I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.
You learn by example, boy; if you hang out with those scoundrels, you’ll become as they and with your outlook and energy, no doubt significantly worse!
Before I cover my person in egg, a small but essential thread, gathered here, is from brain-driven history lessons, from time is, when time was, at school. Putting head to the case, turning over the dirt of what had gone before, it is a relief to find I am not as balsamic as I thought. Although the schools I went to failed me, there is reclamation and memory enough to oil the stretch of my imagination all these centuries later. The danger in being a screwball was getting strung out on the syntax, then giving up in a tangle of dates and confuted facts, as is my wont. Infuriating as dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s could be, there was a special moment when a lesson turned the tutorage on its head. Like most of the gang in the village, I accepted the world as flat, that is, until I leapt faith to stow aboard a wind vessel that ventured the place where the sun sets. The thought of finding no end in sight, or indeed that we could topple into the abyss, was mindboggling, a great deal scarier than the voyage itself. Terrifying as this journey had been, on reaching another’s shore, I began to see that the seemingly finished and polished answers we were being taught back in the classroom did not suit my restless nature. This epiphany was more an affirmation of something that had dogged my patience from the first day in the nursery. If it hadn’t been for the wisdom and patience of Mr Jones, I feel I would have continued to believe my insistent doubts a liability.
Mr Jones, as you may recall, was the Welsh history teacher, strict and tough enough to keep us glued to the desk without winding up the clock too much. While he persevered with I Ching furtherance, we went to the well, the edges of civilisation, immersing ourselves in other ages. The devil’s in the detail, he’d mumble and whilst you won’t get through the test without them, they are not the point. An aside, I always felt, more a reminder to himself than a pointer for us, reassuring nevertheless. With that nugget in tow, we learnt how each era brought new and radical changes from what had gone before.
On the surface, our history wasn’t difficult to grasp. The reformation seemed palpable. Our most dramatic example of furtherance appeared to be at the forefront of warfare. Domestically, food is increasingly diverse and accessible. The utensils with which we cook a little more sophisticated. The tools to make a table, chair, the architecture, cities, roads, drainage, the infrastructure favoured an evolutive process moving ahead at pace. Undermining and driving the ongoing domestication are lawmakers and breakers keeping the plebians under the thumb. Chiefs and senators, bringing the enemy to the side while scheming and plotting for the throne. Hello, smile, knife in the back, a broken heart, full of suspicion for the other; this leader, or the other, for and against, one down two to go; an air of constant unease, leads a constitutional gridlock that brings the country to its knees, with the onslaught of war. We were climaxing in a bloodbath on the main stage.
War, as I recollect, always had our full attention. Aside from the extra-curricula activities and wealth accumulation, combat between ruling families seemed triggered by the same maxim that we stuck by. Encouraged by our comrade in arms — hungry for strategy — in awe of the artillery — resigned to tactics — in fear of the face-off, we were all too familiar with that demography.
Corporal punishment and forecourt fights played a central part in a schoolboy’s life; growing up in the smoking remnants of an empire — survival of the fittest saw bullies and sadistic teachers having the last word. If a severe caning didn’t catch you unawares, a fist was bound to smack you off guard sooner or later — fight, a fight! Where? There! Back of the sheds, said the wretch to the angel, there’s a fight. A FIGHT..! We knew well how frictions between any one of us could start with a trifling, a disagreement that would plague the days; the threatening note in assembly, the sharp end of the pen, pushed and prodded at the desk, in the showers, the locker rooms, between shifts, inside hell, outside the gates, forever and a night, until a clash of the titans became inevitable.
Hurt or offend someone, especially in a close-knit family, they retaliate. There might be a time-lapse before the retort, a split second perhaps — if the barb hasn’t quite sunk in, or the loser is knocked out cold, the reaction comes later, if not minutes, another day, next week, a year. The offence’s rank informs the measure of revenge; plotting, planning, the strength of poison and so on.
Were we led by the rule of law, kickstarted in the distant neurons of an ancestral layer, or tied to the genesis of conflict at birth? Boys keen to settle a score using the fist seemed more adept physically and undoubtedly shown quick moves from a world-weary father or a hardened brother. No matter what happened, sooner or later, even the shyest of stragglers got sucked into the stew.
When it came around to my turn in a punch-up, egged on by overexcited boys, braying like spectators, hungry for blood at a gladiatorial arena — do it, do it! Smash his head in, kill, kill him, go on, finish him off! — I held my nerve until my nose got hit, then lose it, lashing out in all directions, a tear-driven snot ball of rage, missing the target by miles.
Fallen and loaded in disgrace, I offered up admission to my failings in the hope of leaving the ring with a thimble full of respect. Holding my head high, until out of sight, I’d skulk off vying for some mean-fisted payback of which the torment and pent-up fury saw little or no respite till I saw the deed done—shocked, furious, not beaten, drawn, or quartered. Restless by a mile, pacing the floor on the backend of a sleepless night, revenge seems sweet in repose. The thought of a dagger driven into the scoundrel’s back when least expecting it was nothing less than a just and practical measure, given the curriculum’s ethics and strict school policies hardly surprising.
The principal belief was: do or die, make or break, win or lose… for all the career-based rhetoric and moral flag-waving, we learnt by counsel to trust no one, especially those closest to us; internally, privately, in marriage, in death, in politics, religion, military, consortiums, in academies, in science, even in the arts, a need for power, one over the other, remains distilled in time as the mainstay and mastery of life. Along with relentless schoolboy one-upmanship and parental intervention, me and my classmates were officially taught that the preservation of favoured races was exemplified in taking civilisation, ethnicity and governance, across uncharted waters, to the wild beyond; ramming the evaluator’s moral code down the throat of natives, staking claim to the land, raping, stealing, shackling and selling their lives in merciless succession, onwards and upwards, for the accounts of crowns.
Shamefaced and browbeaten by the dogma… what is done cannot be undone… if I am Tartuffe on trial here… suspect I am… there are no excuses for what is smacked down before… in defence… twos tango… opinions, like dances, are formed… we are educated, raised, to the ways and means of a bigot… the teachings seep in, perceptibly, imperceptibly, underlying, unsaid, through school, families, enemies and friends alike, from every direction… the spirit breaks… while terror, like a shroud of fog creeping across a mote, seeping up ramparts, over battlements, through arrow loops and under doors, found a way in… too dark, too much, too late, too soon, said the empiric ruler, to the fool, turning him to stone.
So why not unlock the story… unearth the play… and go a mystery beyond… the penultimate phenomena… before identity, judgements, and boxes ticked, fix conviction in place..? You never know; temperance may strike a richer seam.
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
In playing his old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for beguiled fools, Prince Hamlet summons a poetic force that acknowledges the world’s mastery, proves his love of the creation and applauds the exemplary nature of humankind. But such is anger, the emotional weight he carries; he dismisses the earth as something alien, the celestial home nothing but repugnant gases. At the same time, men and women, enlightened and heroic as they can be, are downsized to a jaded legacy. Smirk if you must, I’m not here to jive… veracity is a liar… ain’t that the truth!
So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abus’d. But know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown.
Unconvinced by the visitation of his father’s ghost, we might remain contemptuous of the good King’s murder… a prince’s lament… why so maudlin…. by the God of all things, everyone grieves, his sittings are beginning to seem pitiful… study, take a hobby, anything but this self-indulgent waffle… we are all extremely sorry… now get over it… get a life… a tired and dubious trajectory… that is until Hamlet mounts a play that depicts the scene of the crime plucked from his uncle’s wanton past and triggers an explosive reaction from the court of Denmark. Therein even the most sceptical among us stand with the prince, hoping for justice, at the very least an admission from his uncle and his mother of some wretched patricide. As truth is unearthed… death wields the sword… the court evermore insular… convinced by ambition and rationale, the protagonist and antagonist, duelling for retribution, poisons the other… leaving a world where all but honour is lost.
