival of ideas of ancient Greece with Popes becoming temporal leaders and many abuses followed. Erasmus was the leading figure to bring the Renaissance to England. Printing and the rise of universities contributed to the spreading of knowledge.
Religious ideas, too, were investigated in this spirit and that led to the Reformation. Luther’s 1517 denunciation of abuses led the way.
It was Calvin’s influence which had great power in Britain, especially Scotland. Luther’s centrality of faith over deeds was central. A long series of basically religious wars ensued.
Churchill cites Charles Beard, a later scholar, who argues that ultimately Protestantism fails and carries a fatal flaw of anti-intellectualism and anti-science.
Both the old belief of a waterway to the east and the rise of Turkish power blocking eastward trade led to a period of sea power and a belief in a round world.
A hundred years before England developed her power Columbus discovered the New World. Spain dominated and the roundness of the Earth was established. The New World’s wealth spread to Europe and disrupted the continent’s economy.
In 1485 Henry VII defeated Richard III and began the Tudor dynasty. He secured land for himself and guaranteed protection to those loyal to him. He brought peace to the midlands, but not the north.
The Feudal world was breaking apart and Henry had a loyal and organized administration. He was able to fight off attempts from abroad and increased his power. Henry was able to control Ireland by the use of cannons which Irish castles couldn’t withstand, and Ireland had none of them. Ireland was pacified.
Henry secured peace with Scotland by marrying his daughter to James IV in 1502. Peace ruled until after Henry’s death.
He also saw that France was facing Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor at the same time. He won a treaty with France. He also organized finances and the government.
“Henry VII was probably the best businessman to sit on the English throne.”
In foreign policy he had personal envoys and preferred diplomacy to war. He also had a good spy system.
Henry VIII’s rule was a period of a shift from the rule of clans to a larger and unified state.
Henry was raised for the church and was learned. He could read several languages and was excellent at sports.
The Pope named him “Defender of the Faith.” (Which is a marvelous irony!) He chose underlings whom he could control.
Thomas Wolsey was the son of a butcher
Thomas Cromwell was a small attorney
Thomas Cranmer was an obscure divine
In 1509 he married Catherine of Aragon. He was 18, she 23. They were married for 22 years and had no heir.
On the basis of military victories in Europe Wolsey was given the Bishopric of Lincoln and became Archbishop of York as well as a cardinal. In 1515 He became Lord Chancellor. For 14 years he was successful and powerful. He was a good businessman and had personal charm. He was rich and lived lavishly.
“Tudors were indeed the architects of an English system of local government which lasted almost unchanged until Victorian Times.”
Henry VIII significantly expanded naval power and Wolsey organized the diplomatic service.
By 1521 Henry was much less close to Wolsey. Ruling in the Tudor manner:
“. . . by favor and not by force”
Henry wanted an heir. He was trying to get rid of Catherine. Then 24 year old Anne Boleyn returned from France and Henry was smitten. He wanted an annulment of his 22 year-long marriage on the grounds that Catherine had first married his brother (he died within 7 months of the marriage) and that she must have had sex with him in that time, which would have been grounds for the divorce. However Pope Clement VII refused.
Wolsey was sent packing and Thomas More became the Lord Chancellor. At this time Henry was just 38.
Prior to Henry’s desire for a divorce there was significant discontent with the Roman Church in England.
Many European church scholars sided with Henry on the technical law concerning his marriage, not that those considerations were also Henry’s. He just wanted the divorce. Catherine was banned from the Royal Castle and lived with Wolsey. Henry realized his defiance could even bring war, both civil and foreign.
In January 1533 Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn.
Henry assumed (and strongly enforced) the role of the sole ruler in England subject only to God. The break with Rome was complete in 1533.
On Sept. 7, 1533 Anne’s child, Elizabeth, was born.
People were forced to recognize Henry as the secular and religious head of state, to deny foreign powers, accept Anne as the legal queen and Elizabeth as heir to the throne. Thomas More and others were executed and Henry was excommunicated by the Pope.
In 1536 Catherine died. Henry was smitten by Jane Seymour. Anne had a miscarriage. Soon she was (seemingly justifiably) convicted of having taken lovers. She was executed by a swordsman, and only 10 days later Henry married Jane Seymour. 18 months later, at age 22, she died after childbirth. She was the only queen he regretted dying and whom he mourned.
Thomas Cromwell succeeded Wolsey. He was in power for 10 years from 1530-1540.
“Ruthless, cynical, Machiavellian, Cromwell was a man of the New Age.”
New modes of agriculture followed the transfers of land and were much needed.
In the religious sphere the Bible was now read by many.