Power and wealth you can have, but a calm heart, and a clear conscience, may disband you.
Be it Shakespeare, or the complexities and intrigue of another exporter of myth and verve, prince or pauper, marked down as illiterate, as we were, you were considered far too degenerate for such perspicacity… yet most of us weather-heads, given our physiological prowess and wit, would have figured the plays completely… for we knew the trickery, faultiness and how to work, or avoid, an avenging encounter instinctively.
The deep end of a play can reveal first hand that the most honourable among us are not immune to terrifying and absurd disclosure. Working the moment, sorting out personal differences and catching emotional malfunctions enroute, gaining trust for the other, turning a chore into a thrill, we work the shift our own way… only this time around the comradery brings us together… with enough confidence and respect, enough for that age-old paradigm of indifference and that consistent need for revenge, to change.
Herein lies the shame in fragmenting the fields of learning. If we really want to find out why insularity and jingoism are an overwhelming fixture of our lives today, surely we need to open our past to the present, our hearts and minds to other spectrums of edification, an altogether different, holistic approach… or should we accept postulated values, rejig the blocking, pat ourselves on the back for getting the facts right and continue with the same old story… too loud to scream, too quiet to dream. Can it be that our childhood years are called informative to live out a worn-out cliché; unapologetic in bigotry, duplicity, ascendancy, our right to overrule and so on?
Endorsing a play to span every lesson throughout a term… why not… each subject imperative to the whole… stage managing, lighting, set building, composing, design, psychology, painting, singing… going the rounds, serving up the offering to teachers and parenthood at the end of a semester… there is so much more to mounting a play than playing to the gallery… Maths, English, Woodwork, Metalwork, Art, History, all subjects addressed in the alchemy of making a play.
Whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust, like diamonds we are cut with our own dust. John Webster
In breaking into the structure of the play, getting underneath the driving force of characters, we reveal the reason for the imaginable and unimaginable choices we/they can take when triggered… certainly an emotional and psychological challenge, but a challenge that can clear the air of ignorance, shine a light on the absolutist in us and possibly save us from being headbutted into inertia and distrust; not to mention a blatant disregard for the Earth and its celestial spheres.
Let me know
Wherefore I should be thus neglected. Sir,
I serv’d your tyranny, and rather strove
To satisfy yourself than all the world:
And though I loath’d the evil, yet I lov’d
You that did counsel it; and rather sought
To appear a true servant than an honest man.
John Webster’s Duchess of Malfi is about as dark and horrific as human conditioning can get; the Jacobean play draws in tension so tight, the story spans centuries and whilst the blood lust may seem loud, the point is made; the play still illuminates an underlying discourse for a ruptured family, the power-crazed corporation and companies in the 21st Century.
The Duchess holds her own to the hands of her brother’s unending need for one over the matriarch, warding off their savage hunger for control until death is an escape… preferable to the inevitable insanity and deterioration that follows. For those of us who thought we were tough, shaking a spear in this horror show would have been a massive wakeup call, like going someplace as a stowaway, realising you might not get back to mum and dad again. Step into the guts of Malfi, under the throw of such a gang and go the length it takes to survive the bleakest corner… a full-on initiation worthy of heroism. Crossing boundaries between gender, challenging the logic of masculine ascendancy, the jury is out. Yet, the trial alone would have been enough to draw light on our own prejudices and transgressions, which were beginning to grow by the hour.
That which is subjugated today becomes beholden tomorrow.
Gentlemen were trained in eloquence and the arts of war; gentlewomen, were urged to keep silent and attend to their needlework. In men, a will to dominate was admired or at least assumed; in women, it was viewed as dangerous or grotesque. A truism for much of our history. With this conviction in mind, Webster was putting his life on the line in the publication and performing of the Duchess of Malfi in 1614.
Then or now, it is not possible to understand the deeper implications of how the past informs us today without help from the dramatist, poet, engraver, linguist, as well as the geologist, physicist, biologist, psychologist, and other expertise… working as one in under the stars.
On 22 September 1598, while his first successful play, Every Man in his Humour, was in performance Ben Jonson, bricklayer, soldier, rebel, scholar and master of the sword, was impeached in Shoreditch on a charge of murder. Having killed the actor Gabriel Spencer in a duel, it is said that Jonson’s life was saved by a legal loophole which saw him escape sentence ‘by benefit of clergy’; any man with a working knowledge of Latin was considered a cleric, and therefore immune to secular law. As well as escaping with his life, his extraordinary ability with words held him in good stead… he went on to be an acclaimed playwright, thought to be our first poet laureate, a comic muse, with a portfolio of plays only Shakespeare could match.
I have gone off on a tangent, with the dramatist… not quite! A moral code, our rights and wrongs are born of fear and fortitude, tears and laughter, the comic and tragic trajectory drawn from history in our own back yard.
The past catches up with us until the day we are born; only then does the present begin to meet the future.
Soul of the age!
The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage!
My Shakespeare, rise! I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
A little further, to make thee a room:
Thou art a monument without a tomb,
And art alive still while thy book doth live
And we have wits to read and praise to give.
Shine forth, thou star of poets, and with rage
Or influence, chide or cheer the drooping stage;
Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourn’d like night,
And despairs day, but for thy volume’s light.
Extract from the eulogy to William Shakespeare, by Ben Jonson
With what display will allow, before facts fall into farce, I will do my best to stay on course in a terrane as complex as it is oceanic. How does anyone remain focused in an age of digital overload, where unlimited knowledge brings up so many unanswerable questions at the tap of a phone? Travel any strait, cross any mountain, take any random route; the tangents and offshoots are everywhere, so gather wind to the sails, helm amidships and aim for the reaches of the world.
An ice age can last hundreds of millions of years, with the geographical and biological movement driving a continuing process, corresponding with and informing Earth’s structure, up to and including the present.
In 2016 a carbon dating of bones from a brown bear, excavated in County Clare, Ireland, are thought to be 12,500 years old. The readings confirm that the bear was butchered by humans, who possibly crossed a glacial land-bridge, linking south-west England to south-east Ireland, during the last ice age. Dated between 10860 and 10641 BC, these are the earliest known findings of human habitation in Ireland. Are these people, who left England back in the Palaeolithic era, by bridge or boat, the root of Irish descent? If so, who were their forebears?
Art is nothing but the expression of our dream; the more we surrender to it, the closer we get to the inner truth of things, our dream-life, the true life that scorns questions and does not see them. Franz Marc
Do the paintings found in a complex of caves in the Dordogne region of southwestern France tell us of a cultured people in deification and wonder of life. Is their apparent artistic dexterity, thought to be around 17,000 years old, reminiscent of great painters and printmakers like Franz Marc and Pablo Picasso, who turned to the grace and power of an animal as expressive in the 20th century, coincidental? Were they aware of leaving such a significant trail? Where did their journey begin?
A recent discovery of stone tools, unearthed on the coast of Norfolk, was carbon-dated to reveal a human presence between 950,000 and 700,000 years ago. Were these ancestors the first of us to settle in England? Wherever they came from, they stayed in the area until the animals grew weary, the berries and root vegetables scarce. When the resources run thin, do or die, these hunter-gatherers, compelled to seek food further afield, move on… and on… out of the immediate wilderness into the next. Were they following a migratory path? Did they walk from continental Europe across extensive landmass to Britain and onwards toward Ireland? We may not qualify their existence… but with the invention of radiocarbon dating in 1946, we begin to ascertain how their lives are placed in the grander scheme of things.