Many people just accepted the changes, many supporting them, but much of Northern England was unhappy with the changes. Some wanted to preserve the old ways. Ironically Henry agreed:
“. . . the king, who was rigidly orthodox, except where his lusts or interests were stirred, agreed with it.”
A formal wedding to a German princess Anne of Cleves was annulled and Henry married Catherine Howard, his fifth wife in 1539. She was 22 and the prettiest of Henry’s wives. Henry was nearly 30 years her senior. She had an affair with her cousin, Thomas Culpepper and was executed in 1542 after only three years of marriage.
Henry last wife was Catherine Paar. She was a widow who had had three husbands. She was good to Henry and nursed him in his last days. He died three years after they wed.
Summary of Henry’s wives:
Churchill sums up his view of Henry VIII:
“Henry’s rule saw many advances in the growth and character of the English state. . .”
But there were “blots” on his record:
Yet the masses never rose and English sea-power grew.
Despite his break with Rome, Henry regarded himself a good Catholic.
There was a great lashing out on the new concept of wealth sweeping Britain. This was caused by the enclosing of the land so that the rich could make great fortunes with sheep. This was accompanied with defenses of richness and a demise of charity.
In 1549 England seemed on the brink of a peasant uprising and also of the urban poor. Mary Tudor came to power. Churchill writes:
“[Mary Tudor] . . . who now became Queen was probably the most unhappy and unsuccessful of England’s sovereigns.” (I am assuming he meant not – up to that time – but up to the period when Churchill was writing.)
She was Catholic and close to her mother’s relatives. [Catherine of Aragon was from Spain and its royal family.] Mary briefly restored the connection to Rome, but could not return church property that had been taken. However, the growing Protestant influence was wide-spread in England much because of the English Bible and English Prayer Book which gave the ordinary person the tools to do their own religion. Also, the English were suspicious of foreigners and especially Spanish Catholics.
Mary was to marry a Spanish noble, but her half-sister, Elizabeth was to be put to death first. Mary would not agree to that. She was wed into the royal family of Spain and Spanish Catholicism, which delighted her. She could not at all succeed in her plans to return England to both Catholicism and especially the connection to Rome. What had originated in Henry VIII’s world as a protest against certain of Rome’s practices and his need for his marriage to be annulled, gradually had merged with the more fundamental Protestant Reformation much to the dismay of both Henry and Mary.
Under Elizabeth’s rule this was to often be seen as a choice between Old England – still in many areas caught in that conflict of Henry’s protest – and New England, the colonies, fundamentally the English Protestant Reformation’s refuge.
Much like her father, Elizabeth
“. . . had . . . a high gift for picking able men to do the country’s work. It came naturally to her to take the credit for their successes, while blaming them for all that went wrong.”
. . .
“ . . . she had a capacity for inspiring devotion that is perhaps unparalleled among British sovereigns.”
Elizabeth had been raised as a Protestant. She repealed most of Queen Mary’s “Catholic legislation.” Elizabeth was “. . . a paragon of the New Learning.”
The Puritans rose as a strong force. They challenged the church/state relationship. The public order, on Elizabeth’s view, was tied to a close relationship of church and state. “No Bishop, no King.” She had to deal with attacks from the continent from Roman Catholicism and at home from the Puritans.
There was an immediate threat from the French who supported the French Queen-Mother, and John Knox in Geneva. However, France was soon consumed with a battle against the Hapsburgs and Elizabeth gained some advantage.
Mary Stuart was a descendant of Henry VII. She was Queen of the Scots and unmarried. She married her cousin, Henry Stuart. That was a disaster and she had her husband murdered and fled to England. She lived under Elizabeth’s protection, but kept up her pro-Roman Catholic militancy.
At that time England was the one major nation that was Protestant. The Counter-Revolution was having a strong effect on the Continent. In 1570 Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth. This strengthened Spain’s desire to attack England. In 1572 Spain defeated the Protestant Huguenots in France and again, Elizabeth’s position was in danger.
Elizabeth tried to settle the religious issues with her “Church Settlement” which founded The Church of England. It was much too “high” for the Puritans and Calvinists, so the religious issue festered.
In 1579 the Jesuits came to England to head up a Counter-Reformation. They were willing to use violence and a plot to assassinate Elizabeth was uncovered. She finally became convinced that Mary was behind many of the attacks on Elizabeth’s government and she had her executed in 1587.
War with Spain was assured by the execution of Mary. From 1577 onward Francis Drake “The Mater Thief of the unknown world” had been attacking Spanish vessels. The wealth of the New World, which was mainly controlled by Spain, deeply threatened England and all other Spanish enemies. Drake was not directly a tool of Elizabeth’s government but was trying to force Spain into war with England.