With the instruments of science today, it is possible to analyse and collect data from Earth’s formation and structure, which tell us of ages preceding the Triassic and Jurassic period, an eternity before the human form was fledged. By the same token, this data tells how that age, way back in the annals of time, shapes and informs the World’s course today.
Billions of years ago, a reflex action creates waves of actions and reactions that create the first known ice age. This epoch rebounds successively, with an infinite amount of actions and reactions that flow, mould, shape and inform the earth’s existence as it spins on its axis and revolves around the Sun today. Likewise, and to lesser or greater degrees every other age, every creature, animal, plant, insect, right down to subatomic molecules creates and is created by a continuing process of cause and effect… galaxy upon galaxy, universe within universe, forming and informing, life after death, death after life, in this immediate, all-encompassing, now.
Bring in human sophistication and purpose… my world, your planet, our galaxy, their age, my lifetime, our land and so on… it might seem as we have the rule of law, ownership, over and above existence… objectifying actuality, in the same way, we mould ideas, materials and money… to make or end life… a mind, filtered and made up, bows to an image of a god that breaches the underbelly of clouds, with a blow, while those pinned to the banks of existence, in fear of this power, eke out a living, or sink with the flow.
When our survival is under fire, setting out boundaries, filtering out the dregs, how else would we rise to meet the best of our kind? Conquest has come to represent the bulk of what it means to be human… we stake our claim or go the way of the dodo! Is this the example you meant, sir?
Representatives, leaders and companies sit around the table to negotiate the lot on offer. The more prolific the product, the greater need there is for resources to feed the result. Who sustains, who deprives, is determined by those who have the most leverage; who are they, if they are not of country and family? And what are countries, if they are not people dependent on Earth in kind? What is Earth, if starved of biodiversity and ethical husbandry?
If history doesn’t overwhelm us, the plague might, then do we accept being grounded as the end of life?
Of course not! Bells and whistles on the outside are nice, but humans don’t make the trees grow, a kingfisher glide to swoop, the stream to gurgle audibly, or the sun to light up the day.
Do we run from what has gone before, seeking out hope with some imagined absolution in the future, or step off the angelic demonic carousel and work to blossom in being a human being over a human doing?
This chapter of life, this earth born presence, continues to be commodified, an opportunity to buy, barter and control nature for a place we have in mind on the morrow. Insignificant as we may feel, our clambering for significance may have a bigger knock-on effect than we ever realise… no matter how far back we go, the repercussions of human intervention are clearly linked to Earth’s well-being in the present.
From the oldest Empire, Akkadian, to the Vikings, Phoenicians, Greeks, Egyptians, Alexandrians, and Achaemenid, the First Persian Empire, therein are set the teachings of absolutism, and that’s just for starters. Our ancestral line, with its autocratic ruling, as you taught us so eloquently all those years ago, is closer to home, well documented; and if we care to look, drives our collective coding today.
The threat of an alien invasion, broadside, along with the massive increase in population, has become ever more embroiled. You’re right; I’m wrong! Good, now get in line, bigot! However it comes, whatever shape, corporate, consumer, evolved, unevolved, our domination, a tidal wave of given authority, sweeps across millennia, century through to century, from the furthest reaches of humankind to the civilisations we concur with now.
The Romans took 55BC Celtic Briton. After 400 years of Roman rule, Romanised Britons tried to defend Roman Britain’s religion and civilisation against Germanic peoples, the Anglo-Saxon invaders… then came the Normans.
The word Normans evolved from Norse men; Latin Nortmanni, “men of the North”.
The Viking leader Rollo sailed from his Scandinavian home, landed in the valley of the lower Seine, fought and won a permanent foothold on Frankish soil, in what we know today as Normandy. This Nordic principality, in north-west France, grew out of a Treaty between King Charles III of West Francia (France) and Rollo. For his part in the treaty, Rollo agreed to defend the territory from other Vikings and convert to Christianity. Under Rollo’s leadership, many Vikings adapted to the indigenous culture, swapping out paganism for Christendom and intermarrying with the local population, thus securing the Duchy of Normandy.
It was a direct descendant of Rollo, one William the Conqueror, who outsmarted King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and kickstarted England’s Norman conquest.
The initial years of William the Conqueror’s reign in England are marked by constant Anglo-Saxon rebellion and matched by Norman repression. From all accounts, William I was illiterate, not stupid; a masterful tactician in the field of battle, a skilled fighter and feared, if not respected by his rivals. He learnt from experience, through trial and error, how best to control people, like a master by way of the rod, from a base of fear.
Once William had got an overall handle on his new territory, he took ownership of the land, distributing what was necessary among his Barons, keeping them separated with enough distance to quell a mutiny. While working his plans, the Conqueror kept a careful eye over his Barons and their Knights, who in turn, imposed a system of rule over the Saxon serfs and peasants that allowed them to pay rent, or work the land, for their privilege. Spare the rod and spoil the child.
By the time William and his crew had settled, around 6,000 manors were established in England, sown and grown around the infamous castles we know today. Many a village in contemporary Britain can trace links to small settlements made by the artisans who lived on-site to construct the favoured castles. Windsor Castle was the first of nine Norman castles built around London. Manors varied in size, some having only one village, while others had several villages within the allotted territory.
Upon William’s death, his third son Rufus inherited this Kingship of England. Rufus had a direct line to the House of Flanders, France, through his mother, Matilda.
Rufus was educated in Latin and the liberal arts and carried the art of war to his death. I tremble when I reflect on the grievous sins which burden my conscience, and now, about to be summoned before the awful tribunal of God, I know not what I ought to do. I was too fond of war. I was bred to arms from my childhood, and I am stained with the rivers of blood that I have shed.
William the Conqueror’s fourth son Henry I is crowned King after his brother Rufus died in a hunting accident.
Although the demise of Norman rule may be hard to pin down… they say the Norman administration is largely responsible for a system that made England the most powerful government in Europe and that William’s reign introduced Old Norman linguistics to the Saxon syntax, radically enhancing the landscape of the English language. Leaving salt in the wound, no doubt some of the most reviled Normans did return to France; others, loathed to lose out on the prize, blended into the landscape, securing their claim, legislating existing land rights and finding much intimacy, consented or not, with Anglo-Saxon blood.
Many of us today can find direct lineage from Scandinavian and French (Viking and Norman) roots. There’s the little matter of the Germanic connection through the Anglo-Saxon bloodline and other European clusters through the Romans… who are we… where on the map is our ancestral home? Never mind the birth-right; let’s have another war that’ll settle who’s ahead and inline for the score.
With the help of her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester and her uncle King David I of Scotland, Henry I’s daughter (William the Conqueror’s granddaughter), Empress Maude Duchess of Normandy invaded England in 1139 to claim the throne from her cousin King Stephen, plunging the populous of England and France into a war called Anarchy that lasted some 19 years.
King Stephen’s death ends the vicious quarrel between him and his French cousin Maude. Stephen is succeeded by Maude’s son Henry of Anjou, who takes the throne as Henry II.
SINCE THE CAROLINGIANS, Henry II, William the Conqueror’s great-grandson, controlled more of France than any ruler. At the pinnacle of his reign, these lands, combined with his possessions in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, became known as the Angevin, or Plantagenet Empire.
In 1173, Henry II faced the biggest threat to his vast domain from within his own family. Henry II had four legitimate sons… the eldest son (Henry Young) refused to have the empire divided up… Richard the Lionheart and King John are perhaps the most prominent in our imaginations; yet, it is the fighting with their father and with each other that basically destroys Henry II’s Empire building. Henry II’s reign, proclaimed by many contemporary historians as significant in England’s beginnings as a global power, is torn apart by the family’s dark and bitter infighting that leaves the people of France and England in the wake of all-round death and destruction.
And on and on it goes…. a fade that never quite goes to black… an image that remains opaque… sparked by insults, hurt, feuds and disagreements the wars when they came were invariably between members of the close and extended family, about who gets what land and who gets to be boss. So this is what it means to be God anointed… yes… bludgeon the other… pull everyone into the same hole, crown the next in line and make a mark on the world…. all the while antiquarians and their counterparts argue the toss… keep writing it up… in favour or out, whose findings are more accurate, who gains the biggest accolades… the mightiest, the richest, the biggest, most transgressive, most landed, lorded, cruellest, weakest and all the other tabloid accolades we seem to believe and adhere to…
In my family, quarrelling is like a broken record. I suppose there is something juicy in the fight, but what to do? Taking sides on the merry-go-round, you are considered mad, step off, a traitor. Going the rounds, taking a cue from divine authority, lead us to believe we have the right to rule on mass, no questions asked. What example? A right royal mess, and amen to all that! As lesser families, our downfalls may pale; however, our delivery, jealousy and hatred are somehow reassured by such high-profile infighting, especially when unrest between the God anointed leads to backstabbing and the next Just War.
In 1337 the House of Plantagenet drew swords with the House of Valois over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. The Hundred Years War sucked most of Europe into the bloodshed at some point. By the time 1422 comes around, Henry VI is crowned king of England and France… continuing that yearly cycle of War; at this point, he is contesting his uncle Charles VII’s claim to the French throne.
Don’t mess with the family, as the Mafiosi saying might go, especially if you’re born inside a cardinal brood destined for perpetuity.
They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells…They willingly traded everything they owned… They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features …They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron …They would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
The Journal of Columbus 1492-93
In 1493, under the Spanish Court’s auspices, a letter started circulating throughout Europe written by a master navigator and admiral, Christopher Columbus, about discovering and claiming a series of islands on the edge of what he believed to be the Indian Ocean. The islands would become known as the West Indies and the native inhabitants thereof as Indians. He tells of all the temporal benefits found in abundance in this new land, how they are made available, not just to Spain, but to all of Christendom… the letter says the natives were hopelessly timid, they believed we had descended from heaven, how they seemed far from ignorant, generous, kind… Columbus ends the letter urging their Majesties, Pontiffs, and Spain’s people to give thanks to God for allowing him to find so many souls ready for conversion to Christianity and eternal salvation. Saluted with such a righteous scribe, why would these people need redemption from the Christian Church?
Monarchs come and go… from Plantagenets, to House of Lancaster, to the House of York… our church doctrine and worship being Catholic rulers were bound by the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Pope… then, the Tudor monarchs ascended over the realms of England, including their ancestral Wales and the so called Lordship of Ireland, pitching the order according to their virtues and reckonings… that familiar family affair.
Henry VIII believed a male heir was as practical as it was crucial in continuing the Tudor lineage and securing the kingdom. He got to work, cutting ties with Rome, by annulling his marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne Boleyn. When it became clear that the Pope would not annul the marriage, Henry VIII and his council, Thomas Cromwell and the like, began closing the monasteries and the nunneries and renouncing the power of the Catholic Church in England. Henry’s rift with Rome was to have far reaching consequences that are still in clear earshot within the divisions of the Christian faith today.
Over many years, beginning in1536, the period saw King Henry VIII overthrowing the so-called FitzGerald dynasty – of Anglo-Norman, and Hiberno-Norman ancestry – a show of strength confirming Tudor control in Ireland; inflaming a long lasting conflict between England and Ireland, protestant and catholic differences.
In that same year, Anne Boleyn gave birth to their daughter Elizabeth and subsequently had three miscarriages. By March 1536, Henry VIII was courting Jane Seymour. To marry Seymour Henry had to find reasons to end his marriage to Anne; helped by his councillors, Henry had her committed to the Tower of London on a charge of adultery. Anne Boleyn was beheaded on May 19 that same year. Eleven days later Henry VIII married Jane Seymour.
The second half of Henry VIII’s reign saw further executions of relatives, close friends and confidantes. Nine days before his own death, Henry VIII beheaded his last victim Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey on 19 January 1547. It was Surrey who introduced the iambic pentameter that predominantly characterises the rhythm of English and Shakespearean sonnets, popularised from the Elizabethan age onwards. Henry VIII was succeeded by his son Edward, and then by his daughters Mary and Elizabeth.
Edward VI reign was short lived…
I think of doing what is meet in the matter, and in accordance with the will of God, as my duty binds me to do, and see to it that my laws be loyally carried out and observed. I could not suffer it to … support some with favour whilst others are justly punished. Truly, sister, I will not say more and worse things, because my duty would compel me to use harsher and angrier words. But this I will say with certain intention, that I will see my laws strictly obeyed, and those who break them shall be watched and denounced. Edward VI, extract from written correspondence with his sister Mary.
Despite strong, oftentimes threatening, opposition from her immediate family Mary remained glued to Catholicism. She rejected the break with Rome instituted by her father and the stricter Protestantism as advocated by her brother and his regents… such were the conviction of her brother’s beliefs his last days on earth were consumed with destroying his sisters right to the crown… his plans broken, overtaken by ill-health… at the age of 15, on 6 July 1553, Edward died from a disease of lungs and his sister Mary became Queen of England.
A month after Mary’s coronation she issued a proclamation stating she would not pressure any of her subjects to follow her religion, but by the end of September 1553, leading Protestant churchmen—including John Bradford, John Rogers, John Hooper, Hugh Latimer, and Thomas Cranmer—were behind bars. Her first Parliament abolished previous religious laws as constituted by her father Henry VIII and with full-on conviction by Edward VI. To this end, Mary’s Christion priority saw the release of prominent Catholics, imprisoned in the Tower, including the Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner and her kinsman Edward Courtenay.
In a bid to strengthen the ties with her Spanish cousins and quell the Protestant rising in Ireland and elsewhere in the realm, Catholic doctrine was restored to the form it had taken in the 1539 Six Articles of Henry VIII, which (among other things) re-affirmed clerical celibacy and married priests deprived of their benefices. By the end of 1554, the pope had approved the deal, and the Heresy Acts were revived. Mary I is nicknamed Bloody Mary because she had hundreds burnt at the stake for following the Protestant belief.
Second to God, as leaders of the Royal Household were led to be… in early modern Europe opposing the ruling order was considered an infection, nothing less than a blasphemous insurrection that had to be erased so as not to poison humankind. The punishment for heresy as decreed, was to be burnt at the stake; an example set for public display and to prevent body parts from being collected as relics, mementoes for the alter.
Mary I died of natural causes…
At Westminster Abbey, London, on 15 January 1559, Queen Elizabeth I is crowned. She is 25. She becomes proudly known as the Virgin Queen, fondly as our Bess.
Everything in Elizabeth’s early life taught her to pay careful attention to how she represented herself and how she was seen by others. Witnessing the extremes, under her father, brother and her sister’s reign taught the Queen a great deal about restraint and diplomacy. As soon as Elizabeth came to the throne, she reversed the religious order and appeared to be more tolerant of believers and nonbelievers alike. Nevertheless, she was no shrinking violet, adept in delivering punishment, her motto was “video et taceo” (“I see but say nothing”) leaving her peers to do the dirty work.
In her early years Elizabeth received the rigorous education normally reserved for male heirs, consisting of a course of studies centring on classical languages, history, rhetoric, and moral philosophy. In addition to Greek and Latin, she became fluent in French and Italian, and in her years as Queen her mastery of languages served her well in matters of international diplomacy. Like a great actor, she has us sold.