English sailors were also searching for a north-west route to China to increase trade. No gold was discovered but the notion of settlement in New World was seen as a way to ease England’s burgeoning population problem. Elizabeth gave a charter for Gilbert to take settlers
“to inhabit and possess at his choice all armed and heathen lands not in the actual possession of any Christian peoples.” (1578)
Notice that this proclamation explains the legal and moral justification later colonists used for their treatment of American native Indian people.
Spanish wars soon postponed New World exploration for 20 years. Spain planned to attack England with its famed armada. They mounted 130 ships and 30,000 men. The British had only 34 ships of war class and some 197 smaller vessels, at least ½ of them too small to be of much help. Nonetheless, the famous Spanish Armada was defeated. About ½ their ships were lost, but more importantly was the moral loss to Spain and the moral victory for the English.
After the Armada sea battle a new spirit of national pride and energy emerged and it centered in the Queen. Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen” celebrated Gloriana who was the Queen.
England remained in its war with Spain and the war had strong religious overtones. After the Armada victory the Puritan and Catholic dangers lessened and The Anglican “solution” was more popular.
Elizabeth had lots of difficulties with the younger rising generation. Then troubles arose in Ireland. Henry VIII had himself named King of Ireland, but it was an ineffective tool of control. The Irish resented the English and ruled on their own. The Counter-Reformation strengthened Ireland’s Catholicism. Elizabeth was worried especially of other foreign enemies making an alliance with Ireland right off England’s west coast.
Parliament’s power was growing and Elizabeth aged and was struggling. Finally she died on March 24, 1603. “Thus ended the Tudor dynasty.” They had been in power for over 100 years.
In April 1603 King James (Stuart) of Scotland was proclaimed King James I of England. He faced lots of problems:
This situation set the tone for a century of questions of just what was the role and power of the Crown. The Puritans tried to influence the new king, but James saw great dangers in their strong leanings toward “individual conscience.” It was he who supported Elizabeth’s Anglican “solution” to the religious question saying: “No Bishop, No King.” The two notions were fully linked.
The Catholics couldn’t get the Pope to accept a deal with the Crown, so they supported the famous “Gunpowder Plot” of Guy Fawkes who was uncovered and captured in his failed attempt to blow up Parliament.
James was pressed for a new uniform and “official” translation of the Bible. James supported the notion and by 1609 the “authorized” King James Bible was produced. Still today it is the most popular English language version of the Bible.
James was in favor of virtually absolute power for the king and lectured England on it. The spirit of the times was changing and Parliament fought back for its own share of power. The King was at vehement odds with Parliament concerning Spain. James wanted to end this war and marry his son to the Spanish princess. This came to naught and James died in 1625.
England was suffering serious financial problems and a shortage of jobs and labor. Colonies in the New World, it was thought, might help this situation. In 1606 The Virginia Company was formed. Thus economic speculation began English settlement in America. In May 1607 a settlement at Jamestown, Virginia was started. John Smith headed the settlement and was a harsh dictator. Many died of malaria in the first year.
“By chance” a crop of tobacco was planted and did well. It was highly prized and economically successful in England.
A group of Puritans had fled to Holland for a refuge from religious persecutions, and then sought support in England in order to go to the New World. In 1620 the Mayflower set sail. They ended up on Cape Cod, out of the Virginia jurisdiction. They founded the town of Plymouth.
A self-governing stock company with its administration in Salem was the next successful colony. By 1640 it had 14,000 people. Several dissenting groups moved out and settled in other areas.
Roger Williams led a group to found Rhode Island. He was a political thinker and followed John Milton’s ideas. He put into effect “. . . the complete separation of Church from lay government.”
The 1640s also saw English colonies in the Caribbean Islands.
Things were changing in England.
The new King Charles married the French princess, Henrietta Marie and when she arrived with many French Papists Charles’ popularity waned.
In 1628 Charles had to call Parliament for money. There was a complete break with Parliament and “The Personal Rule” of the king began.
Thomas Wentworth, a powerful member of Parliament, went over to Charles’ side and was seen by many as a traitor to Parliament. Charles’ power grew. Wentworth was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. He brought Ireland to heel more than anyone in history.
In August 1635 Charles levied the “ship money” tax on the whole country. John Hampden refused to pay his paltry 20 shillings and the nation followed his trial. The crown won the decision.
The next issue was religious and led by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. The standing rule was: “. . . the State sustained the (Anglican) Church in its property and the Church preached the duty of obedience and the Divine Right of Kings.