My lords, the law of nature moves me to sorrow for my sister; the burden that is fallen upon me makes me amazed, and yet, considering I am God’s creature, ordained to obey His appointment, I will thereto yield, desiring from the bottom of my heart that I may have assistance of His grace to be the minister of His heavenly will in this office now committed to me. And as I am but one body naturally considered, though by His permission a body politic to govern, so shall I desire you all … to be assistant to me, that I with my ruling and you with your service may make a good account to Almighty God and leave some comfort to our posterity on earth. I mean to direct all my actions by good advice and counsel. Elizabeth I
Elizabeth’s need to put the memory of her father in the shade, and the men she commanded at her command, saw a brilliant tactician, take offensive and defensive strategy, introverted and extraverted doctrine and turn an inward-looking island to a global contender… an all-powerful lead that patronised a much loved and applauded heritage: foreign trade, exploration, literature and the arts.
Many of the men and women who served her sister’s reign were rewarded with appointments in Elizabeth’s court and council. Sir William Cecil (later Lord Burghley), whom Elizabeth trusted above all others, was appointed as her principal secretary; his leadership of the privy council, and the creation of a highly effective intelligence service under the direction of Francis Walsingham made Cecil the most influential minister for the majority of Elizabeth’s reign. The queen nicknamed him her ‘Spirit’ and relied upon him in all matters of governance. But it was Robert Dudley, her “sweet Robin” whom she had known since childhood that remained her soulmate, ally and closest confidant. Elizabeth’s mother was beheaded by her father and Dudley’s father by her sister Mary. A years difference in age… knowing the Queen and her nature best of any man. He was appointed principal patron of the arts, literature, and the Elizabethan theatre. Her nickname for Dudley had been “Eyes”, which was symbolised by the sign of ôô in their letters to each other.
Now will I end that do imagine I talke still with you, and therefore lothely say farewell ōō thoughe ever I pray God blesse you from all harme and save you from all foes with my million and legion of thanckes for all your paines and cares. As you know, ever the same. E.R.
Five years after Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, the Thirty-Nine Articles, suggesting doctrine and practice for the Church of England, are published, marking a seal of acceptance to the Church of England that are known today.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.… a salutation to the almighty, as in reciting the word Amen, Hallelujah, Allah, Allah, Om Shanti Shanti Shanti, HaShem… in some circles the word ॐ (Aum, Om) is believed to be the very first sound which originated on earth. In the ordained sense, words can open a door, baptise a soul, endorse a marriage… anoint the ministry… revoke a belief… spark a war… do as I tell you or I will cut off your head… or perhaps, think before you speak. Many of us find recitation from written work to be a powerful medium, where one word can flip the materialist to contemplate the spiritual?
Delivered in verse, or prose, in tragedy or comedy, whichever way we come to it, the word has power; power to break a spirit, calm a mind, raise a smile, drown a tear and turn the dullard to a revelation.
What do you read, my lord?
Words, words, words.
What is the matter, my lord?
I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.
Slanders, sir: for the satirical rogue says here
that old men have grey beards, a plentiful lack of
wit, together with most weak hams: yet
I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down, for
yourself, sir, should be old as I am, if like a crab
you could go backward.
[Aside] Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.
One year after the Queen’s coronation William Shakespeare is born.
Elizabeth’s love of poetry, music, plays and a good dance, was clear from the start; she threw open the doors to the royal court, so she, her nobility, and such dignitaries, could watch a King and his fool spin an impossible yarn, nymphs of the forest turn a donkey to straw, the steward and the cross-gartered setup, war torn, tear driven, side cracking laughs; class acts and intriguing theatrics, written, performed and played by the very best the world had to offer… presented for one and for all, in lavish array, impassion their artistic pleasure.
To better understand how human form is defined in the present, we look back through the history of humankind; for better, for worse, a person’s detriment, their influences in the past makes and breaks their character in the present.
In speaking of their present, does that encompass the present of earth, of nature, of elephants, of ants, trees, stars, beasts, clouds, angels, happenings, of markets, spirits, universes, suns, moons, of pasts and futures… the life stream of all? Or is this a present expressed in isolation, made solely by the endeavours and imaginings of that person’s mind?
Does a magnificent work of art, capturing a beautiful landscape, eclipse that landscape? If you define art in terms of monetary value it probably does. Some 2300 years ago, Aristotle suggested that poetry, tragedy, comedy, painting, sculpture, music, and dance are all fundamentally acts of mimesis (imitation). The realisation of the mimesis is vital to reflecting the natural world, mirroring interaction between people, portray the paragon of animals, reciting the intimate predicament, acting out comic and tragic settings of humankind, celebrating the backdrop and spheres in which we live… from beauty to the beast, all of life is reflected in the work of art.
The Queen’s understanding of the power of theatre gave the opening shot to one of England’s most celebrated wars a significant head start… Robert Dudley, in command of the English land forces, encouraged Queen Elizabeth to visit Tilbury… dressed in a steel cuirass over a white velvet gown, topped off with a plumed helmet, she rode through her troops mounted on a white steed… then bringing rank and file to a pin drop, focused her men to the courageous heart, with a suitably stirring speech in anticipation of the Spanish Armada.
I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm: to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. Queen Elizabeth I Tilbury 1588.
A few months after the Spanish Armada Robert Dudley died. It was reported that Elizabeth was so grief-stricken she locked herself in her chamber for days. It got so bad that William Cecil gave the order for her doors to be broken down. Years later, a letter was found in a casket by her bed, inscribed in her hand as his last letter.
I most humbly beseech your Majesty to pardon your poor old servant to be thus bold in sending to know how my gracious lady doth, and what ease of her late pains she finds, being the chiefest thing in this world I do pray for, for her to have good health and long life. For my own poor case, I continue still your medicine and find that (it) amends much better than with any other thing that hath been given me. Thus hoping to find perfect cure at the bath, with the continuance of my wonted prayer for your Majesty’s most happy preservation, I humbly kiss your foot. From your old lodging at Rycote, this Thursday morning, ready to take on my Journey, by your Majesty’s most faithful and obedient servant,
Leicester (Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester)
Elizabeth’s association with the victory of the Armada helped to forge a sense of moral pride across England… induce the iconic ‘Gloriana’ and her reign as the ‘Golden Age’.
Although Francis Drake was second in command, for the war against Spain, he grabbed all the glory. Even the Pope, Elizabeth’s nemesis, was forward in praise: ‘Have you heard how Drake with his fleet has offered battle to the Armada? With what courage! Do you think he showed any fear? He is a great captain.’
Nine years before the Armada, in March 1579, Drake seized the Spanish treasure ship Nuestra Señora de la Concepción and liberated it of a dozen chests of coins, 80 pounds of gold and 26 tons of silver. Drake would eventually return to England as the world’s richest pirate. Brando and Connery on steroids, why would he not be invited to the inner sanctum?
The absence of my Lord Admirall most gratious Soverayne, hath emboldened me, to putt my penne to the paper. On fridaye last, upon good consideracion we lefte the army of Spagne so farre to the northewardes, as they could neither recover England nor Scottland. And within three daies after we were entertayned with a great storme, considering the tyme of the yere, the which storme, in many of our judgmentes hath not a litle annoyedd the enemies army. If the wind hinder it not, I think they are forced to Denmark, & that for diverce causes. Certain it is that manie of their people were sick and not a fewe killed, there shippes, sailes ropes & mastes needeth great reperations for that they had all felt of your Majestie’s force… Queen Elizabeth I to Francis Drake
Twenty two years before the Spanish Armada, Sir Francis Drake, made his first voyage to the Americas, sailing under Captain John Lovell on one of a fleet of ships owned by the Hawkins family. They attacked Portuguese towns and ships on the coast of West Africa and then sailed to the Americas and sold the captured cargoes of slaves to Spanish plantations.
Captain John Hawkins was the first known Englishman to include enslaved Africans in his cargo. Queen Elizabeth approved of his journey, during which he captured 300 Africans. He then sailed across the North Atlantic and exchanged them for hides, ginger and sugar. He returned to London, for want of greater profits and organised another voyage, to which Queen Elizabeth contributed one vessel.
In 1594, at the Queen’s behest, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men is founded, for whom William Shakespeare writes and performs… they are regularly invited to the Palace of Whitehall and celebrated, worthy of great acclaim. English theatre blossoms… our gravitas is written in history… and the imperial plan overseas remains on course.
Green oak I say, bring it on, eleven feet, twelve-foot whats the deal, bring so much today, another lot tomorrow, I’ll take as much as you’ve got, bring them to the keel. A master carpenter equipped with deft tools, sharpened and honed, managed the care, bark peels, like skin from the hare, cuts like butter, peg it, shape it, knock it up and see… oak weathers, the joints shrink, locked in tight, hard as iron that’s not going to break, what’s the cost… don’t look back and play.
James Burbage chose the spot a few fields away from the perimeter of the city… oh they tried to stop him, but he was your man and London was never going to be the same again… trust in the logic and they will come… and they did… The Theatre… to the point in name, for these were practical men… designed, built, staged and played by masterful hands… like the Glastonbury of recent times, or a Woodstock of old, there were complaints, objections galore, but popularity won the day and the audience trod the fields, in droves, to be swept up by the whirlwind of play. A Channelling of energy, heavens above, the earths stage below, where Orpheus Titania, Puck, the King and Queen of the underworld, make riddle, a trouble torn, that clown and his friends… take you to task, not for want of play unseen, but as you like it. Some hit some miss, so what, the plays relished every person… butcher, baker, candlestick maker, beggar, blindman, thief… a diffrent kind of church, loaded with life, irreverent, heart-breaking reverential, ground-breaking, challenging events.
Timeline of theatres: Newington Butts 1575, The Theatre 1576, The Curtain 1577, The Rose 1587, The Globe 1599, The Globe rebuilt 1614…
Not the most consistent player on the boards, but blessed with some stage presence and carpentry at hand, I sit on the surface of this ancestral realm, unable to move, stunned like a star struck in the spotlight… and when my brain quietens I begin to hear the glory of victory… in rapt attention I salute the players, the craftsman, who built and rebuilt that transporter of myth and play… against all odds, when fire, closure, and purity says thou shall not be, they pursued the story of we; my witness is God, they rose like the phoenix, to hear again the rousing cheer of laughter, crossed the river to survive the tempest of tears, and worked the conduit of that wooden O, so those outside, then in, may make as one, in empathy, love and witness cause to the losing battle of war that we in heart own today.
The conflict with Ireland, a nagging, constant knock at the door of Tudor command, begins to bang in loud again; this time led by the Gaelic chieftains, Hugh O’Neill of Tyrone and Hugh Roe O’Donnell of Tyrconnell… using preferred guerrilla tactics, with small bands of men: luring the English to unknown ground; attacking when they were off-guard, or in retreat, it is said O’Neill and his allies ran rings around the Queen’s greatest generals and almost ended English rule in Ireland…
English nobility always saw Ireland as theirs for the taking… the colonisation and the making of plantations, as they were called in 16th- and 17th-century, involved the confiscation of land by the English crown. The royal mandate never ceased from looking for ways to subdue the Irish. One such example saw English troops garrisoned in the Wicklow Mountains under commanders called seneschalls. The seneschal was given powers of martial law, which allowed execution without trial by jury….
the delivery of our country [from] infinite murders, wicked and detestable policies by which the kingdom was hitherto governed, nourished in obscurity and ignorance, maintained in barbarity and incivility and consequently of infinite evils which are too lamentable to be rehearsed… Hugh O’Neill
The scholar Edmund Spenser, thought by many to be England’s foremost poet, wrote a scathing summary of Ireland… A View of the Present State of Ireland… where he argues for English to be the only language and obligatory… the speech being Irish, the heart must needs be Irish; for out of the abundance of hart, the tongue speaks… In the Irish, those of Gaelic and Norse–Gaelic origin, Spenser saw thugs and yobs… brutish men… a sudden tempest, barbarous relickes, no better than scumme… Ireland is a diseased portion of the State, it must first be cured and reformed… he goes on to suggest starving them out of house and home using a scorched earth policy, which he expresses as successful in crushing the Second Desmond Rebellion. Spenser served in the military under Arthur Grey Lord Deputy of Ireland; the aim, to gain further control over native Ireland and subjugate the Spanish and Italian threat… his infamous essay does nothing but inflame hostilities. Spenser served under Lord Grey with Walter Raleigh at the Siege of Smerwick
Edmund Spenser had a lot to lose. As well as their individual plantations (estates) staked out in the colonisation of Ireland, he, Walter Raleigh, Richard Boyle, Humphrey Gilbert, Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Richard Grenville, Ralph Lane and company, amassed vast swaths of Irish land for industry and agriculture to add to the Crown’s and their own fortunes.
I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it, whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.
Elizabeth’s struggle with Ireland is never far from scrutiny.
When Henry V was first performed in London, touching a nerve like no one else could, William Shakespeare refers to Ireland with few lines, at the heart of the play, minimally, to loud and clear effect…
An Englishman, a Scotsman, a Welshman and an Irishman are having an argument… the Welsh Captain says to the Irish Captain MacMorris… I think, look you, under your correction, there is not many of your nation—
The Irish replies… Of my nation! What ish my nation? Ish a villan and a bastard, and a knave and a rascal. What ish my nation? Who talks of my nation? I do not know you so good a man as myself...
Perhaps the Irish captain MacMorris is being facetious, perhaps he isn’t, but the audience in London, would have been all too aware that the battalions amassed, a stone’s throw from the theatre, had left or were about to leave for Ireland. Thousands had been gang pressed, torn from home and church gatherings, with little or no understanding of combat, for a fight against a soldier as lost and bewildered as they. The punters would have known someone involved, if they weren’t involved themselves. MacMorris’s lines would have been at the forefront of their minds… as they cheered the British laying siege to the French in the play… many would have been preying for colleagues, sons, friends, brothers, cousins who were on their way or already in Ireland.
At a staggering cost to the people of England, especially in London where the people were near at hand and taxes easier to collect, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex arrived in Ireland in 1599, with over 17,000 English reinforcements; relative to time and place, the biggest army ever assembled in England.
Some thirty years younger than the Queen, Robert Devereux was a close cousin and had known Elizabeth from his childhood, maybe she was asked to baby sit… well-known for his wit and eloquence, along with skills as a showman and in courtly love… when he reached twenty years of age, 1587, Elizabeth made him Master of the Horse, a peer and a privy councillor, the third dignitary of the court. A flirtatious, tempestuous relationship… he consistently provoked the Elizabeth’s anger while managing to remain in her favour… that is until the games they played together saw Devereux taking on the Irish campaign, no doubt to prove some personal point to her.
Poor of body and basically untrained, chiliads of young English men finding themselves garrisoned in Ireland, waiting for the given command, died of diseases such as typhoid and dysentery. The Irish forces refused to be lured out into the field, Devereux’s preferred place of battle. In frustration, the Earl challenged O’Neill to a one-on-one fight to settle the war. O’Neill for his part ignored Devereux’s pleas… eventually he was forced to sign a humiliating truce with O’Neill. Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex was recalled to England in disgrace in 1600… he tried to vindicate himself to Elizabeth in private. She ignored his protestations and deprived him of office… under house arrest for desertion, his licence for importing liquor revoked, financially destitute… with the allies he had left in England he tried to start a coup and was subsequently executed for attempted assassination and the overthrow of her government. He was succeeded in Ireland by Charles Blount, officially Lord Mountjoy…. Mountjoy had no qualms and finished the job at hand… burnt-out, starved and ravaged, Ireland was altogether ruined.