People had freedom of belief, but were required to attend church or be fined. Further:
Many, especially all Puritans and many Scots were in an uproar. Especially upsetting was a new legislation of a required “high” church manner of the sacrament of communion. A Covenant was put forward that people pledged that no rules of religion would be promulgated without the approval of Parliament. (1638)
The King needed money and was forced to call Parliament for the first time in 11 years. Parliament would not support the King.
Parliament was called and elected for 1640. “The Puritan Revolution” was primarily fought in Parliament. A key issue was the existence of bishops. The opposition wanted the office bared. This was a battle strictly “inside” Protestantism. For Charles the notion of bishops was not a Papal or Roman Catholic issue, but Biblical and about the tradition of the apostles.
The King’s key figure was Strafford and he was condemned and executed for not bowing to the wishes of Parliament. This caused a fundamental split and Charles began his “Personal Rule.” This was effectively ended in protests which required that Parliament meet at least once every three years even without the King calling it. Most of the ability to raise money was vested in the Parliament. Once Parliament was called it could only be ended by its own consent, effectively making Parliament permanent.
Charles reluctantly accepted the “Presbyterianism” which Scotland wanted to replace the system of bishops and church order.
Upon the death of Strafford the Irish rebelled against the very oppressive rule he had held over them and soon revenge, death and instability in Ireland reigned.
1643 saw full Civil War. The Roundheads were against the king and had especially rural people and Puritans. The intercession of John Pym was regarded as the key man who had “. . . saved England from absolute monarch and set her upon the path she has since pursued.” However, he died doing this service.
In 1644 the Scots joined the battle on the side of Parliament with 18,000 troops. They wanted to get rid of the Episcopacy, and impose the Presbyterian system on church governance in England.
The Scots changed the balance of power. They wanted
Oliver Cromwell now rose to power. He defended religious freedom to all except the Papists and Episcopalians. He scored a critical victory in the north at Marston Moor. By June 1645 Cromwell had become a dominant force in both Parliament and the Roundhead army. His forces scored another critical victory at Naseby, the last major battle of the war.
By spring 1646 “. . . all armed resistance to the Parliamentary Army was beaten down.” King Charles tried to wait out the struggle between the Scots and Roundheads. Churchill cites “ . . . a (unnamed) modern writer of remarkable insight . . .” who said “Charles had only to abandon his crown, his Church, and his friends, and he might, but for what it was worth be King of England still. . .”
Parliament wanted to disband the army, but back pay was a critical issue. The King made a deal with the Scots. Royalism and Presbyterianism would be united. He then went out to the Isle of Wight for safety. The Second Civil war followed though it was short.
There were some reversals of positions:
The King with Parliament was seen by most as a “last hope.”
The Scots plus all royalists’ forces rose against Cromwell and “The New Model.” The army defeated this coalition. By 1648 it was all over. Cromwell was Dictator. The Royalists were crushed and Parliament was Cromwell’s tool.
Churchill argues that this was NOT a triumph for future democracy as many have claimed. “It was this triumph of some twenty thousand resolute, ruthless, disciplined, military fanatics over all that England has ever willed or ever wished.
Jan. 30, 1649 the King was executed.
Founded Jan. 4, 1649: “Exit the tyrant, the last of the Kings.”
Cromwell and company had to manipulate things to defeat the “Levellers.” Cromwell agreed to lead the “worst” of the soldiers to Ireland to put down its revolt. His 1649 campaign was cold blooded. In the first battle at Drogheda he had 3,000 put to death. Churchill condemns Cromwell’s behavior as unworthy of a human.
Charles II was claimed to be king by the remaining royalists. He then went to the Hague for safety. The Scots forced Charles II to agree to;
The King hated the agreement but thought he had no options. Facing an invasion from Scotland, Cromwell came back from Ireland in 1650. The Scots lost many in the first battle. In 1651 the Scot army had been destroyed.
“This was the end of the Civil War or Great Rebellion. England was mastered; Ireland was terrorized; Scotland was conquered.”
“The Rump” members of Parliament put England back on solid footing introducing a taxing and land holding system which survived to at least Churchill’s time. However, when Cromwell returned from Ireland he dismissed Parliament and ran the country as a dictator. He ended the sea war with Holland and sought power for England on the Continent. He fought for the interests of the Reformation but was more successful in developing British shipping and trade.
Cromwell was very powerful but caught between Parliament and the army. He needed one against the other. After 1654 he ruled in a military dictatorship having dismissed Parliament.
In the country there was a growing desire to revive the Stuart rule.