Fynes Morrison, Mountjoy’s secretary, wrote; No spectacle was more frequent in towns and ditches and especially in the wasted countries, than to see multitudes of these poor people dead with their mouths all coloured green by eating nettles.
As with any dignitary that protracts such a shine, Elizabeth’s reign was never going to wane easy.
At a staggering cost in life and coin the Nine Years’ War, as it became known, saw out the Queen’s reign. In lieu of payment of the ongoing conflict in Ireland, distrust in friends and enemies alike, daggers drawn behind her back, pearl stricken, crest fallen, the tears and cracks begin to appear… yet such was her commitment to the throne, she stood defiant in ceremony of the crown for 44 years… turning the tide, so that the lasting impression saw our rising maritime power, under Elizabeth’s rule, enabled England to lead a march on the world… dominate the seas, claim a continent, search for trade routes and seize existing ones; a strategy that came to represent Empire.
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends
On Mountjoy’s return to England from Ireland, the Queen’s successor, James I appointed him Master of the Ordnance… he was rewarded further still, with extensive estates as the Earl of Devonshire. Mountjoy served as one of Sir Walter Raleigh’s judges in 1603 and was one of the founder members of the Spanish Company re-founded by royal charter in 1605.
Twelfth Night (1601)
Troilus and Cressida (1600–1602)
Measure for Measure (1603–1604)
All’s Well That Ends Well (1604–1605)
King Lear (1605–1606)
Antony and Cleopatra (1606)
The Winter’s Tale (1609–1611)
The Tempest (1610–1611)
After the gunpowder plot was discovered in 1605, all Catholics were barred from public office… the Gaelic Irish and Old English increasingly defined themselves as Catholic in opposition to the Protestant New English. Native Irish (both Gaelic and Old English) remained the majority landowners in Ireland until the Irish Rebellion of 1641. The rebellion followed the Plantation of Ulster by Protestant settlers from Britain; most of the land colonised was forfeited from the native Gaelic chiefs.
Having gathered experience and wherewithal from securing and maintaining Irish plantations… King James I and his government granted charters for the purpose of establishing permanent settlements in the lands of the western hemisphere… Virginia, thought to be named in honour of Elizabeth I, was the first settlement to be charted.
The Virginia Company of London was founded to establish the prospects of migrating to the Americas less daunting… James I authorises a council to provide governance and management; the council could claim the natural resources of the territories with an agreed percentage of the profits given to the king… the Company offered any British man, with the means to travel to America, 50 acres of land… the Charter of 1606 is drawn up….
A document from the King assigning land rights to English colonists… it was never our place to put doubt on the plate… or wonder of the other people… like the Irish, the indigenous population, were obstacles to the task in hand… who’s land was it again… ours not to reason why… scalping, cannibalism, baby snatchers, warmongers, the more assured the stories, the stronger the incentive to wipe the slate clean and get on with the business at hand… kind, hateful, true or false, as with all invasions, propaganda and fear furthers the keeper to land the realm.
The Plymouth Plantation offered hope of a new beginning for English pilgrims and dissenters. Later plantations were more overtly entrepreneurial: European investors funded colonists in the expectation of good returns; examples include the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the New Haven Colony, the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (now New York), and the French in Canada, where they named their colony as New France .
Despite incoming news of heavy loss, savagery, disease and hardship the migration of colonists from Great Britain and from Europe multiplied tenfold.
So, march away; and let due praise be given
Neither to fate nor fortune, but to Heaven.
Dog eat dog, the big boys game… say what they want to hear, they give you a medal, write something untoward, they put you on the rack… eat the Irish, wrong God, in jest, no-play, this not that, fear for your life, absolutist by trade, all but king in name… we give you Oliver Cromwell…
Is this what we needed, too many in the basement and a few with a view… look back over the decades, from here, something has to give… when the shove comes the incentive proves merely speculative… morphing the heart and mind of the enemy into a diffrent costume and a diffrent hair cut… same prerogative… divine providence…
That this hath been a nation of blessings in the midst whereof so many wonders have been brought forth by the outstretched arm of the Almighty, even to astonishment, and wonder, who can deny? Ask we the nations of this matter and they will testify, and indeed the dispensations of the Lord have been as if he had said, England thou art my first-born, my delight amongst the nations, under the whole heavens the Lord hath not dealt so with any of the people round about us.
Looking to the moat, Cromwell saw to it that Charles I be executed for treason. The monarchy was abolished and the Commonwealth of England established. Saluting the portent of that united flag, Cromwell took the parliamentary army across the Irish sea and led a military campaign of brutal precision… as with his royal counterparts, tactics and outcome included the wholesale burning of crops and homes, forced relocation of people, famine, killing of civilians and priests alike… depending on which side you fall, between twenty and forty percent of the country’s pre-war population were wiped out… the repercussions are still in prime earshot in Ireland today.
I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are satisfactory grounds for such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse and regret..
Back in London, as the Irish Rebellion was about to kick in, the Cromwellian protectorate saw to it that the Globe theatre be demolished, stage plays banned and other theatres closed… some seven years later, in 1648 using stricter ordnance, all theatres and playhouses are marked to be pulled down. Actors caught acting were to be whipped and anyone caught attending a play fined five shillings.
In Ireland, after conquest, the public practice of Roman Catholicism was banned and Catholic priests were killed when captured. All Catholic-owned land was confiscated under the Act for the Settlement of Ireland of 1652 and given to Scottish and English settlers, along with Parliament’s financial creditors and Parliamentary soldiers. The remaining Catholic landowners were allocated poorer land in the province of Connacht. The pot calling the kettle black… the Commonwealth settlement hallmark the source of Irish nationalism, from the 17th century onwards.
You know what my manner of life hath been. Oh I lived in and loved darkness and hated the light. I was a chief, the chief of sinners. This is true, I hated godliness, yet God had mercy upon me. O the riches of his mercy. Oliver Cromwell
Between 1640 and 1807, it is said that Britain transported 3.1 million Africans (of whom 2.7 million arrived) to the British colonies in the Caribbean, North and South America. Britain and Portugal alone accounted for about 70% of all Africans captured, transported and sold to the Americas.
Much of what we know about the First Peoples of the Americas is the result of artful manipulation of history and unending propaganda in newspapers, cowboy stories, characterised in fast-track silent films, saturated over the advent of television in the 1950’s, along with widescreen motion pictures shot in glorious technicolour… white or black hats, good against bad, the noble and cutthroat redskins, white-man saving the family from the those on the warpath… comic-book beaten, until the west was won. Acceptations to the rule… the film maker Edwin Carewe a Native American motion picture director, actor, producer, and screenwriter directed 58 films in the early 1900’s. There was the odd film like Broken Arrow made in 1959. The book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown, published in 1970 certainly; such was his Dee Brown’s research, it was greeted by many as too controversial, in that it would upset the standing of American (colonial) History…
Although wrongs have been done me I live in hopes. I have not got two hearts…Now we are together again to make peace. My shame is as big as the earth, although I will do what my friends advise me to do. I once thought that I was the only man that persevered to be the friend of the white man, but since they have come and cleaned out our lodges, horses, and everything else, it is hard for me to believe white men any more. Black Kettle, Chief of the Southern Cheyennes, addressing a council called by government commissioners on the Little Arkansas River 1890.
Before Europeans arrived in America, Native peoples inhabited every region.
Though the terms Native American and Indian are relative, all were driven from the land by the relentless expansion of European settlement, territorial claims, federal states and government policies that saw the independence and well-being of Native Americans airbrushed from history. The United States is a nation of immigrants and descendants of slaves who trace their roots, genetic or otherwise, beyond 500 years of American history, to Europe, Africa and other eastern shores.
Research by some scholars provides population estimates of the pre-contact Americas to be as high as 60 million…. if you go by the numerous tribes and peoples Columbus met on the few islands in the Caribbean on his infamous voyage of discovery, the estimate of the overall population could well have been much higher.
I found very many islands, filled with innumerable people, and I have taken possession of them all for their Highnesses, done by proclamation and with the royal standard unfurled, and no opposition was offered to me. Christopher Columbus
As one of the first Spanish (and European) settlers in the Americas, it is said that Bartolomé de las Casas felt compelled to oppose the abuses committed by colonists against the Native Americans. Casas was a Spanish landowner, who arrived in Hispaniola as a layman then became a Dominican friar and priest. He was appointed as the first resident Bishop of Chiapas, and the first officially appointed Protector of the Indians. He wrote A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies and Historia de Las Indias, chronicling the early decades of colonization of the West Indies.
He writes… how the native people behave themselves very patiently, sumissively and quietly towards the Spaniards, to whom
they are subservient and subject; so that finally he writes how they live without the least thirst after revenge, laying aside all
litigiousness, Commotion and hatred
they are subservient and subject; so that finally they live without the least thirst after revenge, laying aside all
litigiousness, Commotion and hatred….
Bartolomé de las Casas goes on to describe atrocities toward these self same people by the colonisers, of such unmitigated brutality it would be difficult for the toughest spirit not to break, genocidal nightmares, impossible to comprehend. He wasn’t obliged to write, he had no enemies in Spain… he did what he could as a Dominican friar (and eventual Bishop of Chiapas) to speak out for victims, by challenging the involvement of Spain and the Church in such heinous crimes. What I beseech you, can be more horrid or barbarous?
A century after the arrival of Christopher Columbus, some 90% of indigenous Americans had perished from wave after wave of disease, along with mass slavery and war, in what researchers describe as the great dying.
With God on our side… there is no honour, no respect among our class, unless the perpetrator takes the next step in knowledge of the next…
When Andrew Jackson assumed office as president of the United States in 1829, his government took a hard line on native American habitation. Under his administration, the Indian Removal Act was signed into law on May 28, 1830 and paved the way for the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of American Indians from their tribal lands to one contained area, far from of the predominant settlements of Europeans. Opposed by most native tribes, the Act was strongly supported by British, Dutch, French and other European migrants, settlers and entrepreneurs that wanted control in southern and north-eastern states, like Georgia, which was the largest state in 1802. The Cherokee and a few other tribes eventually accepted the inevitable collapse of the tribal nations and worked with representatives of Congress to stop this relocation but were unsuccessful.
In the whole scene there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn’t watch without feeling one’s heart wrung. The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn. There was one who could speak English and of whom I asked why the Chactas were leaving their country. “To be free,” he answered, could never get any other reason out of him. We … watch the expulsion … of one of the most celebrated and ancient American peoples…
Alexis de Tocqueville 1831
After bitter debate, the native people agreed to move, on the condition their laws could be sovereign without state interference. Any native Americans living east of the Mississippi river were herded, by the United States government in a march to the west that later became known as the Trail of Tears; 5043 miles, covering Indian Territory known today as: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee. The expulsion found its end on lands that would become the state of Oklahoma.
Upon reaching Oklahoma, two Cherokee nations, the eastern and western, were reunited. In order to live peacefully and harmoniously together, a meeting occurred in Takattokah. In June of 1839 eastern and western chiefs met in order to discuss the new nation’s government. The eastern chiefs accepted western sovereignty. As reported by the chiefs in a letter addressed to the government of the United States on June 13, 1839…
we take pleasure to state distinctly that we desire to see the eastern and western Cherokees become reunited, and again live as one people; to the satisfaction and permanent welfare of the whole Cherokee people…
In 1889, the US government, under President Benjamin Harrison, made the first of a long series of authorizations that eventually removed most of Indian Territory from Indian control. By 1905, white Americans owned most of the land in Indian Territory. Two years later, the area once known as Indian Territory entered the Union as a part of the new state of Oklahoma… home of the brave.
The nations, not so blest as thee,
Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall;
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.
Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
Britons never will be slaves.
James Thomson 1740
British Empire in America dominated from 1607 until the Treaty of Paris was signed between Great Britain and the United States on September 3, 1783. Settlers in the thirteen British colonies paid taxes and duties, on to the goods they traded to Britain and come to resent it. The treaty was made to favour the United States; the British Prime Minister, William Petty Shelburne, foresaw highly profitable two-way trade between Britain and the rapidly growing United States… signed sealed and delivered without informing or consulting with the Native American Chiefs.
Shadows are long and dark before me. I shall soon lie down to rise no more. While my spirit is with my body the smoke of my breath shall be towards the Sun for he knows all things and knows that I am still true to him. Red Cloud, Chief of the Lakota July 4, 1903.
Queen Anne’s War, King William’s War, Pequot War, King Philip’s War, Tuscarora War, Irish Confederate, Three Kingdoms, Civil, Napoleonic, Seven Year, American Independence, Third Anglo-Powhatan, Cherokee, Franco-Dutch, Great Turkish War… war after war came and went, as the British Empire grew, and grew dramatically… the struggle in Europe and North America grew out of our belief that there is a premium race of people, better than the rest… a superior people who prosper if wealth and reign increase, while the hesitant, doubtful and the weak are a scourge that hamper and diminish the returns… in the 1800s… survival of the fittest… was coined in Herbert Spencer’s philosophy of the struggle for life… and the term Social Darwinism was introduced, justifying slavery, eugenics, scientific racism and social inequality… our innovations and endeavours bring unsurpassed changes to the way we live. Along with the rise and rise of cultural sophistication, agricultural and industrial advancement, saw massive urbanisation, along with slums, poverty, and a formidable increase in child labour.
Do’n fink, ge on wiv’it o i’ll tan ya ide!
Black and noisome, the road sticky with slime, and palsied houses, rotten from chimney to cellar, leaning together, apparently by the mere coherence of their ingrained corruption. Dark, silent, uneasy shadows passing and crossing – human vermin in this reeking sink, like goblin exhalations from all that is noxious around. Women with sunken, black-rimmed eyes, whose pallid faces appear and vanish by the light of an occasional gas lamp, and look so like ill-covered skulls that we start at their stare.
Arthur Morrison, The Palace Journal London 1890, author of A Child of the Jago.
While the Russian Empire was kicking the Ottoman Empire out of Europe… European empires and their former colonies, through military might and cunning diplomacy, claimed control of 67% of the world’s landmass; in 1914 that imperial stake, driven hard into the ground, secured 84% of the cake. By the 1890s Europeans had sliced up 90% of Africa; the lion share made by Belgium, France, Germany, and Britain.
At the height of domain, our fellow compatriots, backed up by missionary elders, implicit in conquering the native inhabitants, with a sense of justice and moral authority, seized enough landmass, heaped our lawful and sectarian ways on enough of the world’s population, to make Britain the largest empire in the history of humankind.
As Britons, we are nudged every day by that global lead, from the embodiment of Britannia, to three lions on a shirt, to banking, to coffee, cotton, sugar, tea… from industrial and agricultural revolution, to consumerism, to pageantry, to artillery, classical architecture, postage stamps and the latest coin in our pocket. So loaded are the sentiments, behind the brand, it has become difficult to debate the jurisdiction, the logic, of empire, not to mention the virtues and cost left in its wake.
The monumental sacrifice we have made for our right to claim dominance, whether it’s over another person, another country, nature, or for that matter the earth, challenges the origins of belief and how our fixation, the doctrine behind the word, came to adopt such power.