Churchill presents Cromwell as very mixed. He was a harsh dictator, but in many ways much more fair and tolerant than “modern” dictators. Cromwell died Sept. 3, 1658.
The army and Parliament were split and each struggled for power. In the nation a strong Royalist movement broke out. The army resisted both those who wanted to continue the Protectorate and those who wanted to restore the monarch.
George Monk, a powerful military figure who was more a soldier of fortune than a patriot, rose to prominence. On March 25, 1660 Charles II returned as King. Parliament was restored to the period before 1648 and was again prominent.
“Though the doctrine of Divine Right was again proclaimed, that of Absolute Power had been abandoned . . . The idea of the Crown levying taxes without the consent of Parliament . . . had vanished.”
Another key view was: “No standing army.”
The longest Parliament in English history was called. It lasted 18 years. It was called the Cavalier Parliament or the Pension Parliament. The key issues were:
The army was to be under neither the king nor parliament, but locally governed militias.
The Corporation Act of 1661 embraced the Church of England as the National Church and excluded ministers who didn’t comply. Many advantages came with membership, but other religious groups were tolerated.
Churchill argues that this act set the grounds for almost all political parties even up to the time he wrote this book. The dominant parties, Conservatives and Radicals match up with Tory and Whig parties in his time.
Charles II cared very little for religion and would have been more accepting of any or all, preferably none. He needed this liberality to match his lifestyle which included several mistresses and other behaviors not approved by religion.
Oh my, I think I came to the four most marvelous sentences of this well-written book. Upon the restoration of Charles the question of the army was settled, Parliament’s position was restored and stabilized. The huge issue was religion and Parliament restored the Church of England and formalized “political” religion but allowed freedom of worship in the main. But King Charles was a notorious rake. He didn’t care a wink for religion and lived a fairly scandalous life. Churchill writes:
“The King’s example spread its demoralization far and wide, and the sense of relief from the tyranny of the Puritans spurred forward every amorous adventure. Nature, affronted, reclaimed her rights with usury. The Commonwealth Parliament had punished adultery by death; Charles scourged chastity and faithfulness with ridicule. There can however be no doubt that the mass of the nation in all classes preferred the lax rule of the sinners to the rigorous discipline of the saints.”
In 1665 the Great Plague in London was the worst since the Black Death of 1348.
In 1623 many in England we upset with war against the Dutch Protestant Republic and Charles II’s union with Louis XIV of France.
Parliament voted in “The Test Act” in which all English people had to deny the doctrine of Transubstantion. James, Duke of York, and likely to be the next king would not deny it. England was upset with the prospect of a Catholic king.
Sir Thomas Osborne, head of the Cavalier Parliament in the House of Commons rose in power and advocated:
William of Orange married Mary, the Duke of York’s daughter and that made him, via Mary, as a potential successor to Charles II. Neither Charles nor his brother James took this seriously. The marriage of William and Mary ended English and Dutch hostility for evermore.
To protect his interests Charles exposed Danby’s relations with France and bribes and alliance with Rome. This exploded in Parliament and was known as the Popish plot.
Charles dismissed Parliament to try to regain his power. It had been in session for 18 years. James, meanwhile, fled England to Holland and a great anti-Catholic backlash broke out in England.
By 1680 the political battles shifted (and the shift lasted at least 200 years) from religious battles to the battle of political parties, Whig and Tory. The Whigs were originally Scot Presbyterians. The Tories were Irish Papists. The Whigs were supporting Monmouth, an illegitimate son of Charles II, as the successor to Charles.
Charles recommended a Protestant Protectorate during the coming rule of James to protect the hereditary principle. Charles died in 1686, only 56 years old. James became king.
Monmouth, pretender to the throne had raised an army in Scotland but was quickly captured and just as quickly executed. This made William of Orange and his wife Mary as pretenders to the throne as well as James.
However, James dismissed Parliament and reestablished a standing army of size and elevated several Catholics as high ranking military officers. He was running England without Parliament and his popularity was quickly falling.
James wanted to make Princess Anne next in line of succession, but only if she would become Catholic. She was repulsed by the idea and rejected it. William of Orange followed it all.
At this time Louis XIV was at the zenith of his power.
In autumn 1688 James seemed in a great position.
However, James went too far and ordered the Anglican bishops to read a letter supporting James’ religious position. They refused and were arrested. This changed the balance of power and factors of the army invited William of Orange to return to England.
When William’s return was threatened much depended on France, but it did not attack Holland. The masses wanted James out and saw William as their liberator. Soon James’ forces began to desert him and he entered into negotiations with William. James did manage to escape and, in Europe, remained a Catholic hero.Bob Corbett email@example.com
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